“Osservatore Romano” Highlights Changing Role of Women in the Church According to Canon Law Professor
In its October issue, the Vatican’s official newspaper “Osservatore Romano” featured an interview with Ms. Wellens, a professor of canon law at the University of Erfurt in Germany. The interview, which appeared in the monthly “Women, Church, World” issue, delved into the evolving role of women in the Church.
Ms. Wellens emphasized that the role of women in the Church is not driven by sociological factors, but rather by the dignity of baptism. She noted that the upcoming Synod of Bishops, set to take place in October, provides an opportune moment to discuss these changes.
As a member of the Advisory Council of the Synod of Bishops, Ms. Wellens expressed her surprise and gratitude for being chosen to serve on the committee. She pointed out that this is the first time a woman has participated in the advisory committee, highlighting recent advancements within the Church.
Reflecting on her ordination and profession, Ms. Wellens recalled studying theology in 1984, where she discovered the Second Vatican Council’s fresh perspective on baptism and the importance of the People of God. She recognized the council’s efforts to emphasize the collective leadership of bishops.
Ms. Wellens then referred to the Synod’s continental phase report, which showcases the active involvement of women in the life of the Church. However, she noted that women often feel unrecognized and undervalued. The report stressed the need for the Church to make genuine efforts in recognizing women’s potential, grounded in the dignity of baptism rather than societal pressures.
Addressing the changing role of lay people, particularly women, since Vatican II, Ms. Wellens offered insights from a judicial standpoint. She explained that until 1971, all judges in the Church’s marriage tribunal were priests. However, the 1983 Code of Canon Law introduced the possibility for female laypeople to serve as judges, under the condition that they work alongside two clergymen.
Furthermore, Ms. Wellens highlighted a significant change introduced by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, clarifying the distinct roles of priests and deacons within the concept of clergy. This paved the way for further advancements, and in 2015, Pope Francis permitted ecclesiastical tribunals to consist of two laypeople and one clergyman.
The evolution of the ecclesiastical tribunal panel, responsible for annulling marriages, has shifted from being composed solely of three priests before 1971 to the current composition of two women and a married life deacon. This transformation illustrates the changing landscape within the Church and the recognition of women’s contributions.
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