The Priests for Equality Charter was published in 1975. Though some of the language reflects the social and religious landscape of that time, the issues addressed herein, and the struggle against sexism in all its forms, in ongoing. With this 25th Anniversary Edition of the Charter, PFE renews its commitment to join arms in the struggle against sexism and to work diligently for the full participation of women and men in church and in society.
A movement for equality of men and women is stirring throughout the world. This movement is an integral and essential segment of the worldwide struggle for social justice and human rights. The undersigned Roman Catholic priests1 believe it is a movement toward greater justice and fully in accord with the teaching of our Church.
As a community the Roman Catholic Church can help advance equality of men and women and become more credible in its preaching of the good news by promoting and implementing such equality in its own life and structures
Many women and men are part of this struggle. They seek to become co-equal partners in healing and building the earth. Their efforts are a dynamic response to the call and witness of Jesus.
Jesus called men and women to follow him toward a freedom based on love and justice. He broke through social barriers to touch human hearts, He commissioned his followers to preach the good news of freedom and love to women and men everywhere. In his sight each person is equally precious, His friends and those who follow after them are to build a human community where even the structures of their life together witness such love that onlookers know they follow Jesus.
In the present-day struggle for justice, churches play an influential role. They have power to maintain or challenge human attitudes and institutions. Churches sometimes confront and propose new insights for civil society. At other times they are challenged by civil life. In recent years, under the prodding of Supreme Court decisions, United States churches have acknowledged that racial discrimination is contrary to the call of the Gospel. Rising out of this struggle is a new awareness that sexual discrimination is equally hostile to the spirit of Jesus. The churches must respond anew.
The Roman Catholic Church, in recent years, has insisted that freedom and the right to participate in the decisions which affect a person's life is an inalienable right of each person and social group. Unfortunately, as the bishops noted in the 1971 Roman Synod, we have been slow, as a church community, to implement this teaching, even in the life and structures of our own Church. This gap between word and deed is especially prominent in our approach to women. Our reluctance to implement our words of liberty and justice for all by actions which make them a lived reality for women is undercutting our credibility to preach the Good News. By excluding women from decision-making and the fullness of ministry we are reinforcing sexual discrimination in society. We hobble ourselves and deny our community many rich charisms which we need to help build a world of peace, freedom and justice
Priests are a key group within the Church. Together with our bishops we play a pivotal role in either maintaining sexual discrimination or in building a new equality. In the past we have often been mute onlookers in the presence of discrimination toward women in our society and in our Church. We acknowledge that our silence has been taken as proof that priests, as a group, oppose equality for women and men. This is not true. With apologies for our past silence, we priests who are for equality now wish to speak out publicly.
We do so conscious of our own limitations. We priests are worried about our own identity and our ministry in a changing world and a changing Church. We fear changes which have strong implications for our lives. Clearly, equality for men and women is such a change. Yet we also sense that such freedom and equality are worth the struggle and we wish to be part of it.
We acknowledge with respect that other persons within our Church may oppose our views. But, at present, we are strong in our belief that women and men are called to unity, solidarity and equality in sharing life on this earth. We are deeply hopeful that the attempt to live out this freedom and build it into the structures of our society and of our Church will bring new blessings to both men and women,
We invite other priests who feel as we do to join their voices in the following affirmations.
*By this we welcome all deacons, priests, bishops.
I. SOCIETAL LIFE
1. We affirm that, in God's love, we are all equal.
With St. Paul, at a moment when he broke through the social restraints of his culture, we hold
"You have clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
2. We affirm that men and women are equally called to full personhood.
Each man and each woman on earth is innately precious as a human being. Each is equally precious to a loving Creator, equally bearing the image of that Creator, equally called to develop his or her human gifts.
3. We affirm that women and men are thus equally called to participate in societal development.
In accord with the consistent teaching of our Church, we affirm that
"All without exception, are called to promote the full development of human society... The complete development of the individual must be joined with that of the human race and must be accomplished by mutual effort."2
This development includes both sharing in the earth's resources, and sharing in the decisions which affect our lives
4. We affirm that men and women have a right to be treated equally before the law.
We acknowledge that such equality is violated in both civil and church law. With Pope Paul and the Bishops, we endorse the struggle which women are making for such equality.
"Where they have not yet won it, women claim for themselves an equality with men before the law and in fact."3
We urge both men and women to join this struggle. We endorse the 27th Amcndment, the Equal Rights Amendment. (cf. Appendix for text.) We view this amendment as a fundamental and just action to remove sexual discrimination from the laws of our country.
5. We affirm that women and men have a right to equal protection from discrimination based on sex.
In solidarity with Pope Paul and the Bishops of the Vatican Council we affirm,
"With respect to the fundamental rights of the person every type of discrimination, based on sex... is go be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God's intent."4
We acknowledge that sexual discrimination is lodged, not only in the laws of our society and our church, but also in our attitudes, in our language and in our social structures. This discrimination should be eradicated for the sake of freedom and justice toward both women and men. Where women are unfree, men are also unfree.
6. We affirm that men and women have a right to balanced portrayals in the media and in advertising.
Acknowledging the power of the media and of advertising in our culture, we endorse fair and balanced portrayals of men and women in the media. We encourage elimination of sexist exploitation in the marketing of products.
7. We affirm that women and men have a right to equal opportunities in societal life.
Among these we endorse equal opportunities for,
a) Employment. We endorse equal opportunity at every level of responsibility and decision-making Where past practices have discriminated against women or men, we encourage affirmative action programs to make restitution and effect reconciliation.
b) Economic Life. We endorse equality in sharing the economic benefits and burdens of our culture. We reject sexual discrimination in loans, credit, etc. We endorse equality of opportunity in participation in decisionmaking throughout the structures and institutions of economic life in this country.
c) Education. We endorse equal opportunities in education at every level. We reject pressures toward career roles and educational choices based on sexual stereotypes.
d) Culture. We endorse equality of opportunity in cultural experiences. We encourage equal development of creative talent, leisure occupations and hobbies.
e) Athletics. American life places enormous emphasis upon athletics. We recognize the need for serious re thinking of present programs and their glorification of contact, competition and financial compensation. We endorse athletic programs which emphasize human development and physical vigor. Specifically, we urge that women and men share the decisions concerning use of resources (or athletics the type of sports promoted, the programs offered and the opportunities for participation developed.
8. We affirm that men and women have equal rights and responsibilities to take part in political life.
We urge that candidates for office be chosen by voters and political parties on the basis of qualifications for the positions. Acknowledging the history of discrimination toward women in political life, we urge women and men to work together for new balance.
9. We affirm that women and men are called to equal partnership in marriage.
We see family life as a critical and sensitive area of equality. From our contacts with married persons we recognize the stresses which this new awareness of equality is causing in existing marriages. Nevertheless, we view this as a healthy tension and believe it will strengthen marriages and make possible new depths of sharing.
We affirm the importance of all dimensions of married life for both partners; sharing love and friendship, nurturing life, fostering home life, teaching and communicating values, caring for children, earning support for the family. We urge equal partnership in making decisions about the ways in which these responsibilities are to be shared.
We support efforts to avoid early channeling of children toward role stereotypes through toys sports, etc. or through parental affirmation or disapproval.
10. We affirm that men and women should equally share the burden of keeping the peace.
As priests trying to follow Jesus, the prince of peace, we are committed to peace. We believe in forgiveness and reconciliation. We try to be reverent for all life. With Pope John and Pope Paul, we condemn war. Recent history has shown its futility, suffering, hatreds and horrors. Hence we oppose militarism for both men and women.
Nevertheless, if the government demands military conscription and combat, that demand - and the possible call to resist it - should fall equally on both sexes. It is no more fitting that men die in battle than that women do. Nor is it fitting that the decisions about war and peace be made by men alone. We believe that vastly enlarging the number of persons who must face the battles of war will vastly enlarge the number of persons who will work to preserve the peace.
Parenthetically - as priests we acknowledge that in the past, we have been exempted from military service. In advocating equality for men and women in the face of war, we accept that we too should share this awful prospect and the choice to take part, or in conscience, to object.
When we speak of equality in civil life, we must likewise speak of equality in our own community, the Roman Catholic Church. Our call to others to live justly, in equality, implies a commitment to back our words with actions. Such actions are in accord with the 1971 Roman Synod where the bishops said:
"Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel."5
Hence we make the following affirmations.
1. We affirm that men and women are called to work for equality in our Church.
In his recent encyclical on Mary, Popc Paul VI affirmed thc modern struggle of women for equality.
"The modern woman (and man) will note with pleasant surprise that Mary of Nazareth, while completely devoted to the will of God, was far from being a timidly submissive woman or one whose piety was repellent to others; on the contrary, she was a woman who did not hesitate to proclaim that God vindicates the humble and the oppressed, and removes the powerful people of this world from their privileged positions."6
We endorse this struggle for equality in our Church. It is a work of building up the Church and of effecting reconciliation by removing unjust treatment and unequal participation. As priests, we must freely surrender our privileged position.
2. We affirm that women and men have a right to be treated equally in Church law and prescriptions.
We acknowledge with regret that sexual discrimination is present in existing Church law and prescriptions. We endorse efforts to remove such discrimination both in the process by which the laws are revised and in the statutes. Laws and prescriptions constructed through a discriminatory process or which contain discriminatory statutes will not be viable.
3. We affirm that men and women are called to an equal share in Church decision-making and responsibility.
We endorse equality of opportunity for positions of decision-making in church life and structures at every level. This applies to local teams in ministry, councils at every level, diocesan offices, international bodies and the Vatican curia. Acknowledging past exclusion of women from such opportunities we urge vigorous affirmative action programs to implement balance over the next 10 years.
4. We affirm efforts of persons in Catholic schools, in religious education, in adult programs and in Catholic organizations to work vigorously for equality on behalf of women and men.
Wc acknowledge our disappointment with the efforts of some Catholic organizations which work against equality in both Church and civil life. We especially regret the way in which some have attempted to play upon the fears and anxiety of others in order to win allegiance. Such fearfulness seems contrary to the signs of peace, joy and hope which mark the presence of the Spirit of Jesus.
We urge all Catholic programs, institutions and organizations to become active supporters of equality for men and women. Seminaries for clergy and formation programs for religious womcn and men bear special responsibility. Catholic educational efforts should be active and vocal in their teaching of equality. Catholic organizations and parishes should make the teaching come alive with their witness.
5. We affirm efforts to use sexually balanced language and images in Church liturgy, publications, education and preaching.
Language, seemingly innocuous and inconsequential, is in reality an area which reveals unconscious attitudes, prejudices, stereotypes and patterns of discriminatory thinking. Conversely, care in language is a first and necessary step in raising consciousness. In itself, it can help to educate us toward equality.
We endorse efforts to eliminate sexist language and stereotyped role descriptions from church worship, liturgical texts, hymns, the language of Catholic education, catechisms and preaching.
6. We affirm that women and men have a right to equal participation in the worship of our Church.
In keeping with the Vatican Council, we affirm that
"In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim go be considered before all else: for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit."7
Since full participation is not possible when some persons are excluded from various roles solely on the basis of sex, we affirm that equal opportunities for participation should be made possible in all roles of the liturgy. We encourage present efforts to implement equality for roles such as Mass servers, lectors, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, etc.
7. We affirm that men and women have a right to equal opportunity for ordination to the priesthood.
The question of orders is clearly one of the most sensitive, symbolic and controversial areas in our Church. Much of the feeling seems to arise because orders are intimately linked to the exercise of authority and power in our community. Some of it is linked to the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments.
Whatever has been our tradition and the cultural conditioning of previous eras in Church life, our present faith and theology and our instincts for justice tell us that exclusion from the priesthood on the basis of sex is no longer a viable position. Such exclusion violates the justice we preach, frustrates the needs of our community for more adequate ministry and contradicts the call which is rising in the hearts of not a few women.
Thus we endorse equality of opportunity for ordination for both women and men. In light of the needs of our community for worship and leadership in ministry, we encourage a vigorous affirmative action program over the next 10 years to begin to achieve this balance.
Although our words are forthright, we say them as searchers in faith, seeking to find the Lord who calls us forth to be the just and loving people of the Church.
To you, our brother priests and to all men of this land, we express our hope that you will share this common struggle for equality. We invite you to express your solidarity. We pledge you our support.
To you, our sisters in the Church who feel the Lord's call to share the priesthood, we raise a special greeting. We are already one in the spirit of our calling. We pledge our support of your efforts to be officially acknowledged and proclaimed by the community of our Church. We look forward to the day when we shall celebrate the Eucharist before the table of the Lord and share an ordained ministry to our people.
To you, the women of the Church and our country who keenly feel discrimination, we pledge our solidarity in the struggle for equality! It is our struggle, too. We offer to be brothers in the work of your sisterhood. We support your struggle. We ask to walk with you.
1This statement refers to the original 75 priests who endorsed the Charter. Eventually, recriminations taken against priests who endorsed the Charter forced us to protect their anonymity.
2On the Development of Peoples, #17, 43
3Church in the Modern World, #9
5Justice in the World, Introduction
6Marialis Cultus, #37 (parenthesis ours)
7Constitution on the Liturgy, #14