The Church Women Want is a collection of essays that served as the authors' presentations at a symposium held over the course of two years at Marymount College and the College of New Rochelle in New York. The symposium was inspired by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernadin's Catholic Common Ground Initiative, the purpose of which is to address the ideological polarization in the Catholic Church by bringing theologians, bishops, and laity together in dialogue.
In the spirit of this dialogue, each author envisions the "church women want" and the implications of her ideological and cultural standpoint for the dignity, voice, and role(s) of women in the contemporary church. The organization of the book mirrors the sequence of sessions in the symposium. Part 1 includes the essays from the first session of the symposium, which was themed "Women and Spirituality/Worship." This section includes essays from Susan Muto and Miriam Therese Winter. Part 2, "Embodiment: Women and Men, Equal or Complementary?" reflects the conversation among Sara Bulter, Elizabeth Johnson, and Colleen Griffith. Part 3 discusses the theme, "Different Races and Cultures: Uniting or Dividing Women in the Church?" which is addressed by Barbara Hilkert Andolsen, Diana Hayes, and Ana Maria Diaz-Stevens. Finally, Part 4 is entitled, "Women as Leaven in Church and Society," and features Mary Ann Glendon and Marcy Kaptur. As editor, Johnson briefly introduces each part and writes an Epilogue at the end of the book.
The balance of perspectives that comes through in the above list of authors is borne out in the texts of their essays: the "constructive debate" present in the distinction between Muto and Winter in terms of women's "place" in the church's community of worship; in the various perspectives presented by Butler, Johnson, and Griffith on embodiment and personhood and their relationship to sex and/or gender; the respect that is evident among Andolsen, Hayes, and Diaz-Stevens for one another around differences of race and culture; and, finally, once again in the debate between Glendon and Kaptur regarding the roles of women in church and society.
The "weakness" of the book, if one can call it that, is that it leaves the reader wanting more. At 141 pages total, The Church Women Want gives just a taste of each author's thought on women in the contemporary Catholic Church. Regardless, the time is ripe for this book— demonstrated by the fact that the book itself inspired yet another overwhelmingly attended conference entitled "Envisioning the Church Women Want" at Boston College in April 2004. The collection's greatest strength is that it achieves its purpose—it takes women's voices seriously as it brings together prominent scholars from differing perspectives and invites them to converse with one another. One can hope that Cardinal Bernadin would be pleased.