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New wine in new wineskins, NOW

by Rev Michael James, former General Secretary, Antilles Episcopal Conference

There is a significant group of Catholics worldwide who are especially happy to be members of the Church because they consider it one of the few vitally important institutions where they can be confident that priorities and practice do not change, or at least change very slowly. There are also many who are not Catholic, Christian or even believers who are also happy this is so, because they strongly believe that the world would be a much better place if there were less change and if it could only go back to how things were in the ‘good old days’.

Some of us in the Caribbean, especially those born before Independence, cannot deny that we occasionally wonder whether there may have been advantages in remaining colonies/dependencies like Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Curaçao and Martinique instead of facing all the social, economic and political changes and pains of nation building.

There is the pre-Vatican II joke of a bishop in a colony writing a letter to Rome for advice on what he considered an important change in society demanding a new approach from the Church. The letter took months to reach Rome and when the acknowledgement of receipt came the following year, it said, “This matter will certainly be addressed, and a response provided within the next 50 years”.

Today, whether we like it or not, committed followers of Christ have no choice but to take seriously his radical message for change of heart echoed by Pope Francis (e.g. his homily on New Wine in New Wineskins May 5, 2014) “Do not have fear of making changes according to the law of the Gospel: The Church asks all of us for a few changes. She asks us to leave aside fleeting structures; they aren’t necessary”.

And he added: “One of you may tell me: but father, don’t Christians have laws? Yes! Jesus said: I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it.” And the “fullness of the law, for example are the Beatitudes, the law of love, total love, as He, Jesus, has loved us”.

A striking point in case calling for change is the role of women at the decision-making level of the Church for two millennia, and the speed with which the Church has now acknowledged the problem and is moving to action. This is reflected in the call by the Vatican Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (PCAL) that the Church holds a Synod of Bishops “on the theme of the woman in the life and mission of the Church.”

“There still exists ‘macho,’ bossy clerics who try to use women as servants within their parish, almost like submissive clients of worship and manual labour for what is needed. All of this has to end,” said the final document from the meeting.

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, reported April 11 that the theme of the four-day meeting, The woman: pillar in building the Church and society in Latin America, was chosen by Pope Francis.

In addition to 17 cardinals and seven bishops who are members of the commission, the pope asked that some leading Latin American women also be invited; eight laywomen and six women religious participated in the four-day meeting and in drafting its pastoral recommendations, the newspaper said.

While the assembly expressed appreciation for and based many of its proposals on the Latin American bishops’ Aparecida document, participants said more needed to be done to implement concrete solutions to the problems facing women in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The PCAL Commission has been an important supporter of evangelisation programmes in the Antilles Episcopal Conference over the years, especially for youth, Bible and ABP programmes.

The PCAL Commission meeting March 7–9 in Rome coincided with the March 8 International Women´s day and the address by former President of Ireland Mary McAleese outside the walls of the Vatican in which she called for “a Church where women truly matter not on terms designed by men for a patriarchal Church but on terms which make Christ matter. Only such a Church of equals is worthy of Christ. Only such a Church can credibly make Christ matter.”

And she had added: “Just imagine this normative scenario—Pope Francis calls a Synod on the role of Women in the Church and 350 male celibates advise the Pope on what women really want! That is how ludicrous our Church has become. How long can the hierarchy sustain the credibility of a God who wants things this way, who wants a Church where women are invisible and voiceless in Church leadership, legal and doctrinal discernment and decision-making?”

We have had the Synod on the Family; the Synod on Youth and Vocations will take place this year. Not many will be doubting now that the time for a Synod on the Role of Women will soon come. The time for New Wine in New Wineskins that Jesus came to share with all humanity is, as always, NOW.

Adapted from the April 20 Editorial of the Catholic Standard, weekly publication of the Diocese of Georgetown, Guyana.