Edited by the Catholic Women Speak Network. Published by Paulist Press, 2015. Reviewed by Dianne Strevens.
This publication is produced by the Catholic Women Speak Network — an online forum for theological dialogue and collaboration among women, about issues relating to their participation, presence and representation in society and the church. The list of contributors to Catholic Women Speak reads like a “who’s who” from the Catholic world of scholarship, containing voices from Africa, the Philippines, Latin America, USA and Europe, many of whom, but not all, are teaching at universities throughout the world.
The foreword sets the tone for the 40 papers in this publication. The intention is to encourage “authentic dialogue and debate, embrace difference, and affirm the equality and dignity of all conversation partners … there are no outsiders or insiders.”
The papers are divided into four main topics: Traditions and Transformations — looking at Catholic traditions over the past two millennia, and ways in which they might be transformed in the 21st century.
Marriage, Families and Relationships — many of the essays in this section grapple with painful and complex realities, as women of faith bring theological and personal reflections to bear on the dilemmas and challenges of modern relationships and family life. This is the largest section of the four, covering not only marriage and divorce, but also same-sex love, celibacy and the vocation to solitude.
The essays in Poverty, Exclusion and Marginalisation describe families that are far from the idealised model of the nuclear family found in official church teaching, yet each of them, in their very diversity, their struggles and their bonds of connection and love, points the way to a more inclusive and pastorally responsive and responsible approach to families.
The fourth and final section — Institutions and Structures — exposes the many ways in which the absence of women limits the capacity of the institutional Church in God’s mission of evangelisation and pastoral care. It is here that most women are invisible and silent in Catholic life.
Catholic Women Speak: Bringing our Gifts to the Table is, I believe, a significant contribution to the discussion around the role of women in the Catholic Church in the 21st century. It is not only well-researched, but is a lively and thought-provoking read. I thoroughly recommend it, and would like to conclude this review with a quote from Ursula King’s paper, where she compares the relationship between the Catholic Church and women as being
“rather like the experience with one’s own parents when one wants to affirm close, loving bonds, but is all too aware of the gaps, the shortcomings, the narrowness of vision, and limitations of achievement of another generation.”
Published in Tui Motu InterIsland magazine December 2015.