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Monday, 2 July 2007

The feminisation of the Church

John Allen's column this week is titled Lay ecclesial ministry and the feminization of the church. He quotes statistics that bear out something I have mentioned before:
For a church long perceived as bastion of male privilege, it's striking that these new lay professional roles are held disproportionately by women. As of 2005, roughly 80 percent of lay ecclesial ministers in the United States were women.
I imagine the numbers would be roughly similar in England.

One of the key problems in my opinion is that of the promotion of lay ministry as an answer to all our problems. To quote Christifideles Laici,
In the same Synod Assembly, however, a critical judgment was voiced along with these positive elements, about a too-indiscriminate use of the word "ministry", the confusion and the equating of the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood, the lack of observance of ecclesiastical laws and norms, the arbitrary interpretation of the concept of "supply", the tendency towards a "clericalization" of the lay faithful and the risk of creating, in reality, an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that founded on the Sacrament of Orders. (n.23)
and further on,
[...] it is necessary that in acknowledging and in conferring various ministries, offices and roles on the lay faithful, the Pastors exercise the maximum care to institute them on the basis of Baptism in which these tasks are rooted. It is also necessary that Pastors guard against a facile yet abusive recourse to a presumed "situation of emergency" or to "supply by necessity", where objectively this does not exist or where alternative possibilities could exist through better pastoral planning. (ibid)
Some of my more cynical brethren among the clergy will say at this point that this is a return to the supposed situation of the past where the laity were supposed to "pray, pay and obey". In fact, Christifideles Laici offers a genuine understanding of the lay apostolate (as distinct from lay ministry) which calls to mind that much neglected document of Vatican II, Apostolicam Actuositatem (Decree on the Lay Apostolate)
The various ministries, offices and roles that the lay faithful can legitimately fulfill in the liturgy, in the transmission of the faith, and in the pastoral structure of the Church, ought to be exercised in conformity to their specific lay vocation, which is different from that of the sacred ministry. In this regard the Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, that had such a great part in stimulating the varied collaboration of the lay faithful in the Church's life and mission of spreading the gospel, recalls that "their own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, as well as the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media. It also includes other realities which are open to evangelization, such as human love, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work, and suffering. The more Gospel-inspired lay people there are engaged in these realities, clearly involved in them, competent to promote them and conscious that they must exercise to the full their Christian powers which are often repressed and buried, the more these realities will be at the service of the Kingdom of God and therefore at the service of salvation in Jesus Christ, without in any way losing or sacrificing their human content but rather pointing to a transcendent dimension which is often disregarded" (ibid)
When somebody does a reading at Mass or acts as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, they are doing something that a priest can do. One of my parishioners (now deceased) arranged for a group of fellow-employees at the Bank where she worked, to say the Rosary at the tea break. That is not something I can arrange, it is a specifically lay apostolate. The same goes for a father teaching his children to behave decently, a post office worker gaining such respect among his younger colleagues that they refrain from swearing when he is around. Yes, that actually happened - in Peckham of all places. It was a West Indian man whom his young co-workers held in high esteem.

While we promote lay ministry instead of genuine lay apostolate, we will probably continue the feminisation of the Church. The lay apostolate on the other hand, will help to involve people of both sexes with many different gifts to bring to the evangelisation of our culture - including men willing to engage in a rearguard action in the culture war that we have largely lost in modern Britain.
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