Monday, November 8, 2010

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me...

A newly published survey by Trinity College Dublin indicated that 74% of Irish Catholic women feel the church does not treat them with a lot of respect.  Though the report was just recently published, the surveys were conducted from 2002 to 2006, before the recent clergy abuse scandals surfaced in Ireland and before the Vatican declared ordaining women to be the gravest of sins.  Thus, I wonder if even 26% of Irish Catholic women now would respond they feel respected by the church.

My first question is, “Does anyone in the church hierarchy care about that statistic?”  Earlier this year Archbishop Wuerl stated that women perform 80% of lay ministry work.  As a business person, I would be very concerned if a) 74% of a demographic group within my labor force felt under-appreciated and b) that demographic group performed 80% of the work.  I’d be worried about how to avert an organized labor walk-out.

My second question is, “Would you like to know why women feel disrespected?”  In case anyone in the hierarchy does want to know, I thought I’d offer some insight.  I won’t even touch the obvious topic of female ordinations because there are so many additional inequalities that significantly contribute to a sense of disrespect.

  1. I am insulted that ordaining women is placed in a more severe sin category than murder or rape.  I am insulted that the grave delict against ordaining women carries a more severe penalty than priests raping children.  The measure of disrespect for women shown in those relative comparisons is nauseating. 
  2. Women lack an official voice in institution-wide governing bodies.  Currently the voice of the “female” church emerges from only male mouths.  Shouldn’t the “female” church’s voice have at least a sprinkling of estrogen in it?  I cannot help but feel disrespected when my entire gender is excluded from the institutional decision-making team, especially since we do 80% of the work. 
  3. My identity is not tied to my womb or other reproductive organs.  I had a hysterectomy and I do not feel any loss of identity due to loss of those organs.  I do feel a loss of pain and physical problems.  However, I do not feel one bit less feminine nor one bit less myself.  This data point refutes any hypothesis that my identity is 100% tied to my uterus.  Do you have any idea how insulting and demeaning it is to have decisions made about you based upon your reproductive organs especially by people who do not have these organs?
  4. Furthermore, John Paul II refers to women as a “mystery”.  Inter Insigniores admits that: “…in the writings of the Fathers, one will find the undeniable influence of prejudices unfavorable to woman…”  Thus, in multiple dogmatic documents, male church leaders admit not only that they don’t understand women but that they carried prejudices against us.  Isn’t it time to learn about us and repair damages caused by those prejudices?  (As an aside, let women decide if you injured us versus Inter Insigniores’ bold statement that says church leaders’ prejudices didn’t hurt women.  How would church leaders know?  Women are a “mystery” to them.)
  5. My daughters first experienced gender-based discrimination when they were not permitted to serve weekend Masses because they are female.  Not only does the church lack governance processes to prevent bishops and pastors from implementing such discriminating practices against females, doctrine actually gives them a license to do so.  Gender inequalities exist in dogma pertaining to altar servers, permanent lectors and acolytes, and the order of choosing lay ministers wherein women are listed as the last resort.  Since the church deems women equal to men, why are there any gender based distinctions in doctrine?  If the remaining differences are insignificant as some leaders assert, then it should be no bother to change the wording.
  6. Aside from doctrinal gender distinctions, there is an imbalance in spending on men versus women.  For example, gender-exclusive men’s conferences and diocesan staff devoted to men’s ministry are common funding recipients without an equivalent investment for women’s formation.   Let me highlight that women do 80% of the work but receive less than 80% of the formation funding.
  7. Many parishes and dioceses espouse gender-based “separate but equal” formation practices.  “Separate but equal” does not foster equality for race and it doesn’t do so for gender either.
Isn’t it time to catch up with 20th and 21st century insights into gender relations especially for an institution whose leaders admit to not knowing women and holding prejudices against them?  Or are you waiting for women to become so frustrated from lack of respect that they organize and go on strike?


  1. Isn't the percentage of women in families that control the checkbook pretty high? Maybe if women voiced their displeasure with the Church's disrespect by decreasing contributions to the Church, their ears may be "opened" and they will "hear" our outrage.

  2. Yes, I think the person who gets people to church is often the mother too. However I prefer to stay close to the Eucharist rather than boycott Mass. However, I have redirected my giving.

    I think the key is getting organized so men and women work together rather than individual efforts.

    Volunteers to lead?

  3. What an excellent piece! I'm simply overjoyed to know I am not alone!

  4. It's a difficult situation. As the saying goes, "You can't steer the ship if you've jumped overboard." But neither can you steer the ship if the captain won't let you near the bridge. I suppose if there were a simple solution someone would've figured it out long ago. Keep up the thoughtful questioning and reach as many people as you can. That's as good a start as any!

  5. Brandon, THANK YOU! Your words of encouragement mean a lot.

  6. Not only are you not "alone", you are likely in the majority. I hope you have a community of support. If not, know that many men and women in the church stand with you (and yes, even some in the hierarchy).