Special interview with Tina Beattie        Wednesday, June 17, 2015
By Márcia Junges and Patricia Fachin, IHU On-Line

Tina Beattie is a theologian and specialist in ethics and feminism issues, a member of the board of the British Catholic review The Tablet. Among other works, she is the author of Theology after Postmodernity: Divining the Void (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013) and New Catholic Feminism: Theology and Theory (London and New York: Routledge, 2006).

What advances have been made in these last two years regarding the participation of women in the Church?

Tina Beattie – Pope Francis has repeatedly called for women to play a more significant role in the Church, and there have been some changes. He increased the number of women on the International Theological Commission from two to five, and recently the first woman was appointed to take over as rector of a pontifical university – Sister Mary Melone at the Antonianum. The new Pontifical Commission for Child Protection, established by Pope Francis has several women members, including the respected British psychiatrist, Baroness Sheila Hollins [1] and the abuse survivor Marie Collins [2]. In the first months of this year there were a number of conferences and meetings organized by various institutions of the Vatican to discuss the role of women, and this is a sign that things are changing. That said, Pope Francis continues to repeat some of the teachings of his predecessors in a way that shows a reluctance to fully embrace the insights and challenges of women theologians and feminists.

For example, he has a very negative attitude towards gender theory, continuing to promote the concept of sexual ‘complementarity’ that has been widely criticized, and he occasionally makes jokes about women, which some find trite and bit paternalistic. He’s a man of his time and his culture, but he’s also willing to be open and learn, so we should accept his advice and recognize that human transformation takes time and we can’t expect him to do and be aware of everything immediately.

To what extent do these modifications challenge and revise the patriarchal structure of the ecclesiastical institution? What are their limits?

Tina Beattie – It has often been observed that for the patriarchal structures and androcentric institutions to change, it’s not enough to just include a few selected women. There must be a critical mass of women, for example, on pontifical commissions, in universities and other leadership positions. Women theologians should be involved in shaping the doctrine of the Church, and these should be women who represent the rich and vast diversity of life of Catholic women in different cultures and contexts. All this is possible without us radically challenging the teaching of the existing church. Sooner or later, however, the question of women’s ordination will have to be discussed and open to a full and serious theological debate. When so many other churches are ordaining women, it’s not possible for the Catholic Church to just keep on hoisting the drawbridge on this issue. Pope Francis wants the Church to spread the joy of the Gospel, for us to be evangelizers, for us to be “good news” for all the people of the world, especially the poor. But in today’s world, an institution that continues to block women’s sacramental representation of Christ on the altar doesn’t seem like “good news.” Christ took on human flesh in order to redeem humankind – it’s his humanity, not his masculinity, which is the most significant in terms of redemption. For women today to hear this message, we need to see that women also represent Christ.