BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
THE inferior position of women in the Church was as much the fault of women as of men, especially of women members of religious orders, Sister Rita Hannon of La Sainte Union said in Manchester on Saturday. She was addressing a meeting organised by the North-West branch of St. Joan's Alliance.
She argued that "people do not always distinguish between authority and power." Christ had given the Church "authority to teach, to lead and to administer the Sacraments but he had not given it power." On the contrary "he had warned the Apostles against lording it over others.
"Yet," she continued, "the Church has used power. especially psychological power, to subjugate women. It has sought domination in the intellectual, spiritual. religious, sexual and economic spheres."
She said its distrust of feminine intelligence was evidenced in the remarks of St. Augustine. in the reluctance to recognise St. Teresa and in the refusal to grant good academic degrees to women.
By use of Canon Law the Church had accorded women an inferior legal and economic position, "the status of women being lowest in the so-called Catholic countries."
Sister Hannon maintained that women were "excluded from the official ministry on a flimsy basis, such as St. Paul's remarks." While they were welcomed "as ecclesiastical chars" they were not permitted to serve at Mass, "even for nuns in their own chapels."
She continued : "Women religious could have done more, but they are more subdued by male restrictions. They have often deferred to the clergy when, they have been as well able to make decisions.
"Women religious have often flattered the clergy. and have
been responsible for the clergy having an inflated idea of themselves. Why should they entertain a priest lavishly but only give a crust to the poor beggar at the back door?" she asked.
MISNOMER "The vow of chastity was intended to free women from domestic responsibilities in order to give more, but instead, nuns have accepted formality and institutionalisation. They should have pioneered more for the emancipation of women.
"The vow of poverty is a misnomer. Whereas nuns should have been a reproach to the Church, they have fitted into middle-class values in a capitalist society. They have failed to speak out for the oppressed and for women."
Turning to the future, Sister Hannon said that it was time for the religious orders "to put their own house in order."
She continued, "We women must demand changes in Canon Law and insist on liturgical changes. Men must be made to explain their reasons. Why should we always be on the defensive?"
She urged more women to obtain qualifications in theology and "to present themselves for ordination." Others should support those who wish to be ordained.
She concluded, "It is going to be hard to get rid of discrimination. We are not looking for domination by women, but for partnership between the sexes. Women should be accepted and respected in the Church and given their full value because it is all done ultimately for the Kingdom of God."