Friday, September 27, 2013

The Role of Women in the Pope's Interview


I don't know if you saw this, but there was a little dust up this week over the section in the papal interview entitled "The Role of Women".  

Here's the original section, in full: 

Women in the Life of the Church
And what about the role of women in the church? The pope has made reference to this issue on several occasions. He took up the matter during the return trip from Rio de Janeiro, claiming that the church still lacks a profound theology of women. I ask: “What should be the role of women in the church? How do we make their role more visible today?”
 He answers: “I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”
I find it one of the more internally conflicted portions of the document.  On the one hand, Pope Francis is repeating his call for a renewed theology of the place of women in the Church. And at the same time he keeps using the strange term "the woman", which gives the sense of women as somehow 'other'.  And his opening volley about 'female machismo' seems to set an immediate tone of 'more maybe, but not too much'. 

Even his call for a renewed theology ignores the fact that there have been some 50 years or more of feminist reflection on issues of gender, power and authority in the Church. We don't need a renewed theology of women, we need Church leadership to actually take up the theology of women that is already present. 

But then, earlier this week, NCR uncovered that there was an error in the translation of this portion of the text. Two very key sentences were left out in the English translation, one from the interviewer and one from the Pope.  Here's the true translation of the text, with the cut sentences highlighted. 
Women in the Life of the Church
 And what about the role of women in the church? The pope has made reference to this issue on several occasions. In an interview he had affirmed that the feminine presence in the Church has not fully emerged, because the temptation of machismo has not left space to make visible the role women are entitled to within the community. He took up the matter during the return trip from Rio de Janeiro, claiming that the church still lacks a profound theology of women. I ask: “What should be the role of women in the church? How do we make their role more visible today?”
He answers: “It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church. I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.” 
It's quite a difference, no? The Pope's first comment is now a positive one, it's about broadening opportunities.  And the whole topic of female machismo (which is such a strange and problematic term, at least in the US context), turns out to be something initiated by the interviewer. It's still not a great term in that what it means lacks clarity, but the point is I think more clearly about machismo itself, how it as a way of being Church needs to be put aside entirely, rather than adopted by women as it has by some men.

So, if you read this section before and thought, "Well that's a bit off, isn't it", take heart! 

"I Said What?"

P.S. You might wonder how these sentences got cut. America Magazine editor Matt Malone, in a letter to NCR, explained that it was just an error; the document is over 12000 words, it was translated by a team of experts (not the America editors) and that piece got lost.  

Some have suggested there was some plot afoot, some attempt to keep women down. Anyone who has ever read America would know that's just plain ridiculous.  

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clarification

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