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PDF Version: INSeCT_Statement_Gender-Justice_2017
At the meeting in Belo Horizonte 2014 INSeCT decided to push forward a three-year research project dedicated to the issue of gender justice, especially the participation of women in decision making processes in church and in society. In this way INSeCT aimed to answer Pope Francis’ call in “Evangelii gaudium” (Nos 103-104) “to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church” as well as in society.
The delegates at the INSeCT Council meeting 2017
At this year’s meeting in Bangalore INSeCT dedicated part of its meeting to this research project. Presentations from all five regions, (Asia-Pacific, South America, Africa, Europe and North America, respectively) followed by two sessions of reflection and discussion enabled us to map a way forward.
This brief document presents
1. The main points of these presentations
2. Reflections, insights and challenges that they provoked;
3. Possible ways forward
1. Five presentations
Representatives of the five regions each gave an overview of their research projects and shared the main insights as follows – the three main issues of each region are given below:
Asia Pacific [Kochurani Abraham]
- Women of Asian-Pacific societies, within the wide diversity of contexts which the area includes, are finding their voices heard in the secular sphere in spite of the patriarchal cultural conditioning of their particular contexts.
- The Church in much of the Asia-Pacific Region Church lags behind the secular sphere on the question of gender justice. There is a wide gap between its statements and praxis, which often lack clarity of process in its work towards inclusive partnerships.
- The potentially prophetic role of INSeCT’s member societies in the Church as a catalyst for change, in providing theological insights into reimagining gender justice is being explored by some of the local associations (ACTA).
South America [María Marcela Mazzini/Virgina R. Azcuy]
The representatives of South America chose the approach of a biographical perspective, which points out the nexus between some of the milestones of their lives with the proposed topic for this INSeCT Conference:
- Feminism seems inseparable from an appropriate theological understanding of and debate on gender issues. Such refers firstly to the dignity of women and to the fundamental equality of all human beings. The feminist debate, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean as regions noticeably marked by inequality in distinctive ways, must be located in the field of social justice and the wider struggle for human rights.
- Based on these fundamental assumptions, feminism can function as a global and local historical movement, theoretical and practical, diversified, in the search of promoting women’s human dignity – such aims related to the wider care of every creature and of creation in general.
- Within the feminist framework, the gender category emerges to explain how a gender-dominated understanding of women operates as a cause of oppression and subordination in a patriarchal or androcentric vision of the socio-cultural system. The structures and teaching of the Catholic Church reflects these in a unique, sometimes even paradoxical way: we encounter the use of gender perspective as well as criticism of alleged “gender ideology”
Africa [Nontando Hadebe]
The African representative focused on the intersection and mutual dependence of Culture, Constitutions (human rights), and Christianity (Religion) in the lives of African Catholic women, in the light of which she affirmed that
- All questions regarding the welfare and status of women in Africa are explained within the wider framework of culture, which includes conceptions and constructions of masculinity as entailing dominance over women. This makes it more difficult to question the patriarchal culture from a human rights perspective which is regarded as “western” and “neo-colonial”.
- The triple oppression of women in the constitution, due to their identity as black Africans, as women whose legal status was that of minors, within an economic system based on mining, industry and large scale farming that favored men over women, is a result of colonialism. Therefore, a critical analysis of culture that takes into account the historical past of colonization and its ongoing effects on the lives of the people and particularly women is necessary.
- The complicity of Christianity to the oppression of women in Africa needs to be recognized.
Europe [Gunter Prüller-Jagenteufel]
From a European perspective the main insights are as follows:
- Overcoming the gender bias in the Catholic Church requires a multi-dimensional approach in analyzing the structures of the church, especially clericalism (the latter understood not only as a personal weakness but also as an oppressive system).
- On the theological level we have to overcome the theory of complementarity between men and women which can entail that men define the “place” for women, i.e. their “fitting” roles in family as well as in society.
- This means there is a need to develop a post-essentialist anthropology where human persons are not categorized according to their “essence” as man or woman, but as equal beings with equal potential (autonomy, reason, and relation) as well as equal rights.
North America [Nancy Pineda-Madrid]
From the basis of a reminder of the broad and diverse reality of the continent of North America and the countries it includes, the North American representative presented:
- A definition and description of the current situation in terms of gender impasse experienced as the invisibility of women and the reality of conflict with ecclesial authority, with two case studies that exemplify this impasse:
- Feminicide/femicide and forms of resistance to this found, for example, in the public protests of the people, as well as in artistic works (artworks such as the re-imagination of Pietà and Guadalupe) – in contrast to the scandal of the silence until now of the church(es) in denouncing this ongoing feminicide;
- The (US) Leadership Congress of Women Religious (LCWR) investigations by two curial congregations and subsequent apostolic visitation, along with the LCWR response of contemplative solidarity.
- A theological response to gender impasse and the women’s resistance and/or engagement of it – through the development of a theological understanding of fear as “sin” as well as a theology of hope.
2. Reflections, Insights and Challenges Provoked
- Gender Justice is not a new theme: the “tiredness” felt by those involved in this theme was found across the board, in all present, which invites to a reflection on the underlying issues that hijack any process of implementation. What happened to the feminism of the eighties?
- One of the problems we have to deal with is ecclesial culture, theology and accountability. There is a huge gap between official statements and policies and the actual practice of clerical non-accountability (e.g. in sexual abuse cases), and its link with the lack of structural accountability of the church.
- The question of authority and power in the church: We identify the need for a robust theological reflection on Baptism so as to untie the knot between power and ministry in the area of the three munera [priest, prophet, king], and develop areas of responsibility that will broaden the base of ecclesial governance.
- The gender issue cannot be limited to being viewed as only a women’s issue. Men’s voices on the issues of women’s participation, gender equality and masculinity have to be taken into account. At the same time men need to understand that justice and human rights are indivisible and that men are as much affected by patriarchal structures as women. How the image of masculinity is lived out in relation to women and how the structures of power in the Church affect both merits attention.
- We identify the need for a holistic theological anthropology that factors in the gender issues (relationality, intersectionality, the effects of colonization, masculinities, LGTBQI, etc.). This implies that the church and differing groups working for gender justice must be attentive to the need to avoid binary oppositional thinking and all gender stereotype and overt generalizations of any kind.
- We identify the need for theological reflection on the fact that we do not choose our sexual orientation or gender identity but rather discover and need to develop it. From here the need for church and theology to foster acceptance of the sexual identity and orientation of each individual as well their respective sexual autonomy.
- It was noted that the gifts of women religious to the church can be prophetic and problematic at the same time, stretching from conservative submissiveness to intelligent contemplative resistance.
- We identify and lament the lack of theological literacy of contemporary clerics, especially in the episcopate, and we assume the responsibility of collaborating with and (in)forming them;
- We lament and call for theological reflection on the “sin” of fear – personal, institutional and cultural – as one of the main underlying obstacles to changing the church’s structures, in particular the fear of losing power, of challenging power and of bearing the consequences of disobedient behaviour or dissent.
- We recognize the danger of ideological “anti-genderism” as well as the problematic nature of some aspects of the so called “New Feminism” and call for the clarity around the culturally biased nature of some of its grounding principles.
- We see the need to listen to and tell the narratives of our marginalized brothers and sisters who live on the edge of our social and cultural milieu, so as to better understand the current situation of the world.
3. Possible Ways Forward
At our meeting there was a general consensus in the realization that the question of gender justice is not a theme that is finished and dealt with but that as theologians we have the duty to continue the struggle for justice for all. At the same time we see the challenge to work out how to move forward intelligently in a way that allows each society work and make a genuinely positive impact in their respective contexts and therefore collectively together in a global sense, while also addressing other broader issues that face the church and the world and that are often the ones that underpin the structures impeding gender justice in the first place. Some of the areas that emerged in that discussion were:
- How, given the difficulty of bridging policy and practice, can we get everyone around the table for an open and honest discussion of these issues, in particular those who lead the church? We see the need for a nuanced approach and careful use of language so as not to alienate those who think differently from ourselves;
- We recognize Pope Francis’ papacy as a kairos moment, a time of opportunity for a bigger step forward towards a truly pastoral church and theology – an opportunity not to be wasted.
- Theological-Ecclesial Dialogue: We need to discuss and clarify with representatives of the hierarchy our common understanding of Magisterium and the calling of the theologian. Magisterium could be better considered as a verb, not a noun, and in this way shift our understanding of who exercises magisterium. There is no “the” magisterium but different persons with different roles in the church who exercise it differently. Theologians also have magisterium; and so do women. We can, as part of our vocation, exercise the ministry of magisterium and prophetic leadership in partnership and communion with ecclesial leaders.
- Lastly, we identified the need for the translation of theology: How are we making our theological discourse accessible to the wider public, Church and world (young people, minorities, artists…etc.), so that we are not closed upon ourselves? At times, our calling is to stand between structural church and the people, and translate both to each other.
In the light of all the above, the Assembly proposed that the best way to move forward into the next three years was to do so in the following ways.
In terms of the theme of gender justice, the Assembly wishes to encourage regional and national member societies to consider what steps can be taken by their members to help overcome the problems, disparities and injustices he project has brought to light, and how INSeCT can incorporate and offer ongoing and periodic attention to such promotion. To that end, INSeCT will
- Send a summary of the work of the 2017 Assembly to each of the member associations and societies for them to reflect and deliberate upon how each one should and can move forward in their particular regional and national contexts. This is the document you are now reading.
- Investigate the possibility of publishing the five regional presentations, for which the Steering Committee could coordinate a sub-committee, from representatives of the various associations, to coordinate that work (these five reports will also be sent to the executive committees of each society/ association, to discern the implementation of this second step).
In terms of the focus of the focus of the next three to six years, in the light of the discussions of the Assembly, and in response to the overwhelming awareness of the need to open a broader forum on the underlying issues this research project has unveiled, as well as the exceptional opportunity afforded us in and through the papacy of Pope Francis, the Assembly voted to take on and address the following theme over the coming three years:
“A Kairos for Catholic Theology: Serving the Church, Serving the World”.
Following the INSeCT General Council discussions in Bangalore (July 2017), the incoming INSeCT Steering Committee, comprising of representatives from five global regions, has agreed the shared intention to plan the next two General Councils (2020 and 2023) in a continuum, to be held in Rome and Africa, respectively, and in the coming years to strengthen INSeCT’s network and funding, to raise its profile, expand and develop further its network and to better serve the church at differing levels, at grassroots, leadership and authorities as a facilitator of dialogue and discernment, a collaborative partner and critical friend in theologically reflecting on the opportunities and challenges of the current times, for the good of the church and the world.
Edited by Maeve Heaney, Nontando Hadebe, and Gunter Prüller-Jagenteufel
Statement of the Indian Women Theologians’ Forum (IWTF) Annual Meeting, 21st – 24th April, 2017
We, the members of Indian Women Theologians Forum met for our annual meeting from 21st to 24th April 2017 at De Nobili College, Pune, to deliberate on the theme: The Politics of the Reign/”Kin-dom” of God in the Indian Context: A Feminist Theological Search. We based our reflections on the notion of ”Kin-dom” popularised by mujerista theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, as it reminds us that we are all kin to each other in the family of God. Understanding the ‘Reign of God’ as Kin-dom has special significance in the Indian context as it serves to challenge the hierarchical implications of domination and power associated with the term ‘Kingdom’, which is an expression with patriarchal overtones.
Enacting the foot washing ritual Jesus instituted as the exemplar of service and subversion of existing hierarchies, was a spiritual experience of bonding, reconciliation and an invitation to constant transformation. Conducted at the start of our meeting, this ritual offered us an occasion also to connect to the community of some of the tribes in North East India for whom foot-washing is a gesture of purification and connectedness. It was an exercise that motivated us to assert that we are Church and to commit ourselves to the Kin-dom of God that welcomes with humility and loving care, the least and the last.
Our sharing on the lived experiences of the ‘Kin-dom’ of God in our personal lives brought out the different facets of the Reign of God in the context of India. It was an invitation to engage consciously in the politics of inclusion against the backdrop of the practices of exclusion, as exercised by the mainstream systems of power including that of religions.
Our reflections were based on a series of papers presented on the changing Indian scenario where economic and social inequalities are growing, and hyper-nationalism and communalism are surreptitiously being mainstreamed through the shrinking of democratic spaces and the tacit complicity of those in power.
We observe the deliberate attempt in the global political economy to institutionalize exclusion by focusing on growth and the supremacy of the market, and using religion to polarize people. The irreparable damage inflicted on the environment, led by the greed for profit, forces displacement of masses of people. It destroys particularly the livelihood and the cultural practices of the Adivasis/tribal communities who live in harmony with nature. This has increasingly led to the feminization of migration, exploitation of labour and increased vulnerability of the poor.
We problematized the concept of ‘kin’ in the Indian context as the caste system in our society is a hierarchy that is defined by one’s family identity. Ethnicity and religion also create barriers to kinship. Within the family itself, traditional kinship relations are marked by discrimination on the basis of gender. While we reaffirm the need for kin-ship, and interdependence even with nature as a responsibility beyond self interest, we also affirm that Jesus’ call to “Kingdom” is universal and inclusive. Being subversive of hierarchy it challenges exclusive sectarian practices and oppressive traditions. In using loving, humble service as the key to the Kingdom, Jesus binds humans to each other and the cosmos in interdependence and responsibility to the well being of all. In this context, we feel called to push with prophetic courage the existing boundaries of divisions and discriminations that mark our society and Church, in the name of blind adherence to tradition.
We see the Kin-dom as a gift and a task; a home coming of Sophia, a new wisdom that awakens us to be and become a transforming presence. The Kin-dom is at work in all social movements and various individual and collective initiatives that counter marginalization, discrimination, exploitation and exclusion – of people of minority faiths and genders, ethnicities, and caste hierarchies. We also acknowledge the liberative politics of the Kin-dom being enabled in the several initiatives that demonstrate alternate ways of enhancing sustainable development while preserving God’s creation.
We are challenged by:
- the nexus between patriarchy, religious hegemony, market fundamentalism and the exploitation of the poor;
- the various exclusions defined by caste, class, gender, religion, language and culture;
- the need of groups to assert their own identities at the risk of excluding the other;
- the market that draws us into a cycle of consumption and waste, destroying nature from both ends by depleting its resources and using it as our dump yard.
We commit ourselves to:
- Building communities of inclusion, reconciliation and service, modeling the liberative symbol of washing of the feet , as illustrated by Jesus;
- Adopting lifestyles that are marked by simplicity and harmony with nature, while making efforts to rejuvenate and conserve our natural resources;
- Entering into partnerships/alliances with individuals, groups and movements who bravely challenge the existing patriarchal development paradigm.
We draw our energies from the Spirit – Wisdom Sophia who is at work in realizing the Kin-dom of God, where all in our shared ecosystem are at peace and in harmony, and experience life in abundance (Jn10:10).
Kochurani Abraham washing the feet of women (file photo)
The members of Indian Theological Association (ITA) gathered at Montfort Spirituality Centre, Bangalore from 26-29 April 2017, for their annual meet cum seminar. This was also an occasion to celebrate the Ruby Jubilee of the Association, on the theme 40 years of Indian Theological Association: Milestones and Sign Posts.
(ITA) was founded with the vision of promoting the development of an Indian Christian theology.
Fr. Joseph Constantine Manalel CMI was the great visionary behind this venture. Over the past 40 years, ITA has striven to live its prophetic call and leave a mark not just on the theological landscape of the Indian Church, but also on the universal church, through its commitment and dedication to theologizing in the Indian context.
At the end of the conference, a new team of office bearers were elected for a term of three years. They are:
- President: Dr. Vincent Kundukulam
- Vice President: Dr. Kochurani Abraham
- Secretary: Dr. Raj Irudaya SJ
- Treasurer: Dr. Joy Pulickan SDB
Other members of the Executive Committee are Alangaram SJ, Jacob Parappally MSFS, Jerome Silvester IMS and D.J. Margaret FMA.
The Assembly thanked the outgoing team – Shalini Mulackal PBVM (President), Anandam (Vice President), Roy Lazar (Secretary), James Anaparambil (Treasurer) and the other EC members -Astrid lobo Gajiwala, John Baptist and Tony Neelankavil for the commendable service they rendered to ITA over the last three years.
The Jubilee provided the occasion for an introspection of ITA’s trajectory thus far and for a critical examination of its relevance to the Indian church and society. The conference ended on a note of deeper bonding between the members and a renewed commitment to live ITA’s vision with greater vitality in today’s context.
DAKATEO and ESCT held a joint Symposium on “Gender and Ecclesiology: An Intercultural Dialogue” at Tagaytay, Philippines, from July 14–17, 2016. The conference was organized with the participation of other INSeCT-Asia members (ACTA – Australian Catholic Theological Association, EWA – Ecclesia of Women in Asia, ITA – Indian Theological Association, and IWTF – Indian Women Theologians Forum), of St. Vincent School of Theology, Manila, and of ESWTR. Eight sessions treated eight topics, each one of them introduced from a European and an Asian perspective, followed by a generous amount of discussion and exchange. The topics and speakers were: “Women at the Grassroots’ Level of Church Leadership (e.g. BECs, social/political movements, etc.)” by Virginia Saldanha (IWTF, India) and Sr. Gemma Simmonds CJ (ET, Great Britain); “Female Deacons, Women Clergy Ordination” by Kochurani Abraham (ITA, India) and Angela Berlis (ESWTR, Switzerland); “Women from Spiritual Counselors to Confessors?” by Sr. Chris Burke (ACTA, Australia) and Sr. Rebeka Anic HSF (ESWTR, Croatia), “Women Religious as Vanguard of Women Participation” by Sr. Shalini Mulackal, pbvm (ITA, India) and Sr. Teresa Forcades OSB (ESWTR, Spain), “Women Leadership in the Bible” by Sr. Margaret Beirne (ACBA, Australia) and Rita Perintfalvi (ESWTR Hungary/Austria), “A Church beyond Clericalism” by Ramon Echica (DaKaTeo, Philippines) and Eamon Conway (ET, INSeCT Ireland), “A Gender Perspective on Catholic Sexual Ethics: Who Defines the roles and issues?” by Sharon Bong (EWA, Malaysia), Martin M. Lintner OSM (ESCT, INSeCT, Italy/Austria) and Gunter Prüller Jagenteufel (ESCT, Austria), “Women in a New Ecclesiology of the Laity” by Agnes Brazal (DaKaTeo/EWA, Philippines) and Serena Noceti (ESCT, Italy). To help contextualize the topics, the Conference began with testimonies from female victims of sexual abuse in their families. The conference was an intellectually and culturally enriching experience.
Kochurani Abraham (India): new member of the Steering Committee
James McEvoy resigned from the Steering Committee at the end of the 2016 Bangalore meeting. In accordance with INSeCT’s statutes, § 7, art. 3, the Steering Committee elected Kochurani Abraham to fill that vacancy until the 2017 General Assembly.
Dear Kochurani, welcome on Board!
Kochurani Abraham in dialogue with Martin M. Lintner, president, and James McEvoy.
Kochurani Abraham has a Licentiate in Systematic Theology from Comillas University, Madrid, and doctorate in Christian Studies with a focus on feminist theology from the University of Madras, India. She has worked as a Senior Fellow of Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) on a research project on Gender Education and has taught as a full time guest faculty in the Dept. of Christian Studies, University of Madras. She teaches feminist theology and feminist spirituality as a visiting professor in some institutes of theological formation in India. She has been the coordinator of the Indian Women Theologian’s Forum (IWTF) and Ecclesia of Women in Asia (EWA). She is also an active member of Indian Theological Association, World Forum of Theology and Liberation and Indian Association of Women’s Studies. She has co-edited with Evelyn Monteiro The Concerns of Women: An Indian Theological Response (Bangalore: Dharmaram 2005) and with Agnes Brazal Feminist Cyberethics in Asia: Religious Discourses on Human Connectivity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2014) and writes on questions related to ecology, feminist theology and liberation issues in the Indian context.
New publication: Theology and Power: International Perspectives.
This is a fruit of the collaboration of the European Society in Catholic Theology with the DaKaTeo (Catholic Theological Society of the Philippines) in 2011 on the research project of INSeCT (International Network of Societies in Catholic Theology).
“Questions of power, and its capacity for abuse, have emerged as urgent themes for theoretical and practical reflection within the international Catholic context and beyond. In large part, this is due to widespread revelations of sexual abuse, and allegations of subsequent cover-ups, mishandling, and safeguarding failures. But while of the utmost importance, Christian explorations of power are neither limited to, nor prompted by the sexual abuse crisis alone.
Recognising the gravity, urgency and global application of these issues, Theology and Power brings together Catholic scholars from three continents for a renewed, practical and theoretical exploration of power and its (ab)uses. Special attention is given to both the sexual abuse crisis, and the often tense relationships between religion and politics. This is an original collection of essays by leading Asian, European, and North American theologians and ethicists, exploring the nature of power and its capacity for abuse within both the Church and civil society.”