Some Thoughts About Responses to My “Pink Smoke” Post

April 25, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Generally speaking, there aren’t a lot of responses to my blog. Maybe this says something about the kind of writing I do. Or maybe it just means you’re all busy. I used to think it meant that I didn’t have any readers, but an email from WordPress in December informed me that around 6000 people had at least dropped by in 2010, which made  happy. In any case, I’m grateful when people post responses.

I get the impression that some of the respondents to my blog about “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” think my objections to a hierarchical organization of women priests and bishops is personal, a kind of”whining” or “grudge” because Patricia Fresen got more notice than I did after that conference in 2005.  Actually, I didn’t care very much when my talk wasn’t published, and I don’t care now; if I’d been doing what I’ve done these forty years out of some expectation of fame or even recognition, I’d be one bummed out cookie. In point of fact, the WOC executive at the time apologized abjectly and then published the piece when the omission was pointed out to her ; she knew exactly what the omission meant.

My concern with the omission of my talk by WOC even as it published the “bishop’s” is that it illustrates the hazards of the concentration of ostensibly sacred significance and power in individuals. It gets them more notice whether they deserve it or not.  A parallel example is a recent documentary film called “Women of the Catholic Church Speak,” which features interviews with six or seven nuns, an ex-nun, and a Roman Catholic WomanPriest. (There is a brief shot of the former executive director of WOC, Aisha Taylor, but no interview, of course). Laywomen were second class citizens before Vatican II, and almost fifty years after it, the ordination of at least some women makes us second class citizens now.

My second thought has to do with Rev. DiFranco’s comments about theologians not really understanding pastoral issues, or something to that effect. First of all, I would like to thank her for including me in the same breath with Rosemary Reuther and Elizabeth Schuessler Fiorenza. This has never happened before and is unlikely to happen again, so I want her to know that I am flattered. I note, in addition, that dismissing feminist theologians is something that Catholic priests and bishops do all the time–witness the current affair with Elizabeth Johnson–so nothing has changed very much here either. In point of fact, at the first Women’s Ordination Conference, a feminist theologian, Dorothy Donnelly, raised the question,”Why ordain anybody?” Some of us continue to ask that question.

With regard to the report that I said, at that same conference in 2005, that racism is worse than sexism, the writer might want to bear in mind that that conference of approximately 100 people was almost entirely white. And this is the case for the women’s ordination movement in the US as a whole, as well as the Roman Catholic WomenPriests organization.  Perhaps there were three women of color in attendance in 2005, none of them black. And the attendees were virtually all university-educated, many with graduate degrees. And what Patricia Fresen said was that the exclusion of women from Catholic priesthood was the same as apartheid. It is simply ethically unacceptable to tell a roomful of privileged white US nationals that their exclusion from the priesthood is the same as the imprisonment and murder of hundreds of thousands of black South Africans, even if that exclusion is, as I have said for many years, unjust. If we can’t bring more nuance to our thinking than this, we’re no better than the guys currently in power.

I hesitate to say that Karen Kramer sounds like a current male priest or bishop because her tone is more sad than arrogant. But in some ways, she too echoes the institution: can’t we all just be good Christians, get over our petty grudges, and cooperate? But if we feminists do not feel entitled–indeed, obligated–to express our deepest ethical concerns and objections without having those objections trivialized, how are we any better than the bishops, who never criticize each other so as to preserve the institution?

Thanks, finally, to Len Swidler and Mary Louise Birmingham who have been contributing to conversations like this one for many years.


“Pink Smoke Over the Vatican”

April 16, 2011 at 9:02 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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Lately people I know have been going to a film about the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican.” This week a member of the international women’s movement to which I also belong, the Grail, posted a request for the rest of us to donate money to make it possible for this film to be shown more widely. Here’s my response to her request.

Dear friends:

I would like to say a few words about this film, “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican.”

As some of you may know, I have been active in the movement for Catholic women’s ordination for almost forty years. Along with Grail members Eleanor Walker and Janet Kalven I attended the first meeting of the Women’s Ordination Conference, in Detroit, in 1975. I served on the national board of the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC) , the primary US organization working for RC women’s ordination, for five years, and as president of that board for two years. I have collected signatures outside churches for women’s ordination and addressed national assemblies of the wider women’s ordination movement.
The Roman Catholic WomenPriests (RCWP) movement, of which the women in this film are, I believe, members, is one phase of the movement for Catholic women’s ordination.  RCWP began with ordinations on a boat in the Danube some years ago, and members of the group are ordained regularly as priests and deacons here in the US and around the world. Their members have also been ordained bishops.
But nothing is simple. We never just wanted women priests. We wanted what Elizabeth Schuessler Fiorenza calls a “discipleship of equals,” in which laywomen and ordained women would not be assimilated into the same clerical hierarchy that has characterized the Catholic Church for centuries. And of course, there were ordained Catholic women long before Roman Catholic WomenPriests became, ostensibly, the Catholic women priests. My good friend Judy Heffernan was ordained by the Community of the Christian Spirit (CCS) in Philadelphia in the early 1980s and has been celebrating the liturgy with that group since then. But CCS did not ordain any bishops.
I am wary of the arrival of official women priests and  bishops in the women’s ordination movement. When I gave the keynote address for the 30th anniversary of the Women’s Ordination Conference in 2005, one of the RCWP bishops, Patricia Fresen, was the other keynoter. Afterwards WOC, the organization whose board I had served on, and for whom I had raised money, published Patricia’s talk  but not mine. Maybe it was an oversight. Or maybe talks by bishops are just more worthy of publication than talks by laywomen.
Because “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” focuses on women priests and bishops, it risks re-inscribing the clerical hierarchy that some of us have been fighting to change for decades. If you see the film, I trust you will keep this in mind. Also,  another way to support women’s ordination is to make a donation to the Women’s Ordination Conference at,com_frontpage/Itemid,4/


In 2007 I also wrote an article for The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion on ethical questions related to the Catholic women’s ordination movement (and RCWP in particular). It expands on some of the points I make above and also raises questions about the whiteness of the women’s ordination movement overall. If you’d like to have a copy you can drop me a note at New York Theological Seminary, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 500,  New York, NY 10115 with your email address and I’ll send it to you. Or if you have my email address, feel free to write to me.

P.S. I have no idea why this post appears in different sized fonts on my actual blog page. When some younger people come for my birthday party tomorrow maybe one of them can fix it for me! Sorry.


Speak Up, You Catholics!

April 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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So recently I went to visit friends in another part of the country. Where is irrelevant. Saturday afternoon we went to the 4:00 PM Mass in their parish.

An energetic young Vietnamese priest celebrated the liturgy, but since the parish retreat was taking place Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the leader of the retreat, let’s call him Father John, gave the sermon. He was an ordered priest, and probably one who has spent much of his 70 years going around conducting parish retreats. He and the celebrant were quite a sight up there together, since he is 6 foot 4 and the young priest was about 4 foot 11. But I digress.

Father John began his sermon by saying that he always starts his sermons with a joke. So here’s the joke:

A woman was arrested for stealing a can of peaches. Her husband went with her to appear  before the judge. The judge asked, “So how many peaches were there in the can?” The woman replied, “Eight.” “Then I am going to send you to jail for eight days,” the judge replied. The husband said, “I have something I want to say.” “What’s that?” asked the judge. “She also stole a can of peas,” said the husband.

“I guess they needed some marriage counseling,” added Father John.

I don’t know what he talked about in his actual sermon because I was too annoyed by the joke.

I went up to Father John after Mass, on the steps of the church, and said he seemed like a kind man, but that I was deeply offended by the joke. He expressed amazement: “It was only a joke,” he said. “It didn’t mean anything.” He added that he tells the joke frequently at the beginning of his sermons and that I am the first person who ever said anything about it.

As I walked home with my friends and another woman, they all began to talk about how offensive the joke was–that is, how sexist they found it. I said the priest said it was only a joke and meant nothing. One of the women said, “You should have replied, ‘Well, I know a really funny joke about a pedophile priest.'”

I could begin now to rave about the obliviousness of Father John, and how maddening it is that we are afflicted by priests who are so dumb they don’t know that all jokes mean something.

But I think I will limit myself to his statement that no one had ever  before told him that they found the joke offensive. Let me say,to begin with, I believe him. My whole life as a Catholic priests and nuns and teachers have said to me, their eyes wide, “Never in my life have I ever heard a Catholic say such a thing.” Sometimes I feel that my chief reason for remaining a Catholic is to drive them all nuts.

But I would also like to ask: what’s the matter with all you other Catholics out there? Why are you letting these guys get away with this nonsense? Too polite? Too afraid they’ll take you out back and give you a smack the way they did in 1955?

After the Boston Globe broke the second round of Catholic clergy sex abuse stuff in 2002 I read somewhere some information about one family whose children had been molested by their parish priest. Seems that the priest would come and put the  couple’s five kids to bed every night. Now doubtless this priest was a vile fellow to do such a thing. I trust he’s in jail. But I also have to ask: how dumb would you have to be to let somebody put your kids to bed night after night? No doubt the couple allowed it because he was priest. Kind of like all the people in those Catholic parishes where Father John tells his offensive joke about the woman and the peaches and chat about it on the way home without saying a word to him.

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