University hosts discussion of Jesuit perception on women’s issues

THE AQUINAS PHOTO / EMMA BLACK  THEOLOGY PROFESSOR Sr. Mary Anne Foley discussed the 14th decree at the “Jesuits and the Situation of Women in the Church and Society” talk Wednesday.

THEOLOGY PROFESSOR Sr. Mary Anne Foley discussed the 14th decree at the “Jesuits and the Situation of Women in the Church and Society” talk Wednesday.

Cailin Potami

In preparation for the 20th anniversary of the 14th Decree, The University’s Committee on the Status of Women held “The 14th Decree: Jesuits and the Situation of Women in Church and Society, What it Means for YOU as a member of the University of Scranton Community” in The Rose Room of Brennan Hall Wednesday. The 14th decree of the 34th General Congregation of Jesuits focused on correcting the order’s treatment of women and extending consideration of women’s issues.

Justine Johnson, head of the Jane Kopas Women’s Center (JKWC) and member of The Committee on the Status of Women, organized the event and facilitated the conversation. She noted that the 34th General Congregation coincided with the inception of the JKWC. Johnson emphasized the feminist movements in the 1990s that called for a change within Jesuit institutions. She called on Sister Mary Anne Foley, Ph.D., to assess the decree from the perspective of a woman in religious life.

Foley began by addressing her initial reaction to the document in contrast with a group of students’ reactions today. While students questioned the adequacy of the decree, Foley felt shocked at a church institution’s willingness to address women’s perspectives.

“I was stunned by it,” Foley said. “I had never read something like this from men in the Church before.”

The decree’s consistent commitment to the opinions and support of women marked a change in attitudes for the Jesuits, Foley argued. She explained that cultural differences among the Jesuits’ backgrounds limited the specificity of the decree’s claims. She noted, however, that Jesuits defied cultural norms by asserting that, as men, they do not “pretend or claim to speak to women.”

Foley concluded her discussion by presenting the Rev. Fr. Richard Malloy with a question: “To what extent have the Jesuits owned this document?”

Malloy opened by addressing the progressive period of the 1960s and the conservative backlash it received. Cultural clashes and criticism permeated the environment in which the 14th decree was published.

“The document hit the streets when Jesuits were supposed to be pulling back,” Malloy said.

Malloy argued that changing oppressive institutions will lead to changing attitudes. He asserted that, since the decree, Jesuits in general have taken action.

“Overall, Jesuits are more interested in women’s concerns and perspectives than other priests, even if not uniform,” Malloy said. “These changes happen in the larger context of institutions.”

The open discussion revealed a variety of opinions. Several participants in the discussion agreed that women still feel alienated in the Church. They also attested to inadequate action to prevent sexual abuse.

Jean Harris, Ph.D., a political science professor who helped found the Women’s Studies’ concentration, argued that women have not received the acceptance and respect that the decree calls for.

“I don’t remember active attempts by Jesuits to listen carefully and courageously,” Harris said. “There’s a lot to be done. People with power and authority have to share and listen.”

In response, Johnson presented the JKWC, Women’s Studies concentration, and Committee on the Status of Women as evidence that progress has been made. Assistant Provost Anitra Yusinski-McShea, Ph.D., also spoke of positive change.

“I look at my daily interactions and the way we empower students to form themselves and question issues like this, and we do listen,” McShea said. “If we find things that are negative, we have to figure out what they are and how do we advance what we’re looking for?”

Students aknowledgedgender inequality within majors as an issue that must be changed on an educational level. Courses should focus more thoroughly on women’s roles within specific fields.

A larger discussion of the issues contained within the 14th degree will take place at “Jesuits and the Situation of Women: A Celebration of the 14th Decree” March 10.