The emphasis on a particular form of family life by the Church means that the role of single women and the contribution that they can make to society is often overlooked. It is still the case that the unmarried women are seen as somewhat odd or a failure by many, and such standards are not applied to men. Yet in practice many women find their life’s mission in single life. The emphasis in recent Church documents on the positive value of the vocation to the single life, and on the very generous contribution, which many single people make to Church and society, is to be welcomed.
Women religious are another group that are often overlooked in this discussion. This partly because they are seen by many, including some women, to be part of the clerical establishment who have the power in the Church. But the reality is very different. Sadly, it is the case that these women, who in many aspects have been to the forefront in the renewal of religious life as suggested by Vatican II, often suffer most from the real, if unthinking, male dominance within Church life. They find it difficult to secure salaries in Church jobs, their style of living has been overly shaped by male patterns and is still overly subject to male approval. In many quarters, because of their known loyalty, their prophetic service of Church and community is received in a way that is felt to be patronizing and taken for granted. There is wonderful opportunity here for a less fearful and less grudging welcome of gifts of women religious to the renewal of ecclesial and religious life. In this context, we welcome the discussion document for the 1994 Synod of Bishops in 1994, which recommends that female religious have a greater say in decision-making in the Church.