Sacrifice, women and ministry: That’s then this is now

People on the edges are what the Church sacrifices most today Elizabeth Young RSM told the conversation on Flashes of Insight.

She describes these people as ‘lost opportunities’.

Young, a pastoral worker who once worked in a large diocese, says that city dioceses, hospitals, schools and parish communities are generally well resourced and have good systems in place, however, there is an issue on the “missionary edges”.

As a sacramental church, the limited resources go first to priests who can celebrate sacraments Young told Flashes of Insight.

She thinks that people are missing out and the Church is sacrificing lots of opportunities by not being able to offer sacraments to people who are being cared for by those who love them and committed to them.

“Sacraments add just so much to ministry”, she added.

Young says she loves the fact the Catholic Church is a sacrament-based church but wonders what might be when something so valuable to those on the margins is not available to them.

“Our church is perhaps sacrificing the ability to be there with people Jesus would have been with”, she said.

Young says we love the Church but in these times need a lot of hope in Christ, as the Church continues to develop.

Kate Bell a theologian and catechist with the Palmerston North diocese in New Zealand makes the issue tangible.

She describes women’s ministry, as, at times, “doing the role with our hand behind our backs and a gag in our mouths.”

Bell says it is the Church that is making the sacrifice; the sacrifice and cost to the Church is the loss of potential not being brought into actuality.

It is a point that Jo Ayers, an Auckland theologian and author amplifies, saying she often wondered what would happen to the church if women went on strike for a generous amount of time.

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Ministry clarity or crumbs from the table?

Anything that authenticates, makes visible and validates women’s ministry will help women take their rightful place in the Church says Kate Bell, a theologian and catechist.

She made the comment on Flashes of Insight, a conversation between herself, and fellow theologians, Fiona Dyball, Elizabeth Young and Jo Ayers.

The women discussed the newly approved ministries for women of Lector, Acolyte and Catechist.

“I think it is helpful that Canon Law has been changed and women are formally allowed into ministry.

“It’s got to be helpful that women because of the ‘womenness’ are no longer excluded from ministry.

However, her view is not all ‘clear water’, Bell telling the conversation she has a slight concern that formal recognition of these ministries might alienate the baptised who have been performing them for a long time.

“The people of God, the baptised, might become further disenfranchised from ministry by yet  another layer and another process.”

While keen to see the introduction of formal ministries Bell does not want ministry to happen only when it is recognised.

“It’s the job of all of us to be involved,” she said.

Host, Joe Grayland politely suggested Bell was ‘sitting on the fence’.

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Warning, Synods may not work for women

Synods, seen by Pope Francis and many to be inclusive, have the possibility of becoming exclusive.

The signs of hope that Synods hold for women and those within the Church who want to see change may deliver the opposite.

The warning comes from involved and committed Catholic women in a conversation on Flashes of Insight.

Saying that synodal discernment is not easy nor fast, leaves the question open to how much time and effort people will have to give to a process that perhaps seems to be better suited for church professionals.

The women warn the noninvolvement of people may have the inverse effect of opening up the Church, implying it may return the Church walled garden albeit built by a minority view.

Through groups, she is associated with in Australia, Auckland theologian and lecturer Jo Ayers is watching the Australian Plenary (synod) develop.

From her involvement with these groups, she questions how inclusive the process is and suggests that excluding people from the conversation will have the significant potential to further alienate, perhaps the majority of Catholics.

“There is a lot of discussion and struggle about the agenda for the (Australian) Plenary and who will be the members who make the decisions”.

All four women on Flashes of Insight are hopeful and want to see change.

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Second-class membership for women is unjust anywhere

The Catholic Church organization reflects an ancient society where women are incapable of leadership and governance says Auckland theologian and lecturer, Jo Ayers.

“Second-class membership for women anywhere is unjust,” she told Flashes of Insight on Wednesday.

Asked by host Joe Grayland if the relationship of women and the Catholic Church is a problem, she replied she did not choose to see it this way and simply called the relationship of women and the Catholic Church “a matter of justice”.

Ayers said that God is made known to us in all our relationships and in examining these we are told that women are fully human.

She says that the Catholic Church is no longer prophetic for women and that civil society is.

“The evidence in New Zealand of women in leadership, in the highest jobs in the country underscores that civic society is ahead of the (Catholic) Church”.

It is a point echoed by Palmerston North catechist and theologian, Kate Bell, who is concerned the Church is so far behind.

“It is the (Catholic) Church that has the problem. It has not been able to comprehend and stay on board with the fact that women are baptized.

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Women deacons in the Catholic Church

No issue in the Catholic Church is hotter than the question of women in ministry.

Whether women can, should or will be ordained to the diaconate is what Dr Phyllis Zagano, Emeritus Professor Justin Taylor and Dr Joe Grayland discuss in the latest edition of Flashes of Insight.

Zagano’s starting point is that the past is clear, and no one’s going to argue that women were not deacons.

“Women clearly are clearly in our many churches histories and were ordained (deacons)”, she said.

“In many cases, they were sacramentally ordained to serve as deacons and to serve as deacons fully in different places in different times”.

Zagano said that in ‘recent’ times two bishops began a conversation at the Vatican Council, asking about restoring women to the diaconate.

“The conversation they began is still going on”, Zagano says.

One of the questions is if the Church restored women to the diaconate, whether they would be installed or ordained she pondered.

However, for others in the Flashes of Insight conversation, women deacons are in effect working well in the Church, except it does not call them deacons, and they are not ordained.

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Synodality: Power to the people

The Synod word has fallen out of widespread use in Catholic circles, but it is back, big-time.

What does it mean? What are the issues? How should we approach a Synod?

Joining Flashes of Insight host Dr Joe Grayland to discuss Synods and Synodality are:

  • Cardinal John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand,
  • Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia and
  • Professor Thomas O’Loughlin, Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham.

Synods were introduced to the Archdiocese of Wellington when Cardinal Tom Williams was archbishop.

Reasonably rare occurrences, the Archdiocese has experienced four synods, two while Cardinal Williams was archbishop and two during Cardinal Dew’s time.

Dew told the discussion that while some will be familiar with the concept of a Synod, he suspected most in the archdiocese were unlikely to be. He explained that in the Archdiocese, synods are about working together, listening together and encouraging the participation of lay people in setting the Archdiocese’s direction.

Pressed on whether he thought bishops are prepared to give up their authority, Dew said it was implicit that the episcopal authority would change radically.

He cited a very tangible example of synodality in operation.

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The Vatican’s response to same-gender blessings

The Vatican’s same-gender blessings statement (Responsum) has back-fired according to theologian Dr James Alison.

“I’ve been rather encouraged, and particularly surprised how much more unworriedly critical a vast number of people, including cardinals and bishops have been”.

He’s calling the Vatican’s move ‘a shot in the foot’.

James Alison spoke with Professor Thomas O’Loughlin, Fr Michael Kelly SJ, hosted by Dr Joe Grayland on Flashes of Insight.

He characterised the Vatican’s document as a dialogue that is failing to be dialogical.

Alison says the Responsum is an attempt to shut down ‘horizontal conversation’ between people by introducing a ‘vertical directive’.

The Vatican is trying to place a trump card he claims.

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Seeing people as people

Where is the church going with the debate over same sex blessings?

Should our understanding of liturgy, blessing and sacraments be radically rethought or is the problem that we understand blessing, sacraments and liturgy as things that are “done to us”?

Answering from a liturgical perspective Tom O’Loughlin says ‘liturgy is a human response to the divine, to each other and to human need’.

The church has a role of interceding for people and if we lose sight of this, we minister to the concept of marriage rather than two people who are giving themselves in marriage, one to the other: “Blessing is not a magical formula” says O’Loughlin.

James Alison considers that some Gay and Lesbian people are seeking the blessing of the church to celebrate a “fixed stage in their lives” and  “to bear witness to something”.

Both they and their families wish “to give thanks to God” he says: “We bless God and God blesses us”. We enter into the blessing.

Michael Kelly SJ points out that in the traditiional Catholic theology of marriage “the couple administer the sacrament to each other”.

What makes it a sacrament is they are baptised,” he says.

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The top-down assumption has made itself ridiculous

Because marriage equality is so prevalent in Catholic countries, Joe Grayland pose whether Catholic theology more than Protestant theology is more open to same-sex blessings?

Is there a difference between catholic and protestant theology – more than evangelical protestant theology?

James Alison responds to these questions.

“Intrinsic to Catholic theology is the notion that grace builds on nature and so once we work out what ‘is’; a homosexual person, grace flows, people flourish says James Alison.

So ‘yes’ is the answer.”

Alison points out that in his experience most Catholics, are not particularly worried about what the bible says about Gay and Lesbian people because “most Catholics don’t derive their faith from the bible – the bible goes along with their faith”.

In countries that were previously identified as Catholic, Alison sees a changing face to Catholic theology as a result of the impact of evangelical Protestantism.

In noting the change Alison says the ‘ground music’ of ‘ordinary religious discourse’ is now Protestant.

He puts this down to the evangelical and protestant groups not being elitist, and not identified with the ruling hierarchies.

He notes the irony that the Catholic Church has to sort of reply to newfound circumstance with more charismatic type worship, and this is adding to their problem.

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Liturgy more than ritual – Talking through the experience

Join Joe Gayland, Tom O’Loughlin, James Siemens, Carmel Pilcher, Kevin McGinnell, Sophy Morley, Jo and Gerard Shepherd, Judith Courtney, Judy Foster and Jo Ayers in this edition of Flashes of Insight – Let’s Talk Liturgy as they talk through the COVID-19 experience and ask about the lessons various parishes and church communities may have learned.

They also hint at some of the practices that as people of faith the Church could embrace in this changing world.