This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  April 18, 2008

Women scholars belong at synod on the Word


At the beginning of his resurrected life, Jesus chose St. Mary Magdalene to witness and announce his resurrection. Yet, too often, women leaders, biblical and otherwise, are invisible in church preaching and proclamation.

Pope Benedict XVI has called a Worldwide Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” for October of this year.

According to synod leaders, the meeting will pay special attention to “the Word of God in liturgy, in preaching, in catechesis, in theology, spirituality, public and private meditation, enculturation and ecumenism.”

Jesus relied on faithful women and men. Will Benedict and our bishops also? Will they invite women biblical scholars as expert consultants to the synod? Or will they overlook the fact that women have been active ministers of the Word from the start of Christian history and still are today?

Only 14 women were invited as nonvoting observers to the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist. No women theologians were invited as expert consultants, though this would have been a simple way for our bishops to include the perspectives of women. By contrast, 242 bishops attended with full voting privileges.

Currently, 40 percent of the 1,600 members of the Catholic Bible Association are women. These 640 women biblical scholars constitute a rich resource for the synod.

I for one hope and pray and am optimistic that Pope Benedict and the bishop delegates to the synod will correct this painful situation by inviting women biblical scholars as expert consultants in 2008.

Benedict himself honored first-century women leaders in a February 2007 address, saying, “The story of Christianity would have had a very different trajectory were it not for the generosity brought to it by many women. ... Their work was anything other than secondary.” I pray that our pope puts these words of praise into practice and supports Christian women leaders in the 21st-century church.

It is time for church officials to go back to our Christian roots for inspiration. They could examine how Jesus included women in all aspects of his discipleship. They might see how fully inclusive Jesus’ mission was -- a mission that included, relied on and honored women benefactors (Joanna, Susanna and St. Mary Magdalene), women students (Mary of Bethany), and women believers. They could bring the inclusive Jesus to life in 2008.

For the past year, FutureChurch, a national Catholic organization, has spearheaded a campaign requesting that women biblical scholars be invited as consultants to the Synod on the Word. The campaign also asks for more pastoral attention to Jesus’ and St. Paul’s inclusive practice and suggests simple actions parishes can take to make visible women’s leadership and experience in church preaching. At least 5,000 electronic and snail-mail postcards have been mailed to the Vatican and to individual U.S. bishops.

Jesus left us a vision of the world as it can be, a place where “there does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). It is every Catholic’s responsibility to make that vision reality now.

Rita L. Houlihan is a member of FutureChurch’s board of trustees.

National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2008

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: