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A Call to Professional Catholic Women

December 5, 2013

Recently America Magazine devoted their October issue to Women in the Life of the Church, fitting in light of Pope Francis’ statement to bishops on July 28, 2013: “Let us not reduce the involvement of women in the church but instead promote their active role in the ecclesial community.” He warned that the church “risks becoming sterile” if more women aren’t more actively involved.

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Finding a place in the Church

Kerry Alys Robinson, executive director of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management contributed a compelling article to the magazine on the need for professional women to find their proper place in the church. She writes, “We are professional women who care deeply about the church and represent families with decades of service to the global church. We have studied Catholic theology at the master’s and doctoral levels, immersed ourselves in ecclesiology and canon law, raised our children in our faith and dedicated our lives to serving the church philanthropically.”

Recognition of the need

Pope Francis is not the first to recognize the need to increase the number of women in positions of responsibility. Pope Benedict XVI had also “lamented the dearth of women in senior-level positions in the Roman Curia.” In response, a group of women led by Chantal Götz of the Fiedel Götz Foundation based in Liechtenstein began private meetings with cardinals in Rome to discuss this issue. Robinson was a part of those meetings.

Fruitful times

Describing the cardinals as warm and receptive, Robinson tells of the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist with them in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica after fruitful discussion. The group has been invited back to meet with the cardinals on several occasions.

The cost of the lack of a role

The basis of the discussion surrounded the following thesis: while professional Catholic women have been able to attain high levels of leadership in many secular industries, they have been limited within the church. Unable to serve with full capacity, such women tend to turn away and devote their attention more to the secular world, causing the church to lose a tremendous talent pool. The church may in turn become less relevant to these women, a feeling that is passed down to their children. Robinson concludes, “By failing to attend properly to the leadership of women, the church misses out on the talent of half of the people made in the image and likeness of God to further its mission. Without these highly talented, accomplished women, the whole church is impoverished.”

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The following suggestions were made during the discussions:

  • Expand professional and advisory roles for women
  • Increase the pool of candidates and the number of women who wish to serve on advisory councils to the pontiff
  • Restore the diaconate for women
  • Appoint women to diplomatic and communications positions
  • Reclaim the many Scriptural passages with women portrayed as leaders which have been left out of the Lectionary

Advocating for women religious

Robinson and her group are passionate in their advocacy of women religious who they say are at the epicenter of some of the most effective and courageous ministries in the world. As an example they cited women religious in Syria who, at their own peril, have remained in the war-torn country to care for orphans. “Promoting, celebrating and expressing gratitude for their lives, leadership and example is right and just,” she writes.

Developing young people for leadership in the Church

Robinson cites an intriguing model for the development of young people to roles of leadership, through a program known as Esteem (Engaging Students to Enliven the Ecclesial Mission) which is currently being carried out on twelve different campuses across the United States. Using mentors and a year-long curriculum, Catholic college students are recruited to the program for the purpose of training them for leadership on pastoral councils, diocesan finance councils and boards of trustees of Catholic nonprofit organizations. This program addresses the problem of young people drifting away from the church after graduation by giving them specific and concrete roles to which they can serve immediately upon graduation. Robinson sees this as a fertile training ground for young professional Catholic women.

Taking advantage of the talent pool of professional Catholic women is advantageous to the church, bringing a diversity of experience and perspective. Here is an example of professional Catholic women bringing their faith out into the workplace:

Local opportunities to serve

We are fortunate in the Worcester Diocese to have a group that offers such an opportunity. The Commission for Women recognizes the wealth of such women in our diocese and extends an invitation to you to join us in our advisory role to the bishop. There are many opportunities for women younger and older, to bring their talents and experiences to the Commission in service to the diocese. Please write to worcestercommissionfowomen@gmail.com or call 508-839-3055 if you would like to serve.

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