It is becoming common wisdom that the exclusion of women from decision-making positions in most areas of church life is at least one element in the onging sexual abuse crisis. Without the presence of women, the argument goes, the hierarchy becomes a boys club, one made up of a uniquely odd demographic: unmarried men, many of whom "grew up," beginning in puberty even, as clerics, and who have few professional or even personal relationships with women.
I think there is some wisdom to this argument, though I think the fact that not only women but lay people of various states of life–married, single, parents, religious, and so forth–have little voice and no vote in church affairs; I argued as much in my June column, and Newsweek last April had an intriguing essay on the effects of the absence of women in the church's high places (thanks to an anonymous commenter for the link).
The Associated Press today has a story that touches on both issues of the role of women in church leadership and clerical culture: The first women elected as a bishop in the Lutheran Church, Maria Jepsen, has resigned over the weekend because of her apparent failure to deal with an abusive pastor under her jurisdiction. Jepsen denies knowledge of the situation, but she resigned with surprising swiftness because, as she put it, "I feel that I am no longer able to spread the good word, as I vowed to do at my ordination."
Jepsen recognizes what I fear too many in the Roman Catholic hierarchy do not: that their failures in governance, which resulted in the abuse of children, has seriously hampered their credibility when it comes to proclaiming the gospel.