ROME – Women meeting around the edges of an Oct. 3-28 summit of bishops in Rome trying to press the Church, seemingly sometimes against all odds, to open up greater space for female leadership had a consistent message: “We’re not giving up our dream.”
While getting more women to have a say in the Church may appear a Quixotic quest, speakers at the event insisted on making it a reality.
“One issue I would really like [the synod of bishops] to discuss is inequality and sexism, not just outside the Church but also within,” said Zuzanna Radzik, a Polish Catholic theologian advocating for greater inclusion in the Church.
“[Sexism] kills dreams, damages lives,” she said.
The event, called “Discerning Women, Voices outside the Synod,” took place Oct. 4 at Santa Maria alle Fornaci in Rome, not too far from the Vatican.
“While bishops continue the kind of closed-off clericalism that has brought the Church to its current state, Women’s Ordination Conference is showing that there is another, better way to dream a future for Catholics,” reads a flier for the event.
Participants and organizers at the conference also took part in a sit-in at the Vatican on Wednesday, where they called bishops and Pope Francis by name to “let women vote!” before being ushered away by Italian police.
“I would love to see them invite young women,” said Jaqueline Straub, a German millennial who felt called to the priesthood at the age of 15. Since then, Straub has been advocating and writing books on women’s vocation to the priesthood.
In her latest book, Kick the Church out of the Coma, Straub, who was born in 1990, addressed young people and called the inaccessibility of women to the priesthood a “violation of the fundamental equality of all faithful through baptism enshrined by the Second Vatican Council.”
“My greatest dream would come true if this possibility were given to me,” she said. “Without young people there is no future for the Church, and without women there is no future for the Church,” she said.
Many called the exclusion of women as voting members at the synod terribly one-sided.
“I can’t think of anything that would clash more with young adults today than the patriarchal system we have in the Church today,” said Jamie Manson a writer and editor at the National Catholic Reporter.
“The result of the synod will be insignificant for many young people,” she added.
Manson pointed to the wide variety of access and opportunities to speak out that social media and the internet offers young women today, asserting that the Church offers inadequate platforms for them to engage – resulting, she said, in an exodus of youth from the Catholic faith.
“Stop making obstacles between God and God’s beloved people,” Manson said she wished to tell bishops, adding that the Church’s approach to sexuality “is ultimately what needs to be dismantled.”
According to Manson, who received a master’s degree in divinity at Yale University, the Church today is in desperate need of great priests, capable of facing the massive challenges facing Catholicism, and that much of the human potential available to the Church is not being tapped because women are ineligible.
“We need the best among us, the most gifted, the most compassionate,” she said. “Seminaries and vocational schools are bursting with women. There is no lack of women desperate to serve the Church and there is no space for them.”
Their parishes don’t want them, there are no jobs for them,” she added.
To male and female Catholics alike who object to ordaining women because of the danger of clericalism, saying that access to power for women would only entrench them in the flawed structures that already trouble the Church, Manson said “women are fierce” and won’t be intimidated by power structures.
Further inclusion within the Church of dissonant voices is not just limited to women, said Paola Lazzarini, an Italian sociologist and author of the “Manifesto for Women in the Church.” Instead, she said, it includes other communities often left at the margins such as LGBT people.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “But the iceberg is really big.”