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US Bishop Urges More Authority for Women

October 5, 1987

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ A senior American bishop told a worldwide synod of bishops Monday the Roman Catholic Church should give women more authority, including high positions in the Vatican and its diplomatic corps.

″The credibility of the church in our century in its pastoral mission depends on its forthright response to the concerns of women in church and society,″ said Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee.

He said many women felt ″pain and frustration″ and increasing their role in the church ″is perhaps the most significant challenge we face today as disciples of Christ.″

″This is not just an issue affecting some regions of the world, but one which definitely touches the credibility of the church’s teaching on human dignity everywhere on this planet,″ Weakland said.

A group of conservative American Catholic laywomen held a news conference Monday evening at which Kathleen Sullivan, head of the National Catholic Coalition said: ″The family and the right to life should be the primary theme of this synod.″ She claimed those issues have been ″conspiculously absent″ so far.

Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly objected to such terms as ″women’s liberation,″ which she said suggest ″easy divorce, abortion, contraception and the abandonment of motherhood as a full-time career.″

Pope John Paul II called the synod, an advisory body that advises the pontiff on major issues, to examine the role of lay people in church and society. Attending the month-long assembly, which opened last Thursday, are bishops and 60 lay observers, including 26 women, from around the world.

The position of women in the church of 850 million followers has emerged as a dominant issue at the synod, but the pope has stressed that the ban on women priests will remain.

Several bishops addressed the women’s issue Monday. Synod sessions are closed, but the Vatican released official texts and summaries of speeches.

Weakland, one of four prelates chosen by U.S. bishops to represent them, said the church should give lay people, including women, decision-making and adminstrative roles in all levels of the church. He said they should include major positions in the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, and the diplomatic corps.

Monsignor Gerhard Schwenzer, bishop of Oslo, Norway, said the shortage of women in church administration ″is seen more and more as a fundamental failure of the church.″

There are no women in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps, but some women advisers represent the Holy See at the United Nations and other international organizations. The highest-ranking woman in the Vatican is a British nun, Sister Mary Linscott, who is one of three department heads at the Congregation for the Religious.

Weakland said: ″Women who are loyal to and love the church express dismay and discouragement if their talents and contributions to church life are stifled or rejected. They want to be heard and consulted on issues that affect them deeply.″

The bishop, who expressed the same ideas in an address to the pope in Los Angeles last month, said the synod should allow women and laity to take a greater role as altar servers, lectors and acolytes.

He said American bishops have upheld the church stand against ordination of women priests, but the prohibition ″must not been seen as a manifestation of baptismal inferiority.″

The issue of women priests is a major one in the United States, he said.

″Honesty forces us to admit ... that the issue was raised by men and women in almost every hearing around the nation,″ he said.

Weakland also urged bishops to continue to support women’s push for equal rights in society and to fight pornography and prostitution.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago said lay Catholics have a duty to uphold church positions in daily life. That role has put some Catholic politicians on the spot in dealing with abortion, birth control, divorce and other issues.

″Today many Catholics in our country are in leadership roles . .. many of them are well-educated and deeply dedicated to the church, but not all of them are familiar with the church’s social teaching,″ he said.

He also defended American bishops against charges that they have been too involved in political issues.

″We needed to show how principles are to be applied in our contemporary circumstances so that the principles and their implications will be correctly understood,″ Bernardin said.