Pick Your Battle?

July 19, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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As I have perhaps said, I have been working for the ordination of women in the Catholic Church since the early 1970s. I was enormously inspired and encouraged by the first Women’s Ordination Conference which I attended in Detroit in 1975. And I was as devastated as a lot of other educated American Catholic women when the Vatican issued its statement in 1976 arguing, basically, that women could not be ordained because Jesus had a penis and women  don’t. (The Vatican has backed off from this embassassingly anatomical argument since then; instead, they say that since Jesus didn’t ordain women, they aren’t authorized to do so either. Never mind that Jesus, as Elizabeth Johnson says,  “didn’t ordain anybody.”) 

Since then I have done a lot of work for the ordination of women; picketing cathedrals, begging money from friends, writing articles and book reviews, serving on the WOC Board of Directors, and even as its president for a while. I’ve done my time, as they say.

Since 2002, or whenever it was I went off the  Board, however, a few things have come to me. One is that this is an absolutely hopeless cause. This is not to say that I don’t still support the ordination of women; I do. But the guys in Rome have staked their authority on this issue, and they’re not going to back off for a very long time. So it is probably not worth us falling on our swords, or worse still, behaving in as vile and venomous fashion as they behave to bring about something that ain’t gonna happen while many of us are alive.

In addition, a second thing has occurred to me over the almost forty years since I started working for women’s ordination: it’s not the only thing that matters in the world. It matters. But so do other things.

This past Sunday, two articles in the “Week in Review” section of the New York Times got me thinking about these conclusions that I have been forced to draw over forty years. One was Maureen Dowd’s piece commenting on the Vatican’s announcement that the sexual abuse of children and the ordination of women were equally “de gravioribus delictis” sins.

Now let me say, parenthetically, that there is probably no hope for the Vatican. Ethics and morals aside, the way they handle an issue as charged as the sexual abuse of children is so stupid, so utterly oblivious of how they sound, that all hope is lost. As Andy Sipowitz used to say on NYPD Blue, they’re dumber than a bag of hammers.

That being admitted, you simply cannot imagine how many of the liberal Catholic listservs I’m on forwarded the Maureen Dowd column to me. Okay, I admit it, the Vatican is hopeless. But really, folks, there’s a world out there. As Margaret Brennan quotes Gregory Baum as saying, in her splendid memoir What Was There for Me Once, if we could just give up looking for the perfect mother, surely we could stop being so angry at the Church.

The thing that really gets me though, is that in that same issue of “The Week in Review,” appeared Nicholas Kristof’s column about the photographs on the melting of the Himalayan glaciers currently on display at the Asia Society. Kristof interviews some of the panelists who spoke on Wednesday night, the panel I brought to your attention in my previous blog. As he notes in this column, the  potential disappearance of the glaciers threatens “the food security of an estimated 60 million people” in the Indus and Brahmaputra basins.

As I began by saying, I have long supported the ordination of Roman Catholic women. But it does trouble me that none of the liberal Catholic listservs of which I am a member forwarded Kristof’s column. Apparently they thought that only Dowd’s mattered. But surely we don’t think the ordination of women–and let’s be clear here, this means the ordination of women educated enough to earn seminary degrees–is more important than the droughts that will bring famine to sixty million or more people?  Surely we can think beyond our own suffering to take that far greater suffering into account?


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  1. Dear Marian,
    I agree with you concerning the order of gravity of things. I would only add, what you already know, namely, we don’t have to – or rather, should not – make either-or choices. I put vastly more energy these days into interreligious dialogue (e.g., working with Saudi Muslims on interreligious dialogue is, in my judgment, both more satisfying and effective) than Catholic reform. But I still do a book or two in that area every once in a while.


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