With all the pontification lately about the visitation of women’s religious orders, as well as the call in some corners for “more women in the Church” as a means to combat the sex-abuse scandal, Kathy Lopez of National Review Online has done a real service by speaking with an actual religious sister for her perspective on the issues.
Sister Mary Prudence Allen of the Religious Sisters of Mercy in Alma, Michigan, has some thoughtful insights on the visitation, the decision to serve in religious life, and the roles of men and women in the Church. When asked whether we should “have more women involved [in the Church], as priests and in the hierarchy,” she responded:
Again, this question is wrongly framed within a political model of power struggles. Rather, the Church is a communion in which all the baptized are called to holiness through complementary vocations. In the apostolic letter “On the New Millennium,” John Paul II summarized it this way: “The unity of the Church is not uniformity, but an organic blending of legitimate diversities. It is the reality of many members joined in a single body, the one Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:12). Therefore the Church of the Third Millennium will need to encourage all the baptized and confirmed to be aware of their active responsibility in the Church’s life” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, #46).
As mentioned before, integral complementarity of vocations holds an interior tension between the fundamental equality of dignity and worth of all vocations and the significant differentiation of vocations. When one part or another of this tension slides out, the result is either a unisex model of interchangeable roles (the sliding out of significant differentiation) or a rigid polarity model (the sliding out of fundamental equality of dignity). This sliding out can happen in relation to a particular vocation, such as marriage, or it can happen in relation to the interrelation of the vocations within a parish or particular Church.
In his essays on Genesis, Mulieris Dignitatem (9-11), and other documents such as The Gospel of Life (99), Pope John Paul II discussed the rupture in relations through the effects of sin. Simply put, for men this takes the form of a propensity towards domination of others, especially women, rather than the assumption of a properly held dominion in areas of responsibility; for women this takes the form of seeking to possess others, especially men, rather than fostering their personal growth.
The answer to the final part of your question is “Sin”; sin is at the heart of the problems in the Church. The different vocations (not roles) of women and men, giving themselves in service to one another for the good of the Church and the world, are not a problem. They are the solution to the problem.
Read the whole interview here.