Major Superiors Urge Change in Church's Patriarchal Mindset about Women

Indian Catholic
February 5, 2006

KOCHI, India (UCAN) -- India's major Religious superiors ended their triennial meeting Feb. 1 with a call for the Church to abandon its "patriarchal mindset" for a gender-sensitive culture of collaboration.

Some 575 superiors representing 125,000 Catholic men and women Religious in the country unanimously endorsed the "vision for gender justice and collaborative action" in the Church that the meeting produced.

"Gender-sensitive Church" was the theme of the five-day national assembly of the Conference of Religious India (CRI), held in Kochi, 2,595 kilometers south of New Delhi.

A statement released after the meeting says participants want a "directional change in beliefs and culture, behaviors and actions, choices and decisions within congregations, communities and ministries" to make the Church gender-sensitive.

The "core challenge for the Church" with regard to gender justice "is the change from an internalized patriarchal mindset to a participatory and collaborative culture where women and men can work together for promoting justice and fraternity within the Church and society," the statement says.

The conference's national president, Montfort Brother Varghese Theckanath, later told UCA News that the Religious superiors "identified the core area of action," which is to "educate ourselves to commit wholeheartedly to the spirit of gender justice and collaborative partnership."

The assembly outlined a plan to ensure gender justice at all levels of Church life. It wants competent women, Religious and lay, appointed to positions of responsibility in ministries at national and local levels.

It proposed that "wherever there is collaboration in ministry, written contracts be made between both parties to ensure gender justice, sharing (of) resources, consultation and participation in decision making."

The Religious superiors agreed that the present Church structure "does not promote gender justice and collaborative partnership between men and women" because of unequal status and opportunities.

Brother Theckanath said such a structure "leads to a male-dominated" Church, in which women are relegated to the status of a work force that implements decisions made by male authorities.

In another recommendation, the assembly appealed to superiors of women's communities to encourage members to develop themselves through theological, biblical and canonical studies. This, it added, would help the women develop "a holistic approach" to spirituality that respects "the feminine and masculine elements of human growth and faith."

The assembly also decided to initiate dialogue between Religious and the bishops' conference to come up with policy directives in the next two years aiming at achieving gender justice at all levels in the Church.

Montfort Brother Mani Mekkunnel, executive secretary of CRI, said it would organize training camps at some 45 centers in the country to promote partnership and gender justice in the Church.

Brother Mekkunnel spoke at the meeting on the need to chart a policy on sexual abuse of Religious within the Church and to set up appeal centers in every diocese for those who have been abused. He called for the CRI national executive committee to come up with broad outlines for this policy.

Calcutta Jesuit provincial Father George Pattery wants the policy to take a sympathetic approach to victims. He says the Church now has no policy on the abuse of Religious within the Church.

"The tendency is to silence the victims whenever complaints of sexual abuse are made. From now on, we (will) work to formulate a policy that will ensure justice for all within the Church," he told UCA News.

Father Pattery also criticized the way the triennial meeting was conducted. "We conducted the proceedings in the traditional way. Men Religious chaired most of sessions while the women Religious listened. We should have given more space for women Religious to voice out," he said.

Sister Teresa Kottooran, provincial of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, said she found the proceedings "inspiring and motivating." But she stressed that more discussions were needed at various levels to ensure gender justice.

Adorers provincial Sister Caridad Paramundayil said the meeting was an "eye-opener for many" and stressed the need for a change in "attitudes, behavior and vision."


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