A few weeks back, Pope Francis formed a Commission to look into whether women should become deacons in the Catholic Church. If the commission gives a green light, women will have the chance to become priests, a historic move towards the end of the regular all-male clergy practice, mostly in the Catholic Church.
Women have taken huge strides in various sectors, overcoming stereotypes that certain jobs are for only men; the call by the Pope could be a signal that the church is finally embracing gender equality in its file and rank. But until the commission’s recommendations are out, it remains to be seen if the church will shed off its conservative bark hindering women from assuming higher positions in the church hierarchy.
According to Reverend Jackline Iribagiza of St. Peter’s Parish Remera, having more women among the clergy is really important because all people are equal and deserve equal chances.
She argues that when Jesus said “Go and preach the word from Jerusalem to Judea and the rest of the world and I will be with you”, he didn’t specify if it was directed to men or women only, and with this, it’s important to consider increasing the number of women in the church.
“I think we all have the capacity to do the same work, we can preach, we can give Holy Communion and we can preside over marriages,” she says.
She notes that the nature of women is an added bonus in qualifying for this kind of work.
“Women are kind and are willing to sacrifice, they are compassionate and with this, if a woman goes into the work of God, I am certain they will do it perfectly well,” Iribagiza says.
The Bishop of Butare Diocese, Monsignor Philippe Rukamba, echoes a similar call, noting that when it comes to ministering in church, it’s mostly based on a calling and not one’s gender.
“With work in church, whether its men or women, they all take part, especially on the grass-roots level. Apart from the responsibilities that are solely for the priest, other responsibilities can be done by both men and women, they both minister and give out the Eucharist, among other responsibilities,” Rukamba explains.
In the Catholic Church, for one to become a bishop, they have to first and foremost be a man.
However, Bishop Rukamba notes that some posts in church are dominated by men, arguing that even among the twelve apostles, there was no woman. But he is quick to add that this doesn’t mean that women don’t hold other responsibilities in the church.
“Women do have big responsibilities in the church, only that the church has an order it follows. And if the Pope wants that to be looked at, it will surely be an added advantage to the church, especially if their responsibilities are outlined as well,” he adds.
For Bishop Onesphore Rwaje , the Archbishop of the Anglican Church and the Bishop of Gasabo Diocese, leadership in church is not about which gender has the most representation; he also applauds the idea of having more women leaders in church.
He also reiterates the argument of other religious leaders that serving in church is a calling and, so anybody is welcomed if he or she has a calling.
He says that with the particular case of women deacons, they have always been there and are still present in the Anglican Church.
“A deacon, man or woman, can baptise or be servant in social matters, which is their major role. They visit the community, especially vulnerable people, and report to the parish council and after, provide all that is necessary for those people,” Bishop Rwaje explains.
Unlike the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church has always had women in leadership positions.
The Anglican Church of Rwanda and some Anglican churches worldwide, like the Church of Uganda, Burundi, Congo and Kenya, have ordained women, not only at the deacon level, but also other positions, he points out.
In Rwanda, the Anglican Church has more than 30 priests who are women.
Pastor Hassan Kibirango of Christian Life Assembly says that there is a history to the culture of not having women in church leadership as women left all the pastoral work to the men, but this is changing fast.
The religious front just like other fronts including leadership in the political arena is changing to accept women as equal partners with men. This was not the case say even 20 years ago, be it in the Anglican or Evangelical faiths, Kibirango points out.
So, can women transform the church? And what qualities make their leadership unique?
According to Kibirango, women are nurturers and approach things in a motherly and graceful nature and because of that, they are able to give projects more time. Their way of handling projects is more sustainable compared to men and yield better results because they look beyond themselves, courtesy of their inherent quality to nurture and mother.
It is easy for them to transform the church because they are reliable and always feel challenged as compared to men.
Reverend Agnes Mukandoli says that if women leaders in the church increase in number, it will be an advantage in many ways.
She points out that if more women become ministers, they will certainly contribute a lot, both in church and society in general.
“The more female pastors the church has the better for the development of us all. The Pope’s suggestion to allow sisters go deeper into the church and take on more responsibility is an important step because I’m certain women are more than ready to take on those responsibilities,” Mukandoli says.
What it means for women empowerment drive
In regards to what the Pope’s pronouncement means to the women empowerment movement, gender activist Olive Uwamariya says that it’s quite progressive for women around the world.
“But one thing I challenge the church on is the fact that leadership is only a very small part of gender equality. You don’t give a person rights half handedly. Rights should be given in a full package. Even though we acknowledge progress, there are lots of things that the church needs to open up to in terms of gender equality. You can be a deacon but what position do you hold in community? Priests are more respected and are given more authority than the deacons. They need to open up to more things like they did with sexual reproductive health, use of condoms and family planning.”
Gloria Mbaasa, a member of United Christian Church, Kicukiro, says that the church simply would not function well without women, arguing that they too are created in the image of God.
“Women are valued by God and saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, the same way men are. Nevertheless, women and men are not interchangeable because God created gender roles and responsibilities, and the more we honour them the healthier our churches and families and marriages will be,” Mbaasa says.
Sheilla Natukunda, a Christian from Christian Life Assembly, is of the view that everyone according to her faith is entitled to serve God in different ways.
“We all serve according to God’s calling and gifts and therefore nobody should stop us if our Creator has given us the liberty to do so. What men can do even women can as long as He calls us to serve,” she says.
Views on the need to have more women as religious leaders
Just like other devoted Christians in the Catholic Church, women also do a great job ensuring that their responsibilities are done, and the Church’s reputation is protected, just like men. So from my point of view, I don’t see why women can’t be given the opportunity, and the kind of high level responsibility they deserve. Both men and women are equal in the face of the Almighty, and thus should be given the same honours.
Diana Ingabire, marketing and sales person
Pope Francis’s initiative to reinstate women deacons in the Church is one of the most thoughtful ideas that the Catholic Church has ever given room for debate. Every day the world preaches about equality, gender balance, and also comes up with initiatives to promote the rights of women, so I believe this is the time to put in action what we preach. Why not let women be leaders in the church? God has given all of us power to do great things and serve, so women should be given an open door to do their part.
Hariette Macho, vendor
This seems like a debate about gender balance. If we are living in a world that is warming up to women providing the same results as men, regardless of the field, why do people still wonder whether women should be given a certain responsibilities or not? This takes us back where women were denied certain things. I believe the Pope’s suggestion to reinstate women leaders in the church is a noble initiative that should be given a room to thrive.
Leah Mutesi, fashion designer
I believe that in the Catholic Church, there are some passionate women who can effectively take on responsibility. If we believe that women have the ability to deliver regardless of their position, then why not give them a chance in every aspect? Pope Francis has been a source of great ideas and initiatives that have changed the image of Catholic Church for the better, and I believe reinstating women deacons is another brilliant idea.
Zuba Chantal, event planner