“Freedom and equality” for women “can only benefit” the Church’s life and theology, by opening up “a new way of being faithful to the Gospel”, the general manager of the Catholic women’s association Voices of Faith has said.

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Polish theologian Zuzanna Flisowska spoke with Argentinian paper La Nación from Rome, where the 33-year-old activist works with Voices of Faith towards true equality for women in the Church.

“We believe that each baptized person gives the Church a unique quality and that everyone has their importance and equal dignity”, Flisowska said of the philosophy of Voices of Faith.

That philosophy led Voices of Faith to organise recently in Rome a roundtable of religious women all over the world pushing to overcome the gender barrier in the Church.

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Go deeper

Voices of Faith held its Rome conference just three days out from the start of this month’s Amazon Synod, in a gesture of protest at the fact that only the male cardinals, bishops and religious superiors present at the meet can vote on proceedings.

Voices of Faith hasn’t yet had success in its push to give the vote to the 35 women present at the Synod.

But that doesn’t mean the fight is over, Flisowska declared.

“The Vatican, more specifically the Roman Curia, is the administrative centre of the Catholic Church”, the young theologian explained.

“Its official function is to help the Pope to exercise his role of supreme leadership.

“The Roman Curia is made up of offices called dicasteries, congregations or councils. Within each office there are three levels of leadership: prefect or president, secretary and undersecretaries.

“In 2004, Pope John Paul II appointed the first woman to be undersecretary in the Congregation for Religious.

“Benedict XVI affirmed this practice when he appointed a female deputy secretary in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2010.

“Pope Francis has appointed three female undersecretaries so far.

“Francis also made history when he appointed the layman to lead the Dicastery of Communication in 2018, which shows that even the highest positions in the Roman Curia are not reserved only for clerics.

“However, no woman has yet been named to one of the two upper levels of the Roman Curia”, Flisowska denounced.

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Why it matters

The glass ceiling for women in the Roman Curia, the young theologian explained, is evidence that “gender equality is deeply rooted” in the Church.

“The culture that shaped the structure of the Catholic Church and its doctrinal discourse for centuries has not considered women as equally chosen for public life, for leading roles, for spaces of specialist authority”, Flisowska criticised.

She added that sexism is still alive and well “in many places and contexts” in the Church, and appealed to Pope Francis to send a message in that direction.

“A clear message of equality in Vatican structures would be a powerful signal for the whole Church”, Flisowska said.

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What’s next

Speaking to La Nación, the young Polish activist also lamented the opposition the Voices of Faith movement has faced, from both conservative and more progressive elements in the Church.

“For some, we are too conservative because we are not fighting for the priesthood of women.

“For others, too progressive, because we are talking about radical changes in the Vatican.

“There is also silence on the part of the institution”, Flisowska lamented.

But she also promised the critics won’t slow her down personally as she continues to fight for women’s equality.

It’s a commitment, she said, that’s “a natural consequence of my commitment to the life of the Church, my theological studies and the critical interpretation of the culture in which we live”.

“There is a big fear of profound changes. People tend to fear that, with these changes, as with any cultural change, some of the theological treasure may be damaged”, Flisowska reflected.

“However, I believe that by granting freedom and equality our theology and our life in the Church can only benefit, by finding a new way of being faithful to the Gospel”.

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