Catholic Misogyny Matters

January 3, 2015 at 3:57 pm | Posted in Vatican, women | 6 Comments
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Well, the enthusiasm for Pope Francis continues unabated. On December 30, an article in the National Catholic Reporter  said it all: “Pope Francis Continues to Take the World by Storm.” After which an article in a secular publication (don’t ask me which one)  called him “the most powerful religious leader in the world.” And in a piece on Francis and the environment in the NY Times, (!!!) Andrew C. Revkin describes his participation in a four-day Vatican workshop on the environment organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Academy of Social Sciences last May as one of the “highlights of my year, perhaps my career.”  Then there was the Pope’s success at getting diplomatic relations restored between the U.S. and Cuba. And his denunciation of human trafficking.

It’s impossible not to be grateful for these and other significant steps. Especially hope-inspiring is Francis’s anticipated encyclical on the environment. I have never in my life heard a Catholic priest mention climate change from the pulpit; maybe now I will. And once again, the head of the Catholic Church is  emphasizing the poor and denouncing capitalism, therefore, to some extent, reversing John Paul II’s repression of liberation theology. Just having a smiling pope on the news is a breath of fresh air.

Unlike a lot of folks, however, I am not willing to give Papa Francesco and the institution he represents a pass on women. I realized that we were in trouble on this score more than a year ago when the article that accompanied Time’s naming Francis “person of the year” mentioned that “he is aware of the liberal clamor in the affluent West for the ordination of women.” But women, the authors went on to explain, have vastly more serious problems than mere exclusion from Catholic ordination, for example, female genital mutilation, which the Catholic Church is working against. Other journalists have characterized calls for Catholic women’s sacramental equality as just another aspect of the culture wars that Francis is challenging us to get over.

What possible connection could there be between the largest religious organization on earth banning women from major leadership roles and other forms of oppression against women? Let me, first of all, clarify what I’m saying here: there are more Muslims in the world than there are Roman Catholics. But the Muslims are sort of like the Protestants: as I say to my American Baptist minister husband from time to time, the Catholics won the Reformation, not by having superior theology, but by managing to keep themselves more or less united, and by continuing to wear their really colorful outfits right into the era of Instagram and Facebook. All over New York  there are churches called something like “Salem Baptist Church,” and then down the street, “Greater Salem Baptist Church.” And just try to follow the Sunni/Shia/Iranian/Syrian/ISIS/ISIL distinctions on the evening news. The Pope is now the symbol of Christianity and in some senses the symbol of  religion itself because there is one and only one of him, and the RCC is the biggest religious organization on the planet.

So what does it matter for the well-being of women around the world that this icon of Christianity says that the ordination of women cannot be discussed and that women are intrinsically possessed of the feminine genius? For that matter, what does it matter for the very survival of the planet that Papa Francesco is soon to issue an encyclical about?

Let me be very clear here: the “feminine genius” that the Pope references, which is directly linked to the exclusion of women from Catholic sacramental leadership, means that women are inherently passive and responsive, while men are agents, initiators of the actions and communications to which women respond. This is not unlike the ideological framework that underpins the removal, in some cultures, of female genitalia so women can’t enjoy sex. And it is also the ideology driving the destruction of the environment, something that has happened since “Christian” Euro-America colonized the rest of the planet. Built into the claim that the earth, (and the church as well) is “our mother” is the suggestion that she is lying there waiting for something to get shoved into her –horizontal drills, for example, or infallible doctrines–and for the active, masculine genius to dig things out of her. Until we stop thinking of God as male and above us, and begin to recognize that God is also within, around, and underneath us, and is likewise a major component of the cosmic genius by which everything is interconnected, papal encyclicals on the environment are going to get us only so far.

 

 

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6 Comments »

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  1. Well said, Marian! You help us to clarify our thinking.

    I gave a cheer to read that your husband is American Baptist! I grew up as an American Baptist, in the First Baptist Church in Madison, Wisconsin. It prepared me to be ecumenical in outlook and fairly “radical” in action. Now I belong to the Friends (Quaker) in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and have also met almost monthly with the few Grail members who live in Dayton, Ohio.

    “American Baptist” is a good fit for Grail women.

    I always look forward to your postings. -Ellen Duell

    _____

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  2. The BEST thing I have read of your work…thank you….I could write volumes about how difficult it is to see and work thru the male-ness of it all.  Pat Hill

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  3. You got it done, Marian, and it ‘s good. More nuanced than earlier, but not yielding on women.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  4. Way to go, Marian!!

    Jeanette Stokes Durham, NC stokesnet@aol.com Blog: http://stokesnet.wordpress.com

    Amendment One has been REPEALED!

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  5. Do you follow Questions from a Ewe? She made the parallel that as he can’t stand the automatic deference for European opinions, we can’t stand it for men. Great strides being made, but if you don’t acknowledge the harm done to women by denying their intellect and action abilities, you encourage the genital mutilation by inference. Thanks as always, take care, Margaret

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  6. Everyone ok except women, even gays and transsexuals.
    How can any woman take Catholic Church seriously?
    Believe in golden rule except for women?
    How preposterous!

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