THE Apostolic Delegate to Britain, Archbishop Cardinale, told women at last weekend's international conference of St. Joan's Alliance in London not to let up in their agitation for equal rights in the Church.
He said no one in Rome is going to think they are impertinent because they seek fuller participation. He did, however, remind them there were no women among the 12 Apostles.
The Archbishop who was replying to a welcome by the Alliance's international president, Madame Leroy, of Belgium and vice-president, Dr. Mackenzie Shattock, said every priest, every bishop, or even the Pope, should not be regarded as their adversary.
Admitting there appeared to be no theological reason why women should not become priests, he asked them to be patient. He said it had taken 2,000 years to reach the position where they are today, and that eventually their patience and perseverance would bear fruit,
Some 60 delegates from France, United States, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Australia and Britain were present at the conference at Chelsea.
Founded 55 years ago as a suffrage movement, the Alliance has hitherto had its international headquarters in London. But from January next year it will be operating from Paris. The British headquarters, will, of course, remain in London. Dr. Shattock, a London psychiatrist, in welcoming the Apostolic Delegate, said the turning point in the struggle for women's recognition in the Church came with Pope John's encyclical, Pacem in Terris. Until then loyalty had prevented women from speaking out. Once Pope John had spoken women immediately asked that they be admitted as auditors to the Vatican Council. They also asked that a prayer in the Nuptial Mass, which did not express the Church's equal concern for the fidelity of both groom and bride should be altered. "These two, not very great requests, were granted," said Dr. Shattock. "Not very great perhaps, but how significant of the new era."
She said the Alliance has told the Church that if and when the Church, in her wisdom, should decide to extend ordination to women, women will be eager and willing to respond.
Dr. Shattock said she had been encouraged in recent months by statements from several theologians of repute that no theological reason bars women's ordination to the priesthood. "There are other obstacles," she continued. "We know that 2,000 years of practice, tradition and prejudice are not easily reversed." In an earlier address to the conference she noted that the shortage of priests might ultimately force open the door for women to the priesthood. And that pressure could be brought to bear on the 61 bishops commissioned by the Vatican Council to revise canon laws so that women would be eligible for priesthood.
She said bishops would be taking seven years to revise canon law, but if it was not altered now it may he impossible to alter it for another 200 years. But in addressing herself to the Archbishop she was less emphatic.
Said Dr. Shattock : "It has been said that it is time to promote women as a matter of urgency, as few workers are available for the harvest. There is truth in this, but it is a secondary consideration.
"Is not the main consideration the fact that if God calls a worker, and if a vocation is God's gift, the inability to accept it is a tragic loss to the whole church?"
Frau Theresia Munch, a German theologian and internationally known writer, told the conference that ironically German women's participation in the liturgy had decreased since Vatican II.
Before they had been reading the Epistle from their pews, but since the Vatican Council many priests had forbidden them to do even this. In fact," said Frau Munch, "since March, 1965 it's the exception when a woman or girl is allowed to read the Epistle. I know of only two parishes where this practice continues."
Added Frau Munch: "It's not yet forbidden for women to be organist or to intone. Is it because they don't know about it in Rome?"
In response to Frau Munch and other speakers the conference carried a motion requesting the post-conciliar commission to reconsider its decision not to permit women to read the Epistle at Mass. Article 32 in the Constitution of the Church was quoted as the supporting argument. It says in part: "There is in Christ and in the Church no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social conditions or sex, because 'there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3.28, Greek Text).' " However, the conference did not press any further direct claims for priesthood, believing that a request for deaconesses would hinder the overall endeavours for full ordination.
Miss Frances McGillicuddy, president of the U.S. Section of the Alliance, from New York, told delegates that Latin American women are taking a much bigger role in the liturgy—de facto though it is. In one parish in Brazil where the priest only makes a monthly visit, women give Baptism, preside at funerals and distribute Holy Communion.
Having attended Vatican H as a newspaper correspondent, she said it was significant that opposition to women was stronger from the European countries than from the so called "Missionary areas".
She said the climate of opinion has changed dramatically since the Vatican Council, but it still seemed odd that the Council Fathers had invited Protestant observers before they invited Catholic women.
Miss McGillicuddy said the St. Paul quotation that "women must be silent in the Church" was always being quoted. "Why not," she asked, "isn't St. Paul's other quotation about a bishop `being a good head to his own family and one who keeps his children in order' quoted?" If this had been invoked the only bishops at Vatican II should have been the married ones of the Eastern Rite, she said.
Miss Joan Morris, British historian and theologian, pointed out that it is not difficult to imagine that Our Lady. who stood beside the Cross of Calvary, would certainly have had a place of honour at the Eucharist Table, and that she would have had a special seat. "And surely," she added, "the other Holy Women who had stood at the Cross would also have had a place of honour with Our Lady."
"In Asia Minor, Gall, Brittany, England a n d Wales, only church history records communities of men and women governed by an Abbess," she said.
"St. Bede speaks with great admiration for St. Hilda, head of the double monastery for men and women at Whitby.
"The suppression of the Double Communities and the exclusion of women from the administration of the churches was due to the need for prudence in the relationship of the sexes and not to the inability of women to andodldthese positions," she added.