THE National Organisation for Women ("NOW") is a United States nationwide social revolutionary society run by women for women.
They have set up a network of affiliated regional groups with multiple sub-committees to deal with the various aspects of their required reforms. A big drive for membership has 'brought them in the support and the fees necessary to put their plans into action. They are fighting for equal wages, equal opportunities in trade. commerce, politics, education and the academic field, they are insisting on equal rights to leadership.
For example though women undertake most of the work in elementary schools, with only 12 per cent men teachers, yet 69 per cent of the principalships are held by men. This is the kind of thing NOW is out to stop.
The movement is not religious in character for its members are drawn from all quarters, non-Christian and Christian. agnostics and freethinkers. Nevertheless there are a large number of Catholics among them including members of religious orders. It must be remembered that there are some fifty million Catholics in the United States, and women are its main upholders.
Bernice McNeela is a keen Catholic and a member of the Chicago Conference of the Laity yet she is also among the leaders of NOW. She claims that the slogan "no taxation without representation" should be observed in church as well as civil society. Women, she points out, are not excused from the obligation to support the Church, so women should not be refused participation in Church government,
An enormous number of nuns have left their religious orders because the old discipline is seen as a hindrance to apostolic action. In one order which once counted 600 members there are now only 400, and most of these are no longer living in community nor are they obliged to follow the former statutes. A paper called Trans-Sister is run by a Sister Audrey Kopps, who is doing a valuable job by keeping in touch with the quantities of exnuns. She assists them to readjust to lay life and she helps them to find the jobs and proper outlets to their abilities. Those nuns who have remained within their orders, have sought co-operation among themselves to bring about the necessary changes.
The NAWR (National Assembly of Women Religious) are particularly concerned with the reform of the structure of the religious orders. They have a newsletter Probe by which they are linked up with nuns of religious orders everywhere. in Europe as well as in the Americas. They do not consider the present set-up of parish life meets with the needs Of the people of God.
The nuns are seeking to develop a new pastoral outlook. They wish to build community through the parishes. They desire to create teams in the parishes which will democratically contribute to the decisions and will help carry out what has to be done.
The NCAN. National Coatilion of American Nuns. led largely by Sister Margaret Ellen Traxler. SSND. aims chiefly at attaining social justice in the world. They look after the human and social rights of the Negroes. they, no less, seek justice for women, and they are out to stop wars and help the under-privileged nations. Sister Traxler runs an office with women and men assistants and secretaries in the centre of the Down-Town quarters of the huge metropilis of Chicago. Their living quarters. miles away in UpTown Chicago, is in an almost totally Negro section. A group of some ten nuns in lay dress come together there ;n the evenings. Each is employed in her own separate work, and most have their own cars. a necessity in large districts Their house is open to many a wayfarer. including myself.
I come into the picture as a lecturer on the history of Women in Church and State. My lecture tour centre has been set up in their house. During the last six months I have been round the whole of the States. I have contacted many different groups: Newman clubs of non-Catholic Universities, ecumenical audiences such as the G.T.U., the Graduate Theological Union of Berkeley, California, NOW meetings and Catholic Organisations. I have kept in touch with the women's diaconate movement run by Jeanne Barnes at Quincy University. She has been inundated with correspondence 'since starting only a year ago; her newsletter, called The Journey, unites people together from all over the country.
I have met many of the committee set up by the bishops of the United States to study the question of a permanent diaconate. The committee has recommended the inclusion of women in the diaconate. There were two women on this committee, Sister Agnes Cunningham of St. Mary of the Lake seminary, Mundalein, and Dr. Josephine Massingberg Ford. from England. but now resident in the States teaches theology at the University of Notre Dame. This university is opening its seminary courses to women. I am glad to report that the seminary of Indianapolis has done the same. Mary Lynch, a member of the deaconess movement, is to study there for her Masters in Divinity, which will place her in the position to enter the priesthood when the way is opened to women.
In Canada, at Toronto, I gave two lectures through Mary Schaefer's women's diaconate group. They have the hacking of the Canadian bishops and the members are being encouraged to prepare themselves for the ministry.
My job has been to give historical evidence of women's participation in the government of the Church in the past by which it can be proved that what women are asking today is not contrary to tradition as some would hold. I give the example of the Empress Irene of the Byzantine Empire. when in union with Rome. she was able to convoke the 7th General Council, she sat in the assembly, signed the decrees and canons and took part in the final procession in Constantinople.
I point out that Queen
Margaret of Scotland. in the I 1 th century, not only convoked several Church synods, but was also the main speaker at them and succeeded in convincing the Celtic clergy to adopt the Roman rites. In early apostolic times according to the Acts, church assemblies were held in the houses of women : in the house of Chloe. in the house of Lydia. in the house of Nympha, in the house of Prisca (Pricilla) and of Aquila — the name of the woman being put first.
Evidently in those days the house was not considered to belong to the man, in which willy-nilly, the wife must have domicile as is stated in the Canon Law of today. It seems. moreover, that women continued for a long time to hold the position of overseers (episcopae in Greek) of Christian communities for we see Hilda head of such a community in England. and many abbesses were head of double monasteries of men and women orders through the East and the West.
Abbesses with quasiepiscopal jurisdiction over their own "separated" territories of exempt abbeys continued to rule throughout Europe in Italy, Spain, Germany. Belgium, France and England. Most of these terminated with the French Revolution, but the abbesses of Las Huelgas, Burgos, Spain. continued to hold office till 1874..
In the ordination rites of ab besses in the Gallican Sacramentary (Ed. Martene. de Antiquis Err. Ritihus) a prayer was said declaring that before God there was no discrimination of sexes and that women like men are called to the spiritual battle. If. however, the question is asked: 'Did these women consecrate the Blessed Eucharist? my answer would be not till after the age of fifty or sixty. that is after the cessation of the ordinary flow of the menses. Few lived to that age, few even so would want to start a new career. The idea that women were impure and liable to pass on their impurity by touch was common to many nations, not only to the Hebrews.
In the Orthodox Churches today women still do not approach the altar for communion during their monthly periods. But despite this prohibition. women held very high place in other respects within the Church. In Germany. at the time of the Ottos, the Abbess Matilda was Metropolitan of the city of Quedlinburg and Matrix of the whole of Saxony. The Lutheran, George Fabricius gave these abbesses the title of Sacerdos Maxima.
American women are not waiting for these proofs of historical evidence in their favour: They are impatient to get ahead. However. I have tried to convince them that there is some advantage of presenting their requests as in accordance with a Catholic tradition which for various reasons has become hidden, "Hidden History," in fact, is the title of the book in which I have gathered all my research on the subject and which gives full references to any point made.