Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Church and women

One of the things that tends to be forgotten in the debate on women in the Church is just how important a role the Church has played in Western civilization in articulating key rights for women.

There is a nice article on this from Dr Donald Prudlo (who was my Masters thesis supervisor) over at the Truth and Charity Forum.  Dr Prudlo points out that, amongst other things, it was the Church that rejected the idea that women were simply property to be disposed of by fathers or husbands, or even aborted or exposed at birth, and taught in stead that they but rather had the right to choose whether or not to marry, and if they did marry, to whom.

Forced marriage is a non-Christian concept

Last week NSW Minister for Women, Pru Goward, drew attention to the alarming prevalence of forced marriages in this country, estimated to be running at around 1,000 a year and rising.

It is, of course, largely a consequence of the increase in the proportion of migrants from non-Christian cultures such as Islam and Hinduism which recognise no such autonomy on the part of women when it comes to decisions about marriage for example.

Dr Prudlo points out the Christian tradition on this:

"...Christianity demanded freedom. A woman is not a piece of property to be bartered between father and spouse (though their choices remained significant for all of later history). A woman’s free consent was irreducibly important for Matrimony.

In any other culture, there would be no scene of Old Capulet throwing a fit because Juliet would not consent to marry Paris — anywhere else it was simply inconceivable for a marriageable woman to refuse her father’s wishes. But the dignity of women went further still. The Church safeguarded their right, just like that of men, to choose a more perfect way and refuse marriage entirely. They could not be forced to marry. This was social revolution. Women for the first time had a right of self-determination, rooted in their Christian freedom. They could refuse to marry, enter a convent, and increasingly, become educated.  Some became powerful leaders in Church and state in this manner."

Christian women as saints and martyrs

He also points out that women in the Church have always been accorded a very high status indeed:

"The Church revolutionized the role of women. Women were devoted followers of Christ, and Mary Magdalene had the privilege of announcing the Resurrection to the Apostles themselves (for this she merited the title apostola apostolorum – the “Apostle of the Apostles”). Mary, Christ’s mother, became renowned as the greatest human person ever to live, the “New Eve.

Women laid down their lives with courage in former ages attributed to men alone, and merited for themselves veneration which echoes down the centuries (“Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia,” sound familiar?). St. Perpetua herself leaves some of the first remaining writings ever authored by a woman.  In no culture or religion are women as elevated, respected, and commemorated."

The protections accorded to Christian marriage

It is secularism though, that has undermined one of the most important protections for women, namely the indissolubility of marriage:

"Yet Christianity revolutionized the position of everyday women as well. In a time when women were considered disposable property, Christianity brought the hard teaching of monogamy until death, and equality of guilt in adultery. By banning divorce, the early Church defended the dignity of women as persons, refusing to consider them disposable goods, just as she refused to consider the unborn disposable."

The association between divorce and the increasing proportion of older women living in a state of poverty has been well-established in this country.  A 2010 study summarised the evidence as follows:

"The financial impact of divorce on women is now well  known. Women’s disposable income commonly decreases following separation, limiting their capacity to accumulate superannuation or make voluntary savings. Comparing the 
financial situation of divorced women aged 55-74 years, with those still married, the remarried and divorced men, de Vaus et al. found that divorced women have the lowest levels of household income, superannuation and assets.

The impact of separation and divorce on women’s financial status has significant implications for their housing security. Women have marginally higher rates of outright home ownership than men following divorce, but this effect is 
reduced by the impact of domestic violence in a marriage, tripling the likelihood of receiving less than 40% of the assets.  Even receiving typically two-thirds of a couple’s assets at divorce does not provide women with long-term housing security, due to their ‘subsequent inability to meet housing costs’."

Implications for the participation of women in the Church?

These are all important messages for us to remember, and there is a lot more that could be said and done if one considered their consequences for the life of the Church.

Catholic divorce rates in this country, for example, are not very different to all others, and the proportion of Catholics actually choosing a Church wedding has collapsed - so that might be a logical place to start.

Wouldn't it be nice, for example, if the ACBC's National Office for the Participation of Women focused more on issues around vocational discernment, marriage preparation and the over-readiness of marriage tribunals to hand out annulments, for example, rather than endless less than subtle campaigning for women priests and pseudo-clerical roles.

Another possible focus might be an increased priority to missionary work directed at Australia's growing non-Christian population.

Or perhaps the Office could look at tackling the clericalism, for example that inherent in the form of the liturgy that puts the priest rather than the Eucharist at the front of our eyes in the Mass, and suggest he might turn around to celebrate ad orientem so that he leads us in worship, rather than becomes the centre of attention himself?

But I'm not holding my breath...

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Force marriage is one of the worst thing would happen to a women.

Atouch of silver