The Table

The Working Group on the Collaboration of Men and Women in Ministry is a small but mighty group organized by the Justice and Peace, and the integrity of Creation (JPIC) promoters. Last weekend nearly one hundred people (mostly sisters) attended a seminar organized by the group with Catholic theologian, Marinella Perroni, Professor of New Testament at the Pontifical University St. Anselmo in Rome and the former president of the Association of Italian Women Theologians.

Marinella Perroni

Marinella Perroni

Prof. Perroni offered a thoughtful and incisive reflection and exegesis on the role of women in the New Testament and the Church today. We discussed the balance of this work as between “resistance” and “resilience” – a very similar idea to the “hermeneutics of suspicion” and the “hermeneutics of recovery:”

la prospettiva di genere: una resistenza comprensibile, una “resilienza” auspicabile

resistenza: Là dove si solleva il sospetto sulla neutralità del discorso, dove si mettono in discussione stereotipi di genere e si tenta un’organizzazione più inclusiva degli spazi, certamente accade qualcosa (Lucia Vantini, Il Regno gennaio 2015).

resilienza è un termine derivato dalla scienza dei materiali. In psicologia connota proprio la capacità delle persone di far fronte agli eventi stressanti o traumatici e di riorganizzare in maniera positiva la propria vita dinanzi alle difficoltà. Bisogna concepire la resilienza come una funzione psichica che si modifica nel tempo in rapporto all’esperienza, ai vissuti e, soprattutto, al modificarsi dei meccanismi mentali che la sottendono.

With resistance we must challenge the “gender neutrality” of scriptures and storytelling, challenge gendered stereotypes, and work for more inclusive spaces in our Church and society. Resilience is more of a psychological coping of trauma and stress, the “reordering” of one’s life to live a positive or healthful life in the face of difficulties, informed by one’s experiences.

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A room full of mostly women religious, with photos of men all around the walls.

Perroni debunked uno stereotipo molto radicato: the modern understanding of the twelve apostles, especially in light of the resurrection(Jn 20,1-2.11-18), with several mentions of women who were followers of Jesus as part of  a discipleship of equals, where men and women followed and served Jesus together. In Mk 15, 41 (Mt 27,55s), women and men are mentioned as servants of Jesus, while in Lk 8,1-3, the women are in the scene to serve the others (the men).  Today we have departed from the model of a discipleship of equals to what Perroni described as a “patriarchy of love” — a striking description. The patriarchy preaches loving one another as brothers, (and later “sisters”), but that this gentle message comes from a model of inequality.

The patriarchy of love is one that glorifies women (“We are either Eve or Mary: nothing in between”), but reminded us that as soon as women are glorified, they are marginalized. Perroni in particular challenged the Marion/Pauline model in a book by Damiano Marzotto that Pope Francis is said to have read, as reproducing gendered stereotypes: “Women are the spirit of the Church” and men “do power.” We need both. 

Shed light on the role of women in the development of faith in the canonical Gospels.  Women are often “beyond the boundaries,” both territorially (Mt 15,21-28) and religiously (Mk 5,25-34). Perroni described this as being on the border of “religious taboos”– reminded me very much of the Roman Catholic Women Priests!

For those who are interested in studying the readings discussed, the lecture also highlighted: Jn 4,5-30.31-38.39-43; Jn 11.20 to 27; the anonymous disciple of Mk, from 14.3 to 9; Mary of Bethany (Jn 12.1 to 8).

A criticism we often hear of the women’s ordination movement (across any religion) is that women just want more power, to which Perroni refreshingly said: Of course we do.  “However, power should not be seen through the priesthood.” But it is. Our church has divided “sacred power” from “administrative power,” the latter which seems to be something within Pope Francis’ political will to change (“Although I don’t think there will be a woman in charge of the CDF… can you imagine!”).  Nevertheless, with a church that has decided on these divisions, that purports a clerical culture, women’s ordination is intrinsic to any equality.  As a dear friend recently said: “Either ordain women or let’s stop pretending our church fully values and respects women.”

The lecture was wildly well-received and sisters after the event spoke of how important it was to have such a strong and unafraid voice, many of whom plan to take back their notes to study and pray with their communities.  I am so grateful to be part of the Working Group and know that this lecture will embolden and inform our efforts to come.