Two of the five groups of Roman Catholic women that a committee of bishops turned to yesterday for counsel in drafting a pastoral letter on women in church and society had this succinct advice: Don't.
Top officers of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 90 percent of U.S. Catholic nuns, said the all-male, celibate hierarchy of a church dominated by "patriarchy" should not write about women without more extensive study.
Sister Mary Daniel Turner, former executive director of LCWR, defined patriarchy as "a society and structure in which being male and masculine is normative and what departs from male is inferior." She cited such traditional teachings as Thomas Aquinas' statement that a women is "a misbegotten male."
Another witness at the closed-door hearings said a pastoral on women would lack the "integrity" of other pastorals. "The bishops wrote a pastoral on [economic] justice, not on poor people; they wrote a pastoral on racism, not on black people," said Sister Marjorie Tuite of New York City, representing the unofficial National Assembly of Religious Women.
"You don't write a pastoral on victims," she told reporters in summarizing her testimony. "You write about the issues that cause people to be victimized . . . . The victims write about themselves."
The hearings here, which will conclude today, mark the first step in the drafting of a pastoral letter on one of the most painful issues facing the church in this country. As the feminist revolution of the 1960s and '70s continues to energize individual Catholics, tradition and church law limit women's role in the church.
The bishops voted 18 months ago to write a pastoral letter on women. Target date for completion of the first draft is November 1986.
Sister Michelle Olley of Milwaukee, appearing for the National Coalition of American Nuns, an unofficial activist group, challenged the bishops to work for a variety of women's issues ranging from "fair representation in the political process" to passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Noting the Vatican's reluctance to discuss women's issues, she urged the American prelates "not to sell your birthright for a bowl of soup or a [cardinal's] red hat."
Loretta Knebel of the Catholic Daughters of America said her organization appreciates "our growing role in the life of the church" in such functions as lectors, eucharistic ministers and judges on diocesan marriage courts.
"However, we still believe that prayerful pursuit of personal holiness is the first and most important responsibility of the Catholic women," she said.