Where are the women cardinals?
Women are the pinnacle of creation; a wonder of the universe. Their intelligence, wisdom, compassion and spirituality belie the pervasive religious assertion that man is the master; that patriarchy is intrinsic to the natural order. While he is fiddling about with tools and splashing testosterone in the sunlight, she is the real provider; the nurturing oracle; the spiritual constant. According to God, she was made for man as a 'help meet', but this sounds awfully utilitarian. The function of woman is not to help man; it is to realise in partnership and to love.
In this age of equality, Roman Catholicism, like Islam, has a slight perception problem when it comes to the status and role of women. We will hear time and again that God created male and female different but equal; that both are worthy of honour and that God loves both. But the world only sees prejudice, inequality, misogyny and oppression. The woman cooks, cleans, bears children and arranges the flowers. If she's lucky, she might be a bishop's secretary or PA. But leadership, by tradition, is exclusively male: holy orders are gender-restricted; the priesthood belongs to manhood.
This is not the place to rehearse Anglican divisions over this matter: they are well-known and well-trodden. Catholic-minded Anglicans will adhere to the theology of Aquinas, believing that women are unfitted by nature to bear authority. For others, such a theology carries unacceptable consequences for the authority of women in the state and wider civil society. One must be respectful of both perspectives, for both are worthy of serious reflection. But the Anglican does not absolutise tradition, for tradition is to be balanced with reason and the Word of God.
For the Church of Rome, the ordination of women is an open and shut case. Actually, the Vatican door is very firmly shut; bolted by antiquity and sealed with unanimity. The gates of social change will not prevail: rights and justice are confronted by authoritative assertions of gender complementarity. The official position remains that the Roman Catholic Church does not believe that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women. They believe the constitution of the Church to be in accordance with the divine blueprint laid down by Christ.
Tradition is not only the Church remembering, but also the Church interpreting. When it comes to the role of women in the Church, Christendom is deeply divided. Rome believes that women may not be priests, and that is the immutable, infallible assertion of the Magisterium. But there is no bar to their becoming cardinals, so why are there none?
The fact that there are none simply reinforces the perception of Roman Catholic misogyny; that it is an exclusively male and aggressively patriarchal manifestation of masculine monotheism. Cardinals need not be priests. Historically, laymen have been appointed, and if laymen, why not lay women? There is nothing in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis which reserves this office to men, since there is no mandatory sacerdotal function and so no prerequisite to be a bishop, priest or deacon in holy orders. Cardinals are part of the bureaucracy of leadership, but there would be no offence against tradition (or Scripture, since they don't exist in the NT) if a bit of papal housekeeping were carried out by a few women. Why should there be no female perspective on the appointment of a new pope? Just as Rome invented the College of Cardinals, she is free to reinvent it.
The last cardinal who was not a priest was Giacomo Cardinal Antonelli (1806-1876). Cardinals who were not bishops include Cardinal Pavan (1983), Cardinal deLubac (1985) and, most recently, Cardinal Avery Dulles (2001). Rules that are made by man may be unmade by man. The next pope must create women cardinals.
Such a move would, overnight, confront the global mindset that the Roman Catholic Church denies equality and justice to women. By permitting women to serve as cardinals, the obsessions over male priesthood and episcopacy would be dispelled. This is not some superficial feminist revolution: it is Catholic theology incrementally adapting. The Holy See would be seen to acknowledge complementarity with authority. At the same time, accountability would be improved as women would become serving pastors to bishops and priests everywhere. What's not to like?