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.



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  1. Quite frankly, Marian, I’m surprised that you addressed me as “Reverend DiFranco.” Since RCWP tries to model a new form of priesthood, I rarely, if ever, use that title. My more usual title is either “Mommy,” or “Nurse,” and lately, “Grammy.” So, please, if you write back, please refer to me by either my first name, Eileen, which is the name by which God knows me, or DiFranco.

    Getting back to Patricia’s 2005 speech. Patricia was not identified as a bishop at that time. Her ordination as a bishop was not made public for several months afterward. So there was no hierarchy meant or intended. No one at the conference even knew she was a bishop. She told me when I met her and she swore me to secrecy. So once again, your assumption was wrong.

    And I would agree with you, WHy ordain anyone? Again, I must reiterate that pastorally, that is not possible for many people right now. The pastoral aspect is the one you are missing and dont’ seem to want to consider.

    And getting back to our favorite topic, racism. As you might know, there are few African American CAtholics for varied reasons, the most common being well, racism. When you worked in a largely AA seminary (where your husband was president, I believe), you would have seen how AFrican American clergy are treated within AA congregations – with respect. That doesn’t happen too often in RC parishes, even now. So, why would AA want to be CAtholic, given our history? Why would AA women who are already treated without the respect they deserve from a white society, want to become a member of RCWP when they would be unemployable and excommunicated, called names and damned to hell?

    AS for my ordination, you weren’t there, so you wouldn’t know how many people of color were in attendance. There were some attendees who were clearly people of color, but there were others of which you were not aware. One should not look at people and assume their racial/ethnic background. It’s bad form, especially in a multicultural society. For instance, I have two friends married to African Americans and their kids have blonde hair and blue eyes, so they, as the lingo goes, “pass.” You could look at all four of my children and never know they were half Irish. There was an entire family you failed to count who were present in Pittsburgh.

    If you look at the hundred members of RCWP, you wouldn’t know anyone’s background b/c you haven’t asked. You assume. Yes, most people do have college degrees. Mine was a full scholarship b/c my father was a mailman and could have never sent me to college. Again, we are s very small organization as organizations go. I think it’s a bit odd to think that 100 people could solve all of the problems of racism and elitism in 4 years.

    And, again, I welcome you to visit our community. WE would love to have you. You could ask the congregation why they choose to belong to a church with an ordained priest.

    But my best advice, is always to talk to people/organizations about whom you write so you don’t assume things that just might not be quite true.

    Eileen DiFranco


  2. Dear Marion, I had a real belly laugh that you said I might be a current priest or bishop!! My point was not that women could not have passionate debates, criticize ideas, or analyze and challenge one another; but not to personalize and attack character or motives. I look for something new to emerge which transcends our egoic conditioning where we begin to not act out of our compulsion to separate from and compete with one another, to see this when it starts to happen, and to begin build trust, transparency and a passion to create a positive future. This requires no longer taking the stance of a victim.
    I may be out of my league here, as my interest is really in a larger perspective outside the institution. But this has been interesting and I wish everyone well.


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