ARCHBISHOP MARK COLERIDGE sheds light on the leadership role of women in the Church.
IN a culture like ours, the question of the ordination of women as deacons, or priests, or bishops, is a thorny one, and very often what the Church teaches on this matter can seem very unjust, treating women as if they were inferior beings or somehow unequal.
That’s not the way the Church sees it. The Church says first of all that all human beings are equal – male, female, they’re all equal. But that doesn’t mean to say that they’re all the same.
So here the Church says that women and men are equal but they are different, but difference implies complementarity.
Now this touches upon the whole question of gender, which is also a powerful question in this culture. There are some people who would say that gender doesn’t matter much, it’s kind of superficial, it’s accidental. That’s not the way the Catholic Church understands gender.
We see it as something that goes right to the heart of human identity. In other words, as something deep and decisive.
Biology may not be destiny, but biology does matter, but gender is more than just biology.
So it’s a question of how we understand gender and, again, we the Catholic Church would say that you have to understand that complementarity of genders if you want to understand why God has given us the gift of gender.
In other words, what is the plan of God?
And the Catholic Church does have a sense of God’s plan, the way God has provided for the human being, and it’s out of that sense of God’s plan that our particular understanding of equality and gender come.
Another point in this whole discussion of women’s ordination concerns the nature of leadership in the Church.
Sometimes people who are in favour of women’s ordination give the impression that the only form of leadership in the Church that matters is ordained leadership.
Now that strikes me as a very clericalist view of the Church and of leadership within the Church.
My experience and I think the evidence of the ages would say, that there are many, many different forms of leadership in the Church, and, again, they’re all complementary, not fighting one against the other – that’s a politicised view of the Church.
Different forms of leadership working together for the building up of the Body of Christ for the sake of mission – that’s what we’re talking about.
Now to say that only the ordained exercise leadership in the Church flies in the face of what I take to be the facts.
There are many, many different kinds of leadership, I’d call them charismatic, which means to say they are gifts that God has given individual people, gifts of leadership. Only one of them is ordained.
Now, historically and certainly today, women have exercised all kinds of different forms of leadership. They may not have been ordained, but they have been mighty leaders in our midst.
You think of someone like St Mary MacKillop.
Now Mary MacKillop wasn’t ordained and as far as I know she was never interested in ordination.
But it would be impossible to deny that Mary MacKillop exercised an extraordinary form of charismatic leadership, not ordained, but a leader absolutely. And you can go through many, many women. Caroline Chisolm is another with her own story here in Australia.
You look down through 2000 years of history, very often, the great leaders, the people who made a real difference, were not those ordained, they were in fact the unordained and, often enough, women.
In the Church at the moment there are all kinds of new impulses of the spirit, all kinds of signs of new life, new communities, often with women in leadership positions, again not ordained but exercising leadership that bears the marks of the Holy Spirit, raised up by God and given a gift of leadership, even though they’re not ordained.
I think this is a moment in the Church where we talk about new evangelisation. It’s a moment where we need new forms of charismatic leadership.
We certainly need the ordained – that’s a fundamental form of leadership – but it’s not the only one. So we need the gifts of women in all kinds of new ways.
We need women to lead, so that the more the Catholic Church says we will not ordain women as deacons, priests and bishops, the more we must then find ways, think as laterally as we can, use as much imagination as possible, to find ways in which women can contribute to the building up of the Church in ways that are genuine leadership even if they are not ordained.
We need the women – the Gospel needs the women more than ever at this time.