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Francis wants more women theologians advising the CDF

In an interview with L'Osservatore Romano (not yet published in English Update: strike that, here it is), Cardinal Gerhard Müller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, revealed that Pope Francis has directed that more women be included in the Vatican's international theological commission. Andrea Tornielli reports for Vatican Insider:

The members of the theological commission that assists the Holy See, particularly the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in examining crucial doctrinal questions are nominated for a five-year period and there are currently thirty of them, including two women: Barbara Hallensleben (professor of Dogmatic Theology and Ecumenism at the Faculty of Theology in Fribourg, Switzerland) from Germany and sister Sara Butler (professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake - Mundelein Seminary – in Chicago, US).

According to Müller, the number will increase to "five or six," which "would be a significant increase," Tornielli points out.

An increase in the number of women theologians would also, of necessity, mean an increase in the number of lay theologians. I'm a little baffled by the honorific titles in the list of members on the Vatican website, but from what I can tell, everyone identified as "Rev." is ordained -- with the exception of "Rev. Sr. Sara Butler, MSBT." That means twenty-five priests and five lay members of the commission, including Butler; the other four are Hallensleben, Thomas Söding, and Johannes Reiter, all of Germany, and our friend John Cavadini of Notre Dame.

In her address to the LCWR last month (which I blogged about here), Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, pointed out that the opening of the study of theology to lay Catholics after Vatican II led directly to the increased participation of women in church life. That participation has been reflected, valued, and celebrated in academia, in many dioceses, and most especially in the congregations of women religious whose leaders make up the LCWR. But it has not been reflected in the hierarchy, where the relationship between power and sex remains firm (and is carefully protected).

Johnson talked about what it means for her to do theology as a woman:

Early on one key question arose for me when I realized that all the great thinkers whom I had been exposed to in my studies were men. I loved many of their insights. But where were the women? I was struck by the absence of their critical insights and spiritual wisdom. Inspired by a pioneering generation of American women theologians, I grew committed to bringing women’s voices to the table. This does not mean thinking about women all the time. It does mean using the human dignity of women as one lens through which think about other religious and ethical subjects. It means attending to poverty, lack of education, sexual violence, and other injustices that ruin women’s lives. It means employing theologically what promotes the flourishing of women in all their diversity....

Clearly, my work engages theology done by men and does so with critical appreciation. But I am convinced that this is not enough for the church of today and tomorrow. The submerged female half of the church, indeed of the human race, is rising, and the faith we pass on to the next generations will be poorer if women’s insights are ignored.

Now, she said, thanks to the open doors of Vatican II, "while excellent theology continues to be done by ordained priests, all kinds of new questions, methods, and understandings are now blossoming, fed by the experience of the laity, women and men alike." That experience will be reflected to a much greater degree on the international theological commission if the number of women members is increased, even to just one-sixth of the membership instead of one-fifteenth.

What kind of difference could that make? Well, imagine if the U.S. bishops' conference committee on doctrine had sought out the input of some women theologians before expressing its alarm at Johnson's not-very-radical thoughts on female images of God. And the evidence is strong that the CDF could benefit from closer aquaintance with a diversity of women's views. See David Gibson's report on the same interview with Müller, which focuses on his remarks about the LCWR. He sounds some familiar, minimizing notes -- they don't represent all the U.S. nuns; they need help to "rediscover their identity"; the CDF is obliged to come to the rescue of more orthodox sisters who are upset with their orders' rogue leadership. But Müller also insists that he is not a misogynist, which is a good sign, I guess. I presume the way in which he phrased that avowal -- "We are not women gobblers!" in Tornielli's account; "We don’t want to gobble up a woman a day!" in Gibson's -- makes more sense in Italian.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Though a nice woman, Sara Butler caved into the orthodox pull and traded her insights for more esteem and prestige with the hierarchy. Her book on women priests is not supported by reason and she lands on the tenuous grounds stating that maleness is only accepted as pastors. Butler once espoused women's ordination but she says she has changed that view. So she gets standing ovations when she speaks on the topic and the parishes continue to be led by mediocre pastors.

This will be a another part of the paradigm change by Francis. I am sure that women will be appointed by their ability not obsequiousness. 

The whole question of women is not that they are better morally. Rather they would not have permitted so many women to be trafficked into slavery. 20 million are still in slavery today. Most are in India. (keep sending those male priests over here) And submission. Today's report in the NYTimes on systematic early sexual abuse of women in a town in England shows clearly how males from the police to elected officials fostered the rape of women from the age of 12.

A lot of people especially males were angry that Mary Daly would not take questions from males in her class. On the contrary the historic treatment of women makes one wonder why there are not many more Mary Dalys. 

Now let's see who the appointees are. From the US, Cathy Kaveny and/or Beth Johnson.

Excuse me if I remain skeptical of Mueller's protestations of not being a "misogynist."  Mueller would NEVER have conceded to the admission of women to the commission unless he was ordered to admit women by the only authority that could command his obedience and compliance.

Of course, we'll have to wait and see, but I'm expecting that Legion-of-Christ-loving apologist Mary Ann Glendon will be the US representative on the commission, if the Vatican curialist even allow anyone from North America on the panel.

And oh, Gerhard, most of us sheeple do believe that you would "gobble up women" if you could get away with it.

So out of thirty theologians in the commission, we may have five being women .... that's so not enough.  And if Muller chooses women like Sara Butler, and I'm guessing he will, it probably won't make any difference at all - Butler is an apologist for the church's anti-feminist bent.  I'm remembering her article here against women's ordination ...

They should be careful to choose women who are not misoclerics.

I think 5 women out of 30 wouldnt be half bad. And I dont care if they're very conservative; just having meangful input by women, I think would shift the prioirities. 


I agree with Irene that this is progress, and we should applaud it.  I also agree with Crystal that a 'quota' or 'cap' on women is kind of a head-scratcher; surely the Holy See would want the best and brightest, regardless of gender?  But I suppose this will need to be a journey, not an event, and one of Francis' approaches seems to be to move gradually rather than all at once, so as to bring the church along with him.  

Hi, Claire, by "misocleric" do you mean anti-clerical women?

"I'm expecting that Legion-of-Christ-loving apologist Mary Ann Glendon will be the US representative on the commission... ."

I don't think so. She is a lawyer not a theologian, unless she misrepresents her credentials.

 There have been North American theologians on the International Theological Commission from its very beginning. They are chosen, I believe, upon the recommendation of the local episcopates.

Could we please refrain from moral judgments about theologians who have changed their minds and wound up disagreeing with us? 

Fr. Komonchak, that's a question I had: who chooses the members of the commission? A comment above from Crystal Watson presumes that it would be Müller's choice, but that's not the impression I get from the reports on what he said in the interview. Are you saying the candidates are recommended by their local bishops' conferences? I would guess that Francis has the final say on who gets picked; I suppose the question is how involved he will be in that decision.

Also, I should have noted above that it looks like this decision/announcement is happening now because the five-year terms of the current commission members -- who were appointed in June 2009 -- are up.

Jim, yes, I was making a lame attempt at some kind of joke, but failed to make it come through.

Irene, I'm not sure I agree with your comment. It almost sounds as if all that matters about a woman is her gender, that everything else is secondary. But of course any particular woman is much more than just a female. I'd rather see the Vatican have a list of desired skills and talents in their commission, and then find some theologians who fit the description; and among those, of course (barring discrimination)  there would be many women, simply because there are enough women in the world to be able to satisfy the desiderata with women as well as with men. 


Here is the membership of the ITC for its first five-year term, beginning in 1969.

Fr. Barnabas Ahern, C.P.
Rev. Hans Urs von Balthasar
Fr. Louis Bouyer, dO
Fr. Walter Burghardt, S.I.
H.E. Msgr. Carlo Colombo
Fr. Yves Congar, O.P.
Msgr. Philippe Delhaye
Rev. Johannes Feiner
Fr. André Feuillet, P.S.S.
Rev. Lucio Gera
Rev. Olegario Gonzalez de Cardedal
Fr. Ignace Abdo Khalifé, S.I.
Fr. Franz Lakner, S.I.
Fr. Marie-Joseph Le Guillou, O.P.
Fr. Joseph Lescrauwaet, M.S.C.
Fr. Bernard Lonergan, S.I.
Fr. Henri de Lubac, S.I.
Fr. Andreas H. Maltha, O.P.
Msgr. Jorge Medina Estevez
Fr. Peter Nemehegyi, S.I.
Msgr. Stanislaw Olejnik
Msgr. Gerard Philips
Fr. Karl Rahner, S.I.
Rev. Joseph Ratzinger
Msgr. Roberto Mascarenhas Roxo
Fr. Tomislaw Sagi-Bunic, O.F.M.Cap.
Msgr. Rudolf Schnakenburg
Rev. Heinz Schürmann
H.E. Msgr. Tharcisius Tshimbangu
Fr. Cipriano Vagaggini, O.S.B.

The North Americans were Bernard Lonergan (Canada) and Barnabas Ahern and Walter Burghardt (U.S.A.).

The current members can be found at:

I suppose that the composition of the commission depends on its mandate. What are they going to be asked to think about?

If it was up to me, I would like the commission to think about marriage. I have the impression that the definition of marriage has recently changed, that it used to be primarily about commitment (see the kind of questions asked to people applyng for an annulment),  and that now it is primarily about love. I would like the commission to  study whether a change of this kind is occuring, whether it is an evolution in the right direction, and what implications that has in practice. To study marriage, I would like the commission to have several members who are married.


JAK ==

Lordy, Lordy, what a galaxy of stars was that first group of thrologians.  And the current one???  Sigh. It seems to me that what those stars had in common was the courage to look critically at whe told official teachings about what the Church is and what is's for.  Are any on that second list known for their critical acument, or are they all yes-men?

One of my friends was the first woman to get a doctorate in theology from Catholic U''s School of Theology.  This hasppened during Vatican II.  She was a lawyer before she started the program.  I wonder how many women lawyers (who are, of course, trained in critical thinking) are even inclinec to study theology much less make contributions to it.  I read recently that bishops are not sending seminarians to get doctorates in theology.   I guess that is the best way to avoid critical theologians among the clergy.

As to Mueller being a mysogynist, there are misogynists and misogynists.  Some do not hot have negative feelings about women at all, but they don't know women in the first plaice.  They have lovel 19ty century images oaf sweet-face, agreeable females who obey their husbands and have no  thooughts more serious than what to have for Christmas dinner.  Ignorance is bliss for them, but their view of women is actually quite insulting.  Then therer are the othe misygynists -- the ones with gross prejudices agaisnt us.  Cardinal Mueller migh be educable.  Let's hope so.

I'm quite glad to see Ann Olivier back and commenting :-).  And I agree with her: that 1969 group was a veritable Who's-Who.


I was just guessing who picked them  According to Wikipedia, the pope picks them ...

Why 30 members? It seems to be too many to have actual discussions during meetings. I've seen meetings that were fruitful with 12 people become a waste of time once there were over 20 people, even similar meetings with similar kinds of people. I wonder how they work.

Claire:  I believe they work by dividing up the work, that is, that there are a few topics under research at the same time, divided among the members.

Claire:  The ITC did put out a document on marriage in 1977.



i have it on good authority that it is CDF who decides who serves on the International Theological Commiission.  As hopeful as it is that the Pope wants more women, I fear they will be women like the ones who are on it now.  Don't expect Beth Johnson to be appointed.

It always seemed compromising to me that Sara Butler's place on the commission was so obviously political, i.e., she was there because her one claim to fame was that she was a woman theologian vocally and publically opposed to women's ordination. Has she done anything else noteworthy that would class her with the heavy hitters we'd expect on such a commission? Her Amazon page has one book. She is certainly not well published or eminent for any other reason than her agreement with the hierarchy on this score, as far as I know. Sadly, the result is that it looks like she was appointed as a poster child for this issue. I don't begrudge her a place at the table of theological discussion, but given the work of the CDF, was there no woman with a bit more breadth or depth of qualification to bring to this task? 

One of the sad traps that discussions of women being included in church commissions sometimes gets into -- which we haven't had here, thank goodness -- is that we need women represented for "women's issues" e.g. things relating to marriage, the family, and reproduction. When, in fact, the development of a body of women working in the various fields has shown that they are good at all sorts of areas of thought and shouldn't be limited to speaking only of certain subjects that are obviously related to the roles of women as wives and mothers or to women in the consecrated life.

I suspect that underneath the exclusion of women from a broader remit in the Vatican lies a fear that women might "rule" over men in any way, which would upset the "natural" order. Although the Pauline text about headship ("the man is the head of the women") is not often repeated these days, it operates.


Did it strike anybody that 2 out of 4 Americans on the ITC today are teachers at Mundelein? Cardinal George must have been influential in these choices.

I've looked up the Americans' publications. Sarah Butler has written two books, Peter Damian Akpunonu two, Paul McPartlan three. John Cavadini has written none that I could find. He has edited and co-edited several, the most recent one on Ratzinger's theology. 


Your comments are spot on.  Let's face it, the Vatican and CDF, in particular, leave nothing to chance.  The deck isnalways stacked.  If Francis is going to accomplish his desire for true collegiality he has to interfere with the dreadful appointments of American bichops that we have see in recent months by the Congregation for Bishops. If he does not, then, what real hope is there for reasonable women to be appointed to the ITC until Müller is removed from CDF?  This is Francis' fatal flaw in my opinion.  While publicly espousing a real reform of the Curia, he actually allows the Curia to undermine his stated intentions.  Maybe there is no way around that, I don't know. I do not think it will endear him to Catholics worldwide until some real and radical change moves in another direction than the one he is following.  When will the heads roll?

Whether Muller or the pope picks the few women who might be on the commission, I don't doubt that women who support the status quo on church issues will be chosen.  The idea that simply adding a few women, no matter what their beliefs are, will make any difference is kind of a sexist view, I think.  Only when there's no distinction made between men and women will things normalize.  I'm not holding my breath.

Since Benedict is a theologian and knows the people in the field, I am sure that he had a heavy hand in choosing the 2009 commission. The French member I looked up, the Dominican Bonino, is known for being "so close to Pope Benedict" in his ideas, and has been involved in dialogue with the Trads (to try to identify common ground and possibilities for reconciliation).

I assume the new commission will have more Jesuits and more people from South America. The committee might include some scholars on Scripture and Biblical studies. I am quite sure that interest in the Trads will no longer be a factor. I wouldn't be surprised if there were more theologians with an interest in social questions from a Christian perspective. Since there is an upcoming synod on the family and on the divorced and remarried, that signals that it is a priority for Pope Francis, and so I would expect that some theologians on the commission will have some expertise in that area. But, since Francis is not a professional theologian, I expect that he will have less direct influence on the commission than Benedict did, and will rely more on his advisors. By asking for more women, he is forcing them to stretch their thinking a little bit beyond what they would normally do. 

On the other hand the commission's role is to help the CDF, but I am told that nowadays the CDF spends most of its time dealing with sex abuse cases. So, does the commission's work have any impact on anything, or does it merely end up a dead letter? Is it just, say, the official face of Catholic theology - producing academic work, just like all theologians in universities around the world, but with a stamp of approval from the Vatican - or do its reflections go into some place in the CDF out of which  later some new decisions come out that have an effect on the life of the church on the ground?

Joe: Thanks for the link. Interesting! Will that document be used during the synod?


Oh. And collegiality. Since Francis is big on collegiality, maybe there will be some theologian with an interest in centralized authority versus collegiality. 

Oh, and here's another question on which the CDF might need input from the commission: forced laicizations of priests who have committed sex abuse. In what sense are they still priests? What does it mean, theologically, that they are laicized? How is it warranted to do that without their consent? 

And another one on which the CDF could perhaps welcome insights from theologians: the relationship between bishop and priests, specifically in the context of sex abuse accusations. How is the bishop a "father" to his priests, and at the same time their judge or the one who turns them in to the police? Does that make complete sense?

And here's another smaller question, about marriage: it is supposed to mirror the union of Christ and his Church, and the 1977 document develops that a bit. But how can this analogy be pushed too far, and what are its limits? I did not see anything there about that (at first glance). In order for the synod to make progress on the question of the people who are divorced and remarried, they need new ways to look at the problem. 

So many urgent questions.

Meanwhile, Muller plans to meet with the leader of the SSPX ... eek!  :(

I would think that if Francis is really interested in getting top-quality women on the commission, he would reach out to various women's groups and women that he trusts for their recommendations.

The last thing the commission needs is women twho regional and local ecclesiastics feel are "safe."

Francis needs to hear candor and the various views that women have, not safe comments.  We need more Patty Crowleys.

Mary McAleese would be a breath of fresh air and wouldn't worry about being "safe."  Au contraire ...

Thank you to Claire, who raises a host of good suggestions for subjects that the ITC could profitably inquire into and reflect upon. 

I must correct my earlier comment, in which I noted 4 Americans on the ITC; there are only two Americans (the other two are British and Nigerian), of the 4 members who currently teach at American institutions. 

Jim McCrea, I liked your comment "Francis needs to hear candor." Let's hope he will.

Claire- I dont think all that matters about women are our gender, but I do think our gender matters very much.  Saying gender does NOt matter, or saying race does NOT matter,  denies a very large part of what shapes my life and experiences as a person.   And whether I agree with their ideology or not, those women on the Commission have experiences in common with me not shared by any of the men, so I'd rather they be there than not. 


Well, I don't think "rather... than" is a good way of posing the problem, because I don't think we need to sacrifice anything in order to have women on the commission, but if it were that way, I would prefer to have a male theologian who is wise than a female theologian who is not.

But again, it's not a good way to phrase things. There exist enough women of all qualifications that one can insist on having women on the commission and still at the samwe time satisfy whatever conditions they have in mind. 

Claire- I guess my own thinking is that the Pope announcing that he wants more women on this is a good thing that we should celebrate.  Since the additional women haven't even been brought on yet, I'm not going to complain that they might be picking the "wrong" women or that its not enough addtiional women.  Today, here and now, I''m going to say this is good news and I look forward to hearing more news like it.



Agreed, it's a good thing!

In some ways I don't see it as a good thing, in that it gives an illussion of progress that keeps people from feeling justified in expecting real equality on this issue.

Francis' approach concentrates on the differences between men and women instead of on the greater similarities between them ... his idea of needing an investigation into the "theology pf women" exemplifies this.

To go from 2 women to 5 women is still tokenism.  Only when the theologians, men and women, are considered equals will they be evalusted and chosen based on their actual qualifications in theology and not by checking under their skirts.

Viewing the situation in the world, my old teacher told me that, even if the situation is hopeless, we must not deprive people of hope.

I am glad that so many comments on this article express hope for the Church, hope that it will begin to slough off its entenched Manichaean values and finally begin to respect and appreciate women for their very being and for their talents and insights.

Unfortunatey, I am reminded of Sisyphus and Camus' use of the image to reveal absurdity. I suppose we must contnue to roll the boulder up the hill and not succumb to exhaustion, frustration and hopelessness as the Hierachy hopes.

Pope Francis has toppled one of the biggest guys in the Vatican hierarchjy  -- Cardinal Bertone. I suspect that Francis is waiting for the Synod on the family to make more changes.  I see the non-Vatican bishops as anxious for some changes there, and when they arrive in Robe the Pope migh feel strong enogh to act against the old guard.  We'll see.

Are there any organizations of Catholic women theologians?  The media aremuch more likely to pay attention to groups taking a position that they are likely to pay attention to not so famous individuals.  Are there any particularly admired women Catholic thologians in the U. S. or elsewhere?  I mean on a par with the stars on that first list of CDF theologians.  I suspect that many women Catholic theologians had given a great deal of their efforts to developing a theology of women and so are not as well known as their male counter-parts who write about subjects of more universal interest.  Where are the female Newman's and Rahners?

Pope Francis has toppled one of the biggest guys in the Vatican hierarchjy  -- Cardinal Bertone. I suspect that Francis is waiting for the Synod on the family to make more changes.  I see the non-Vatican bishops as anxious for some changes there, and when they arrive in Robe the Pope migh feel strong enogh to act against the old guard.  We'll see.

Are there any organizations of Catholic women theologians?  The media aremuch more likely to pay attention to groups taking a position that they are likely to pay attention to not so famous individuals.  Are there any particularly admired women Catholic thologians in the U. S. or elsewhere?  I mean on a par with the stars on that first list of CDF theologians.  I suspect that many women Catholic theologians had given a great deal of their efforts to developing a theology of women and so are not as well known as their male counter-parts who write about subjects of more universal interest.  Where are the female Newman's and Rahners?

 I suspect that Francis is waiting for the Synod on the family to make more changes.

I wouldn't hold my breath.  In the news today at The Tablet, the Vatican's secretary of state says the upcoming synod will *not* be about reform but about retrenchment ... pretecting The Family from the evils of modernity ...

He's just afraid because the bishops are coming, and who knows what they will say?

For those who understand French (or Deutsch), Bp Bonny, for one, wrote a letter that is wonderful reading.


 Crystal --

Yes, the Church needs to reform some teachings about mariage and the family, but I've concluded it also needs to repeat a lot of the old teachings as loudlly as possible.  I've changed my opinion somewhat because I've been watching

for the last 2 l/2 homths (in the nursing home where I am) some programs on American TV  that I've never seen before.  Two are The Waltons and The Little House on the Prairies which are so sweet they're enough to put you into  a diabetic coma if  you watch too much, and the other is a program called "Maury".  The latter is unbelievable.  It's about mothers who aren't sure who the fathers of their children are, but they want to find out.  These are real moms with real kids.  Maury pays for DNA testing to establish the children's paternity -- where possible.  Today there was a young woman on (who has been on the probram before) who has two children.  Seven (!) men have been tested as possible fathers of her chilcren, but none of them are.  (Yes  these are all reall people who volunteer to be on the show.)  The accused fathers are given the opportunity to deny their paternity, and you'll hear some pretty raunchy stories if you watch for even half an hour.  This is an apparently very popular show and it apparently reflects the lives of many young women and children and purposted fathers.  Given the choice, I have to admit that I would choose the world of the Waltons and the Ingalls as vastly superior to the USA as is is now, as least as regards famly values.

Hi Ann,

I hope you're feeling better.  Jean Raber told me you were ill.

Yes, I too like Little House and The Waltons  :)  And I am kind of fraked out by some of what's on tv, probably because I don't have tv service and usually just rent the stuff I know I'll like.

But the church's idea of what marriage should be like has its own problems, and the church's view of marriage is certainly not exemplified by the Waltons or the Ingles ... the idea that people have to stay married even if they don't love each other, even if the husband is beating the wife ...  this is what Muller thinks Catholic marriage is all about -

Hi Ann! Welcome, welcome back! I've missed your comments! Do you still have access to email? I was getting worried. I hope you're better!

Man, I love dotcommonweal.

Glad to hear from you Ann. The place isn't the same without you.


Thanks for the welcomes back, folks.  I've missed you all and am very glad to have at least some access to the internet. Unhappily, I can get to my email only on my nephew's phone.  Go figure.  Watching all this TV has been a ver instructive experience.  The US looks a lot different to me now that  I've been looking at more popular programs than those I usually  see.  The country just seems to get more anre more shallow and more and more narcissistic.  Sad, sad.

I think some folks raised the possibility a few years back of getting Ann a reliable Internet device.  Anyone have anything extra kicking around a storage space or garage?  I don't but I'll pay shipping costs.

Welcome back Ann. We need more women like you in the Church expressing your valuable comments on blogs like Commonweal and Am. Mag.



You all are just too kind.  (Another reason to appreciate dotCWL :') 

Jim, thanks for the offer, but this time I think my internet problem is my bank -- which is supposed to handle AOL payments.  I haven't been able to get back to the bank but hope to soon.. This time it isn't AOL's fault.  Sigh.


Ann: if you can access dotC through Google, then you can also access gmail (Google mail) through Google as well. Next time your nephew visits, ask him to open a gmail account for you (it's free) and to set up your AOL account so that all the email received there is automatically forwarded to gmail. It's free and it will only take him a few minutes. He can do it during his visit, right there with you, wherever it is that you access Google.


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