by JEFF DILLON
Dr Ann Gilroy, RSJ, acknowledged that she probably had more questions
than answers when she delivered an evening talk recently to a mainly female audience in St Patrick’s basilica in South Dunedin.
Dr Gilroy is the editor of Tui Motu — Interislands magazine, which is an independent Catholic, monthly publication. Her talk was entitled “Women and the Church: The Future?”
She approached her subject by breaking it down into four parts. Her lecture was supported by a PowerPoint presentation with relevant pictures and selected cartoons to enhance her message.
In the first part, she looked at why she had chosen this topic. She explored the background to the possibility of women being more involved in the liturgy of the Church when the Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches in the 1980s and 1990s were ordaining women priests and ministers. In fact, in 1989 the Anglicans had selected Penny Jamieson to be the first woman bishop in the world when she became the Anglican Bishop of Dunedin, a post she held for 15 years.
By comparison, Dr Gilroy pointed out that, in 1994, Pope St John Paul II issued Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which indicated that the Catholic Church had
no authority to ordain women to the priesthood. This had poured cold water on any aspirations any New Zealand women had to participate. She also noted that a number of other changes had taken place in society, which altered women’s role and participation.
She explored the concept of “kyriarchy” — the inclination to lord it over others — and posited that clericalism is the manifestation of kyriarchy in the Church. Despite Pope Francis identifying clericalism as a problem in the Church, Dr Gilroy contended that he had still not shown any willingness to give women a greater role.
Continuing her theme, Dr Gilroy explored what she considered was an important change in Jesus’ ministry.
As an illustration, she looked at the situation recorded in Matthew 15: 21-28. She said that it was in his interaction with the woman in the story that Jesus came to the realisation that he needed to expand his understanding of God’s
mission and provide his message to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. “There is room for all at God’s table.”
She suggested that the Church itself does not have a mission, but rather that it participates in God’s mission.
Dr Gilroy then noted that Vatican II had recommended that the Church should “read and respond to the signs of our times”. It was her view that one of the signs of the times was women asking for full, meaningful participation in the Church.
In the second section of her talk, Dr Gilroy looked at what messages the institutional Church (i.e. the ordained hierarchy) gave women.
Again, she pointed to perceived tensions within the establishment, but suggested that the hierarchy think they know who women are without actually asking women. Mention was made of some increase in the number of women being employed in certain roles in the Vatican in recent years.
However, she also noted some other examples where women had been involved in providing input into discussions but only men were allowed
to vote on some proposals, while women had no such right.
Dr Gilroy then went on to explore, in her third section, whether the opportunity of having women deacons was something that women really wanted.
She noted that, in 2016, Pope Francis had set up a commission to research early Church documents to see if there was any evidence of women deacons in the early Church. After investigation, and unsurprisingly, there was no consensus.
Of course, to open up the role of deacon to women would be highly symbolic and open up the back door to women demanding the opportunity to become ordained priests.
While Dr Gilroy would support the shift to women deacons from the point of view of justice, she also had reservations of introducing women into the clerical system as it is now. “It distorts who God is.” She does not want women to be a part of it, except to reform it.
To check the current conditions in a parish, she suggested that people could
check certain things such as whether the parish council contains an equal number of men and women, and do the members fairly represent the diversity of the parish? Does the bishop have equal numbers of women and men advisors on the various diocesan committees? Are the women of similar quality to the men and not just token women? They were some of the examples she placed before her audience.
In her last section, Dr Gilroy questioned whether women had missed the
boat as she contemplated the future.
She set before her audience a number of “imaginings” of changes in procedures that represented a way forward for her.
Her conclusion was that “the Church won’t survive without women”.