Decree 14 - The Jesuit Clarion Call in this #MeToo Moment

Traditionally the Jesuits are seen as the intellectuals of the Catholic Church and are primarily a teaching order.  Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to be the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church. The Jesuits  were formed under the inspiration of  St Ignatius of Loyola in 1534 and have 16,000 men in the order, 500 educational institutions in the world and care for 2.5 million students. 


Through my research on the foundation of the inequality of women I came across Decree 14 published in 1995 by the decision making body of the Jesuit order that says that the Jesuits are called to address the "unjust treatment and exploitation of women."   We need Decree 14 to be consistently put in the forefront of Jesuit teaching, studied by every Jesuit educated person worldwide and promoted by Pope Francis if we are going to shift to a world where women are honored and respected equally with men.    


The Jesuit priests understand that the inequality of women is a "central concern of any contemporary mission which seeks to integrate faith and justice ... and involves men and women everywhere."  Decree 14 reviews the situation and embraces the fact that inequality "has begun to change, chiefly because of the critical awakening and courageous protest of women themselves" and "many men, too, have joined women in rejecting attitudes which offend against the dignity of men and women alike." 


The Jesuit priests caring for two and a half million students understand that  "...the legacy of systematic discrimination against women" "is embedded within the economic, social, political, religious and even linguistic structures of our societies.”


It says that "Church social teaching ... has reacted strongly against continuing discrimination and prejudice." and that " Pope John Paul II ... has called upon all men and women of good will, especially Catholics, to make the essential equality of women a lived reality."    


"Church teaching promotes the role of women within the family, but also stresses the need for their contribution in Church and in public life.  It draws upon the text of Genesis, which speaks of women and men created in the image of Goddess/God (Gn 1:27) and the prophetic praxis of Jesus in his relationship with women.”


"These sources call us to change our attitudes and work for a change of structures.” The original plan of Goddess/God was for a loving relationship of respect, mutuality and equality between women and men, and we are called to fulfill this plan." 


If Catholics can lead through using language that honors and respects women and actions that promote women to positions of social, economic and religious power we can begin to fulfill the original plan of a peaceful world.  Please read Decree 14 and insist that it be front and center in teaching, preaching and intellectual discussion. 



IN CHURCH AND CIVIL SOCIETY   (Thirty-fourth General Congregation of the Society of Jesus)


361 1. General Congregation 33 made a brief mention of the

"unjust treatment and exploitation of women."1 It was part of a

list of injustices in a context of new needs and situations

which Jesuits were called to address in the implementation of

our mission. We wish to consider this question more specifically

and substantially on this occasion. This is principally because,

assisted by the general rise in consciousness concerning this

issue, we are more aware than previously that it is indeed a

central concern of any contemporary mission which seeks to

integrate faith and justice. It has a universal dimension in

that it involves men and women everywhere. To an increasing

extent it cuts across barriers of class and culture. It is of

personal concern to those who work with us in our mission,

especially lay and religious women.

The Situation

362 2. The dominance of men in their relationship with women

has found expression in many ways. It has included

discrimination against women in educational opportunities, the

disproportionate burden they are called upon to bear in family

life, paying them a lesser wage for the same work, limiting

their access to positions of influence when admitted to public

life and, sadly but only too frequently, outright violence

against women themselves. In some parts of the world, this

violence still includes female circumcision, dowry deaths and

the murder of unwanted infant girls. Women are commonly treated

as objects in advertising and in the media. In extreme cases,

for example in promoting international sex tourism, they are

regarded as commodities to be trafficked.

363 3. This situation, however, has begun to change, chiefly

because of the critical awakening and courageous protest of

women themselves. But many men, too, have joined women in

rejecting attitudes which offend against the dignity of men and

women alike. Nonetheless, we still have with us the legacy of

systematic discrimination against women. It is embedded within

the economic, social, political, religious and even linguistic

structures of our societies. It is often part of an even deeper

cultural prejudice and stereotype. Many women, indeed, feel that

men have been slow to recognize the full humanity of women. They

often experience a defensive reaction from men when they draw

attention to this blindness.

364 4. The prejudice against women, to be sure, assumes

different forms in different cultures. Sensitivity is needed to

avoid using any one, simple, measurement of what counts as

1GC 33, D 1, n. 48.

discrimination. But it is nonetheless a universal reality.

Further, in many parts of the world, women already cruelly

disadvantaged because of war, poverty, migration or race, often

suffer a double disadvantage precisely because they are women.

There is a "feminization of poverty" and a distinctive "feminine

face of oppression."

The Church addresses the situation

365 5. Church social teaching, especially within the last ten

years, has reacted strongly against this continuing

discrimination and prejudice. Pope John Paul II in particular,

has called upon all men and women of good will, especially

Catholics, to make the essential equality of women a lived

reality. This is a genuine "sign of the times."2 We need to join

with inter-church and interreligious groups in order to advance

this social transformation.

366 6. Church teaching certainly promotes the role of women

within the family, but it also stresses the need for their

contribution in the Church and in public life. It draws upon the

text of Genesis, which speaks of men and women created in the

image of God (Gn 1:27) and the prophetic praxis of Jesus in his

relationship with women. These sources call us to change our

attitudes and work for a change of structures. The original plan

of God was for a loving relationship of respect, mutuality and

equality between men and women, and we are called to fulfil this

plan. The tone of this ecclesial reflection on Scripture makes

it clear that there is an urgency in the challenge to translate

theory into practice not only outside, but also within, the

Church itself.

The role and responsibility of Jesuits

367 7. The Society of Jesus accepts this challenge and our

responsibility for doing what we can as men and as a male

religious order. We do not pretend or claim to speak for women.

However, we do speak out of what we have learned from women

about ourselves and our relationship with them.

368 8. In making this response we are being faithful, in the

changed consciousness of our times, to our mission: the service

of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute

requirement. We respond, too, out of the acknowledgement of our

own limited but significant influence as Jesuits and as male

religious within the Church. We are conscious of the damage to

the People of God brought about in some cultures by the alienation

of women who no longer feel at home in the Church, and who

are not able with integrity to transmit Catholic values to their

families, friends and colleagues.

2John Paul II, Apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem and

Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici; Message for the

World Day of Peace, 1 January 1995.



369 9. In response, we Jesuits first ask God for the grace of

conversion. We have been part of a civil and ecclesial tradition

that has offended against women. And, like many men, we have a

tendency to convince ourselves that there is no problem. However

unwittingly, we have often contributed to a form of clericalism

which has reinforced male domination with an ostensibly divine

sanction. By making this declaration we wish to react personally

and collectively, and do what we can to change this regrettable



370 10. We know that the nurturing of our own faith and much

of our own ministry would be greatly diminished without the

dedication, generosity, and joy that women bring to the schools,

parishes, and other fields in which we labour together. This is

particularly true of the work of lay and religious women among

the urban and rural poor, often in extremely difficult and

challenging situations. In addition, many religious

congregations of women have adopted the Spiritual Exercises and

our Jesuit Constitutions as the basis for their own spirituality

and governance, becoming an extended Ignatian family. Religious

and lay women have in recent years become expert in giving the

Spiritual Exercises. As retreat directors, especially of the

Exercises in daily life, they have enriched the Ignatian

tradition, and our own understanding of ourselves and of our

ministry. Many women have helped to reshape our theological

tradition in a way that has liberated both men and women. We

wish to express our appreciation for this generous contribution

of women, and hope that this mutuality in ministry might

continue and flourish.

Ways forward

371 11. We wish to specify more concretely at least some ways

in which Jesuits may better respond to this challenge to our

lives and mission. We do not presume that there is any one model

of male-female relationship to be recommended, much less

imposed, throughout the world or even within a given culture.

Rather we note the need for a real delicacy in our response. We

must be careful not to interfere in a way that alienates the

culture; rather we must endeavour to facilitate a more organic

process of change. We should be particularly sensitive to adopt

a pedagogy that does not drive a further wedge between men and

women who in certain circumstances are already under great

pressure from other divisive cultural or socio-economic forces.

372 12. In the first place, we invite all Jesuits to listen

carefully and courageously to the experience of women. Many

women feel that men simply do not listen to them. There is no

substitute for such listening. More than anything else it will

bring about change. Without listening, action in this area, no

matter how well-intentioned, is likely to by-pass the real

concerns of women and to confirm male condescension and

reinforce male dominance. Listening, in a spirit of partnership

and equality, is the most practical response we can make, and is

the foundation for our mutual partnership to reform unjust


373 13. Secondly, we invite all Jesuits, as individuals and

through their institutions, to align themselves in solidarity

with women. The practical ways of doing this will vary from

place to place and from culture to culture, but many examples

come readily to mind:

37413.1 —explicit teaching of the essential equality of women and men

in Jesuit ministries, especially in schools, colleges

and universities;

37513.2 — support for liberation movements which oppose the exploitation

of women and encourage their entry

into political and social life;

37613.3 — specific attention to the phenomenon of violence against


37713.4 — appropriate presence of women in Jesuit ministries and

institutions, not excluding the ministry of


37813.5 — genuine involvement of women in consultation and decisionmaking

in our Jesuit ministries;

37913.6 — respectful cooperation with our female colleagues in shared


38013.7 — use of appropriately inclusive language in speech and

official documents;

38113.8 — promotion of the education of women and, in particular, the

elimination of all forms of illegitimate

discrimination between boys and girls in

the educational process.

Many of these, we are happy to say, are already being practised

in different parts of the world. We confirm their value, and

recommend a more universal implementation as appropriate.

382 14. It would be idle to pretend that all the answers to the

issues surrounding a new, more just relationship between women

and men have been found, or are satisfactory to all. In

particular, it may be anticipated that some other questions

about the role of women in civil and ecclesial society will

undoubtedly mature over time. Through committed and persevering

research, through exposure to different cultures and through

reflection on experience, Jesuits hope to participate in

clarifying these questions and in advancing the underlying


issues of justice. The change of sensibilities which this

involves will inevitably have implications for Church teaching

and practice. In this context we ask Jesuits to live, as always,

with the tension involved in being faithful to the teachings of

the Church and at the same time trying to read accurately the

signs of the times.


383 15. The Society gives thanks for all that has already been

achieved through the often costly struggle for a more just

relationship between women and men. We thank women for the lead

they have given, and continue to give. In particular, we thank

women religious, with whom we feel a special bond, and who have

been pioneers in so many ways in their unique contribution to

the mission of faith and justice. We are grateful, too, for what

the Society and individual Jesuits have contributed to this new

relationship, which is a source of great enrichment for both men

and women.

384 16. Above all we want to commit the Society in a more

formal and explicit way to regard this solidarity with women as

integral to our mission. In this way we hope that the whole

Society will regard this work for reconciliation between women

and men in all its forms as integral to its interpretation of

Decree 4 of GC 32 for our times. We know that a reflective and

sustained commitment to bring about this respectful

reconciliation can flow only from our God of love and justice

who reconciles all and promises a world in which "there is

neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is

neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus"

(Gal 3:28).

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