Simon-Pierre Arnold said ordination for women is not an option but the Church must ‘retune’ its relationship with women. Photo by Alan Hustak

Church must ‘retune’ relations with women

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • June 1, 2016

MONTREAL – The time has come for the Roman Catholic Church to rethink its patriarchal structure and build a stronger relationship with women, a prominent Benedictine monk from South America told delegates, comprising mostly nuns, at the assembly of the Canadian Religious Conference.

In a freewheeling series of talks over the May 27-29 weekend, Simon-Pierre Arnold told more than 300 delegates that priestly ordination was not an option but other ways should be found to include women in ministry.

“The community of Jesus is a community where there are women,” he said. “It is a mixed community, and we have to rebuild our relationship with women. 

“This is not only an issue for men, but for women. We cannot ordain women priests, but we have to retune the orchestra. We have to think of other ways for women to conduct a ministry.” 

That was one of several progressive ideas in two keynote sessions Arnold presented to the gathering of the leaders of Canadian religious institutions. Arnold, a Belgian monk who founded a monastery in Peru, says the Church has become “ossified to the point of losing its inspirational vitality.”

Christianity, he pointed out, is now just another brand in competition with many other ideologies, and it isn’t easily marketed because it is at odds with the current North American values of a “liberal, individualistic and hedonistic society.”

Arnold said the growth of religious life has become “severely stunted” to the point that even religious leaders say things they don’t believe in anymore.  

“If our language, our vocabulary and our way of prayer doesn’t mean anything anymore, then we are lost,” he said.

Arnold says the time has come for the Church to reconfigure itself and return to its origins.

“The Kingdom of God is for the world,” he said. “It is not for religious communities. Who says congregations have to be eternal? Only God is eternal. We have become so used to having and managing big buildings, and in our weakness with these material things, we didn’t have time to celebrate Church.”

He says it is necessary to create new forms of religious communities, which are not dogmatic in their insight.

“Our communities have to rethink themselves as schools of disciples, persons at prayer and builders of communities. Otherwise they will disappear completely.”

He also cautioned against the temptation to create a “neo-christendom,” and warned against new movements, which do not represent a real alternative to evangelical revival.

Sr. Rita Larivee, the outgoing president of the conference and General Superior of the Sisters of St. Anne, said she is not alarmed by recent statistics which indicate that religious communities have lost almost 18 per cent of members in the past four years. (16,900 in 2012 to 13,890 this year).

Larivee said she is not convinced that the ordination of women to the diaconate is essential to fill the void of declining vocations. 

“Ordination is not the issue, the issue is the participation of women in the Church.”

The assembly, which meets every two years, chose Michelle Payette, the Provincial Superior of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, as its new president. 

(Hustak is a writer in Montreal.)

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