All change in the Catholic church?

If you've ever been in Sevilla for Semana Santa , you'll know that it's a pretty extraordinary experience: life-size Mary and Jesus statues being carried slowly, wobblingly slightly as they go, along packed streets, preceded by hooded, robed figures, accompanied by mournful music, and watched adoringly by hordes of the faithful. These slightly sinister, pointy, cone-shaped hoods (capirotes), of whose wearers you can only see the eyes, serve to offer anonymity. Originally, this was so that they could pay their penitence without everyone knowing who they were (and therefore that they'd committed a sin). These days, it's more about tradition than penance. As from this year, here in Andalucia, there will be an added dimension to the mysterious, hidden nature of the nazarenos, the hooded, robed figures. For the Archbishop of Seville has passed a decree saying that hermandades (brotherhoods) in the eight Andalucian provinces must allow women both to take part in processions ("without any discrimination of sex, including participation"), and, if they wish, to be part of the team which carries the paso (float). These are called costaleros, and each of them bears a weight of about 50kg of the paso's total weight on their neck. I guess female weightlifters or bodybuilders might be up for that, but I can't see people clamouring to put a thick piece of material around their neck and then stagger along bent double for hours at a time - although Granada already has some costaleras, apparently. Not that you can see then either - they're underneath the paso. What is interesting is that when he made the decree, the reason the senior cleric gave, is that there must be "full equality of rights" for all members of cofradias (another word for brotherhood) in the eight Andalucian provincial capitals. Equal rights for women? That's not an expression you often hear used in relation to the Catholic church. In fact, most brotherhoods have already allowed women to join in with them for some time, and Malaga's cofradia head honcho said he couldn't understand what all the fuss was about - "It's like there's been some kind of revolution," he said, "but it's what we've been doing in Malaga for years now." In Seville, the Javieres and Verz Cruz hermandades have allowed women in their processions for the last two decades. The decree, which comes into effect on 2 March, says that all hermandades must allow women to go out in the processions as nazarenas. Of course, some already are - although who's to know how many, since you can't see their faces? But three of Seville's brotherhoods are not happy with this decision. El Silencio, El Santo Entierro and La Quinta Angustia, don't want women processing through the streets, or carrying their pasos. This trio are refusing to accept the decree, will most probably appeal it, and if neccessary will take their case all the way to Rome. As one (male) participant memorably put it, "It's not an environment sutiable for women because of the close proximity of bodies beneath the floats. It gets hot and sweaty under there and the nature of the task means we rub up against each other." Ooh er, missus. I'm not sure if that will appeal to potential female candidates, or serve as a warning to them. The other shocking recent news about the Catholic church was when 144 leading theologians called for radical reform, including allowing priests to marry. These theology professors, at universities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, called for an end to compulsory celibacy, as part of an attempt to restore faith in the Church after the recent child abuse scandals. Another suggestion was that women be allowed to become priests. This is, indeed, revolutionary. What will the rest of the Catholic church think - from those who attend Mass and confession, to the priests, the bishops, the Pope? I bet they're wondering how dramatically their world is going to change over the next decade. I can't believe they'd be too gutted about being able to get married. Letting women into the priesthood, though, might be a different matter. Here in Spain, and especially in Seville, the Church still holds a position of power and influence. It is part of society, mores and tradition, from baptisms and weddings, to Semana Santa and romerias. It is a way of life for many people, if they don't "believe", as such. Are Sevillanos, and Catholics around Spain and the rest of the world, ready to be married and buried by a woman priest?
Blog published on 7 February 2011