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Online Edition - Vol. IX, No. 7: October 2003

Belgian Cardinal Advocates Women as Leaders of Vatican Congregations

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is an outdated structure, and women should be allowed to head Vatican Congregations, in the opinion of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, president of the episcopal conference of Belgium, whose name often appears among possible candidates for pope.

His remarks appeared in a commemorative book, "The cultural diversity of European unity", privately published September 5, 2003, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Catholic University of Brabant, at Tilburg, Netherlands, as a special Jubilee edition.

"The hierarchy of the Church has been tied to the priesthood for a long time", Cardinal Danneels wrote. It is a structure that, in his opinion, no longer has a reason for being. He demonstrates his views within his own diocese by delegating to women many responsibilities normally reserved to priests.

"Two of my vicars (Episcopal) are women", said Cardinal Danneels. "I do not see, therefore, why a woman could not direct a Congregation of the Roman Curia".

The cardinal believes it is for a purely canonical reason that the status of these two women is different than if they were priests: "in the bosom of the archdiocese they have the title of 'Episcopal delegates' ['delegueés Episcopales']. But in what they do, they exercise the function of Episcopal Vicar, reserved in canon law to ordained men".

In Cardinal Danneels's opinion, although the actual structure of the Church is principally masculine, it is not compelled to remain frozen that way.

He argued that the common reference to "our Mother the Church" shows a widespread appreciation of the feminine aspects of Catholicism.

The Jubilee book contained various testimonies and interviews with members of the university, or people closely associated with it. In 2002, on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of its theology faculty, the University of Tilburg had conferred an honorary doctorate of theology on Cardinal Danneels, which is the reason why the Archbishop of Maline-Brussels contributed to the anniversary book.

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