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Issue Date:  June 7, 1991

Women’s pastoral called into question in Rome

Imesch: Women may ask, ‘What’s the use?’

NCR Staff

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The long-delayed U.S. bishops’ pastoral on women hit another snag as Vatican officials and bishops voiced major criticisms of it at a May 28-29 meeting with U.S. bishops in Rome.

Interviewed by telephone from Rome May 30, Joliet, Ill., Bishop Joseph Imesch, head of the drafting committee, said he was “disappointed” following the meeting.

“I think we put in a significant amount of time; we had considerable consultation,” he said. “I think what we have expressed are the concerns of American women. I don’t think we can alter . . . what their feelings are, what their impressions are, what their reality is. If that is not acceptable, then I don’t know where we go from here.”

Delegates expressed three major areas of concern, Imesch said.

The first centered on methodology. Some said the U.S. drafters “did not speak sufficiently as bishops” but simply repeated the concerns of women. They suggested that, instead of issuing a pastoral letter, the U.S. bishops opt for “a lesser way of issuing a document which does not go into depth in treating these concerns,” Imesch said.

Some delegates also criticized the drafting committee for consulting only “radical” feminists. “We clarified that the women we consulted would hardly be called radical feminists,” Imesch said.

Second, delegates said the pastoral should include a more in-depth treatment of “biblical anthropology” in light of the pope’s apostolic letter on women. The pope’s letter emphasized the complementarity of men and women while observers have said the U.S. bishops’ pastoral focuses more on their equality.

Finally, delegates said the pastoral should develop the “Marian dimension” of the church, Imesch said. That dimension, spelled out in the pope’s letter, includes “the aspect of servanthood, lowliness, and humility which is emphasized in the life of Mary,” he said.

Imesch said it was “marvelous” that the pope called an international consultation on the pastoral letter, because it signifies the importance of women’s concerns to the universal church and the pastoral’s wider impact.

On the downside, however, Imesch said it was a daunting task for the U.S. delegates to sum up “seven years of efforts in 14 hours,” noting that it took him “a long time to listen and hear what was being said” by American women. The pastoral’s universal significance also places an “unusual burden” on a document originally intended to express American concerns.

Imesch, who joked that eight years working on the pastoral felt like “104,” said the consultation could delay the pastoral’s final draft beyond the June 1992 target date.

He also indicated that the further delay may prove disheartening for the Catholic women. “They are patient and long-suffering,” Imesch said. “Some will continue to be patient and long-suffering, and others will simply say, ‘What’s the use.’”

National Catholic Reporter, June 7, 1991

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