Twelve Catholic priests have issued a joint statement calling for open discussion on the need for equality for women in the church, including where priesthood is concerned.
“Discriminating against women encourages and reinforces abuse and violence against women in many cultures and societies,” they say.
The priests, many of whom have been prominent in the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), are Frs Tony Flannery, Eamonn McCarthy, Kevin Hegarty, Roy Donovan, Pádraig Standún, Adrian Egan, Benny Bohan, Seán McDonagh, John D Kirwin, Ned Quinn, Donagh O'Meara, and Tony Conry.
"We believe that we can no longer remain silent because to do so colludes with the systemic oppression of women within the Catholic Church. So, in the spirit of Pope Francis constant encouragement of dialogue, we are calling for free and open discussion concerning the full equality of women in all facets of church life, including all forms of ministry," they say.
Their statement begins with a quotation from St Paul's letter to the Galatians, that "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. "
Pope John Paul II
It notes how “in the Catholic Church women, despite being equal to men by virtue of their Baptism, are excluded from all positions of decision making, and from ordained ministry” and how “in 1994 Pope John Paul II declared that the exclusion of women from priesthood could not even be discussed in the church.”
This, they say, was reaffrimed and even strengthened by Pope Benedict who insisted "that it was definitive and that all Catholics were required to give assent to this view".
Pope Francis “has said that Pope John Paul II had reflected at length on this matter, had declared that women could never be priests and that, therefore, no further discussion on the ordination of women to ministry is possible”.
The 12 priests say “we, the undersigned, believe that this situation is very damaging, that it alienates both women and men from the church because they are scandalised by the unwillingness of church leaders to open the debate on the role of women in our church. This alienation will continue and accelerate.”
They were “aware that there are many women who are deeply hurt and saddened by this teaching. We also believe that the example given by the church in discriminating against women encourages and reinforces abuse and violence against women in many cultures and societies.
“It is also necessary to remember that women form the bulk of the congregation at Sunday Mass and have been more active in the life of the local churches than many men.”
The “strict prohibition on discussing the question has failed to silence the majority of the Catholic faithful,” they say.
“Survey after survey indicates that a great many people are in favour of full equality for women in the church. But it has managed to silence priests and bishops, because the sanctions being imposed on those who dare to raise the question are swift and severe.”