Pope Francis Says There’s No Deep Theology of Women in the Church
In an interview with reporters, Pope Francis said we don’t have a deep theology of women in the church. The more I think about this statement, the more I am impressed by its radical critique of the official tradition. Pope Francis basically admits that the church has spoken about women for 2000 years without the grounding of a deep theology of women. Intentionally or not, he’s raised an intriguing question: if church teaching about women has not been grounded in a deep theology of women (because the church doesn’t have one), then what has been the grounding of these teachings?
I assume he didn’t mean to downplay the contributions of theologians to the question of femininity, but was speaking instead about the theology, or rather lack of theology, at the heart of official discussions concerning the role of women in the church. “We talk about whether they can do this or that, can they be altar boys, can they be lectors, about a woman as president of Caritas,” he noted, implying, I take it, that this sort of talk lacks deep theological roots. I agree. Too much talk about women in the church focuses not on who they are or what they can contribute to the life of the church, but on where the boundaries of their proper, limited place in the church should be marked (by men). It’s superficial and demeaning.
If what Pope Francis has said here is true, then perhaps the most pressing question the church should ask is why it doesn’t have a truly deep theology of women. One possible answer might be the absence of direct involvement of women in the official teaching capacity of the church. Pope John Paul II spoke what he called the genius of women, by which he meant a way of being and perceiving the world that is unique to women, but he also, in a definitive statement, maintained the constant exclusion of women from the holy orders. The genius of women has had no formal place in the Magisterium of the church. Women theologians might influence Popes and bishops, and this influence might inform their official declarations, but you’ll notice that the influence of women remains always indirect, if it’s there at all. The masculine perspective remains dominant and final. Holy Mother Church speaks officially with a masculine voice. Assuming the church won’t be ordaining women (Pope Francis reasserts that this door is closed), the challenge for the church will be to involve women and the “feminine genius” in the development of its official theology and formulation of doctrine, not because men cannot think theologically about women, but because women understand what it means to be feminine from a perspective no man can have. And, of course, women’s involvement in the development of doctrine would benefit all of its development, not only the doctrines pertaining to women.