It’s as though they had advance notice of what he would say. I mean America magazine, and I mean the pope, and I mean the blockbuster interview with him they published this past October. Over here at The Jesuit Post, we carried a round-up of reactions from our contributors in the days following the interview. One of the most talked-about parts of the interview, both on our site and in other places as well, was Pope Francis’ comments that the church needs “a profound theology of women.” I noted at the time that while many people in the church were encouraged by these words, they were also a source of frustration for a great many.
Thankfully, that conversation hasn’t stopped. And America has carried it forward in today’s (October 28) issue — which of course has been in the works since long before the pope’s interview was published — featuring articles by women on women in the life of the Catholic Church. It’s worth taking some time and reading through all of the pieces presented in this issue, but here are a couple that I found particularly noteworthy:
The Editors introduce the issue with a reflection, Conscience of “America,” that looks back at the involvement of women in the life of America, and looks forward to the ways women will continue to be, and need to be, deeply involved in their work. “America needs the voices and gifts of women to fulfill our mission of “interpreting the church for the world and the world for the church…America also takes up the challenge of Pope Francis to help develop a more profound theology of women, which includes drawing attention to the significant theological work already completed in this area.”
Santa Clara University professor Jean Molesky-Polz addresses the absence of women in the ambo in the ministry of the word: “Two thousand years after Mary Magdalene ran and told the brothers, 2,000 years after Junia served as ‘outstanding among the apostles’ and our sister Phoebe taught as a deacon, many Catholic women feel discouraged or excluded by the church. Preaching offers an ancient yet new way for the church to hear the good news proclaimed with women’s wisdom.”
Responding directly the Pope Francis’s call for a profound theology of women, University of Notre Dame’s Kathleen Sprows Commungs writes that this call “may well have restarted a conversation that has been stalled for almost five decades.” She goes on to make this fascinating point about the changing opportunities for women in the life of the church:
Between the early 19th century and the late 1960s, the average Catholic woman in the United States could envision far more opportunities within church structures than outside of them. Religious life offered Catholic women access to education, meaningful work and leadership in ways that were inconceivable in secular circles. In the last half-century we have witnessed a historic reversal of this pattern. Transformations for women in American society have far outpaced transformations for women within the church. While religious life still offers many opportunities, Catholic women increasingly accustomed to wide-open doors in American life grow progressively discontented when they see their church roles as limited.
Pope Francis isn’t the only one to be interested in a conversation about women in the life of the church, and as this issue of America shows, that conversation is already in progress. Great minds think alike, you might say. Let us know in the comments here about other pieces in the issue that are especially worth reading, or point us at other parts of this conversation on the web.
And let’s hope with so many others that the conversation on the role of women in the life of the church — beyond just websites and magazines — continues, and doesn’t just end with words.