VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said he was pleased that five of the 30 members of the International Theological Commission are women, but the body that advises the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as the church in general, need more women theologians.
“They are the strawberries on the cake, but there is need for more,” the pope said Dec. 5 as he met the members, who were named to a five-year term in July.
Two women served on the commission for the past 10 years; in July the pope named five new female members, coming from the United States, Canada, Australia, Slovenia and Austria.
“The greater presence of women – although they are not many – is a call to reflect on the role women can and must have in the field of theology,” the pope told the commission.
Quoting his 2013 apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis said, “‘The church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess.’ I am pleased to see how many women are offering new contributions to theological reflection.”
The women theologians, he said, “can reveal, to the benefit of everyone, certain unexplored aspects of the unfathomable mystery of Christ.”
“Profit from the specific contribution of women to understanding the faith,” he urged the other commission members.
Cardinal Gerhard Muller, president of the commission and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the pope that the members come from every continent, include priests and religious as well as laypeople, and represent different theological disciplines and schools.
During their five-year term, he said, the members have chosen to focus on: the meaning of synodality; the relationship between faith and the sacraments; and religious freedom.
Pope Francis asked them to ensure their different points of view enrich the church’s universality or catholicity “without harming its unity.”
Holding in common a solid faith in Jesus, he said, “various theological approaches developed in different cultural contexts and with the use of different methods cannot ignore each other, but should enrich and correct each other through theological dialogue.”
Such harmony in diversity, he said, would be a witness to the church of the working of the Holy Spirit, “because he is the one who inspires variety – the variety of gifts and points of view in the church – and it will be the spirit who creates unity. He is the protagonist. Always.”
From 2009 to 2014 and from 2005 to 2009, two women were members: Sr. Sara Butler, a professor of theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, and member of the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity; and Barbara Hallensleben, a professor of theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.
The five women currently on the commission are: U.S. Mercy Sr. Mary Prudence Allen, a member of the chaplaincy team at Lancaster University, England; Australian Tracey Rowland, dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne; Moira Mary McQueen, director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto; Sr. Alenka Arko of the Loyola Community in Slovenia; Marianne Schlosser, a Germany-born professor of theology at the University of Vienna in Austria.