Saint Mary’s hosts conversation about women’s role in the Catholic Church
Erin Grimes | Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Saint Mary’s Campus Ministry and the Center for Spirituality hosted a dinner and conversation Tuesday evening titled “The Catholic Church Needs Women; Do Women Need the Catholic Church?” featuring Sr. Sharlet Ann Wagner, CSC, the President-elect of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
The event consisted of small group discussions between three to four students, an adult layperson and a Sister of the Holy Cross over dinner before Wagner delivered remarks about the role of women in the Church.
“I wanted to take a few minutes to affirm the statement [that the Catholic Church needs women],” she said. “We know that the Church has always counted on women. We have been the backbone and workhorse of Catholic parishes — we’ve staffed the altar society, we’ve been the sacristans, we’ve taught the religious education classes, we’ve provided the bereavement ministry, taught in the schools and taught the children in the Catholic faith.”
However, Wagner went on to say women are more than just the labor by discussing her recent experience at last year’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Conference.
“More than the labor, I would say the Catholic Church needs the prospective and voices of women,” she said. “Our Church is not whole when half the voices are missing. And we could do and be so much more.”
Wagner then addressed the question of whether or not women need the Catholic Church — which she said she personally believes is an “emphatic yes” based off her own reflections.
“Growing up, to me ‘church’ meant basically the hierarchy, the bishops, the priests, the institutions [and] the buildings,” Wagner said. “ … Later in life, ‘church’ came to mean, to me, the people of God. I rejected the hierarchical view and said church was the people sitting in the pews. At this point in my life, I’ve settled in the middle and church has become all of the above. … When I say I need the Catholic Church, I mean all of us together in this glorious mess of a church.”
That mess is shown in the occasional “flaws” of the Church and its leaders, Wagner said.
“My disgust with behaviors and attitudes has led me to genuinely struggle with remaining a member [of the Church], but I have come to realize that the Church is made of people,” she said. “Of you, of me — of people like us. And I know very well that I’m not perfect; I’m deeply flawed. So how I can ask my Church, which is made up of people like me, to be perfect?”
Even so, Wagner insisted the Church still has room to improve and should call on her to grow as a person just as she hopes to ask it to continue growing.
“I need the Church because its where I connect most deeply with God,” Wagner said. “Yes, I can pray without the Church. I can and do experience God walking this beautiful campus. I don’t have to go into the Church of Loretto to experience God, but I know that we human beings are communitarian by nature. And I experience God in and with my worshipping community.”
Her communion was not just with her local worshipping community, she said, but with the Church as a whole, across space and time. In sum, Wagner said women need the Catholic Church because people need the Catholic Church and women are people.
“I spent a week in Rome recently, participating in some meetings and Vatican City is such a wonderful mixture, of languages, of cultures and colors,“ Wagner said. ”There are people from all over the world and when I met from Vatican officials they came from all over the world [which reminded me] that I’m part of a vertical community that stretches backward for millennia and stretches forward to future generations.”