Revolutionary appointments

Today at Rome noon, the Holy Father appointed the new International Theological Commission. Its members include 5 women, bringing the total representation of women on the theological commission to 16 percent.

As a longtime theology student, I find this news extremely welcome, particularly when considered along with the recent appointment of the first woman rector of a Roman pontifical university. While far short of true parity, these are giant steps towards equal ecclesial recognition for the contributions of women scholars.

Intelligence and letters among Catholic women are not new: one might well debate which of Saints Teresa of Avila and Hildegard shone brighter, each in her own way, not to mention the first-order mind of St. Edith Stein. This excellence seems to have slumbered now for some 60 years. It wasn’t always so. Browsing the dissertations in the library stacks at Catholic University,  it’s easy to see that in the pre-conciliar years, there was a flood of feminine scholarship.

One of the many benefits of this new open-ceiling policy is a reorientation of questions surrounding ordination. There is no parity there and there never will be, and that is fine. Parity in other areas, however, can be achieved and should be sought. Ordination is not a sign of expertise or political power, but of being set aside, and changed, for service. Thankfully many excellent young men are taking up this challenging role.

It seems to me that the further apart these two discussions are kept, the more easily the best contributions of all can be brought forward for the good of everyone.

5 Replies to “Revolutionary appointments”

  1. I commend both the revelatory aspects of these advancements and appointments, long overdue.
    And I concur with your conclusion that discussing the merits and implications of these circumstances should not be correlated to the issues of ordination, and perhaps even the ecclesiastical matters between the Vatican and women religious in the US and elsewhere (YMMV).
    I'd be intrigued to hear your "takes" on the relative scarcity of female composers of note in RCC, besides AOZ and certain sacropop writers, and whether the Church will eventually make a move towards recognizing married male priests in some capacity in the future.

  2. Charles, the Church already recognizes quite a few married priests. Regarding the LCWR, one of the other appointees was the official USCCB theologian who exposed the dangerous doctrinal errors and ambiguities in Sr. Elizabeth Johnson's book which the LCWR recently gave their highest award.

    So those are both apples and oranges issues.

    The question of composers is more intriguing to me. In the old days, religious and teachers apparently rested from the day's labors by penning a few lines of verse. Looking through the author index of the Liber Hymnarius you will find a lot of hymn writers who are much more famous for other works of theological writing or ecclesial leadership. Looking at the author index of the Magnificat you will find some of my work, and I'm delighted and grateful about this.

    Personally I feel that someone besides me should try to explain to bishops that one of the most useful collaborative tools they could rely on to help them in their work is excellent sacred music. Because I wonder whether, if they knew I am a lady hymn writer, they would consider me to be somewhat self-concerned rather than truly objective.

  3. There is not a relative scarcity of female composers but an absolute one – although music and drawing were traditionally deemed to be appropriate pursuits for young ladies, few achieved the heights of creativity in either art form. I would like to make a plug for Judith Bingham (b.1952) and Roxanna Panufnik (b.1968), both of whom have written good liturgical music. After the premiere of Panufnik's 'Westminster Mass' in 2000, Daniel Barenboim was heard to remark: 'Well, she's a lot better-looking than Anton Bruckner.'

  4. John, to be clear, I wasn't implying that there is a scarcity of composers who happen to be female in the art and academic environs. In my choral teaching career there was never a shortage of serious, schooled and groundbreaking women. Libby Larson is perhaps the pinnacle, contemporary American composer, tho' I'm more fond of Judith Zaimont.
    However, in the narrower confines of practicing liturgical composers, even at the level of McMillan (who straddles both art and sacred genres) it doesn't seem that many women are keeping pace with the gentlemen. Just an impression.

  5. I would venture a guess that in the pre-conciliar years, the dissertations by women at Catholic University were largely by religious women. The dearth of such work now must be laid at the feet of the orders who have ceased to encourage serious theological work.

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