STM Pastoral Council Discernment on the Role of Women in Leadership at STM and in the Greater Church

OCTOBER 24, 2019


During Fall 2018, STM parishioners were invited to share their prayers and reflections on the clergy sex abuse scandal. Two hundred twenty-five parishioners accepted the invitation. A large percentage of those respondents want to see more laity, particularly women, in leadership roles, as well as the possibility of married and women priests. Many called for a more inclusive Church and, in particular, said women’s voices must be heard.

In February 2019, Fr. Warren Sazama, SJ, with the approval of the Pastoral Council, Executive Committee, Worship Commission, and Parish staff, authorized, on a trial basis, a lay gospel reflection program at STM.  The program allows qualified lay people – particularly women – to offer reflections on the readings for weekend Masses after the opening prayer, before the readings, with Fr. Warren providing a brief homily at the prescribed time.  This method is in compliance with Canon 766 on lay preaching and was approved by the Archbishop.  Parishioners expressed great joy when the program was announced, and there have been two lay gospel reflections by women so far in 2019, both of which have been highly praised by parishioners.   

During its meetings in April, May, June, and July, the Pastoral Council continued the discussion about the role of women at STM and in the greater Church.  Women currently occupy approximately forty percent of the aggregate of roles in STM leadership, yet women comprise over half of our total STM community.  Some leadership groups have more than half female representation, whereas other leadership groups have less than a quarter female representation.  For the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the Pastoral Council had three women of its total of nine members, including both voting and non-voting members.

With regard to the greater Church, the Pastoral Council acknowledges that the Church historically has excluded women from the highest levels of leadership, which requires ordination, and that, under the current governance model, the only route through which members may hold positions of the highest authority is ordination to the priesthood.  When discussing the statistical representation of women at the highest levels of church authority, it was noted that men occupy one hundred percent of these positions.  Nevertheless, the Pastoral Council is mindful that we all, regardless of gender, have been called in baptism to share in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet and king. 

The Pastoral Council is engaging in ongoing discernment to identify ways to make clear that STM respects women’s presence and contributions throughout the life of our parish.  To that end, the Pastoral Council makes the following recommendations:

• STM commits to identifying areas in leadership where women are underrepresented and to finding remedies.  The goal is to have parish leadership reflect the community itself in terms of gender, with women occupying at least half of the leadership positions.

• STM seeks to promote the visibility of women’s contributions and to continue its commitment to existing initiatives, including the lay gospel reflection program. 

• STM invites women to participate in ministries that are public facing, such as serving as ushers, lectors, cantors, Eucharistic ministers, and acolytes and leading other devotions such as Stations of the Cross.

• STM plans to develop forums to discuss and explore “the role of women in the Catholic Church – past, present and future” and a series of Ignatian retreats focused on the writings and theological contributions of women.

• STM intends to ensure that the issue of women in the church is a topic in the upcoming Archdiocesan Synod.

• STM urges thoughtfulness, in scheduling parish leadership meetings, of participants’ home and work responsibilities.

• STM commits to identifying ways to seek input from parish women as to how best to move forward with achieving the spirit of these recommendations and to revisiting on an annual basis STM’s progress toward achieving these goals.

Yours In Christ,

Fr. Warren Sazama, SJ, Pastor
Steve Thomas, Pastoral Council Chair