A member of the Vatican female deacons commission has warned of the danger of a Church “where women exist only in the imagination of men, far from the difficult but life-giving test of relationship”.
– “Women make the Church exist”
French biblical scholar Anne-Marie Pelletier was speaking in an interview in the May number of the Spanish edition of Vatican magazine Donne Chiesa Mondo (“Women Church World”), a supplement to Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
In the interview – devoted to notions of “care” and “taking care” – Pelletier, a Ratzinger Prize winner in 2014, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the author of Pope Francis’ 2017 Way of the Cross meditations stressed the fact that women “care” for the Church “in the way they care for life in general. That is, by caring for the basic needs of the human being, which are the needs of the flesh, which in turn only exists in relationship”.
“Women serve life on the front lines of daily emergencies, without restraint, explanations [or] organisational structures”, Pelletier highlighted, adding that women simply respond “to the desperation that cannot wait”.
“And, if necessary, they invent ways to make the Church exist, to ensure its future, without restoring an old order that is defective in communities that have no priests”, the biblical scholar continued, praising the “ingenious creativity” of women as “in tune with the way Jesus served”.
– “It is necessary that priests learn about the human condition as lived by women”
Reflecting on the testimony she gives as a married mother and laywoman when she teaches at Catholic universities and gives retreats and seminars for priests, Pelletier said “my first contribution as a woman is to introduce otherness into a strongly and exclusively male world”.
“Without otherness, life becomes impoverished, it dries up”, she warned. “Not to mention what is lost in an institution like the Church when women exist only in the imagination of men, far from the difficult but life-giving test of relationship”.
“It is necessary that priests, who are men, learn about the human condition as lived by women. And even more necessary since priests have the task of serving a Church that wants to be understood as maternal”, the biblical scholar insisted.
“How can we promote this maternal face of the Church without starting with women, who know what it means to be mothers, in their carnal experience or in the mental configuration that characterises women’s relationship with life?”, she asked.
– The Virgin as an excuse “to relegate women to a role of submission and restraint”
As an example of the masculine appropriation of women in the Church, Pelletier put forward that of the Virgin Mary, whom the biblical scholar said is subject to many pious traditions in the Church “that connect her to the male idea of woman and ultimately use her to relegate women to a role of submission and restraint”.
“How many variations there are on her fiat to reinforce the image of a docile woman”, Pelletier lamented.
But in holding to masculine readings of the episode of the Annunciation, Pelletier warned that “we forget that Mary’s ‘let it be’ summarises Israel’s response to the Word of God and that of all those who responded ‘here I am’ to their Lord’s call”.
“Of course, what is asked of Mary at the Annunciation implies a unique radicalism: it is the intimacy of her body that says ‘here I am’ with all that this involves, in the first place for her, to renounce her honour”, Pelletier explained.
“Have the male voices that have expressed themselves on the Annunciation throughout the tradition understood the depth of the acquiescence of this daughter of Israel?”, she asked.