Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What is a "theology of women?"

Sorry for the delay writing.  I have again been traveling due to work.  While I was traveling, Pope Frank was busy traveling too.  Unlike me, he held a press conference amidst his travels when he was returning from World Youth Day.  During that interview he offered some comments about women.

A church without women would be like the apostolic college without Mary. The Madonna is more important than the apostles, and the church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a mother.

The role of women doesn't end just with being a mother and with housework ... we don't yet have a truly deep theology of women in the church. We talk about whether they can do this or that, can they be altar boys, can they be lectors, about a woman as president of Caritas, but we don't have a deep theology of women in the church.

On the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no. John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed.

I read his statements and didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, roll my eyes in disbelief at the utter stupidity, or undertake primal scream therapy.  I found myself imitating my dad by uttering, “What the hell is a theology of women?”  Yes, just what exactly is a “theology of women” and why do we not hear talk of “theology of men” and why would these be different?   

The word “theology” derives from two Greek words, “theos” meaning “god” and “logia” meaning “words” or “the study of.”  Thus, “theology” means “The study of the nature of God and religious belief. Religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed such as ‘Christian theology’.” 

I’m going to go slowly with this in case the pope or any bishops are reading.  “Christian theology” is the system of beliefs about God from the perspective of Christians.  So, to say “theology of women”, one can assume that this is the system of beliefs about God from the perspective of women.  Frank, just how many women will you be contracting to write the female’s perspective about God?  It seems to me when women undertake such efforts they tend to suffer sanctions unless they echo the men’s perspectives about what they think women’s perspective should be.  Thus the current “theology of women” is really a “theology of men.” 

Let me provide an analogy.  Men writing women’s perspective about God is like asking a Hindu to write the Christian’s perspective about God.  Though it will have some interesting insights, it is unlikely to be accurate or complete.  Maybe this analogy would drive the point home better.  Would you like only women to write the “theology of men?”  

Let us not overlook the other absurd statements Frank made about women.  He packed many in those three short paragraphs to the point it is one of the highest concentrations of absurdities I've seen in a while.

Anita Bryant used to have a famous trite tagline about orange juice in her 11 years as the pitch woman for Florida orange juice, “A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.”  Frank, were you channeling Anita Bryant with your opening salvo about women?  “A church without women is like a church without sunshine?” 

Anita had another famous trite tagline about orange juice, “Orange juice, it isn’t just for breakfast.”  And later in Frank’s statement this sentiment rang through too, “Women, they aren’t just for housework.”  Anita’s just a few years younger than Pope Frank.  Maybe he’s had a thing for her since their youth?

Anyway, so women can do more than housework and bear children?  Wow, I need to write that one down.  Thanks, Pope Einstein the First!  The words, “Captain Obvious” keep rattling around my head.

Newsflash Frank: it seems women run countries, begin religious organizations, run hospitals, run businesses, play professional sports, write books, invent things, lead militaries, and do just about every job except those of pope and pro football player.  Furthermore, women at least are permitted to play sports though a professional league might not exist for every sport.  Thus, religious institutions seem to be the last if not only remaining stronghold of sexist devaluation of women by excluding them from certain roles.

At this point Frank and those similarly minded typically say that women are actually more important than men by uttering such drivel as he did in his press conference, “A church without women would be like the apostolic college without Mary. The Madonna is more important than the apostles, and the church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a mother.” 

O.K. Frank, et al, please explain how exclusion from decision making is a sign of greater importance and stature?  Does the U.S. Congress feel immigrants in this country are more important than them?  Do slaveholders feel their slaves are more important than them?   Do pimps feel their gaggle of prostitutes is more important than them?  No, in each case the people in power look upon the other groups as pawns - low-paid dispensable, easily replaceable workers upon whose backs they profit.   I’m struggling to describe your statement in a way that doesn’t involve using the letters, “B” and “S.”

 A church without women is like the apostolic college without Mary?  The apostolic college does not include Mary and perhaps you say the apostolic club acts only upon Mary’s far-superior directives, but your collective track record indicates power and money are often your major motivators.  Please don’t blame that on Jesus’ mother.  Please don’t blame your lack of accountability with regards to child rapists on any mother either.  If your behavior caring for children is actually guided by Mary, may I and the children I encounter never be so cursed as to have me imitate her.   

Perhaps instead of attributing your actions to an ethereal woman whose directives are only verifiable by your recounting what only you hear in the empire of your own minds, you might try just being accountable for your actions.  Accountability, it isn’t just for breakfast either.  Please don’t blame your sexism and other sins on a woman who when she speaks to me says your words about women flow like diarrhea after eating tainted food.

Finally, I cannot end without commenting on Frank’s statement regarding women’s ordination.  He said the church has spoken and said no.  Frank, read your catechism; the church is the people of God.  They, and thus the church, overwhelmingly say they want women priests.  The hierarchy has spoken and that is a small, shrinking faction of the church.  At last count, the entire clergy numbered around 413,000 out of 1.2 Billion Catholics worldwide.  That’s less than three one hundredths of a percent. 

But even though this small faction of the church monotonously repeats falsehoods and sexist statements to preserve its sexist stronghold of power, Frank’s statement is comical by the sheer fact that in the same interview he offered a 180 degree different viewpoint than Pope Bennie’s views on homosexual priests.  Frank, you know what Mary told me when you said that.  “Frank’s just using an old trick of flattery to try to keep women doing most of the work in the church while he and his pals take most of the credit.”

So, what would the church be without women?  It wouldn’t be like the apostolic college without Mary.  That exists and thrives.  Nor would it be like a day without sunshine.  The church without women would quite simply be non-existent.  Men cannot bear children.  So, a church without women would be extinct.  How long will women continue to enable a small, male minority of the church to dictate and define who God calls them to be?    


  1. I thought he was saying those things to other bishops, perhaps to ultra-conservtives. He was stating the obvious, I thought. Just like when he told the bishops at CELAM that the church would become sterile without women. I think he notices that many women have become disenchanted with the Church's sexism and overall silence on issues that are important to women. He is pointing out that if the Church loses women they are not just losing "a bunch of feminists" (my quote, not his), they are losing children also, thus, the whole next generation. I thought he was speaking more of the idea of the church turning in on itself, not responding to real issues that women face.

  2. Is there a "theology of men"? Most women would be interested in that topic!! Only God understands them.

  3. Love your blog name!

    I agree with the first comment. Concentrate on the entire phrase " women in the church". We already have a formidable body of writing by women about their experience of God--from the early Christian martyrs, Perpetua and Felicitas right on through the medieval women mystics, the great doctors of the church, the two Theresa's, Catherine of Siena, and any number of more contemporary womanist theologians of our day. But when the Bishops of the U.S. tried to write a Pastoral on women in the church back in the 80's the effort was intervened upon and stopped by the Vatican largely because of fear that it was coming too close to opening up the issue of ordaining women.
    You are right in landing on the real problem your "Frank "is wading into.....it is really all about the practice of the institution, a practice which has congealed and trapped women into a very narrow ecclesial space. I think the Pope's comment about talking "beyond" housework, altar servers and even top non-ordained positions in church-related institutions is the cracking of a door to widening the current institutional space. Going "deeper" into a theology of the church may lead to different practice while continuing to open up the practice on as many levels as possible may lead to a fuller grasp of what Vatican II was trying to say about all of us being church.
    Don't underestimate your Frank; he may know exactly what he is doing.
    Meanwhile, Ewe, I hope you will keep blogging. Thank you!

    1. I agree - the title of your article is clever. However, the introduction says a laywoman "expresses" concern about issues in the RC Church. While I think the issues you touched on are relevant, I found your article extremely disrespectful. I just went to hear the Austrian priest who is calling for disobedience. He was so humble and is risking a lot in speaking out, but his words were well thought out and came from much dialogue with other Catholic people and also much prayer. Your statements seemed to be a "cheap shot" coming out of nothing but anger. You might take example from Jamie Manson, Eugene Kennedy, and other writers who express the same thought but with much more recognition of the dignity of the human person. Calling someone stupid and absurd is a violent act. Let's see you "belly up" and join a group like Future Church or Call to Action and work for real reform out of love rather than just rant on.

  4. Annie, Thanks for reading my blog article. I was unaware that NCReporter used it until this a.m. when I saw that there were many hits from that site. Given you cite NCReporter writers, I assume that was how you landed on my page. That link was done without my knowledge or permission. But, that's ok.

    I appreciate that you might not find things humorous that I do or that you find things disrespectful that I do not. The opposite is likely true too. This is the nature of humans.

    I did not call the pope stupid or absurd. However, his statements I did find absurd (defn "foolish") and stupid(defn, "Lacking intelligence or common sense").

    It is violence against a person to accuse them of something they did not do. It does strike me as ironic that you accuse me of "cheap shots" and having "nothing but anger" when your note comes across as 100% anger with some shots taken and judgments rendered without the benefit of more information. Perhaps you will follow your own advice.

    For the record, I'm not angry. I find the antics of the hierarchy very comical. I find their utterances and treatment of me and many people disrespectful. But anger is a lower-order coping mechanism. I use humor, a higher-order coping mechanism, to cope with the hierarchy and ultra-pious.

    That said, I belong to both Future Church and Call to Action. I actually was one of the few Future Church members who had a dialogue with my bishop asking him to speak about re-instating female deacons during his 2012 ad limina visit. And my bishop, to my knowledge, is the only one who spoke to BXVI about it. He also delivered a personal letter from me to BXVI. You can read the letter in this blog's archives.

    It is especially violence against me to accuse me of acting out of something other than love. That kind of talk will not be tolerated.

    1. It is disappointing to me to see women "battle" over "he said, she said" when all that is being called for her is to have authentic women stand up. It may seem ridiculous in how it is happening and the idea that it is being labeled by Pope Francis as a "Theology of Women" but I am grateful for the movement of the Holy Spirit that I sense is taking place here. For us women to beat each other up over the language or the intention is somewhat ridiculous itself. I, too, am a mother with a Masters in Theology and a Masters of Pastoral Ministry. I have just finished my Thesis on Spiritual Discernment and look forward to the possibility of a future for my daughters in which women will have more of a voice within the Catholic Church. My desire for them is to have the fullness of life that God wills for them. I do not want the ridiculousness of the struggle to keep them away from the battle. That being said I have to tell you that I also have the ability to be witty and sarcastic and swear like a sailor but these moments of opportunity are precious and we need to heed to Scriptural wisdom and use our abilities to be both dove and snake. I have to agree with Annie's comments that you sound "angry" in your writing. Your gift of writing and the message you have may get lost at a most opportune time if the focus of your writing is just going to be used to fuel an age-old awareness that women have been persecuted and abused by the Church and they continue to be tolerated instead of affirmed. I am not so quick to dismiss this possibility of an open window that the Holy Spirit may be giving to the Church to grow in its fullness. If this is true, then women like us with education and training need to get busy with our authentic research. I would love to read what you would discover. Blessings,

    2. I sense you like Francis and seem defensive that someone might not share your opinion. So far Francis offers words. You might see great hope in those words, but many don’t.

      Since I’m not Francis and don’t personally know him, I can only sketch his character from what information he disseminates via the press. From my days in marketing, this was called "image management" and Francis seems very adept at it. The aim of PR people is to get others to insert their desired qualities into a situation regardless of if it reflects reality. Thus, I learned to avoid inserting character traits and intentions I hope exist where details are absent. However, many people do that and maybe you are such a person. I don't know so won't ascribe to you.

      I don't really know what Francis' intentions are. Unless you are a personal confidante of his, I think you don't either. Our approaches to the uncertainty differ but that does not invalidate mine.

      I disagree that there is "age-old awareness" about persecution and abuses of women by the Church. Many lay and ordained people fervently believe that the Church's treatment of women is as God intends. Many others float mindlessly through routine without questioning that perhaps the way things are might not be the way things should be.

      I hope you are not someone who pits men and women against each other in some sort of gender battle. When I see things like "For us women to beat each other up", "women like us", etc.., it gives me pause to wonder. As an aside I do not support gender battles.

      I infer from your comment that you believe the underlying intention of "Theology of Women" should be accepted universally as a wonderful thing. I think the idea of "theology of women" is offensive because it originates, cultivates and fixates upon gender differences rather than commonalities. I truly believe men and women have much more in common than they have differences.

      Terms like "feminine genius" sound hilarious to me perhaps because I took an aptitude test along with my brother way back in Jr. High. We took the exact same test and were both labeled as "genius" - not "genius" and "feminine genius."

      Whether it is "theology of women" or "feminine genius" it perpetuates this notion of pitting genders against each other rather than working together. I don't know that my theology is any closer to yours than it is to my dad's. Why should I think that because we both have female reproductive parts we approach spirituality in the same manner? Everyone's spirituality is unique and similarities or dissimilarities occur irrespective of gender lines.

      I have been writing this blog for 3 years, as a response to the Spirit. I do not know the goal or direction the Spirit intends but I pray extensively and only write when guided by the Spirit. I am not working toward an agenda of mine but rather responding to the Spirit. It is a bit of an adventure to see where the Spirit is leading all this. Likely I will not fully know. But, I find it interesting that you and Annie both seem to overlook the possibility that my writings lie within the sphere of the workings of the Holy Spirit.

      One final thought pertains to this concept of anger. A spiritual director once guided me to appreciate the importance of what he called "righteous indignation"...basically "holy anger." I'm not angry but even if I were, why would that be a bad thing?

      Thanks for your time investment to read and submit comments.

  5. To the other folks posting comments, yes, I'm aware that many women have written about spirituality...some are even doctors of the church. Hildegard of Bingen is one - and she was none too easy on the pontiffs. I think she once said something akin to there being a rotten smell wafting about Rome and the hierarchy.

    Hildegard also wrote about the use of birth control and abortion to protect the lives of women. These are all rather ignored right now by most members of the hierarchy.

    Elizabeth Johnson has been censured and so have others like her. Feminist theologians are on the "outs" with the hierarchy for the most part. Yet, they persist in expressing themselves without waiting for permission.

    I do not care to whom Pope F is making his remarks; the remarks caused my twenty-something daughters to roll on the floor in fits of laughter. I was right there with them.

    This might be due to coming from a different starting point. I start from the point that women are full members of the church and that God speaks to women directly - without aid of male interpreters. And that we do not need male approval to pursue our vocations.

    I also don't think the church needs to wait for the pope or the hierarchy to build the kind of church God asks of us. I think it is very comical to watch people watch the pope as though waiting for one person to do something that is just such a "ta-da" that all the church's injustices melt.

    If the church - the people of God - operated in solidarity, we would be well past these issues of injustice. And, gradually, I see adults moving to that point on some topics. They are not waiting for the pope or the hierarchy to offer an approving nod.

    I am a post-Vatican II kid and don't have the baggage many pre-Vatican II people have about how things used to be or things reverting to pre-Vatican II. I never was raised in the "pray, pay and obey" mindset.

    The pope's comments sounded like a person speaking to people who thought they were far more in control of things than they are, and whose opinions matter far more than they do. The pope and hierarchy have only those powers which the people of God cede to them.

    I'm not waiting for them to tell me what powers they cede to me. I decide what powers over me I cede to them. And yet, it seems so many of today's Catholics operate as though they seek permission or approval from daddy or mommy rather than behaving as adult children - who sometimes need to lovingly (whether that needs to take the form of blunt candor, humor, etc...) disagree.

    It is funny that the church hierarchy says it is a mother but seems to carry a very underdeveloped view of what a mother does. In real life, the tables often turn. By the time my mother died, I was her medical and legal power of attorney. It was long before her health reached that point that we spoke as peers because my mother's goal was to raise independent children who could think for themselves. And as it turned out, she needed them to think for her eventually. Thus,she did not want perpetual infants always looking to her for their next move.

  6. In further response to Annie, I do continue to chuckle at the irony of the remarks you made absent of facts. You accuse me of not being prayerful and yet, that is a constant throughout my day and a strict regimen when approaching my writing. Your unfounded accusation is also a violation of me.

    You also speak of the Catholic Tipping Point priest taking a risk to speak his mind but you say this ignorant of the fact that I have already experienced various forms of dismissal based upon my blog and writing an unpublished book manuscript of similar title. So, to let you in on the humor let me offer some background.

    Pentecost, 2009, I sent an unpublished book manuscript entitled, "Questions from a Ewe to Her Shepherds" to the pope, some cardinals, archbishops and bishops. The book explored many questions about the role of women in the church as well as teachings about women. I hear through the grapevine that my bishop has called it "brilliant."

    Some hierarchs responded. None answered a single question.

    Elizabeth Johnson was kind enough to read it though I sent it to her unsolicited and without ever meeting her. She praised the work and encouraged me to seek publication. I have not, by the way, because the questions were for the shepherds.

    Mysteriously after distributing that document, I found myself being shoved out of adult formation and R.E. ministries. Yet, I had actually started the adult formation ministry.

    I experienced bullying by members of the hierarchy, the parish staff and the ultra-pious crowd. It is to the point that the only church sponsored ministry in which I'm permitted is St. Vincent DePaul. I have even been driven away from singing at funerals.

    But, I have found this mistreatment quite freeing. When you are callously dismissed you have nothing to risk. Thankfully, I enjoy this status. So, I am beyond "risking" because I've moved to a point where so much has been taken away, there is no more to take away other than full throttle excommunication - which I would ignore anyway. And, this is very, very freeing. I hope that more people reach this point.

    Yet, I kept the lines of communication open. I meet with my bishop periodically and send him emails frequently. Sometimes he responds and sometimes he doesn't. But I would say that we have genuine dialogue....which is perhaps why I was the only person from Future Church to get their bishop to actually discuss ordaining female deacons with the pope.

    As previously mentioned he hand delivered my letter to the pope and requested I receive a reply. I have not even gotten an acknowledgement. That is dehumanizing but expected.

    Up until this unexpected link to my blog appeared in NCReporter, I've been a pretty small player in the blogosphere. Most of the few hundred people who follow my blog know me and understand my sense of humor. I appreciate that because you evidently don't know me, you don't know my sense of humor...nor do I yours.

    If you take the time to read other articles, you'll see that sometimes I use raw humor and sometimes I'm pretty circumspect. In my opinion, my best blog articles are usually not the ones that become the most popular.

    I wish you the peace of Christ.

    1. Send NCR a bill, and remind them about copyright laws......

      And thanks for the poke in the eye to Frank.

  7. Ah, one more thought. I once had a discussion with the bishop here about hurting feelings. A person is hurt when someone whose opinion they value or whose approval they desire, rejects them or disapproves of them.

    I doubt that BXVI or Frank have ever or will ever read my blog. Maybe I'm wrong. Regardless, I don't think either of them seek my approval or good opinion. Thus, I have to wonder if it is possible for me to hurt their feelings. I could perhaps strike their vanity but I don't know that that's necessarily a bad thing. Wasn't our first reading this past weekend about vanity?

  8. @Anonymous2: Unfortunately yes, there is a "theology of men", and it's not pretty. Some samples here: http://bit.ly/196OeYx

  9. One thing I learned well: no man gives his power over others away for free. Ever. So, again, we are witnessing the diabolical snake's convulsions, its twisting in all directions and even trying on angels' garments, in order not to have its head crushed by the weight of justice. Go on snake, twist and disguise all you can. You already lost the battle anyway.

  10. Thank you for your refreshing perspective. You give me hope.

  11. this makes me crazy. Why do we have to drag the church kicking and screaming to do the right thing, actually the Christian thing. these statements project the church as an obsolete institution.

    1. (Because men have, and want to keep control) and
      (2) The argue Jesus was a man, so all holiness really resides in men, and thus all power ought to me men's, and
      (3)Perhaps if Jesus was transgendered, then things might be different - women would have at least half the authority; oh, perhaps he was- we'll never know. Hmmm -- if his trans was F -> M, rather than M -> F, would that have made a difference?

      This is a very silly post, just like the reasons the boys in frocks like to assert. Just silly.