On Tuesday, March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day. Another and far more important Super Tuesday than the one that (temporarily?) highlighted US presidential contender Donald Trump.
Perhaps the March 8th day should be circled on calendars as “Beware-of-Patriarchy-Super-Tuesday.”
Patriarchy is pernicious: an old authoritarian ecclesiastical vice that denigrates just about everyone in the name of Christian virtue. It is very much alive, if not well, in today’s world.
Patriarchy proclaims male superiority over women. It also destroys children; and in the past week we have seen three big examples of patriarchal child abuse: (1) SPOTLIGHT the Oscar-winning film about the widespread and systemic sexual abuse of children in the Boston area by Roman Catholic ordained ministers (priests), as the National Catholic Reporter editorialized a great humiliation for the Catholic Church. (2) The Vatican’s treasurer Cardinal George Pell’s testimony from Rome to the Royal Commission in Australia about Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse. Pell is at the tip and top of a sordid clerical abuse iceberg. One wonders how Pope Francis can keep Pell in his Vatican position. (3) And then, on March 1st came the grand jury report that two Roman Catholic bishops in the Pennsylvania Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown covered up the sexual abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 ordained ministers and other religious leaders over a 40-year period. Commenting about the victims, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane observed: “Their souls were killed as children. They weren’t out playing baseball; they were trying to avoid priests.”
Patriarchy over women
Attributes of power, control, non-emotional rationality, and extreme competitiveness are often praised as traditional male qualities and used to explain why men should be “in control.” Women are often subordinated due to – as a bishop friend likes to stress — their “emotional expressiveness.”
Reflecting about Christian life and ministry – past and present – I count six anti-woman heresies that need to be condemned as un-Christ-like. Even, today, in all Christian churches, they are often proclaimed as virtues:
(1) Women are called to affirm “godly masculinity.” Based of course on the false understanding that God is male.
(2) Women must honor the God-ordained authority of their husbands and pastors. A very strong theme among many evangelical Christians but hardly unknown in Roman Catholic circles.
(3) By submitting to male leadership, women reflect Jesus’ submission to God.
(4) When women focus on their personal rights, they are behaving contrary to Christ’s spirit of submission.
(5) Having a lot of children is a woman’s chief mission in life and God’s blessed gift to women.
(6) If they are truly Christian women, they must teach the next generation of women how to submit to male leadership in church and home.
Preserving patriarchal hegemony:
Sometimes ecclesiastics seek to preserve their patriarchal hegemony by ignoring or dismissing on-going research and new information. In 1994 Pope John Paul II formally declared that the church does not have the power to ordain women. He stated, “Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force. Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the church’s faithful.” (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 4)
Saint Pope John Paul II was apparently ignorant of the fact that there is a growing consensus among biblical scholars and historians that women – as leaders of house churches –did indeed preside at Eucharist in the early church. A number of women served as leaders of the house churches that sprang up in the cities of the Roman Empire.
Successors of the apostles:
An often-repeated historical error is the insistence that only men were Jesus’ apostles. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament speaks contrary to this belief. The consensus among a number of respected contemporary New Testament scholars, for example, is that Junia was a woman apostle. Paul wrote in the Romans 16:7: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.”
Reading through the Pauline literature one finds many women who were key leaders in the early church: Phoebe, a leader from the church at Cenchreae, a port city near Corinth; Chloe, a prominent woman in Corinth; When Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila, Priscilla is listed first two out of three times. She and her husband were missionary partners with the Apostle Paul.
Are bishops successors of the apostles? Of course they are, BECAUSE ALL MEN AND WOMEN who go forth and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ are apostles. You and I are successors of the apostles.
How do we counteract patriarchy and promote women in today’s church?
(1) We need to promote continuing education about biblical scholarship and church history; and insist that church leadership take seriously the need for in-service updating. Perhaps bishops and other church leaders need to be re-certified every five years? No certification – no leadership position.
(2) We need to insist on using inclusive language in liturgical prayer, scripture readings, hymn texts, and publications. It is correct, for instance, to drop the word “men“ when the creed reads “For us men and for our salvation…” We don’t need to ask anyone’s permission to do this.
(3) One does not need permission to be inclusive. It should be understood as the normal and healthy way to live and act. Exclusive language is simply wrong and not acceptable.
(4) Just as one doesn’t laugh at racist or anti-Semitic jokes (unless one is a certain much-in-the-news presidential candidate), it is not acceptable to laugh at making-fun-of-women jokes, dumb-blond jokes, etc.
(5) At all levels in the church and civil society we need to proclaim that is not OK when women are paid less than men, when women, because they are women, are given menial or secondary responsibilities.
(6) Again – as I have stressed in the past — we need to acknowledge and support those women who are already ordained. Women’s ordination should be understood and accepted as just as normal as men’s ordination….
(7) And of course we need to encourage and support young women in the church. Whether altar servers, lectors, or Eucharistic ministers. Even as girl scouts! (Even as girl scouts in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where Archbishop Robert Carlson said the behavior and views of America’s Girl Scouts are at odds with the teachings of the Catholic church — in particular, the Girl Scouts’ support for transgender rights and homosexuality.)