One of the messages of Kerry Robinson’s talk that I appreciated the most was that the Catholic Church is rich in potential. The church, which has offered a prophetic voice in so many social justice issues in the world, is severely behind in the social justice issue of gender equality. Kerry mentions that in a Church where clericalism, sexual abuse, and mismanagement have run rampant, women and their leadership are the key to reform. I whole-heartedly agree, but I would go further to say that new ways of advocating for women in the church are needed.
One of the ways that Kerry and other Catholic women have attempted to influence the Church has been by meeting with cardinals in Rome and discussing the role of women in the Church — and how to elevate women’s positions of leadership. Kerry called these experiences and opportunities to speak with cardinals a ‘rare privilege’ — which begs the question of why speaking to cardinals is such a privilege. Is the church hierarchy really that removed from the people who form the church that getting a chance to talk to the hierarchy about women’s equality is a rare, privileged encounter? And by calling this opportunity a privilege for women — do we reinforce clericalism and the idea that it’s a privilege to speak to church hierarchy? I would hope that the opposite would be true — that it’s a privilege for church hierarchy (men) to get to speak with and interact with women.
I dream of a church in which women, and all genders, have a seat at the table and equal opportunity as men. I don’t have the answers for how to make that happen, none of us do. Kerry calls for increasing managerial leadership positions in the church for women – such as sitting on financial councils, pastoral councils, boards of trustees, etc. I believe that that is only part of the answer to this issue — women deserve to have equal opportunity to all pastoral positions in the church as well as managerial positions.
Kerry says that ‘we can effect change, lead by example to change the culture, stand witness to the new life to come and be the interpreters of the signs of that new life for which we all yearn’. While I do not believe that priests are the only (or the most) pastoral members of the church – I have to wonder how women can effect change and lead by example when the church gives so little opportunity for them to have pastoral roles at the highest level. It will take innovative and new forms of advocacy for women to make these changes happen, and Kerry’s expertise in church management is a vital piece of a greater mission that will require all women’s gifts and talents.
KATHLEEN SHRADER is a registered nurse in San Francisco at a medical homeless shelter. She is studying to become a nurse practitioner at the University of San Francisco, and also works in University Ministry at USF. She’s a former Jesuit volunteer, and also worked with Jesuit Refugee Service in Malawi.