A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the 5th annual symposium of “Donne e Religioni” called, “Sottomissione o libero arbitrio: La condizione femminile come indicatore di progresso e crescita culturale e sociale.” (Submission or free will: the status of women as an indicator of progress and cultural and social growth.)
The two-day event was hosted by an entity called, “Associazione culturale… sounds good” and the ecumenical journal, Confronti, and a handful of other organizations and held in the Palazzo San Macuto June 4-5. The impressive building was interestingly once was one of the main offices during the Holy Inquisition, as well as the site of Galileo’s trials.
The symposium featured mostly Italian academics from universities around Italy, with specializations in everything from Otto Meininger to ISIS to sex trafficking to women in the Italian armed forces. Here is the full program. I was honored to be on a panel with the theme: “l’illuminismo suscita la rivolta, lo schiavo vuole l’incondizionato” with Amalia Margherita Cirio, Marinella Perroni, Vittoria Tola, head of the Union of Women in Italy, Anna Foa, Letizia Tomassone, Silvia Greco.
Sala del Refettorio, Palazzo San Macuto
I gave a short presentation called Equal in Dignity, Prohibited from Governance: Manufacturing an Incisive Presence for Women in the Church where I provided an overview of WOC’s ministries and a deconstruction of some of the language used by the hierarchy, all in hopes to shed light on our Church’s institutional sexism and the importance of “claiming ordination” as a pivotal frontier for dismantling patriarchy.
I must admit I was nervous to present at this event, especially as an obvious cultural outsider. One of the harder things to accept/recognize living abroad is that I don’t possess the same social and cultural heritage or symbols of those around me, and it can be difficult to discern what forces are at play. Nevertheless, our message was well received: the organizer of the event was cheering when I finished, and several attendees offered their gratitude, interest, and “complimenti” after the presentation.
Here are some “highlights” from my presentation:
Excluding women from ordination goes to the root of our institutional sexism. I would like to claim the word itself as the most obvious symbol of a church which is ill, a church which tells the world that women are not equal to men, and a church that has rapidly lost its credibility and its smartest women because of this injustice. If we are afraid of a schism because of the possibility of women’s ordination, my response is always: the schism has already happened. The women, the next generation, my generation, and many men have already left.
… I would like to emphasize again, if we see the Church as an actor in global peace, ending poverty, nuclear disarmament, and violence against women, to name a few, then we must also see the Church as having a role in dismantling sexism in the world. I believe women are the key actors in establishing a more peaceful and just world – and need to be the centerpiece of any campaign against poverty, war, or promoting human rights that the Vatican or the Holy See promotes.
Sponsors of the event
What gives me hope is that what we know of Pope Francis is he is a man open to conversion. He encourages encounter, asks us to go to the margins of our society and our church — places were women always are. I pray that even in his incomplete rhetoric about women and women’s leadership, this suggests or grants permission for others – especially those who have power within our church – to speak and think more boldly about the potential of our church. How beautiful and vibrant would our Church and world be if women were truly equal.
As a side note, I was excited to also quote Mary McKlintock Fulkerton, who I heard recently at a conference at Georgetown on Vatican II and ecumenism. She spoke clearly about the need for women’s ordination and mentioned the Women’s Ordination Worldwide conference in September to refute the suggestion (most recently and publicly cited in the Vatican’s “Women’s Cultures” working document) that women don’t want to be ordained. I loved her use of language, stating that there is no “male bodily skill” required for the priesthood.
As Dr. Mary McKlintock Fulkerton of Duke University, recently stated, there is no “bodily skill” required for the priesthood. Motherhood is a bodily skill, yes, but no use of “male anatomy” should be necessary for the priesthood. (This should not be considered a gendered trade-off either, as women cannot be defined solely by their ability or decision to bear children.)
It was a complete honor to bring the interests and passions of WOC membership to such an intercultural forum — felt like a “first” for WOC, and a wonderful development in our outreach.