Rebalance of Church leadership roles needed to reflect role of women – report

New report recommends creation of new opportunities for women’s voices in Church life

The report by the Women in Leadership Working Group found that there are difficulties and struggles for women, both lay and religious, particularly in a parish environment that revolves around the priest. Photograph: iStock

The report by the Women in Leadership Working Group found that there are difficulties and struggles for women, both lay and religious, particularly in a parish environment that revolves around the priest. Photograph: iStock

 

There must be a rebalancing of leadership roles within the Catholic Church to better reflect the important contributions made by women and lay people, according to a new report published by the Diocese of Limerick.

The report examining the role of women in the church recommends the creation of new opportunities for women’s voices to be heard in liturgies, leadership and in Church life.

The report by the Women in Leadership Working Group found that there are difficulties and struggles for women, both lay and religious, particularly in a parish environment that revolves around the priest. A range of 24 women in ministry both within and outside the Diocese were invited to partake in the project.

The group found there is a need to “honour the dignity of Christian women in ministry”, as many feel their work within the Church is in the background and they are somewhat “invisible”. One respondent with a leadership role said she felt “blatantly ignored”, as the authority of the priest superseded the lay woman’s role.

A “radical change of mindset” is required to balance leadership within the Church and the entire Christian community, the group recommends. However, there are ways of addressing the challenges that are in keeping with the existing provisions of canon law that can facilitate the change needed, the report states.

Chair of the group, Rose O’Connor, said the “issue of ordination of women is at the forefront of people’s thoughts when it comes to inequalities in the Church”. However, she said the group focused on changes possible within the provisions of canon law.

‘Sense of urgency’

The feeling of being ignored is not exclusive to women, with lay men experiencing the same problem in some parishes, she said. “As one respondent said, the influence of lay people depended on the parish priest and his openness and willingness to engage in collaborative style ministry. Some priests are delighted to share ministry and appreciate a woman’s perspective, but others don’t,” Ms O’Connor added.

The working group also recommends the diocese explores how it could create new roles for lay women and men. The report notes there is a “sense of urgency” in implementing these recommendations as the cohort of lay people who would be willing to take on the challenges of being actively involved in team ministry is ageing.

The Bishop of Limerick, Brendan Leahy, said solutions must be found and implemented to address a problem that is “embedded deeply in the culture of the Church”. The Church is “overly focused on the church building itself” and this must be flipped on its head, he said, adding: “We must go out into the community and we must bring people together. That’s not a job for one person or one gender, it’s a job for all.”

A webinar hosted by the Diocese of Limerick on Monday night will examine the report’s findings.