South African view on women leadership and ordination"A discussion among white people"
How do women shape the leadership in the catholic church? For nine years, Sr Hermenegild Makoro was Secretary-General of her Bishops' Conference. Her position is clear: "If a woman is capable of doing any work, the woman must be given that opportunity."
DOMRADIO.DE: Sr. Hermenegild, the Bishops' Conference in South Africa has had two female Secretaries-General till now – although you have been the first one that was officially elected, right?
Sr. Hermenegild Makoro CPS (Former General Secretary of the Southern African Bishops Conference): We are called the "Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC)" because it includes three countries: South Africa, Botswana, and Eswatini. Yes, I have been the first one. Although I always say there was a sister before who was associate Secretary-General. The Secretary-General was in and out of prison. This is why she was doing the whole work here. But she was never appointed as Secretary-General, I don't know why. But she did a very good job. So I was the first Secretary-General to be officially appointed nine years ago.
DOMRADIO.DE: In Germany, we just got to the point of having elected a female Secretary-General, Beate Gilles. Why are there only a few women in that specific position?
Sr. Hermenegild: First of all I am very happy for Mrs. Gilles. I think she will do a wonderful job. It's just what the Catholic Church is like. There is the mentality that men clergy should be given positions like this. For me, it is really unfortunate, if I put it like that. It is unfortunate because I don't think men will do a better job than any woman. The women would do the same job. When I was elected Secretary-General, I said: If the bishops appoint me as a window dressing just to say they have a woman, I will have a problem with that. But I know they appointed me because they knew I'm capable of doing the job. I have done it for the last nine years and I'm proud of that.
I was actually the first Secretary-General who was given three terms at the SACBC. For me, that was an indication that the bishops were happy and that I had done a good job. They wouldn't keep me for nine years in that position if I wasn't doing a good job. The work is challenging like any other work. I am sure wherever you go you will meet challenges. But I didn't find more challenges because I am a woman. These challenges I had to put in much of my time, like in any other job. I'm a teacher by profession. In the classroom, I always have to go the extra mile. So the same thing applies here.
I had to take the job seriously. The work is demanding and you need to be there really 24/7. My experience with the bishops was that they fully accepted me. They were not joking when they appointed me. They were there to support me. I was there to work with them.
They respected me in my position as secretary-general. I challenged them when there was a need. When I left, Cardinal Napier was saying to me that the reports that I gave to them at the plenaries were not a report like "We have done this, we have done that." It was always something to make them feel challenged: "What is it that they can do as bishops in our region?"
DOMRADIO.DE: Did you have the impression that being a woman affected your work with the bishops in any way?
Sr. Hermenegild: It was regular work. I could go and meet with the bishops in the continent. I had no problem at all. I was there amongst them by myself as a woman, even in the continent, and I never felt out of place.
DOMRADIO.DE: In Germany, there are movements that aim to get more women into higher offices of the church. Are there similar discussions in South Africa?
Sr. Hermenegild: People feel that more could be done. At our conference, most of the commissions were run by women, religious or laywomen. I think our bishops had a different way of looking at us as women because we don't have so many vocations. We do have vocations, but they are more needed in parishes. Maybe that is why there were more women available to do the administrative work.
I know that there is that a cry from some women that need to be given more responsibility. But I personally have worked most of my life in the diocese of Mthatha where I have never felt that I needed to do more because I'm a woman.
I have worked, and the priest respected me. I worked so well with the priests in the conference area. When there was a talk about women being ordained deacons for me, I said: If it is a true vocation, I don't mind. If we are going to have women deacons or priests some day – I don't have an issue. But only if it is a vocation, not just because we as women need to be given an equal chance.
If a woman is capable of doing any work, the woman must be given that opportunity. I'm sure the German bishops have appointed Mrs. Gilles because they have seen she can do that. For me, that is very important.
DOMRADIO.DE: In Europe, there is a discussion if women should be ordained deacons or priests. Is that a European or a German thing or is there a discussion like that in South Africa too?
Sr. Hermenegild: It is a discussion among white people. It is not strong amongst the black elite. For me, I am content that I have worked for the church. I have given good service to the Church as a woman. Even at the conference, the bishops would say to me: "You know, it's so important to have a woman amongst us. Because the way you see things is different from how men think. As a woman, you also think you get it from the heart." I would say to a Bishop: "I understand the rule says this and that. But maybe we can look a little bit differently on it, being a compassionate person. You need to discipline somebody who needs discipline. But at the same time, it should be a discipline that comes from the heart. It is that perspective a woman brings into the whole ministry of the church. I loved when Pope Francis spoke about the church as a mother. For me, it really brings out what the church should be: being a mother.
I am happy that Beate Gilles has been appointed. I can tell you she will bring a different taste among the bishops. And to whisper a bit: they behave a little better when a woman says: "Can you please do this?"
DOMRADIO.DE: Let's talk about the universal church: With Sr. Nathalie Becquart there will be a woman not only advising bishops but actively voting in the Bishops' Synod. Is it a good start for more female leadership and decision-makers in the church?
Sr. Hermenegild: When I read about that I said: I wish we could make Pope Francis 20 years younger so. He acknowledges the expertise amongst women, that they have studied and are highly competent. Why can't they give that what they have as a contribution to the church? I think it's a very good start. I think it's going to go further and further. There will be more women in higher positions in particular churches because once it is at the universal church everybody will have to move.
It is time for the church to move forward and put women into positions in the church. In all our dicasteries we need women. When you go there, you find that most of the groundwork is done by women. Why can't they be added to the decision-making process? I think a lot can happen if our church leadership is open to that. When a woman is capable, when a person is capable, give the person a chance to use the capabilities that the person has.