In this section, Charles Templeton discusses the position of women in the Church:
Throughout the history of humankind women have played secondary role in virtually every society. The reason for this male dominance is as obvious as the man's larger size and musculature. There have been exceptions but they have been just that, exceptions. In Greek mythology, the Amazons were a tribe of warlike women who established a patriarchal society in Asia Minor in which women governed and waged war and men performed the household tasks.
Alas, ladies! - 'tis but a myth.
This ages-old dominance by men has, however, diminished dramatically in the twentieth century, particularly in the Western world where women have reached the point where there are few positions of authority to which they cannot aspire. Women have become political leaders, presidents of great universities, major players in the worlds of business, finance, medicine, science, and the arts - in virtually every area where size and strength are not a prerequisite.
The one area where this has not been so is in organized religion. Jewish women in Orthodox synagogues - as has been true since time immemorial - may not sit with or participate with the men and are required to remain silent (this is not so in Conservative or Reform synagogues). Christian women, too, have been marginalized over the centuries and it is only in recent decades that they have begun to be recognized as equals and admitted to positions of leadership.
Mr Templeton continues to say; the one church in which women have made the least progress is the largest and the oldest - the Roman Catholic church.
The present Pope, John Paul II - despite the conflicting views of a majority of the church's women members and not a few of the clergy-remains adamantly opposed to premarital sex, the use of contraceptive devices, legal abortion, and the consecration of women as priests.
As recently as 1965, Pope Paul VI in the encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) reaffirmed the papal principle that every act of sexual intercourse "must be open to the transmission of life." Despite this the evidence is clear that a large majority of married couples, including married theologians, do not agree. They argue, in numbers, that contraception, by some means, is a moral and pragmatic necessity in a marriage where the partners love each other and need to express that love physically while, at the same time, controlling the size of their family.
Increasingly, the Roman Catholic laity is making clear its opposition to the rigidity of their church in matters related to sex. A recent sampling in Canada by the Angus Reid polling organization indicated that 91per cent of Catholics approve the use of contraceptives. Moreover, 84 per cent would permit priests to marry and 78 percent believe that women should be to allowed to become priests.
This change in attitude is increasingly evident in every branch of the Christian church - Catholic, Protestant, and what have you.
Women are insisting that they play a larger and more significant role. And they are being heard. Women now teach in Catholic seminaries, direct diocesan chanceries and, in some parishes, fulfil virtually all of a priest's responsibilities but the most important ones - saying Mass and hearing confessions. And the pressure for change is increasing. A growing number of Catholics, men and women, are speaking out for the democratic election of priests and for optional celibacy -some are even contending for the blessing of the church on the marriage of gay men and women.
"The time~ they are a-changin'."
In November 1992, the Church of England, after a passionate debate, decided (by a margin of only three votes) to nullify the rule that only men may serve as priests. By approving the ordination of women, some thirteen hundred women deacons were made eligible for the priesthood. It should be added that, shortly afterward, a large number of adamantly opposed priests announced that they planned to leave the church and would consider joining the Roman church, from which the Church of England separated in x 534 over the Pope's refusal to grant Henry VIII an annulment of his marriage to Katharine of Aragon.
Hardly a ringing endorsement of women's rights!
In voting for the ordination of women priests, the Church of England was following the lead of its sister Anglican churches in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. They were preceded by many other church bodies in various parts of the world. Some of these:
- 1948: the African Methodist Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women.
- 1956: the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in the United States voted to allow women clergy.
- 1958: the Lutheran Church in Sweden agreed to ordain women.
- 1970: the Lutheran Church in the U.S.A. voted to do the same.
- 1975: the Anglican Church of Canada approved women priests.
- 1976: the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. approved women priests.
- 1980: the first woman bishop in the Methodist Church, U.S.A.
- 1989: the first woman bishop in the Episcopal Church, U.S.A.
- 1992: the first woman bishop in the Lutheran Church, Germany.
- 1992: the first woman bishop in the Lutheran Church, U.S.A
In the face of all this change the Roman Catholic hierarchy remains inflexible. To be a priest in the Roman church you must be a man. Nor may a woman be installed as a bishop, an archbishop, a cardinal, or pope. Nor may a woman hear confessions or officiate at the Mass. A woman may be consecrated to serve as a "sister," but she may not aspire to or be appointed to any position of sacramental authority.