Today is International Women’s Day. Catholics believe that people are equal in dignity, and that no one should be discriminated against or harmed. These are principles on which all in the Church can agree. But how these principles are lived out concretely is a trickier issue, as the movements for equality in the church for women and LGBT communities have made clear.
New Ways Ministry’s Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, explored this challenge in a recent essay for The National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report. She reported on her experiences at an international church reform gathering last fall in Chicago. Sr. Jeannine linked the two movements, saying lessons from efforts to ensure women’s equality can readily inform efforts for LGBT equality.
The gathering in Chicago included priests’ groups and lay organizations from about a dozen nations. She explained that the representatives have had difficulty agreeing on liturgical worship that would be consistent with the values expressed and comfortable for all attendees, The issue of women’s liturgical leadership became a sticking point. Gramick commented:
“Did [the debate about liturgy] have any implications for my particular ministry for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people? The group had easily adopted a resolution ‘to stand against violence in all its forms — physical, emotional, spiritual and temporal — toward LGBT people’ and to ‘encourage the Church’s leaders and individual members to make the same commitment.’ There were some minimal questions about this resolution but not the angst felt in discussing women’s liturgical participation.
“Was equality for women a thornier issue than equality for LGBT people? No, not really. The LGBT resolution was expressed in general terms of equality, without specific actions. The group had also called for, and agreed upon, progress on full equality for women in the church; but the proposal about women, like the one about LGBT people, was broad and did not include particular examples of equality.”
Gramick acknowledged “people of good will can agree on general principles, but it is in specific applications that the rubber meets the road,” thus the challenges at the gathering of church reformers. She continued:
“At the next international conference of priests and reform organizations in 2018, when we discuss concrete actions that affirm the dignity and rights of LGBT people, I need to be prepared for similar resistance, hesitations, and concerns when these human rights and civil liberties are spelled out. . .
“I need to be patient because movement on issues requires time. Just as some who had opposed the proposition in Limerick had moved in their thinking about women’s liturgical role a year and a half later, there will be more movements in the future. I am pondering the words of Ecclesiastes 3:11: ‘God has made everything appropriate to its time.'”
It goes without saying that transforming doctrine and ecclesial practices about gender and sexuality is work that is almost immediately problematized. An event at the Vatican today for International Women’s Day illustrates this difficulty. The Voices of Faith gathering, an annual meeting of Catholic women from across the globe, will find participants sharing their stories around the general theme of uplifting women’s dignity and human rights. But the question of women’s ordination will not be discussed, and, in previous years, speakers have explicitly rejected ordination equality. And there are no openly lesbian, queer, or trans women speaking, despite the urgent need for such voices to be heard in our church.
Equality for women and for LGBT people in the church is, to a certain extent, a unified cause. Bondings 2.0’s Editor Francis DeBernardo, explored this point in a post this past January. The participants from each movement can learn from one another, and support one another, too. Gramick concluded her piece on such lessons with these words:
“I am convinced that, as a church, we agree on the big picture. Each one of us may have specific ideas about the details in the painting: the colors to be used, the shape of objects, or the size of the canvas, but on the whole work of art we see eye-to-eye. As members of the church, we are united in our faith and belief in Christ and in our desire to follow the greatest commandment: to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.”
Let us then reflect this International Women’s Day on the ways we, as Catholic advocates for LGBT people, can be informed by and contribute to the movement for women’s equality in the church.
What do you think? Is Sr. Jeannine’s assessment correct? What lessons have you learned from other social justice movements that help LGBT equality? How can LGBT and ally communities contribute to women’s equality in the church? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the ‘Comments’ section below.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 7, 2017