Starting from the seminary, “we must radically change” how priests interact with women, a Vatican cardinal has said.
– Men who don’t have a balanced relationship with women, a “danger”
“I think that for a priest, learning to relate to women in the environment of formation is a humanising factor that promotes equilibrium in the man’s personality and affectivity”, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, told Vatican ‘women’s supplement’ Donne Chiesa Mondo (“Women Church World”) in an interview published by Vatican News April 24.
According to extracts translated by CNS, the Canadian cardinal, 75, acknowledged that too often between women and priests “there is awkwardness because there is fear – more on the part of the man toward the woman than the woman toward the man”.
He said that without that “humanising factor” that is a female presence among priests-in-training, there is a danger of clerics developing an unhealthy relationship with the opposite sex.
“For a priest, for a seminarian, the woman represents danger!”, Ouellet denounced, explaining however that “in reality, the true danger is men who do not have a balanced relationship with women”.
In contrast, the cardinal said that “the experience of collaborating with women on an equal level helps the candidate [for priesthood] to envisage his future ministry and how he will respect and collaborate with them”.
“If we do not start during formation, the priest risks living his relationship with women in a clerical way”, he warned.
– “A part of truth” in the claim women could have prevented priests’ sex abuse
Even more than the perpetuation of clericalism, however, Cardinal Ouellet said there were other grave dangers associated with the absence of women in seminaries.
“If interaction between the sexes is missing” in priestly formation, he said, “there is a risk of developing compensations” on the part of clerics.
Those “compensations”, Ouellet warned, may include an addiction to food or an unhealthy “exercise of power or in closed relationships, a closure that becomes manipulation and control… and which can give rise to the abuse of conscience and sexual abuse”.
Asked whether the presence of women could have prevented some incidents of clergy abuse, the cardinal admitted “there is certainly a part of truth” in that thinking.
– “We need women’s emotional maturity”
As to the precise roles women could take on in seminaries, Ouellet suggested females must have greater visibility as theology, philosophy, and spirituality lecturers.
In particular, however, the cardinal said women are needed “in vocational discernment” and in the human formation of future priests, with respect to the evaluation of “the degree of freedom of the candidates, their ability to be coherent, to establish their life plan, and also their psychosocial and psychosexual identity”.
In discernment, above all, “we need the opinion of women, their intuition, their ability to grasp the human side of candidates, their degree of emotional or psychological maturity”, the cardinal explained.
More generally, Ouellet said that “it is important that there is contact, comparison, exchanges” with women during a priest’s seminary years.
That’s because “this helps the candidate to interact with women, in a natural way, and also to face the challenge that the presence of women represents, attraction towards women”, the cardinal explained.
“This must be taught and learned from the beginning, not isolating future priests who then find themselves brutally in reality, and then they can lose control”, Ouellet warned.
– Women teachers yes, but spiritual directors no
While Cardinal Ouellet argued that women should be given greater prominence as future priests’ teachers, he stopped short of embracing the idea that they could be seminarians’ spiritual directors, saying that it is better that priests exercise that role.
“It is not just a matter of promoting women, but of considering them as an integral part of all training”, the cardinal offered as a defence.