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Sr. Sharon Euart’s fate (see story) was really sealed years ago when the U.S. bishops were unable, despite nearly 10 years of effort, to cobble together a pastoral on women. Many then thought the project, which began in 1982, was doomed from the start because Rome would never allow the bishops to say anything significant or new about the status of women in the church.

The skeptics were right. The bishops tried. They widely consulted women across the country. They wrote a first draft, released in 1988, which covered the issues important to women: women’s ordination, women preaching and wide-ranging reflections on women and their role in family life, church and society. That draft included sections that quoted extensively from women who participated in the consultation process.

By 1992, after strong intervention by Rome, the document had been scrubbed of any significant stances and of all the voices of women. It served no one, and the conference voted it down.

Eventually, the bishops issued a statement, “Strengthening the Bonds of Peace,” a tepid capitulation to Rome’s fear of any real discussion of women in the church.

However, the statement does contain a few interesting lines in its discussion of women in the church. Leadership, it says, “will also mean giving time and energy to fostering community life where men and women are called forth and accepted as vital collaborators in the work of evangelization, social justice, teaching, administration and governance. The collaboration of women and men as equal partners in this servant leadership is a ‘sign of that interpersonal communion of love which constitutes the mystical, intimate life of God … ’ ”

Three former secretaries general of the conference -- two of them bishops -- have spoken high praise of Euart and her abilities. By their recommendations she would make an excellent general secretary.

That she was not even considered is a simple injustice that puts the lie to all the nice words.

I’m willing to give the bishops the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps there is simply nothing they can do in the face of Rome’s resistance. But this is one more slap in the face to laity and, particularly, women, which I won’t be able to explain to teenage and adult children struggling with the church’s position on these matters.

If there is nothing else they can do, the bishops at least owe Euart a public apology at their next meeting.

On a lighter note, check out G. Wayne Barr’s piece (see story) offering questions for the presidential candidates. I’d love to see some reporter ask the shower question. The column raises, in this interactive world, the idea of soliciting more questions for candidates. So here’s the deal: Send along the burning question you’d like to ask V.P. Gore or Gov. Bush. We’ll print the best -- serious or funny -- as the campaign season grinds on.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, September 1, 2000