This all started as a result of a discussion on Twitter provoked by this post by Men Are Like Wine. It being Twitter, the discussion was too curtailed to get anywhere, but I somehow ended up tasked with finding out how far the National Pastoral Congress in Liverpool had been a catalyst in changing the role of women within the Church.
But before we go down what has become to me a drearily familiar track, let us reflect on two things: first, that the woman who said that the role of lay women in the Church was catering and domestic work was probably reflecting a truth which it would be difficult to spin into anything positive; and second, that when some 100,000 Catholics were given a list of 13 topics and were asked to pick the six they thought of greatest moment in the Church in England and Wales early in 1979, "The Role of Women in the Church and in the World" came 13th, only 20% of those opining choosing to put the subject on their list. Are these two things related?
We have discussed previously the way that attendees at the Congress were largely self-selecting, and were representative of the vocal and interested activist. There's no easy way round this. If I form the League of Catholic Lepidopterists, make a lot of noise claiming to be the authentic voice of Catholic lepidopterists in England and Wales and start petitioning Rome on the League's behalf, sending plentiful press releases to the Catholic and lepidopterist press, blogging freely and putting myself in the public eye, by default I will become the Voice of Catholic Lepidopterists, indeed, of Catholic Lepidopterism, even though I only represent myself, and anybody sufficiently weak-willed or gullible to follow my lead. Yet if the CBCEW suddenly finds itself one lepidopterist policy short of an environmental strategy, to whom will it turn? The hard answer, of course, is that it shouldn't be where it is in the first place: Bishops don't need lepidopterist policies and should be offering paternal correction to the deluded person who thinks they should, but we have noted previously that he two most senior prelates in E&W were out for change, and this change fitted their agenda. So the last subject on the list managed to fond its way onto the agenda.
I mentioned above that women with real gifts to offer the Church had been sidelined, but at the Congress, their sidelining was not what the delegates wanted to highlight. There was no mention that some women might be uniquely place to advise on the suitability of men proposing themselves for the priesthood: instead they wanted a woman on every selection panel. They wanted two things: a place in the administration of the Church and a place in the Ministry of the Church.
The discussion was summarised as follows:
There is a mix of the totally acceptable, the totally unacceptable, and the things that will be slipped in as a stepping stone towards making the unacceptable seem a little less unacceptable next time. Of course women should have the same access to training as men so that they can act as catechists within the parish; of course women can't be deacons or priests, but to make up for having to say "No" to something you are so keen on, we'll let girls be altar servers and women "special ministers of communion" (can you see what they did there?) for now. (By the way, have you ever seen non sequiturs lake those in the parenthesis at the end?)
What this is all about is another aspect of the entryism of the activists into ecclesial structures in England and Wales. It's not about all women: it's about some women, and about how they fitted into the plans Cardinal Hume and Archbishop Worlock had for the Church. I've missed out some of the patronising guff the Congress documents contain about priests: poor deluded misogynist men who need to be re-educated; but it is interesting that this was another field on which the Bishops enlisted the laity to marginalise priests.
None of this proves anything about what happens in your parish church each Sunday. But it is another reflection of the insidious effect that the Congress had on the Catholic Church in England and Wales: the middle classes elected themselves as the laity's representatives and made a contemporary middle class social agenda theirs, and the Church's.