Leaders of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith spent three days in late September listening to women theologians, canon lawyers, Scripture scholars and specialists in other academic fields talk about roles women have played in the Catholic Church and roles they could play in the future.
After the symposium Sept. 26-28 was over, the congregation issued a
brief statement outlining the topics discussed and listing the women who
made formal presentations. The congregation said the papers will be
published at a later date.
Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the doctrinal congregation,
opened the meeting, which involved about 50 people, mostly women, and
officials and consultants to the congregation, the statement said.
The theme of “the role of women in the church” was explored first by
looking at “the definition of the feminine vocation in Catholic
tradition,” and proceeded to a discussion about concrete roles women
have played and can play within the church.
All of the main papers were presented by women, several of whom are
or have been members of the Vatican-related International Theological
Commission or the International Biblical Commission. Others serve as
consultants to Vatican offices or professors at Catholic universities.
The doctrinal congregation did not provide specifics about the
content of the talks. It said, for example, that Barbara Hallensleben, a
theologian teaching in Switzerland, looked at the “feminine vocation”
starting from the idea of the priesthood of all the baptized and in the
sacrament of marriage.
Margaret Harper McCarthy, a professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, gave the formal response.
French biblicist Anne-Marie Pelletier and Mary Healy, a professor of
Scripture at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, spoke about the important
contributions of women scholars to biblical studies, the statement
Other topics included the role of women in the education of priests;
women as spiritual directors and retreat directors; canon law provisions
regarding women’s roles in church decision-making bodies; and “sexual
difference,” a theme treated by Spanish anthropologist Blanca Castilla
Cortazar and Australian theologian Tracey Rowland, dean of the John Paul
II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne.
The doctrinal congregation statement said that in addition to the
formal presentations, participants “listened to interesting and moving
testimonies” of the experiences of women in the church, in theology,
working in the Roman Curia or for bishops’ conferences, in
inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism and in the field of Catholic