I CAME across a story recently concerning two nuns who became pregnant during missionary trips to Africa.
The African women, who are from different orders in Italy, reportedly got pregnant while on separate missions to their home country and the matter is now under investigation by the Catholic Church.
Life isn’t straightforward for the nuns and Pope Francis has acknowledged that the Roman Catholic Church has had complaints of Catholic nuns being sexually abused and he said the Church has faced a persistent problem of sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops.
Stories like this have been circulating for many years and finally, for the first time, a pope has publicly acknowledged that this has been going on. Pope Francis said he is determined to do more to deal with the issue and says that this work has already begun.
That’s good to hear and it’s about time too because they have a lot of work to do. Historically, the Catholic Church doesn’t appear to have had much respect for women, and it will take a huge effort to reverse that thinking. Just ask Arts Minister Josepha Madigan.
She was embroiled in controversy some time ago when it was reported in the media that she said Mass one evening in her local church in Dublin, after a no-show by the local priest. That was a bit of an exaggeration because she didn’t actually say Mass.
She was scheduled to do a reading but when she discovered that there was no priest available to say the Mass, she stepped in to say some prayers.
Minister Madigan also felt the need to address the issue of women priests. I thought she should have been given a pat on the back for using her initiative, but instead she incurred the wrath of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. He wasn’t happy with Josepha.
You don’t have to be an expert in church affairs to recognise that they are in a bit of bother with a shortage of priests and lower attendance rates. Sunday mornings are a lot different to what they were 30 years ago, and traffic is much quieter at mass time these days since footfall has reduced.
The local church was once a hub of activity at Mass times, and not only for religious reasons either. Large groups gathered outside the church to meet the neighbours and catch up on the events of the week. Now they get their news elsewhere and many say that they don’t find what the church has to say is relevant to them anymore.
I understand that because I’m always surprised at how little the services have changed since I was a child. It seems to me that the same prayers have been used in the same sequence for ever.
The priest leads the chants and the congregation responds. The prayers that I learned as a child are still being repeated from memory and the only difference is that there is less Latin in use now.
The decades of the rosary are still being recited in unison in a monotone, and maybe that’s why the young people don’t buy into it.
The numbers entering religious orders are also falling so there’s clearly a problem. The scandals that have rocked the church over the years haven’t helped and a serious overhaul is required if it is to stop the haemorrhage of church goers.
The recent acknowledgement by Pope Francis suggests that celibacy may be a part of the problem. Perhaps a happily married priest, with a home and a family and all that goes with it, would make religious life a more attractive prospect for many, and solve the problem of frustration that obviously exists for many within the priesthood.
The alternative is to do nothing and allow the churches to go the way of so many rural garda stations, becoming a safe refuge for mice and spiders.
Maybe Josepha Madigan had a point about allowing women into the priesthood. They could provide a solution for the future of the Church.
Theologians offer firm opposition to women priests though and argue that in a communion service, the priest represents Jesus and as Jesus was male, only a man can represent Jesus adequately.
Specific Biblical teachings seem to be incompatible with women becoming priests too. For example, they say that women should remain silent in church and in 1 Timothy, women are told that they may not have authority over a man.
Maybe Timothy had his own reasons for trying to silence women back in the day, who knows?
One thing I do know, though, is that Timothy would have a few problems if he was around today. If he tried that line with my wife, Tim would hear some choice words and may even require some medical intervention.
The Church is facing a crisis in terms of a shortage of priests and because of the low numbers entering the priesthood something needs to change.
Pope Francis has acknowledged this, and while he is prepared to discuss the possibility of having married priests, the idea of female priests seems to be a step too far at the moment.
The fact remains though, that the future of the Church is in doubt and it may well be up to women to save the day.
A survey carried out in the Kilalla diocese in Mayo earlier this year found that nearly 70 per cent of parishioners backed women being ordained to the priesthood.
Those in favour of female ordination say that women are perfectly capable of doing the job as well as any man and it’s hard to argue with that.
Men haven’t made such a great fist of it so far and, let’s face it, they need all the help they can get.