The Common Good
July-August 2002

Seeing With One Eye

by Joan Chittister | July-August 2002

Will the pedophilia scandal affect the role of women in the church?

A recent editorial cartoon showed a clerical procession in which a mitred man is being preceded down a church aisle by two young altar boys. The cardinal is carrying a placard that reads, "Celibacy has nothing to do with pedophilia. " The scowling little altar boy who is leading the procession, however, is saying to his partner, "Oh, yeah? Well, if he were a father, I bet he wouldn't let anything happen to kids."

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The message is clear: There are some things that may be clinically unrelated to the problem at hand but that definitely have a bearing on it. Surely, the role of women in the church is one of those. If the scandal points up anything at all, it begs for a review of the role of women in the decision-making arenas of the church, and the question of the ordination of women as well.

What the scandal highlights in the most glaring of ways is the total absence of women from the inner chambers of ecclesiastical discussion and procedural review. Would women have stood by quietly, said nothing, even agreed to a policy of moving clearly abusive men from parish to parish where they could jeopardize the lives of other children so that the system itself could be saved? The answer is unclear, perhaps, but the question is a necessary one.

Whether or not women as a class would have agreed to such policies is impossible to determine. We may, however, have some clues to the answer, even without benefit of the experience. Women are not more virtuous than men—they have sins of their own—but they do judge systems a great deal more lightly than men do. Women tend to be caretakers and advocates. They are, if we are to believe most of the social-science research in the area, given more to a desire to create and maintain personal relationships than they are to a desire to get and keep power. To have women at the table for discussions could, then, introduce a balance of values, another set of priorities, a broader agenda.

What effect will the pedophilia problem have on the question of the ordination of women? Since, at base, the issue of the ordination of women is a theological one, not a psychological one, it is doubtful that the present situation will directly affect the question at all. At the same time, there is no doubt that an awareness of the lack of women in key decision-making arenas of the church is growing. The exclusion of women from the theological synods of the church where the church's understanding of itself (as well as of the world around it) is formed has become a matter of concern. More and more people are becoming conscious of the lack of women in the canonical courts of the church where church law is made and applied, and the effects of all those absences on the quality and character of the faith. Over the long haul, that is sure to have an effect on the continuing credibility of the church theologically as well as psychologically.

The matter is as clear to women as it is to those two little altar boys in the cartoon: As long as women are excluded from the center of either church or state, the human race stands on one leg, sees with one eye, and thinks with one-half the human mind. And it shows.

Joan Chittister, OSB, a Sojourners contributing editor, is executive director of Benetvision and the author most recently of Seeing With Our Souls: Monastic Wisdom for Every Day (Sheed and Ward, 2002).

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