By Mary Kate Boylan
Monday, December 6, 2010
"He" and "mankind" have been dropping from some religious texts in favor of gender-neutral terms. Lacking a papal initiative, priests who modify the Catholic liturgy are doing it one by one.
BRONX, N.Y. (WOMENSENEWS)--Father George Hill, a Catholic priest, says that when he looks out on women in his congregation, he finds it insulting to tell them to pray for the "peace and unity of mankind."
Hill is the chaplain at Manhattan College, a Catholic school in the Bronx, N.Y. He has been using gender neutral language in his liturgies for years--using "humans" and "our parent" in place of "men" and "our father."
He does this translation himself, changing the words as he goes along.
The Scottish Episcopal Church in August allowed its priests to use a text with more gender-neutral terminology.
Priests such as Hill have no such option. They take what they see as the problem of pro-male language into their own hands. They're not exactly breaking church law, but they're not part of a trend that the Catholic Church favors either.
During Vatican Council II in the 1960s and 1970s, the Catholic Church was working to reform its traditions. Since then other stirrings have arisen. In 1997, for instance, the Most Rev. Donald W. Trautman, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Erie, Pa., called for gender neutral language in Catholic texts and liturgies, according to the text of one of his lectures on the Web site of the Catholic Bible Association of America.
Other groups, such as Christians for Biblical Equality, with an international Web-based membership, advocate for gender inclusive language and promote books about biblical women.
But that's not a church-issued text Hill can use to say Mass.
In a recent interview in his office, Hill rested the text on his forearms and stopped at one point to chuckle about how much easier it would make his life to have the gender neutral text in front of him.
"It has got to happen," he said. "How long it will take is another question."
In his most recent book, Pope Benedict XVI said that it is not within the Church's power to ordain women as priests and that God chose men alone for that role.
Sister Patricia Schoelles, president of St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry in Rochester, N.Y., says liturgy "has a formative influence on us over time."
She said she and a group of other nuns receive unofficial translations of psalms and prayer books that are gender inclusive. She said the sisters decided to stop singing the hymn "Faith of Our Fathers" when they realized that it had been their mothers who shaped their faith.
Schoelles says the newest translation of the Catholic Church's Missal actually retreats from some gender-inclusive language. She attributes this to the patriarchal hierarchy of the church--since women are not able to be ordained, they are not present when these decisions are reached.
The Scottish Episcopal Church's language shift this summer followed a gathering of church lawmakers at which some female priests and other critics objected to the liturgy's dependence on words such as "mankind," "he" and "him." The liturgy had not been updated since 1982.
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