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Professor says women should play role in Church

Published: Monday, December 9, 2002

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

The Catholic Church should consider expanding the role of women in the Church, said a professor from a Jesuit theology school when she spoke at Boston College.

Sister Margaret Guider, OSF, a professor at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, said the Church faces two options for the future: to return to the traditional status quo of obedience to the hierarchy, or to seek a "renewal based on Jesus and the gospels." Guider asked the Church to reflect the reform spirit of Vatican II instead of failing "to read the signs of time concerning the role of women."

Guider spoke in Higgins 300 on Wednesday as part of BC's Church in the 21st Century project. The Lynch School of

Education sponsored the lecture, entitled "Role of Women and Girls in the Contemporary Church."

"Can the American Catholic Church confront the challenges it faces with honesty and imagination and abandon the polarization that has squelched discussion on differences?" asked Guider. The message of exclusion is contrary to the message of the Gospel, she said.

Guider began by explaining her interest in the societal and religious impact of Catholic women. Born and raised in Chicago, she herself was a product of Catholic education. She chose to stay involved in the Church as a nun and an educator. Guider described a life-changing experience that piqued her interest in women's issues; 22 years ago a number of missionary nuns in El Salvador were brutally slaughtered. Guider was, "stunned as a Catholic, a woman, and a citizen of the US. The way I understood myself in the Church was radically changed." She recalled being haunted by the event because of her own time as a missionary, the delayed response and inaction of the Church, and a politician's suggestion that the women were killed because they had become political activists.

"Women of my generation bring to the Church courage, compassion, and the question of a generation seeking voice, vindication, and vision," said Guider. She also invited Megan Fox, a student at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and Maria Pulaski, a sixth-grader at an all-girls Catholic school, to share their ideas of women's role in the Church.

Pulaski, growing up in a Catholic enclave, said there is an over-emphasis on the hierarchy and not enough attention on the laity, who she believes hold the true power. Girls in particular, have an important contributing role in the community, she said. "Girls my age can contribute enthusiasm, empathy, and the want to treat all with respect."

She said she was extremely troubled to see that girls her age are exposed more to celebrities than figures like Mother Teresa. In addition, she stated that the degree of female involvement in the hierarchy of the Church must increase. "Women would make wonderful priests, bishops, and even Popes. Maybe even better ones than the boys." After this statement, the predominantly female audience applauded.

Fox, a theological student at the Weston school, shared her experience as a young woman committed to involvement with the Church.

Fox described her own experience, a battle to define her role as a 26-year-old lay woman and theology student, using the same adjectives - commitment, dedication, challenge, and hope. The Church in the future, she stated, must abandon its practice of exclusion and focus on including women. "I am challenged by the Church, but I reemain hopeful for our future."

The future of the Church, Guider suggested, depends on women's active leadership. She said there are two types of women in the Church: those who embrace the hierarchy and are comfortable with importance of women, and those that want to radically change the role women play. Guider said the challenge is "to engage these differences in a meaningful way that does not lead to fragmentation and polarization."

Guider cited historical precedent for a more active and powerful role of women. She also suggested that a College of Cardinals with both women and men is possible, though Canon law currently only allows for male members. Because the Office of the Cardinal is historical, not theological, the code of Canon law could be changed, she said.

Guider expressed her concern that the education of children is falling by the wayside. For example, the number of single-sex Catholic schools has diminished over the last 40 years, she said, and this endangers Catholics' participation in the mission of Jesus.

Education will help shape the role of girls in their future leaders of the Catholic Church, said Guider, adding that girls "are calling us forward to look at our participation in this Church of the 21st century. Will we allow the children to lead us out, to truly educate us in who we need to be for the next generation?"

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