Friday, October 29, 2010

Gender Equality Programs for Priests and Brothers

Sex is not taboo but a topic for  discussion and understanding. This was the heading of an article in the Catholic Times, discussing the educational program for Jesuit priests and brothers on gender equality held at Sogang University in Seoul.

Clerics and religious are hearing a great deal about sex lately in lectures and workshops because of the clerical abuse cases. One of the presenters at the educational program for Jesuits, a professor and a woman, treated the subject of sexual harassment and violence under the heading of gender equality. She asked them how they understood the term and then proceeded to tell them what might have been for some of them a new understanding of gender equality.

There was an atmosphere of tenseness that was  sensed. The professor gave concrete examples of what was meant when dealing with sexual harassment. Examples had to do with pouring drinks at the table, holding another's hand, making comments about another's appearance or clothes, and a series of explicit examples of where one has to be careful not to be misunderstood.

The article goes on to tell us that what the participants thought was far from their lives as celibates was actually  an issue that came very close to them in their daily lives. They listened carefully to what was said, often surprised to hear what was considered sexual harassment. It made for a lively question and answer session.
If we are to rid ourselves of all possibilities of being misunderstood. we need more awareness:  the way we move our hands and bodies, the position of the door during interviews, and trasparency of the bulding by windows. One has to be concerned how another might understand one's actions. She stressed that becoming gender sensitive is the  key factor in understanding sexual harassment. 

The Jesuit superior in his talk after the lecture said: "We priests and brothers have to be alert to what is involved with this issue, not only preventing these incidents from happening but fostering more gender sensitivity in pastoral work ....Most of our congregations are made up of women, but they are run by men. It is necessary that those who make up most of the Church are  properly understood."

These programs were asked to be implemented by Jesuit headquarters in Rome and will  continue in the years ahead.  Maryknoll   has similar programs;  at the beginning of this year, all Maryknollers had to attend a workshop on sexual harassment. Sensitivity on this issue, which has caused much harm while escaping notice by many of us due to the bias of most cultures favoring a masculine view of the male/female relationship is bound to make our social relationships, both for men and for women, just  and harmonious.

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