Panel: Gospels hold clues for role of women, men in the Church

Friday, Mar. 29, 2024
By Catholic News Service

ROME  —The Gospels have a lot to contribute to current discussions about the role of women and men in the life of the Church, three Italian theologians said during a panel discussion in Rome.

While the Gospel writers give different accounts of events with different views of women and men as disciples of Christ, fundamentally the Gospels present a huge novelty for the culture at the time: that Jesus’ disciples experienced being “a community of equals, where men and women are both disciples and also apostles,” Salesian Sister Linda Pocher said at the discussion in Rome March 18.

In St. Luke’s Gospel, there is a sort of “division that kind of mirrors the structure of the community” in which he is present, suggesting that he may have been trying to “adapt this novelty to a cultural context that does not view the presence of women in public life well,” said Sr. Pocher a professor of Christology and Mariology at Rome’s Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences “Auxilium.”

But St. John presents a different picture where there is no division or distinction, “women do exactly the same things that the men do, they dialogue with Jesus even about theology, they proclaim (the Good News), they even proclaim before the men do, and often the direct revelation of Jesus’ identity is made to a woman,” she said.

This suggests, she said, that “there were communities where roles had been divided on the basis of gender and communities instead where the effort was made to live out this newness of an equality in tasks, in ministries, based on a relationship with Christ where, according to Paul’s word, there is no longer Jew or Gentile … male or female.”

Analogously, “What we experience in Europe is very different from what is experienced on other continents, so I think that is what the challenge is, which is to move from a single model to a plurality, to allow ourselves the opportunity to experiment with multiple models,” she said.

Sr. Pocher was one of two theologians who made presentations to Pope Francis and his international Council of Cardinals in December about the role of women in the Church. They published their papers in Italian in a book with a foreword by Pope Francis, Smaschilizzare La Chiesa? (De-masculinize the Church?). The pope said in the book’s forward, “It is necessary to listen to each other to ‘de-masculinize’ the Church because the Church is a communion of men and women who share the same faith and the same baptismal dignity.”

The panel discussed some of the book’s themes, particularly Sr. Pocher’s essay, which, she said, looked at what the Gospels say about the presence of women in order to try to highlight some aspects that have not been usually emphasized.

For example, she said, what always gets emphasized about Mary is her maternity and virginity, which are important but do not offer the complete picture, which includes her unique approach to opening up dialogue.

One of the stereotypes of Mary is that she is a silent woman, Sr. Pocher said. And yet, in the Bible, “she speaks more than many of the apostles.”

Mary has no problem expressing herself and her feelings, like when she finds a young Jesus who disappeared in the temple, she said. “She tells him, ‘Why did you do this to us, we have been anxious, looking for you.’”

It is communication “saturated with feelings and yet that also leaves room for the other to give an answer” and have different opinions, which is a form of respectful dialogue the pope is trying to promote in the Church through the synodal process, she said.

Mary also engages in this kind of dialogue in the Gospel account of the wedding at Cana in Galilee, said Father Sergio Massironi, a theologian and a staff member of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The episode has to do with how one interprets the word of God, he said. Mary tells Jesus there is no more wine at the wedding, and Jesus replies, “How does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come,” but she tells the servers, “Do whatever he tells you,” and Jesus turns water into wine.

Jesus says “no” to Mary’s request, and she translates this as her son saying “yes,” and she does the opposite of what Jesus says, Fr. Massironi said.

“The great thing is that Jesus then does exactly the thing Mary said,” he said. If Mary is not only the figure of the disciple but also the figure of the Church, then “her relationship with the word of Jesus is free, responsible interpretation” of something he then confirms.

As disciples and as a Church, this is a kind of responsibility that questions and listens to what Jesus is really saying, he said.

In the early Christian communities, he said, it seems the experience of discipleship lived out in equality gradually gave way “to forms of living together that were considered more respectable.”

The other panel member, Andrea Grillo, a theologian and professor of sacramental theology at the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in Rome, said today there is a “need to prudently overcome stereotypes that we have tacked on to revelation.”

“Serene, welcoming dialogue is the only way to understand what Scripture is telling us,” he said, and taking the Gospel away from “those prejudices that have sequestered it” so it would be more compatible with the communities, cultures and times throughout history.

True tradition, he said, “is being able to have a dialogue to see what limits we have put on being a woman and being a man,” he said.

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