Saturday, February 4, 2017
Sometimes a blatant but elusive reality just smacks you in the face. That happened to me in the past few weeks.
I had the honor of working with a Catholic school in Africa as it opened its school year in January. I knew that many countries with developing economies lacked enough seats to accommodate all primary level students in secondary schools. I also knew that placement in secondary schools is often based upon scoring well on the primary school leaving examination. In some countries that score determines not only if you can attend secondary school but which secondary school. The better you score, the better the school into which you are placed. I also knew that more boys attend secondary school than girls due to many families opting to send sons rather than daughters to school if they can only afford school fees for one child. All of that, I knew.
Here’s what hit me in the face last week.
The Catholic Church still has many minor seminaries in Africa. These are secondary schools which offer extremely strong academic programs, often among the strongest in a country. Though students who attend are not committed or required to attend major seminary where students actually pursue the priesthood, only boys are permitted to attend minor seminary. Thus, intrinsically, there are fewer secondary school seats available to girls at the outset of the placement process.
As the process works, high scoring male students get placed into all-male minor seminaries. This leaves the non-seminary secondary schools as options for high scoring girls and boys. However, if a boy who places into a minor seminary opts to not attend, he is usually given a seat in a top secondary school and his seat at the minor seminary goes to a lower scoring male. Thus, the reduced number of secondary school seats available to girls is reduced even further.
The Catholic hierarchy swears it does not discriminate against women and even goes so far as to believe it promotes women’s equality. I, therefore, would like to issue this challenge to every bishop who has a minor seminary: Admit girls into your minor seminary. If the minor seminary offers the strongest secondary education, that should not be exclusive to males. If attendance at minor seminary carries no requirement to attend major seminary in pursuit of ordination, then there is no reason other than blatant sexism to bar girls from attending the top secondary schools in a diocese and developing country.
Research shows that the poverty or prosperity of a nation, community or family follows the poverty or prosperity of its women*. Thus, if you want to end poverty, educate your female children. Pope Francis, if you truly advocate for the poor, please mandate that minor seminaries be open to both boys and girls so as to afford girls the same educational opportunities as boys.
On a separate note, I wanted to let readers know that I’ll be speaking at two events this February. Some kind readers in California have invited me to visit and I have accepted their offers. Below are the details. You are most welcome to attend either event. In both cases there is no charge but both groups accept free will donations. I will be discussing my spiritual journey into this ministry of writing a questioning blog as well as how I approach putting my spirituality into action as a part of the church. Hopefully it will be a time of spiritual reflection and growth for everyone involved. However, as a caveat, I will be flying from Tokyo the night before the first session, so please offer allowances if I seem a bit jet-lagged.
Saturday, February 18, 2017 from 10:00 a.m. to noon – Palo Alto, CA
Location: Mitchell Park Community Center
3700 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, California 94303
Sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center of Palo Alto, www.thomasmerton.org
Sunday, February 19, 2017 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. - Sacramento, CA
Location: St. Mark’s Methodist Church
2391 St. Mark’s Way, Sacramento, CA 95864
In the neighborhood behind Country Club Plaza. We will meet in the Fireside Room.
Sponsored by Sacramento Call to Action
I look forward to meeting some folks who invest time and thought into reading this blog.