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>Women Ministers in the Catholic Church ?

Women Ministers in the Catholic Church ?

by René van Eyden

in Sisters Today, 40 (December 1968) Number 4, pp 211 - 226.

The Vatican Council has repeatedly shown how underdeveloped the situation of woman in the Catholic Church still is and how deficient, as a consequence, is the cooperation of man and woman. We are beginning to realize that it is exactly on this fundamental level of the man - woman relation that a thorough renewal is necessary. We do not seem to exaggerate when we say that this is one of the most urgent tasks the Church has to face in our times. At the same time it is one of the most difficult ones, since it touches the roots of human existence. We must add that the importance and seriousness of it is in most places still insufficiently realized. The unequal position of men and women obscures the witnessing of the Church in the world since the opposition between Church doctrine and Church practice does not pass unnoticed. “The Church must ask herself whether she is going to be believable at all in the future when she sticks to her onesidedly male structure, whereas the human society in which she lives has lost its patriarchal image.''(1) A number of non-Catholic churches have already grown aware of the problematic character of the traditional situation of woman. From the beginning, the Ecumenical Movement has been concerned about the realization of equal possibilities for women in the Church. Different answers are given, however, to the question whether women can also be ordained to the ecclesiastical ministries. Only by a unified effort of all churches in the field of study” discussion and exchange of experience can it be made clear what innovations are necessary.

In non-Catholic literature on this subject, we often find the statement that the Catholic Church rejects women ministers on principle. This rejection could not but be considered final in view of the actual status of women in this Church. The government of the Church is entirely by men, and it is paternalistic. The ecclesiastical code contains clauses which discriminate against women— for instance, the clause that only a man can be ordained. Theology, unfortunately, cannot get past the problem whether the actual fact that women are excluded from office is based on the positive will of God or whether it is based on the binding tradition of the Church. Will the possibility of women ministers ever come within the field of vision?

What can be the answer to this from the Catholic side? That the exclusion of women from the ministry is not established unshakably nor is to be considered as unchangeable. There are indications that here, as in so many other fields, there is a change of feeling coming. Various factors have contributed to this. Now that women have attained more or less equal rights with men in social and political life, the inferior place of women in the Church is seen more and more as an anachronism.

More important is that a new understanding of the Church and the ministry has developed in theology. Finally there is the fact that most of the non-Catholic Churches have for some time been confronted with the question about women in the ministry, with the result that in a good number of Churches ordination is now partly or entirely open to women. Without doubt the accessibility of ordination will come under review increasingly as the question arises within the Catholic Church itself, and as it arises in encounter with Other Churches. The relevance of the problem can no longer be ignored.

An Idea of Superiority

The traditional ecclesiastical attitude towards woman was based on the idea of a superiority of the male. The opinion, however, that man is the true representative of the human species, and that woman is a less felicitous variation of it, is incompatible with the teaching of Scripture about the equality of men and women both as created and redeemed beings. The male and female way of being complement each other. Man and woman have received a common task which they can accomplish only in real partnership.(2) The wellbeing of man and woman is so interrelated and so mutually dependent that if in a certain community women are not given the opportunities to develop their possibilities, this is detrimental not only to women themselves but to men as well. An inadequate development of women always means an inadequate development of man, and vice versa. That is why the life of the Church would be impoverished if the gifts of women, given for the benefit of all, would not have the chance to develop.

If this mutual complementarily exists in all fields of human life, why should it not be valid in respect to ecclesiastical office? If the ministry has taken on a form which excludes female participation on principle, does this not mean that the part played by the man should also be in question? The ministry which is interpreted only in the male manner lacks the complementary female interpretation, and so has not realized its full human possibilities. The woman will, after all, fulfill her office in her own way, without imitating the male minister. She will, to some extent, do other work than the man, but she will also do the same work in a different manner. She will enrich the work of the ministry with a new vision and a new elan, and inspire it with a new intuition and a new tact. By introducing the woman beside the man, the ministry will gain in humanity.

The proposition that women could be ordained is sometimes met with the objection that it is unnatural that a woman should exercise a man's office. As long as we only knew the male interpretation and shape of the ministry, and accordingly thought only this shape was possible, it was unthinkable that a woman could be admitted to this male - clerical ministry. But now we acknowledge that this traditional interpretation was due to circumstances, and at the same time we now try to take the servanthood character of this ministry seriously. This will lead to many sweeping innovations; for example, the possibility of part-time priests alongside fulltimers, of married priests alongside celibates. Only within the light of this renewal the real possibility of women ministers alongside men comes into view.

This does not mean that the conclusions for the concrete life of the Church have already been drawn and are being carried out. But the ecclesiastical authorities do recognize now that the contribution which women can make to the life of the Church is extremely important. The structural changes, however, which would prove that this recognition is meant seriously have not been put into effect. It is remarkable that the discussion about women in the ministry is off to such a slow start, while at the same time the Church is busily making up for lost time in such important innovations as a revision of marriage ethics and the re-establishment of the office of deacon with the possibility of married deacons. It would be in the interest of the renewal of the ministry, and at the same time in the interest of the dialogue between the Christian Churches if the responsible leaders and theologians could devote their attention to the theme of women in the Church, and that without waiting for the moment when the question can no longer be avoided.

The Possibility of Women Ministers

An enquiry should be made first into the possibility and then into the desirability of women ministers. Up till now even the possibility was unanimously rejected with appeal to Scripture, natural law, tradition and speculative theology. Some Catholic and many non-Catholic authors have considered the value of these arguments critically. We shall here mention a few of the most important works, adding some remarks on the various lines of argument.

Can we justify the exclusion from the ministry by an appeal to Scripture? The New Testament shows that women take part in many ways in the life of the Church. But there are also some limitations. The most important texts are 1 Cor. 14:33 and 1 Tim. 2:11 where Paul says that women are not allowed to teach and must keep silent in the congregation. How should we interpret this? We should keep in mind that the results of biblical studies are largely dependent on the exegetical principles with which we approach the text. A fundamentalist way of handling the Bible does not prove a greater obedience to Scripture. A legalistic adherence to the literal text may block the road to the Good Message. A careful exegesis shows that by no means a general ban on women's teaching or speaking is meant here.

Father Schillebeeckx has examined the Pauline texts on the submission of woman to man, and he shows that these are not dogmatic statements but pastoral ones. The second-rank position women actually had at the time and in that society was “theologized” by Paul, who based it on the second chapter of Genesis (which was itself already the interpretation of an existing social structure). Accordingly the inferior position of woman does not form part of those things which are taught by the biblical message as such.

The various individual texts must moreover be understood in the light of the message of Scripture as a whole, which bears witness to the equality of men and women in justification and grace, to their equality in the Lord. The total vision of the New Testament must be decisive.

Catholic and non-Catholic biblical scholars make it clear that in the texts mentioned above, Paul is concerned with rules for the married woman to preserve the proprieties during the meetings of the congregation. Regarding the question of women in the ministry, no reference can be made to these texts since this question does not concern Paul in any way. It is clear, then, that scriptural teaching about the relationship between men and women and about the ministry in no way excludes women from holy orders. The biblical evidence makes it impossible to say that a ministryof women in the Church is “unbiblical.”

Does natural law forbid it then, perhaps? The handbooks declared it to be a requirement of natural law that only man should be a subject to the sacrament of priesthood. Earlier theologians have identified actually existing social situations too easily with “natural law.” In the old society it was practically unthinkable that a woman should hold a public office. This was a cultural pattern. After all, natural law does not say in what concrete ways fundamental humanity should be respected in varying circumstances. It was not appreciated that the existing unequal division of tasks between the sexes had an historical and conditional character, and so it was elevated to a natural law. More than once a concrete precept, which was only valid for a certain situation, has in this way been taken for a universally valid principle. As a consequence of this, an old prohibition which had been adequate and meaningful in a certain situation was often retained by the ecclesiastical authorities long after that situation had disappeared (e.g., the prohibition of interest). Between then and now the facts have proved that the woman can very well exercise public functions, and that she is able to do the same things as the man (even in space travel). A number of Reformation Churches have known women ministers for more than half a century.

The teaching and practice of Church tradition reserve orders exclusively for men. The Church Fathers, synods, popes and scholastic theologians have repeated over and over again the same, or practically the same, arguments which say that women cannot receive orders. This seems to be very imposing evidence. But on careful examination it is found that this material has been handed on for centuries and cannot withstand criticism. Nobody has investigated this more thoroughly than Dr. H. van der Meer, S.J., in his thesis submitted to Karl Rahner: Theologische Ueberlegungen über die Thesis 'Subjectum ordinationis est mas' (Innsbruck, 1962). It was not his intention to give proof for or against, but only to consider critically the conclusiveness of current arguments against women in the ministry. The result was surprising: none of the arguments which are put forward proved to be tenable. His conclusion is therefore that it is by no means an established fact that ordination is iure divino inaccessible to women. A completely new study is necessary in order to find out whether the ministry should or should not be opened to women.

No Admittance to a Sacramental Order

One important argument based on tradition is that in the past women were never admitted to a sacramental order, although it cannot be denied that many women held ecclesiastical functions, especially in the early centuries. In the East especially the order of deaconess was highly respected for a long time. The task of the deaconess included, among other things, leading the prayers, singing, reading the Bible in liturgical meetings, and bringing Holy Communion to women who were ill. Can we be really sure that this was considered a non-sacramental order?

There is an interesting clause in the Constitutiones Apostolorum, VIII, 19-20 (fourth century): “Concerning the deaconesses I lay down the following, Bartholomew: you, the bishop, shall lay hands upon them in the presence of the priests, the deacons and the deaconesses and pray as follows: Eternal God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of man and woman, who didst fill Mary, Deborah, Anna and Choelda with the Holy Spirit, who didst not consider it beneath Thee that Thine only Son should be born of woman, who in the tabernacle and in the temple instituted women as guardians of Thy holy portals, we pray Thee to look down now on Thy servant, who has been chosen for Thy service; pour down Thy Holy Spirit upon her, cleanse her from each stain in body and spirit so that she may carry out the work Thou hast given her worthily, to Thine honor and to the praise of Thy Christ; to him be with Thee and the Holy Spirit glory and honor for ever and ever. Amen."

We find here all the elements of the sacrament of ordination: the laying on of hands by the bishop in the presence of the clergy, the prayer for the Holy Spirit for the ordinand, and the conferring of a competence in the Church. In Byzantium not only the hands were imposed on the deaconess, but after that she even received the stole and was given the chalice. The rites of ordination show us that there was a complete identity between the ordination of deacons and deaconesses. The early Church saw a clear difference between the priestly function and this function of the deaconess (e.g., Const. Apost., III, 9). But it seems doubtful whether she considered the difference to be between the sacramental and nonsacramental. Does the desire to distinguish between what is a sacrament and what is not a sacrament perhaps indicate a legal frame of mind which was foreign to the early Church?

A few years ago two professors of theology in Austria and Peru have pleaded for the return of women in the deaconate: J. Funk, S.V.D., and J. Idigoras, S.J. During the fourth session of the Second Vatican Council the same wish was brought forward. In October, 1965, Paul Hallinan, archbishop of Atlanta, sent a written request to the general secretariate of the Council in which he asked to admit women to the function of deacon. On September 19, 1965, at a congress of Saint Joan's International Alliance, council peritus J. Danielou made a plea that the Church should approve of the ordination of deaconesses without delay, even before the end of the Council. As regards the possibility of women priests he declared that he did not see any theological objection.(3) This opinion is also shared by the American ecumenical theologian G. H. Tavard, who concluded that he cannot find any fundamental theological objections against the ordination of women.(4)

What are we to think of the theological symbolical arguments against women ministers? When the current arguments, according to which women are incapable of teaching and governing, were no longer convincing, new lines of argument made their appearance: they were based on the symbolism of the priesthood. Christ and the Church are related as a bridegroom to his bride. The minister represents Christ as the bridegroom to the congregation so that only a man would be suitable. The same conclusion can be drawn from another image: the priest, by the administration of the sacraments calls into being in men the supernatural life of grace in the same way as man procreates natural life.

It would seem that here we hit upon biblical-dogmatic arguments which are the only ones that can give a final justification for the exclusion of women from the ministry. But a critical study reveals the fallacy of these symbol-argumentations. First of all, nowhere in the New Testament is the relation between a minister and his community described as a bridegroom relation. This is only done with regard to Christ's relation to the Church: 2 Cor.11:2; Eph.5:27; Apoc. 21:9. But instead the image of parenthood is used; and not only the image of fatherhood (1 Cor.4:15; 1 Thess.2:11; Phil.10) is found, but with equal stress the image of motherhood (Gal.4:19; 1 Thess.2:7). Saint Paul's being a male did not prevent him from expressing a certain aspect of his relation towards the Church with the image of a mother! In the same way being a fetnale cannot be looked upon as a barrier to an ecclesiastical ministry of which certain aspects can be illustrated with the image of a father. Symbols have an indispensable function in theology since the reality of the faith is known by way of symbols. But in theology symbols can never be used as arguments, as was already said by Saint Thomas (“Symbolica theologia non est argumentative,” I Sent., Prol. q.1). When, in the structure of a theological argumentation, a symbolical expression is used, this argumentation is not valid. Symbolical intimations cannot lead to conclusions for the structure of reality; when, for example, the relation of a priest with his community is compared to the relation of a father with his child, we cannot conclude that a woman cannot be a priest. The ecclesiastical ministry should be given its shape not on the basis of certain symbols, which are looked upon as normative, but on the basis of intimations discovered in the issue itself.(5)

It is necessary to find out what reasons underlie much of the resistance towards women in the ministry. When one surveys the material collected by H. van der Meer, it becomes clear that Anne Marie Heiler is hardly exaggerating when she remarks, “The appeal to Church history and Church law, to dogma and biblical exegesis is in most cases, if not in all, only a concealment behind walls which shelter many deeper images, fears and complexes. These are not only of a sociological nature; they often go back to certain taboo images about woman.”(6) Psychologists have pointed out the demonstrable relation between this resistance and an authoritative structure of personality.(7)

The Desirability of Women ministers

From what has preceded it is clear that there are in principle no objections to the possibility of women in orders. So far, however, nothing as been said about the desirability. Are there facts which indicate this desirability? No doubt several sociological and anthropological reasons can be put forward. But the ultimate criterion must be the question, what can in this time serve the building up of the Church (Eph. 4:11)? Will the Kingdom of God and its proclamation in today's world be promoted or hindered by the ordination of women? The actual form of the life of the Church cannot be simply derived from Scripture. As the situation changes, the form of the ministry may have to change, too. In accordance with this principle the Second Vatican Council introduced important renovations in the ministry: the re-establishment of (married) deacons and the principle of collegiality.

The question now is whether the changed situation makes women ministers desirable. A new vision of the Church has developed, and along with it a new vision of the ministry. The Church is the people of God, the instrument for the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon earth. This people as a whole, and all its members are called to witness in the world: this is the priesthood of all the faithful. By virtue of this priesthood every baptized man and woman has the task of representing Christ in the world. This general priesthood, this participation in the priesthood of Christ, forms the fundamental dimensions in the Church, which precedes the distinction between lay and ordained. The ministerial priesthood is altogether in the service of this priestly people of God. This special priesthood does not exist alongside, nor is it a higher degree than the general priesthood, but it is a special realization of it.

The charge to bring the Gospel of Christ to the world rests equally on men and on women. This equal vocation to the apostolate is carried out in different ways: by laymen or by ordained men. Where the fulfillment of this apostolic task has been carried out by laymen, men and women have always had the same responsibility. Why should this equal responsibility now cease when the ordained ministry becomes involved? Why should the ordained representation of Christ not be entrusted equally to men and women? If the contribution of women is of vital importance in the field of lay activity, why should it not be just as important for the ordained ministry?

We are not concerned here about equal rights, but about equal opportunity to serve. It would be ridiculous to pursue accessibility to orders, the last profession which is still closed to women, as the crowning of emancipation. The gift of orders is received as a charisma of the Holy Spirit. But could the Holy Spirit not also give the charisma of ordained ministry to women?

In this view the minister stands no longer over against the community, but among the faithful. This entails a different manner of acting: it is no longer the manner of the ruler but the manner of the servant, no longer that of authority but that of fellowship.

This change of emphasis to the character of the servant would be accentuated if room were made for the female interpretation of the priesthood. The Church (in the meaning of hierarchy) has often been called a careful mother. This image was, after all, perhaps a little strange if the motherly care was principally carried out by men. It should be pointed out, too, that the task of the female priest or deacon should not be limited to the ministry among women or girls in hospitals, institutions or youth work. Nor should her function be reduced to that of unobtrusively assisting men who can no longer manage their extensive tasks. She has her own, completely independent and irreplaceable task in the service of the Church. There may, of course, be situations in which the administration of the word or the sacrament or pastoral ministry can be performed better by a woman than by a man (or vice versa), but this is a matter of an efficient division of labor.

The primary reason for possibly admitting women to the ministry lies, therefore, in a new vision of the ministry. But there might be other considerations such as: reduction of the shortage of ministers, the removal of a situation without prospects for women candidates who are certain of their vocation and who are capable; an ecclesiastical aggiornamento which tunes in to the contemporary democratic attitude, granting equal rights and duties to men and women (as expressed, for instance, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Repercussions in the Ecumenical Field

What would be the repercussions in the ecumenical field? In many Churches, especially of the Anglican Communion, the hesitation was partly due to a fear that such a change would hinder ultimate union—and at this point one thinks mostly of objections from the side of the Catholic`Church. This anxiety arises from a sense of ecumenical responsibility. But at the same time it is realized that a new understanding of God's will must lead to new action in obedience. In a study report of the Church of Scotland we read, “The Church of Scotland is perfectly free to set its house in order in any way in which it is led by the Spirit of God to do so, and the enrichment of its life can be used by God for the enrichment of all the Churches when in God's good time reunion comes to pass.”(8) Professor A. Dumas sees developments in the Churches which justify the hope that the discussion about women ministers will not aggravate the division, but that the Churches will discern here the fruit of the biblical and liturgical renewal.(9)

The anxiety not to delay the union of the Churches, which rings true in those who want to advance the cause of women ministers, becomes suspect when opponents use it as their weapon. The ecumenical argument appears to be used in two quite different ways. In the Anglical Church of England, in which already in 1935 an official report stated there were no theological or psychological reasons which would bar women from the ministry, we observe nevertheless a kind of reserve which imposes self-restriction because of the growth towards unity. On the other side, some opponents display a pseudo-ecumenical attitude; they try to impose restrictions on others for ecumenical reasons. There was a hardly hidden threat in the warning given by W. Kampe, auxiliary bishop of Limburg in Germany, to the Evangelical Churches that introduced the office of “Pastorin”; he asked them to consider their action with a view to a later reunion, because in the Roman Church women in the ministry are completely unthinkable.(l0) And Ch. Boyer wrote, “The obstacles to unity are already considerable. The ordination of women would add an insuperable one. As this matter is still being studied by the World Council of Churches one hopes that such a solution will prevail as is conducive to unity.''(11)

Does it cause wonder that non-Catholics conclude that conditions are imposed upon them which they have to accept in order not to make reunion impossible? As Father gorger, S.S., asked the Synode Réformé of France not to open the ecclesiastical ministries to women (which was done, nevertheless, in May, 1965) because this would hinder the reunion of churches, Elisabeth Schmidt, woman pastor at Nancy, rightly observed that the Catholic Church herself did not abstain from pronouncing the dogma of Mary's Assumption, although this meant an enormous obstacle to unity. The least thing the Reformation Churches may expect from the Catholic Church is a genuine willingness to study the question of women ministers, even though it is realized that such honest study may lead to conclusions which will ask for radical change.

This subject does not only affect the union between the Churches; it affects also the unity within a Church. In the Lutheran State Church of Sweden division arose when three women theologians were ordained priests on Palm Sunday, 1960. The group around Bishop Giertz, bishop of Göteborg, issued a manifest which called upon priests and laymen to boycott the work of women ministers. Two years later he drew up twenty-three theses, in which he tried to prove that the admittance of women to the ministry was contrary to the Holy Scriptures. It is very likely that such tensions could equally be expected in the Catholic Church, which is spread out over countries with strongly differing opinions and traditions, if there has not been a gradual preparation. In view of this we now have to deal with the following objections which are often brought to the fore.


Sometimes it is pointed out that the time is not yet ripe for these innovations, which are in themselves desirable, so that it is better not to discuss them for the time being. It would, however, be wrong to wait with the renewal of the Church and of the ministry till everyone is ready for it. But it is essential to prepare the community for the renewal: to familiarize it in this case with the idea that women can hold ecclesiastical office, too. For that matter, it is already easy to see a first change in the public opinion in the Church. At least in some areas, of course, in countries where women still hold an inferior place in social life, this subject is hardly under discussion. But it is unnecessary to feel threatened by the admission of women to the ministry. It does not limit anyone's freedom, though it removes a limitation to the freedom of others. No woman is forced to accept orders, and no community is forced to accept a woman minister. It is quite conceivable that there might be women priests in western countries but not yet in Arabic and Mediterranean countries. This would be an expression of the pluriformity of the Church which we have come to accept as healthy and salutary.

Sometimes it is feared that the agitation for equal rights in the ministry is detrimental to the improvement of the position of women as lay persons. One wants to strengthen the position of women in lay work and considers that the ambition of others to have women admitted to the ministry is undesirable. The German theologian Elisabeth Gössmann especially puts this point of view forward in her writings and speeches. One may ask oneself whether this is not a certain narrowing of vision. Why should we not simultaneously strive for the rightful place for women both in the lay apostolate and in the ministry? As long as women are admitted only in other fields of the life of the Church but not to the ministry, one cannot speak of the real recognition of her equal place in the Church, and this may also have an unfavorable influence on her position in the lay apostolate.

Those who insist that orders be accessible for women, it is said, should remember that a task outside the ministry is often much more important than the task of a minister. The activity of the layman is as indispensable to the life of the Church as that of the priest. To withhold the function of the priest from women might indicate that they have an important charge of their own outside the sector of the special ministry. The answer to this objection can be simple: these things are not mutually exclusive! In any case, it is significant that the importance of the lay apostolate exercised by men has led no one to the conclusion that all men should remain laymen and that none of them should be ordained. It goes without saying that we shall always have to be on the alert for non-ministerial tasks, in which women can display their own qualities in the service of the Church. We could think, for example, of the new function of pastoral workers. Pastoral workers, trained at Breda (Holland), are laymen and laywomen who have an independent pastoral task and are appointed for it by the bishop. Their function is essentially different from that of the German parochial assistants whose function has been set up on the basis of the traditional distinction between clergy and laity. But that does not take away the desirability that women also participate in the work of the ordained ministry of the Church.

Connected with the above there is sometimes the fear of an increasing clericalization of the Church. The clergy have for far too long appropriated a disproportionate share of power at the cost of lay influence in the Church. That is why there is now a strong need for a major extension of lay influence and lay activity. If we are to have women ministers, eventually they would strengthen again the clerical element. (It may be recalled that the same objection was produced against the re-establishment of the order of the diaconate.) Then there would be a danger that women ministers might try to outdo the women in lay functions. But is this not thinking in terms of an opposition that is (partly) outdated? Ministry and laity are not opposed to each other any more as competitors. Renewal and strengthening of the ministry does not take away from the independence of the lay task. For the ministers are sent precisely to prepare the members of the People of God for their tasks. Will the woman minister not rather be intent on helping the laywoman to find her rightful place in the Church?

Others fear that women ministers may cause an erotic atmosphere to develop in the meetings. The appearance of the woman minister might accentuate the sexual contrast so that both the male laity and the male ministers (the more so when they are subject to the law of celibacy) might be embarrassed. It is conveniently forgotten that the same argument would hold against the male pastor who could have the same influence on his female parishioners. In social life it has for long been taken for granted that men and women cooperate as partners. It is exactly by the participation of women in all sorts of tasks in social life that the relation between the sexes has become more normal and more neutral. Similar objections which later on proved to be superfluous were raised at the time against the first female doctors and professors.

Sometimes the fear is professed that women who are not emotionally balanced will present themselves. Careful selection and training obviate this risk (which is just as real for male candidates). Meanwhile the woman pastor in the Reformed Churches has proved herself equal to fulfilling the ministerial tasks adequately, even in extremely difficult situations. It is to be expected, moreover, that just as in other executive functions the number of women will usually remain considerably smaller than of men.

The fear expressed by H. Thielicke (12)—who, for that matter, is on principle in favor of woman's admission to all ecclesiastical ministries—that the Church may be feminized by a general and unconditional admission of women to the parish ministry, is therefore unfounded. Moreover, is not the age old masculinization of the Church a much more real problem?

A Change in Attitude

In the meantime the place of woman in the Catholic Church is changing fast. The share of women in the lay apostolate is growing more adequate. The presence of female auditors from the third session of the Second Vatican Council onwards points to the hesitant beginning of a fundamental change in attitude. Several bishops from all parts of the world (among them are L. Suenens, G. Hakim, G. Coderre, J. Malula, and A. Frotz) have voted that an end be put to the inferior position of woman in the Church. The revision of canon law is getting underway. With a view to this a number of members of Saint Joan's International Alliance have sent a request to the bishops to remove from canon law all discriminating regulations.(13)

The very essence of the Church calls her to form a community in which the Christian equality and the partnership of all brothers and sisters becomes manifest. She is now facing the task to implement this partnership in all fields of Church life. This makes it necessary for every man and every woman to realize that they can carry out their common task only in mutual completion and to develop a sincere willingness to accept each other as partners. The attempts to further this development will, however, be effective only if they are set up, guided and coordinated systematically. Therefore it is desirable to create within the Catholic Church a body to which the furtherance of this development is entrusted, and which runs along the lines of the “Department of Cooperation of Men and Women in Church, Family and Society” of the World Council of Churches. As long as such a supernational organism does not yet exist, a start should be made in the individual countries. For this purpose on November 3, 1967, the Working Team: Cooperation of Man and Woman in the Church was established in the Netherlands. Mrs. Govaart-Halkes is its president. From the beginning this Working Team will cooperate ecumenically with similar bodies in other Churches. Besides these contacts on the national level, the Working Team is anxious to establish international contacts. An exchange of views and a cooperation on the international level, both as regards the study and the practical realization of purposes, may be fruitful not only for the activities in the Netherlands but also for those of similar organizations in other countries.

The real cooperation of men and women is a task for all who are concerned with the renewal of the Church: not only the well being of women is at stake but also the well being of the entire Church.


1. Elizabeth Schüssler, Der Vergessene Partner, Dusseldorf, 1964, p. 96.

2 A description of this idea is given by Else Kahler: “Partnership is not the relation of similar, but of equal people; starting from different situations and points of view they are working towards the same end.” Cf. Christine Bourbeck (ed.), Zusammen; Beiträge zur Soziologie und Theologie der Geschlechter, Witten, 1965, p. 230.

3. Cf. Inform. Cath. Intern., October 1, 1965.

4. “Women in the Church: a Theological Problem” in The Ecumenist, IV,p. 7-10.

5. Cf. M. E. Thrall, The Ordination of Women to the Priesthood. A Study of the Biblical Evidence, London, 1958, p. 83.

6. In W. Bitter (ed.), Krisis und Zukunft der Frau, Stuttgart, 1962, p. 205.

7. J. Weima, “Authoritarianism, Religious Conservatism and Sociocentric Attitudes in Roman Catholic Groups,” in Human Relations, XVIII, p. 231-239.

8. The Place of Women in the Church, Edinburgh, 1959, p. 37.

9. Concerning the Ordination of Women, World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1964, p. 40.

10. Der Dom, Paderborn, Feb. 2, 1964, p. 2.

11. Osservatore Romano, Apr. 16, 1965.

12. Theologische Ethik, III, Tübingen, 1964, p. 693.

13. Cf. Gertrud Heinzelmann (ed.), We Won't Keep Silence Any Longer; Women Speak Out to Vatican II, Zurich, 1964,

See also by Prof René van Eyden Women in Priestly Ministry and The Creation of Womanhood: A Hierarchical Construction

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The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

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