Forty years ago, when I was a somewhat younger fellow and DRE in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I found myself the only man at a table with seven women, during a diocesan conference on the role of women in the church.
When our small group gathered, for the first time, I was the first to start speaking. With a big smile and a lot of enthusiasm, I began talking about the terrific lecture we had just listened to. I spoke a bit too long. (Yes that happens.)
One of the women in our group, with obvious dislike for my long-winded observations, looked right at me and said: “Well isn’t that just what we need in a conference on women in the church: another pontificating phallus? Why can’t you let us women speak? Why can’t you really listen to what women are thinking and saying?” Some criticism stings….
I thought about my Kalamazoo pontificating experience, a few days ago, as I read about Cardinal Gerhard Müller’s ongoing criticism of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
The CDF Prefect claims over and over that LCWR is promoting doctrinal errors, radical feminism, and heretical gnosticism. LCWR leadership continues to assert that the Cardinal Prefect doesn’t listen and is simply unable and unwilling to try to understand what they are saying. Last week L’Osservatore Romano – the voice of the Vatican — carried an interview with Cardinal Müller. “We are not misogynists,” he said. “We don’t want to gobble up a woman a day…” he quipped.
A humorous remark? A serious statement of ecclesiastical management style? Or simply a way to avoid confronting the issues?
Does Pope Francis have a similar style? Early in his papal ministry, when asked about misogyny in the church, he joked that the first woman was “taken from a rib.” More seriously the Bishop of Rome then observed: “Priests often end up under the sway of their housekeepers.”
And the point is?
In less than a month, we will witness (more or less depending on which news source one follows) the Synod on the Family. Great preparations. Numerous consultations around the world. Great hopes raised.
This week we have been informed that over one hundred and seventy-five celibate male clerics will be entitled to vote. No women will be able to vote of course, although there will be some lay women and men as “observers.” The voice of the faithful? Vatican II’s sense of collegiality?
At some point truly genuine dialogue has to begin. In so many ways today, women, around the world, continue to be gobbled up; and there is nothing comical about it.
In her most recent column in the National Catholic Reporter, Jamie Manson observed: “…. the truth of the matter is, women are indeed being ‘gobbled up’ by poverty, lack of education, inadequate health care, slavery, and sex trafficking. They and their children bear a disproportionate burden of the hunger, violence and discrimination that shatter this world every day. And all of these injustices are rooted in the misogynistic idea that women are not of equal value, ability, and dignity to men, an idea that the hierarchy, with its blind insistence on preordained gender roles, perpetuates.”
Patriarchy in a church environment — well in any environment — has a negative impact and creates an environment more susceptible to the abuse of women than one characterized by mutuality and shared leadership between men and women.
The virtue of mutuality must replace subjugation. The virtue of harmony must replace man-over-woman power-struggles.
Certainly in the church, men need women not as subordinates but as partners. It started that way, actually, in our Christian beginnings….
Mary of Magdala, for instance and not one of the “apostolic” guys, was charged with proclaiming that Jesus had been raised from the dead. No small proclamation. Early Christians were counter-cultural….and more much more inclusive and woman-friendly than later “fathers” of the church.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, however, has put the Leadership Conference of Women Religious under male hierarchical control. What happened to woman-friendly counter-cultural and inclusive Christian leadership?
Sometimes our contemporary Catholicism becomes curiouser and curiouser.
In an event….let serious and respectful dialogue truly be encouraged at every level in the church, starting of course in our own parishes and neighborhoods……
Last week I was having a friendly chat with a fellow about Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s book Quest for the Living God. I had recommended the book for an adult faith-sharing discussion group, that will resume in October. My friend said: “That feminist heretic! Absolutely not!” I asked if he had ever read anything written by Elizabeth Johnson. He said “no!” I asked if he knew that she was a distinguished professor of theology at Fordham University. He said: “No…but I know she is just another one of those dangerous and radical feminists.” I asked how he knew all that…..No response at first. Then he muttered: “Rome doesn’t like her.”
Ignorance is not bliss. And there can really be no excuse for ignorance among supposedly intelligent and well-educated people.
Maybe a lot of us men — whether we wear neckties, Roman collars, or red skull caps — need to keep quiet and really listen before speaking so authoritatively.
Patriarchal paternalism and misogyny are still very much alive in our church. They are not Christian virtues.