LOS ANGELES -- Roman Catholic Archbishop Roger Mahony of Los Angeles issued a pastoral letter Thursday urging the removal of male-oriented language from Roman Catholic liturgical texts and greater acceptance of women in church leadership roles.
The nearly 4,000-word document acknowledged the alienation felt by increasing numbers of Catholic women toward the male-dominated church.
"Many women continue to feel oppressed by a system of church laws which have been created by men through a process in which women have had no decisive role," the archbishop wrote.
The letter did not address one of the key sources of many Catholic women's discontent: the church's refusal to ordain women to the priesthood. Mahony generally has supported the Vatican's stance on the matter.
Mahony said purging the liturgical texts of what he said "has come to be called 'exclusive' or 'sexist' language" is a positive step that immediately can be undertaken "to acknowledge the presence of women and to recognize their gifts to the entire church community."
"When people at prayer and worship are addressed as 'brethren' and hear that the Gospel is good news and glad tidings for 'men of good will,' or that the Son of God came from heaven 'for us men and our salvation,' more and more women feel themselves excluded," he said.
"We need to recover a greater sense of men and women working collaboratively, side by side," the archbishop said. "Women must increasingly be placed in policy-formation and decision-making levels within the church."
Acknowledging the "widespread exclusion" of women from policymaking positions in the church, Mahony urged pastors specifically to join him in "welcoming the ministry of women in our parishes."
Although it bars women from the priesthood, the church permits women to serve in some educational and administrative roles. Women also may lead some parts of the liturgy and assist with distribution of holy communion.
Mahony said his letter was based on the views of 2,500 Los Angeles Catholic women who participated in hearings during 1985 that were instituted by his predecessor, Cardinal Timothy Manning, as part of a national bishops' effort.
The archbishop said divorced, single and professional women experience alienation from the church "in a particularly acute manner."
Parish priests, Mahony continued, often project "a patriarchal attitude and are unable to treat women as ministerial colleagues . . . . In many cases, liturgical roles not reserved to the ordained have not been easily or graciously opened to women."
During his nearly two years as archbishop, Mahony has brought more than a dozen women, both lay and members of religious orders, into the administrative hierarchy of the Los Angeles archdiocese.
Mahony also said a service of "reconciliation and commitment" would be held within the next few months at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles "to move us towards healing the rejection and pain experienced by some women today."
Release of the letter precedes Pope John Paul II's second visit to the United States next month. Women's groups in and out of the church have said that during the papal visit, they will protest the church's stance on women.