Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Vatican responds...

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Several women complained to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on Culture about using the sculpture “Venus Restored” (see previous blog article for a picture) as cover artwork for its working document on women’s culture.  One of my friends received the following response today signed by Cardinal Ravasi, the Council’s head.

I have received your objection to the use of “Venus Restored” by the artist Man Ray on the Pontifical Council for Culture’s website to illustrate the working document of the Plenary Assembly on “Women’s Cultures: equality and difference”.   While registering your complaint, we have chosen not to remove the image, as we believe it speaks clearly for one of the central points of our document: many women, alas, are still struggling for freedom (bound with rope), their voices and intellect often unheard (headless), their actions unappreciated (limbless).
Gianfranco Ravasi

First, I appreciate that Cardinal Ravasi at least responded to my friend, though he has not yet responded to my complaint.  But let’s look at his response for a moment.

He defends using the artwork saying it speaks clearly to the issue of women’s voices and intellect often being unheard…  kind of like the intelligent women’s voices being ignored by him on this very topic...

In two simple sentences Cardinal Ravasi encapsulates the hierarchy’s historical role in binding women, ignoring their voices and under-appreciating them.  We objected but our voices were unappreciated and ignored in favor of being bound to his decision.  Richer irony there never was than him dismissing intelligent women’s concerns as unfounded at the same time he envisions himself as some sort of knight in shining armor advocating for greater appreciation of women's intellectual contributions.

My 50 years of experience and observations indicate the intellectual contributions from women the hierarchy most appreciates tend to be ones that echo, promote, adulate or enshrine the hierarchy's contributions.  Women's intellectual contributions that challenge the hierarchy's ideas and worldview usually suffer dehumanizing non-acknowledgement, dismissal, scorn, censure or are outright demonized.  Currently the hierarchy often ascribes the term "radical feminist" to women offering intellectual contributions differing from those of the hierarchy.  Unless women grab their pom-poms and perform perky cheers about the hierarchy's intellectual contributions, they stand little chance of being heard and even less chance of being appreciated. 

Cardinal, you have no women members on your council.  Why?  If the plight of unheard female voices troubles you, the council should be led by a woman and have a majority of women members.  The total absence of women members immediately nullifies the council’s and your personal credibility because you chose to continue the hierarchy's male hegemonic praxis of excluding women.

Rather than include women you make this strange comment that women are “directing the dance” which male council members will perform.   Cardinal, your response to intelligent women’s concerns punctuates that women are not directing any of your dance steps.  If we were, that statue would be gone and an apology would be posted.  But, no, you send what comes across as condescending patronizing statements instead, “There, there you ignorant woman…what do you know of your own plight?  Me and my fellow male celibate buddies know women’s plight much better than you do.”

Sir, many intelligent women are shouting at you, “THAT STATUE IS OFFENSIVE!  STOP USING IT!!”  Help me understand why you think your opinion should carry more weight than ours?  Please elaborate on your credentials as a woman and if you have none, then your opinion is secondary to ours.  Furthermore, if you insist that your opinion must prevail, then you have gag and rope firmly in your hand, twisting and tightening them around women. 

Yes, Cardinal Ravasi, we understand that this statue expresses demeaning treatment women endure now and have endured throughout history because, you see, we have experienced it often at the hands of the church's hierarchy, of which you are a high-ranking member.  Our dilemma as second class citizens has many roots in the male hegemony of the church's hierarchy that espouses in the church and endorses in society the marginalization of women. The lack of women members on your council exemplifies how at ease the hierarchy is with discriminatory and degrading practices. That's what makes the artwork so offensive.  Women have long suffered at the hands of the hierarchy the very injustices you say the artwork in question provocatively portrays.

The wounds the hierarchy inflicts and has inflicted upon women are too numerous and raw to endure abiding it, as a primary source of injustice, to use artwork that gut-wrenchingly captures the state to which such injustices reduce women.  Furthermore, the hierarchy’s lack of self-awareness as perpetrator of injustices against women and delusional self-portrayal as benefactor and defender of women adds to the artwork's absolute and infallible contextual offensiveness and inappropriateness.  It is time for admission, penitence, apologies and altered behaviors, not perpetuation of the hierarchy's sins by marginalizing women's voices on this topic.Your inability or unwillingness to hear women on this accentuates what progress we can expect to arise from any council about women led by you, does it not?

If a group of slaveowners held a conference about the culture of slaves and depicted slaves in chains with lash marks from the whip to promote their conference's proceedings, would you expect the slaves to appreciate the artwork?   Would you think it was contextually appropriate?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Happy Irony Week!!!

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It must be “happy irony week” in the Catholic Church because what else explains all this? 

Let’s first enjoy the "America" magazine article’s irony in and of itselt.  However, I will preface my comments with this thought: I work in the secular world as an executive and I’ve also done a lot of volunteering in the Catholic Church.  “Career advancement opportunities for women” just has never been a phrase I use when describing the Catholic Church…never…not once. 

Sr. Mary Ann’s article highlights statistics indicating the percentage of women CEOs for Catholic affiliated organizations such as hospitals is higher than for secular companies.  She fails to mention that those institutions cannot call themselves “Catholic” without the approval of the reigning bishop, the CEO of the local diocese.  How many of those bishop/CEOs are women?   The answer is “the empty set.”

Furthermore, many of those Catholic institutions were created by religious sisters – the same women who of late have been labeled by the reigning (male) hierarchs as being “radical feminists” as though they suffer from some incurable terminal disease.  So, I’m trying to get this straight… Women who lead Catholic institutions are not radical feminists when they can be used as decoys for diverting attention from the church’s stifling sexism and discrimination?  But when those women try to act in any way with which the local bishop/CEO disapproves, then they are labeled “radical feminists" and fired?  Way to showcase those female leadership opportunities the church offers…

There’s also irony that an article about the virtual cornucopia of church female leadership opportunities appears in “America” magazine, a Jesuit periodical…because the Jesuits have precisely zero women in their organization.  ‘Tis true; the Society of Jesus…an organization named after a guy whose society carried signature inclusion of women…does not itself permit women to join.  Instead they adhere to a pre-US civil rights era segregationist’s mentality of “separate but equal.” 

And then there’s the irony that the woman who wrote the article takes a check working for the Society of Jesus.  But then Sr. Mary Ann also works as the Media Relations Director for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops…another group which has had precisely zero female CEOs.  Therefore, in both of her communications roles, Sr. Mary Ann answers to men.  I guess it’s actually more a case of tragic irony than comical irony that she whose public voice requires male approval wrote an article boasting about the church’s advocacy for women.  That perhaps signifies the extent to which male hegemony can impact some people’s thinking.

But, the most exquisite irony comes from the timing of the article’s publication - the same week that the Pontifical Council on Culture holds a four-day Plenary Assembly to discuss women’s culture.  The council’s members include how many women?  Oh, that would be zero again!  See, women have advanced so far in church leadership that a Pontifical Council can gather...completely straight-faced...without women members and feel they are qualified to make decisions about women.  Nothing says “we really value you gals” like excluding them from the pontifical council that’s going to discuss them. 

I don’t mean to complain or be fussy but let me just give a quick demographic run-down on the council’s members and you decide for yourself just how in-touch these guys are with women around the world…  There are 13 Cardinals, 5 Archbishops, 8 Bishops, 1 Monsignor, 1 Rector (yes, he’s a priest; did you even need to ask…) and 3 Laymen.

Since these guys are…well guys…and they wanted to get together for four days and do nothing but talk non-stop about girls…they had a bright idea.  No, it was not to invite women to join their council as members…what, are you drunk?  No, they had some Italian actress make a video asking women to submit one minute or shorter videos about who they are…because evidently they believe nothing of importance about women requires more than a minute to explain.  By the way, I sent them a link to my blog but I did not get an invitation to participate in their meeting. 

The irony of the 31 all-male membership writing the following statement as the opening salvo of their working document about women just kind of says it all…“In our Plenary, the invaluable contribution of our Members and Consultors will allow us to gather some aspects of women’s cultures in four thematic stages, in order to identify possible pastoral paths which will allow Christian communities to listen and dialogue with the world today in this sphere.”  You see, they’re going to “listen and dialogue” about women by not listening to or dialoging with them.  This is clearly miracle fodder. 

That’s really the high-point of the working document.  It just goes downhill from there with sexist ideas and language.

In fairness, I must mention that 7 of the 35 Consultors are women – 2 religious and 5 laywomen.   So the members are 31 men and then there are 28 more male consultors bringing the male attendee count to 59 as compared to 7 women consultors.  I just have this sneaking suspicion that those 7 women have been carefully vetted and chosen based upon their parrot-like ability to repeat what the hierarchy says about women.  I am not expecting them to contribute in a way that represents me or women like me or pretty much the majority of women in the world.

The four themes they will discuss are:
Theme 1: Between equality and difference: the quest for equilibrium
Theme 2: “Generativity” as a symbolic code
Theme 3: The female body: between culture and biology
Theme 4: Women and religion: flight or new forms of participation in the life of the church

As a woman, albeit one whose voice is not desired to contribute to this discussion since we have those 31 male council members who are way more qualified to talk about being female than me, the themes tell me more about the men who wrote them than about women.  Are you really struggling with the concept that equality can exist within a diverse population?  Do you really think that women who leave the church (often with the kiddies in tow) are forming a new way of participating in church when they say, “this place has a toxic sexist culture that I can’t tolerate anymore?”  By the way, there are women who are doing this; they’re called women priests.  You’re not too keen on them the last I recall.

The theme regarding the female body doesn’t mention anything about correcting the mountains of theological conclusions drawn from scads of inaccurate understandings about human biology.  Instead it talks about that really pressing woman’s issue…plastic surgery???  And quite frankly, I’ve read and re-read the section about "generativity as symbolic code" and it truly beats the ever-loving shit out of me as to what that’s supposed to be about.

So, I wish the council well in its discussions.  I imagine its meeting outcomes will be more a source for entertainment than theological insight about women because it begins on faulty ground: it’s a meeting about women called by men in a council with exclusively male membership to provide guidance to an exclusively male clerical population.  If this truly were about listening to and dialoging with women, it would be led by women, with a majority of council members as women.  It would consider new ways of being church including female ordinations.  It would talk about more substantive topics related to female human biology than plastic surgery.

Well, I better get off this merry-go-round of irony lest it make me any more dizzy than it already has. But my parting thoughts are these.  What were you thinking when you chose the headless woman's figure with breasts and pubic region tied up in ropes as your report cover artwork?  Just exactly what message are you trying to convey?  Are women's minds so inconsequential to you that a beheaded woman was ok provided her reproductive parts were on full display?  Could I please get a psychological analysis read-out on each council members' attitudes towards women because that image on your report cover makes me wonder if you all start from a very, very twisted sick mental attitude towards women.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Radical Feminist Blues...

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I spoke with a bishop friend this week and asked him to explain to me just exactly what a, “radical feminist” is.  He said he didn’t have the foggiest. 

Since I wrote my last blog article, I’ve been thinking a lot about poor Cardinal Ray Burke.  He would have been a young adult during the Second Vatican Council when Catholics’ proverbial cheese was moved.  Being from Wisconsin where people take their cheese seriously enough to adorn their heads with it during sporting events, I realized that cheese moving is no easy thing for poor Ray.  So, on this whole “respect women” and “women’s equality” thing, he’s just stuck – culturally incapable of moving his cheese.  After all, there’s a Green Bay Packers game this Sunday and that cheese needs to be firmly affixed to his head, like for any good Wisconsin native.

In all seriousness, Ray's father died when he was very young.  I have to wonder how that loss was handled and how all that impacted his development, including his views on gender roles.  He speaks of the importance of manly male fathers forming their children properly, yet it seems his own father was gone long before Ray hit adolescence.  Could he be projecting his romanticized notions of fathers (and mothers) upon the world as ideal based upon a void from his own life?  His words certainly seem to come from an alternate reality than the one I know, but then my father is still with me.  I do not have to imagine what it's like to have a father; I just experience it.

Nonetheless, sometimes when you so insistently remain in one place as Ray tries to do, you wind up moving in comparison to others.  If they move forward, you move backward in comparison.  Similarly one’s actions or inaction can result in unintended consequences.

In my last blog article, I indicated that Ray’s insistence to retain the church’s historical sexist and misogynist culture by declaring the female church was too feminine, he created unintended consequences.  By saying the female church was too feminine he opened the possibility to saying the church’s clergy was too masculine.  Thus, he theologically opened the door for female ordinations. 

Upon further review, he actually created a second more likely unintended consequence.  Ray’s probably going to insist that the clergy must remain male.  And so, by advocating for a more masculine church (which is supposed to be a female married to Christ and his proxies, the clergy) while insisting that the clergy remain 100% male, he is in fact saying that he advocates for the male hierarchy to marry the male church…a model for same sex marriage.

Now I realize these unintended consequences from his vociferous protection of the church’s historical sexist and misogynist attitudes might not be easy for a guy from Wisconsin…it’s more cheese movement.  So, I got to thinking that Cardinal Burke also spent four years as archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri – an historical home of blues music.  With that in mind, the Spirit again moved me to compose a song on behalf of Ray.  I call it, “The Radical Feminist Blues.”

Here’s a link to the YouTube vocal recording of the song. http://youtu.be/W86buxwFh04

Here are the lyrics:

The Radical Feminist Blues

Now poor Ray, he ain’t got a clue
What radical feminists actually do
He’s got the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, says it ain’t o.k.
For women to do stuff ‘cept pay, pray, obey
He’s got the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, thinks it’s absurd
For women in the church to actually be heard
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Workin’ and prayin’ and fashion displayin’, he’s got the radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, he thinks it’s a fright
If women should have equal rights
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, thinks it’s pretty shoddy
That women might know what’s best for their body
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, finds it silly
Unless women dress like him, really frilly
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Workin’ and prayin’ and stylin’ and brayin’, he’s got the radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, He doesn’t find it funny
When women help the poor but don’t send him money
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, feels the earth falter
Whenever he sees a woman on the altar
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, it makes his hair curl
To even think of an altar girl
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Workin’ and prayin’ ‘til his hair is grayin’, he’s got the radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, feels his manhood decline
Unless he’s surrounded by men of his kind
He gets the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, says genders complement
As long as the women stay in their own tent
Or else it’s the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, he likes women a lot
Just not to hang with, that's moral rot
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Workin’ and prayin’ and fashion displayin’, he’s got the radical feminist blues
Workin’ and prayin’ and stylin’ and brayin’, he’s got the radical feminist blues
Workin’ and prayin’ ‘til his hair is grayin’, he’s got the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

His cheese got moved; it cramped his groove
Poor Ray…

Friday, January 9, 2015

Jesus, Please Send Us More Manly Men

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Mystery solved.  Raymond Cardinal Burke will star in the “Our Gang” sequel, “Spanky Gets Older But Never Grows Up.”   He does somewhat resemble Spanky McFarland, does he not?

The plotline would center completely on Spanky (a.k.a. Cardinal Burke) trying to resurrect his “He-man Woman Haters Club” through hosting Catholic Men’s Conferences around the world.  I can see no other explanation for Burke spouting such unsubstantiated sexist psychobabble about raising “manly men” in his interview on the Misogynists-R-Us website, “The New E-man-gelization.”  (By the way, if you’d like a veritable “Who’s Who” list of Catholic sexist and misogynist speakers, direct your eyes to the right nav list entitled, “Men’s Conference Speakers” on this site.  I attended the Michigan Statewide Catholic Men’s Conference a few years ago and heard several of these guys speak and it was hour upon hour of non-stop Burke-esque sexisms, misogyny, and poor theology.)

As you may recall, Cardinal Burke was recently reassigned from being Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura...somewhat the chief justice of the Vatican’s highest court…to being the Patron of the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta.  After reading Burke’s full interview transcript, it should crystallize in your mind why Pope Francis re-assigned Burke to be the spiritual guide of a Middle Ages religious order.  It would seem that is his preferred time period in which to operate.

Without reading the transcript, you can probably guess the sorts of things Burke says…women and gays are to blame for men leaving the church and clergy shortages…girls shouldn’t be altar servers because they lack the proper discipline and reverence…an undefined group of “radical feminists” scared men from getting married because women keep demanding rights and somehow this confused guys so they decided to be gay instead…manly men need to dress like men and then they'll want to be priests…children need their dads to be “real men” who are clear, firm and disciplined – evidently qualities he feels mothers incapable of demonstrating.  There was a 100+ car pile-up in Michigan tonight and I think women might be responsible for that too.

Burke says it’s natural for males to eschew hanging out with females.  He also advises priests to encourage developing manly men by being manly themselves and by giving special attention to other men.  This should not in any way be confused with a same sex attraction on the part of the cleric, I guess.  Eschewing women and giving men special attention is, according to Burke, the best way to be manly.  Why do I suddenly find myself contemplating if Burke was a “Village People” fan?

If you know Burke’s clerical fashionista tendencies, you are probably still collecting yourself after reading his highly ironic statement that men need to dress like manly men.  Burke’s outfits have a definitive effeminate air and likely have more silk, lace and bling per square inch than any other living ordained cleric or woman…anywhere…on this planet.    

I don’t have the time or ambition to offer point by point corrections to his numerous factually unfounded statements.   However, I do feel it important to highlight Burke’s apparent gross theological error.  It is so significant that I question his fitness to act as an apostle. 

Burke said that the church was “too feminine” and this scared away men.  Excuse me Ray, but Catholic theology teaches that Holy Mother Church is in fact a real honest to goodness, actual factual female.  Thus, there is no such thing as the church being “too feminine.” 

If Ray wants to tamper with making the female church more manly, then perhaps he is also open to making the male clergy more feminine?  You see, the church hierarchy defines the church’s anthropology as hinging on having real men as priests marry the real-deal female church.  The hierarchy teaches this as foundational for establishing male/female only marriages – they must imitate and reflect this mystical union between the male clergy and female church. 

If Ray thinks the female church needs to be more manly, it stands to reason that he thinks it’s ok that women serve in the male clergy role.  Extra! Extra! Read all about it; Cardinal Burke makes theological case for ordaining women!  Thanks, Ray. 

Anyway, when I read Burke’s "manly men" statements, I find myself humming country tunes about pick-up trucks, dogs, tight jeans and misfortune.  So, let’s just say maybe that’s what inspired me to compose this short pray in song form – as a little “thank you” to Ray for indirectly creating a slam-dunk theological case for women’s ordination.

Here's the link to the YouTube of the song:
http://youtu.be/AzTO6zdtQVU
And, here are the lyrics if you’d like to sing along:

Jesus, Please Send Us More Manly Men
Jesus, please send us more manly men
The kind who like to dress up like a man
Wearing dresses on the altar of God

Jesus, please send us more manly men
The kind who don’t like no girls next to them
Wearing dresses on the altar of God

Jesus, please send us more manly men
The kind giving special attention to other men
Wearing dresses on the altar of God

Jesus, please send us more manly men
Selfless and disciplined to take rights from women
Wearing dresses on the altar of God