Feminist Ecclesiology: A Trinitarian Framework for Transforming the Church’s Institutional and Spiritual LIfe is a well-researched art and humanities Thesis/Dissertation topic, it is to be used as a guide or framework for your Academic Research
In the wake of a grand jury report documenting seventy years of sexual abuse and systematic cover-up by Catholic bishops in six Pennsylvania dioceses, on August 20, 2018 Pope Francis acknowledged in a letter to the faithful that the institutional church, as an ecclesial community, failed to protect children and hold accountable those who perpetrated and neglected to report the crimes.
1 Recognizing the deep wounds of pain and powerlessness inflicted on the most vulnerable, he condemned the atrocities conducted by clerics and called for the church to fight all forms of corruption.
2 How might the situation be different if women were active in church governance and ministry? What is needed to radically transform an institution beset by attitudes of power, privilege and entitlement among the male ordained?
How do feminist thinkers address the injustice of placing patriarchal power above Gospel-centered pastoral care? While the absence of women’s voices and influence may not be the direct cause of the church’s disturbing history of clergy sex abuse scandals, many contend it has contributed to an ecclesial decision making environment that encourages protection of the institution at the expense of victims and their families.
3 In response, ethicist Lisa Soule Cahill suggests that “women’s judgment is all the more necessary to guide the internal affairs of an organization ostensibly devoted to faith, compassion, harmony and services especially to the most vulnerable, including children.”
4 Certainly, the current sex abuse crisis requires the church to address the glaring error of women’s marginal role and secondary status within its hierarchical power structures, which has contributed to an ecclesial environment likely to conceal or even cultivate abuse.
5 However, for most of recorded history women have been denied political, economic, legal and educational rights equal to those of men in both church and society. Rooted in certain interpretations of the creation narratives (i.e., particularly accounts found in Genesis 2 and 3) are the ideas that women and men have different yet complementary roles and, even worse, that women are subordinate to men in the natural order.
6 This forms the basis for a dualistic theological anthropology that considers the female as naturally inferior to the male, sharing only partially in the imago Dei and responsible for bringing evil into the world.
7 This understanding also reinforces hierarchical and patriarchal structures that have traditionally excluded women from positions of ecclesial governance and authority.
8 The church’s teachings regarding the role of women did not significantly shift until Vatican II (1962-1965), which introduced a renewed theology of the Trinity that raised hope among Catholics for the laity to more fully participate in all aspects of church life.
9 In its principal document Lumen Gentium, the Council recovered the church’s self understanding as a priesthood of all believers, ordered communion and mystical Body of Christ which is made whole through the Trinity.
10 “Essentially, it retrieved the ancient but forgotten idea that the church is not just an institution but a holy community, the whole People of God, all the baptized together.”
11 Lumen Gentium also speaks of a universal call to holiness in which all the baptized, moved by the Holy Spirit, share in Christ’s ministry of prophet, priest and king.
12 Thus, by virtue of their Christian initiation, all the faithful enjoy the same dignity, equality, salvation and vocation. This conciliar teaching shifts the role of the laity from one of passive reception to responsible participation in the churches governance and ministry.
It also places the visible, organizational structures of the church secondary to its deeper dimension of participating in the triune life of God.13 However, this vision for a more inclusive and egalitarian ecclesiology, based on relationships of mutual service and receptivity, is yet to be realized.
In response, feminist thinkers turn to the Trinity as a model for ecclesial life and as fundamental to all Christian theology, contending that any theological justification for hierarchy and patriarchy diminishes the truth of life in the Spirit and salvation in Christ.
14 A feminist reconsideration of ecclesiology goes beyond the visible boundaries of the church to its life in the world, questioning whether the institution itself is faithful to the truths of the Gospel in a multiplicity of contexts.
This places under scrutiny any contradictions that exist between “the church’s theological interpretations of ministry and service and the practices of clerical privilege and exclusion.
15 As suggested by feminist theologian Catherine Mowry LaCugna, the church serves as an icon of the Trinity when its members imitate the divine perichōrēsis, living in a community structured by relationships of equality, mutuality, unity and reciprocity
16th Yet, many of the church’s current institutions and practices foster lericalism and sexism (i.e., men’s claim to privilege and power by virtue of gender), fundamentally contradicting a model of God that supports an egalitarian church.
17 Women’s experiences of patriarchy and sexism raise difficult issues regarding the church’s very structures and practices. For example, many divorced Catholics perceive the juridical nullity of marriage process – in which the male ordained exercise sole authority over the laity to dissolve a marital union – as overly legalistic, prolonged and removed from concrete human suffering.
In particular, the church’s practice of permanently banning divorced and civilly remarried Catholics from receiving the Eucharist destroys pastoral solutions for healing and fundamentally contradicts trinitarian life, which rejects every type of hierarchy, exclusion and pattern of domination.
In fact, the church’s theology of marriage is rooted in the same patriarchal anthropology and theories of gender complementarity that have historically excluded women from positions of ecclesial authority and deemed them inferior to men.
Notably, the canonical laws governing marriage have been written over the centuries for men and by men, suggesting the issue is part of the wider agenda of justice for women.
18 Essentially, one must question whether the church is faithful to its self- understanding as an ordered communion, priesthood of all believers and mystical Body of Christ.
Feminist ecclesiological reflection transcends the limitations of unjust patriarchal power centers by shifting the focus from the church as an institution to the church as a community of people whose diversity and flourishing are cherished.
19 This transforms the church into “a body of those whose shared lives embody and proclaim the values of the reign of God and in doing that participate and share in the life of the triune God.”
20 Thus, its aim is to reclaim and construct a space where women, men and children live in relationships of justice and celebrate their being in the image of the divine, and where God is revealed in the midst of human brokenness.
21 Entering into dialogue with theological disciplines such as anthropology, biblical hermeneutics, systematics and ethics, feminist trinitarian ecclesiology paves the way for women to contribute to the process of theological reflection and reclaim being church –recognizing that Jesus founded a movement and not an institution.
22 In light of this background, the central question of this paper is: “How does a feminist reconsideration of ecclesiology inform theological reflection on the role and nature of the church and, in so doing, provide a framework for justice and equality to be reflected in all aspects of its institutional and spiritual life?”
I argue that, while Vatican II provided the theological paradigm shift essential for an egalitarian church, feminist ecclesiology is necessary to prompt a radical reconstruction of the church’s patriarchal and hierarchical institutions so that it truly may embody God as Trinity in both its internal life and service to the world.
23 Only in this way can the church concretize the full dignity and value of all people in its structures, and place pastoral care above patriarchal power in its practices. To support this claim, this paper will first explore ecclesiology as a reflection of women’s theological identity, including a critique of classical theological anthropology and a review of Vatican II and post-Conciliar teachings on the church.
Next, it will discuss ecclesiology in dialogue with the church’s trinitarian history and traditions. Third, this paper will discuss embodiment as bearing the presence of Christ in the world, which inspires transformed power structures, Eucharist solidarity and new circular models of church.
It will then critique the Catholic nullity of marriage process and canonical tradition to demonstrate how pervasive sexism, legalism and clericalism cultivate the protection of existing power structures at the expense of ministering to the individual.
Finally, based on a renewed trinitarian framework, this paper will conclude that the church must radically transform it’s hierarchical and patriarchal structures and practices so that it may embody equality and justice in all aspects of its institutional and spiritual life.