(Devil’s advocate for Church reform)
Jose Paul, Delhi
Christ had never created a Church. He had never formulated any rules or laws for the working of any church. The evolution of the church as an organization came into being after centuries of spreading Christian teachings in different parts of the world. The rules and regulations and the hierarchical nature of the church came into being according to the culture of the people in the early centuries. During those days, the society was predominantly ruled by men folk. Women had no education, power or dominance in any community activities. When Jesus preached His principles mainly through parables and His way of life and His Death on the cross, He indented to teach men and women equally. We can’t imagine a Jesus who along with the Father Almighty created women as inferior to man. But in those days, two thousand years ago, culture did not allow many women to come forward and take the lead in following Him as leading people. Still some women followed him till His death on the cross. The customs and culture of the society of those days prevented the women to come forward to preach and take lead in spreading the teachings of Christ in the open.
In later days when Church came into existence as a formal organization, due to the patriarchic culture of the society, men who are supposed to be powerful, and considered to be more educated, took charge of the reins of the organization. They formulated rules and regulations regarding the administration of the Church according to the cultural background of that time. Though not with any vicious intentions, the women were kept away from all the spiritual practices and administration of the Church. It was natural at that time to assume that the priests should be men and all the spiritual services must be administered by men as men were considered superior and the master. Women were even considered to be impure on many occasions of their life. They were not even allowed to worship in the church during certain periods of their life. Till few years back, a women who have given birth to a baby were not allowed in the church for about forty days and that too she could take part in prayers only after her purification by the priest.
During the past few centuries, women who wanted to serve Jesus formed communities of women as different congregations of sisters. They did marvelous work in the field of evangelization and still at it. In reality, they are better than men in their envangalising work. They became educated. They exhibited their ability in almost every field which was considered as the domain of men only earlier. But somehow the organized hierarchy dominated by men did not allow these angels of the church to be taking charge the crucial spiritual services such as performing sacraments. Today in all fields of human enterprises, women have proved to equal to men and in many cases, superior to men.
Even in the near past, women were not allowed to enter the altar of the church. It was considered that their presence there will defile the church. Now that kind of mentality has changed. They are allowed not only to enter the altar; they are serving the Eucharist to the people during the mass time. They are allowed to carry the Eucharist to people who are sick. In most of the churches there are groups of alter girls. The established Church does not recognize them as equal to men and offer them the priesthood or the power to perform sacraments or Mass. This is not due to any spiritual reason, but only ancient culture and the unwillingness of the men in the hierarchy to accept women equivalent to them. This is reflected even in the nomenclature of the people of the Church. A man when he is ordained as a priest, he is called “Father” (which he is not and can never be with the present rules of the church regarding the celibacy of priesthood). A woman after her vows is called “Sister” which is true. How long she may be in the congregation, she may be promoted as sister superior. As soon as a priest is made a bishop, he gets a ring to be kissed by the faithful and a cross to be worn as the sign of authority. These positions are lifelong ones. But a sister as the days go on, she may become a provincial or a general, but no additional ornamentation for her. She has to revert back as an ordinary sister after a designated period.
If we look at the church in India, according to the information from Wikipedia censes 2011, there are 18594 men (priests and brothers) 50,112 women (sisters) working in His vineyard. Look at the number of women workers for Christ in our country compared to the men. They go to all sorts of places for their evangelical service. They cannot say a Mass for themselves or for a small community there. In many interior places, a priest goes once in a week or once in two week just to say a Mass and keep necessary amount of consecrated hosts to last till the next visit of the priest. These 50112 sisters cannot but depend on a male priest even to receive Christ.
The church is not realizing that these women also are as equal spiritual beings as the men. The only higher qualifications the priests have are that they are “men”. Today many of these women are running high quality educational institutions such as schools, colleges, professional colleges, Hospitals, health care centres, social work centers, working girls hostels, aged peoples’ homes, orphanages and many other institutions better than many of their counterparts. In the field of religious and spiritual studies, many of these sisters are taking high level qualifications in theological colleges along with the priests. Is it their lack of studies that preventing the church from making these sisters full- fledged priests?
Many other Christian churches have realized the value and capability of these women and have entrusted them with full-fledged priesthood. In India, in the recent past, not only the high caste Hindu women, even dalit women who were not allowed to go enter the temples are made temple priests. They are opening their eyes to reality of God’s creation. In the secular world, in Judiciary, Industry, business, politics and social life, many women have reached the pinnacle of achievement. But in our Church, though no spiritual or religious reason could be stated, the dominant male hierarchy keeps the women out of their legitimate right to be priestly people. Today those sisters of different congregations are only working as slaves for the male oriented Hierarchy. Are we the Catholics “who believe and preach that man and women who are created by God as equal human beings” cannot consider them equal in spiritual matters? The church is keeping them away from what they are capable, wanting and having a right to serve Jesus in the most intimate way. We, the lay Catholics, believe that so long as the established Church thinks and acts the way it is acting towards women, Jesus Christ will not be a part of established Church. The Church will remain as an empty shell without the living presence of Jesus. I don’t mean the church with brick and mortar. I am talking of the so called mystical body of Christ will be devoid of the presence of Christ. How long will Jesus allow this state of affairs to go on?