Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ewe will not be at CTA

Just a quick post.  It turns out that I will not be able to attend the Call to Action conference this weekend so I will not be hosting a "Wide Open Friday" table as previously mentioned.  Sorry I will not have the chance to meet some readers there.  I was looking forward to it but unforeseen circumstances have intervened. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The role of Catholics in the U.S.'s recent financial brinksmanship

It is unusual for me to have two articles back-to-back in the same day but I’m getting ready to travel for several weeks in the U.S., Asia and Europe including my upcoming visit to the Vatican.  I am unsure when I will have time to write again until perhaps the end of November though I might have the privilege to meet some readers in person at the Call to Action conference November 1-3.  Regardless of the rigors of my upcoming travel schedule, there is another topic of great importance I think worthy of pondering.

This past week, the United States Congress put much of the world through unwarranted angst about my country’s willingness (not ability) to pay its financial obligations.  Globally, markets and businesses sat in great anxiety anticipating whether the U.S. legislature would “do the right thing” so that it could be a good global citizen repaying its debts.  Economists predicted the U.S. defaulting upon its financial obligations would make the 2008 bank crisis pale in comparison to the global economic impact it would wrought.  This would have been felt especially by people already on society's financial margins but also likely would have thrown many more people into that category by manufacturing more unemployment and poverty.

How did U.S. Catholics play in all this?

The U.S. Senate has 100 members and 28 of them are Catholic.  429 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted on the debt ceiling this past week and of them, 135 or 31% are Catholic.  I commend the 24 Catholic U.S. Senators and 101 Catholic U.S. Representatives who supported the moral decision of paying this country’s financial obligations.  They include my own Representative, Mr. David Camp of Michigan.

I am sorry to report that there were any Catholics who voted that the U.S. renege on its financial commitments to the world and likely manufacture additional global unemployment, economic instability and poverty.  However, there were 4 such Catholic Senators and 34 such Catholic Representatives.  They are:

U.S. Senators voting for the U.S. NOT to honor its financial obligations:
James Risch of Idaho
Marco Rubio of Florida
Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania
David Vitter of Louisianna

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives voting for the U.S. NOT to honor its financial obligations:
Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan
Kevin Brady of Texas
Steve Chabot of Ohio
Chris Collins of New York
Ron DeSantis of Florida
Sean Duffy of Wisconsin
Renee Ellmers of North Carolina
Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee
Virginia Foxx of North Carolina
Phil Gingrey of Georgia
Paul Gosar of Arizona
Andy Harris of Maryland
Tim Huelskamp of Kansas
Walter Jones of North Carolina
Steve King of Iowa
Bob Latta of Ohio
Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri
Thomas Marino of Pennsylvannia
Michael McCaul of Texas
Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina
Steven Palazzo of Mississippi
Trey Radel of Florida
Tom Reed of New York
Jim Renacci of Ohio
Todd Rokita of Indiana
Tom Rooney of Florida
Keith Rothfus of Pennsylvania
Ed Royce of California
Paul Ryan of Wisconsin
Steve Scalise of Louisianna
David Schweikert of Arizona
Ann Wagner of Missouri
Brad Wenstrup of Ohio
Ted Yoho of Florida

You might ask what could have possibly motivated any Catholic to vote to throw the entire world into severe financial turmoil.  The answer might lie in a letter sent from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to members of Congress.  In this letter, the bishops position as a non-negotiable matter in the debt-ceiling discussions their desire that Catholics in the healthcare profession be able to impose their religious beliefs upon others, allowing people like doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and hospital workers to deny things of patients such as filling a prescription for Sprintec – a medication which solves many female reproductive health issues but which also is a contraceptive. 

Specifically in the letter dated September 26, 2013 Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Archbishop William Lori wrote on behalf of the entire U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops the following statement, “We have already urged you to enact the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940/S. 1204). As Congress considers a Continuing Resolution and debt ceiling bill in the days to come, we reaffirm the vital importance of incorporating the policy of this bill into such “must-pass” legislation.”

You see, my dear friends around the world, the U.S. Catholic bishops, led by a U.S. Cardinal hand-selected by Pope Francis to be in his special gang of eight advisors, wanted the entire world to suffer additional poverty and unrest unless they could have their way continuing their crusade against women, women’s rights and women’s health.  Quite simply the bishops said the U.S. should not honor its financial commitments to the world unless Congress makes it more difficult for women to obtain certain medical services and medications.

What is the proper response to the bishops and members of the U.S. Congress who were willing to do this?  I urge you, no matter where in the world you live, to communicate your opinions on the morality of their stance and decisions to these politicians – both the ordained and elected ones.  It might be worth expressing to Pope Francis any concerns you have about his judgment in selecting as a top advisor Cardinal Sean O’Malley – a ringleader in trying to bring about global financial devastation unless he got his way.

As a side note, Catholic hospitals in the U.S. are a growing force as they acquire formerly secular hospitals.  They operate by a set of USCCB directives which already deny numerous types of care based on claiming a moral high ground.  What is the proper response to this trend also?

How is the female church apostolic?

Pope Francis’ Wednesday October 16, 2013 papal address was about the apostolic church.  As I read his comments from that address so soon after reading his comments about women made last weekend, a thought struck me that is so obvious I wonder why it hadn’t occurred to me earlier. 

Last weekend the pope emphasized that the church is female and this past Wednesday he said this about the female church:

In the Creed, we profess in faith that the Church is “apostolic.” We can understand this in three ways. First, the Church is apostolic because Jesus founded her upon the Apostles whom he chose and sent forth to continue his work; thus Saint Paul compares the Church to a temple which has the Apostles as its foundation and Christ as its cornerstone (Eph 2:19-20).

The Church is also apostolic because she preserves and hands down the fullness of Christ’s teaching and the means of salvation which he instituted.

Finally the Church is apostolic because she accomplishes in history the mission which Christ entrusted to the Apostles: making disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them his commands (cf. Mt 28:19-20).

Here are some common definitions of “apostolic”:

  • Of or relating to an apostle
  • Of, relating to, or contemporary with the 12 Apostles
  • Of, relating to, or derived from the teaching or practice of the 12 Apostles
  • Of or relating to a succession of spiritual authority from the 12 Apostles, regarded to have been perpetuated by successive ordinations of bishops and to be requisite for valid orders and administration of sacraments

For example, the roles of priest, bishop and pope are considered “apostolic.”   People are ordained into those apostolic roles by others who were ordained to those apostolic roles and eventually are tied to a succession all the way back to the 12 Apostles. 

Females are barred from all those apostolic roles because church leaders in those apostolic roles believe Jesus only appointed male apostles and they must preserve this for all eternity by barring females from ever having an apostolic role.  So, how is it then that the church is both female and apostolic? 

Francis clearly describes the church as fulfilling the role and mission of an apostle.  Thus, he describes the church as equivalent to an apostle.  He also emphatically expresses that this church fulfilling the apostles' role and mission is female. 

How can the female church carry on the mission of the Apostles as Pope Francis described during his Wednesday address since he and his ordained colleagues emphatically believe females are incapable of being apostles?  It would seem either they are wrong that the church is female or they are wrong that it is apostolic or they are wrong that females cannot be apostles.  Which is it - because all three assertions cannot stand together.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Reflections on Theology of the Body

My last blog highlighted some profoundly sexist and misogynist quotes from church doctors in the 4th and 13th centuries.  A few people dismissed my concerns as being ancient church history long since corrected.  So, for the edification of those who think sexism and misogyny are a thing of the past in the Church, please direct your attention to John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”  This is a series of lectures JPII delivered between 1979 and 1984 during his weekly Wednesday pope pep-rallies, also called “papal audiences.” 

WARNING: this material may cause adverse side effects.   Tell your priest, bishop or pope if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away after consuming this material: nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, heartburn or gas, consternation, decrease in appetite, dizziness, drowsiness, exhaustion, headache, confusion, anxiety, uncontrolled sudden body movements, shaking of a part of your body that you cannot control such as in laughter, frequent or urgent need to urinate especially when accompanied by uncontrolled laughter, or dry mouth.

Some side effects can be serious. If you experience any of the following symptoms, call the pope immediately: hallucinations, fainting, chest pain, shortness of breath, or difficulty swallowing this material.

People with exposure to Vatican II or suffering from severe critical thinking skills may have a greater risk of developing side effects than people without exposure to Vatican II, hyper-Vatican II resistance, or impaired critical thinking skills.  Some people reading this material and other similar materials have developed fibrotic changes (scarring or thickening) in their minds.  It is not yet known whether this problem is caused exclusively by “Theology of the Body”. Talk to God about the risk of consuming this material.

O.K., with that warning clearly labeled, let us proceed.  By JPII’s 5th lecture in Theology of the Body we learn that God created women because men were in solitude, and in the 6th lecture we read, “You can’t understand the creation of woman unless you understand man’s solitude.”  JPII does acknowledge that the word “adam” actually means a genderless “human being” not a “male” as is oft mistranslated in modern biblical texts.  And he even acknowledges that God created man and woman as equals.  It’s just that as you continue reading you realize he’s a bit Orwellian with “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

By lecture #8 JPII explains that woman is man’s helper and in the 9th lecture that woman is made for man.  He then provides protracted explanations as to why God created female humans.  Male and female cats, dogs, elephants and dik-diks (African antelopes) all can just be accepted as givens, but not male and female humans, I guess.  Evidently that one is a tricky problem that JPII needs to help us understand almost as though he thinks creation of male humans is assumed but the creation of female humans is not. 

In lecture #10 we learn that “femininity finds itself in the presence of masculinity while masculinity is ‘confirmed’ through femininity” and that women are to submit their whole humanity to “the blessing of fertility.”  We also learn that a woman’s motherhood “has origin” in men though this defies human biology.  Evidently according to JPII, a woman can’t be a woman unless there is a man to define her as such and a man does this by impregnating her and making her a mother.  This in turn, makes him a man.  Wow, fascinating sexism based upon nothing other than JPII’s imaginative interpretation of a few verses in the book of Genesis. 

The next few chapters continue the sexist themes, sexist language and sexist assumptions of other lectures so I won’t bore you with details.  However, we soon arrive upon lecture #17 where JPII explains that woman is a “gift” to man therefore she is forever to be “received” by man and “discovers herself because she was accepted by man.”  “Man above all else receives the gift.”  “Woman is entrusted to his eyes, consciousness, to his sensitivity, to his heart.”  Well my, my…evidently I was just created to sit by the roadside like a pretty little rose waiting to be picked by some gent who will give my life meaning.   

It not only seems to escape JPII that he spouts degrading sexism, he seems to think that women should just be leaping around him sprinkling flowers at his feet thanking him for giving us this definition of ourselves.  Oddly and ironically, in other writings like Mulieris Dignitatem, JPII keeps referring to women as “a mystery.”  How is it that women like me are supposed to be defined by men like him who find women so mysterious?  By the way, being one, I don’t find women mysterious.  It seems fitting that I write this on “Columbus Day”, a U.S. holiday that commemorates a European man “discovering” a continent that existed with inhabitants for hundreds of years before this guy arrived. Similarly JPII seems to have "discovered" women kind of like Marlin Perkins on Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom."  "Here we observe the female in her natural habitat..."

The 21st lecture is a veritable treasure trove of sexism.  JPII repeats, “The mystery of femininity is manifested and revealed completely by means of motherhood.”  I guess he thinks that women without children aren’t women.  This would come as a surprise to many fine women.  But fear not, in several later lectures he tells us that virgins are actually superior to women who have sex; I guess he thinks they are "superior" but just aren’t really women.  Again, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal.”

Here are a few other charmers from the 21st lecture.

“The one who knows is the man, and the one who is known is the woman-wife. It is as if the specific determination of the woman, through her own body and sex, hid what constitutes the depth of her femininity.”  There she goes hiding her femininity again until some man boinks her so she can know she’s a real woman.

I like to call this next quote, “JPII must have flunked biology.”  “The constitution of the woman is different, as compared with the man. We know today that it is different even in the deepest bio-physiological determinants. It is manifested externally only to a certain extent, in the construction and form of her body.”  According to JPII men and women have practically nothing in common from a bio-physiological standpoint but the woman just hides all these wild differences by having an outer shell that reveals this “only to a certain extent.”  By this I’m assuming he means enlarged mammary glands.  Regardless, according to my family and friends in the medical profession, that bio-physical assertion is a lot of bio-physical bull excrement.

JPII continues his lecture by adding, “Maternity manifests this constitution internally, as the particular potentiality of the female organism.  With creative peculiarity it serves for the conception and begetting of the human being, with the help of man.”  Best I can conclude from this lecture, JPII thinks that the existence of female reproductive parts is the dead give-away that the entire internal workings of a woman are very different from that of a man.  “Bones” from Star Trek used to say, “My God, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a <fill in the blank>!”  But I think in this case we would have to say, “My God, John Paul, you’re a priest not a doctor!”

But really, we should stop having so much fun with JPII because someone might rightfully say that his Theology of the Body lectures ended in 1984, almost 30 years ago.  We could have more fun reading Mulieris Dignitatem, “Dignity of Women” written by JPII in October, 1988 but that still is 25 years old.  So, let’s fast-forward to today’s papal darling of the press, Pope Francis.  On Saturday October 12, 2013, we have Pope Francis uttering these humdingers:

He ties the entire existence of women to maternity and women's entire identity to it. "Many things can change and have changed in cultural and social evolution, but there remains the fact that it is the woman who conceives, carries and gives birth to the sons and daughters of men.  And this is not simply a biological fact, but also gives rise to a wealth of implications both for the woman herself, for her way of being, and for her relationships, for the way in which she positions herself with regard to human life and life in general.  In calling the woman to the role of maternity, God has in an entirely special way entrusted the human being to her."

Francis explains that the church is a woman and I guess he believes this should make women feel just super and elevated.  He says, "And it pleases me to think that the Church is not ‘il Chiesa’ [‘the Church’, masculine]: it is ‘la Chiesa’ [feminine]. The Church is a woman! The Church is a mother! And that’s beautiful, eh?"  

Well, a fork is also called "la forcella" (feminine article) not "il forcella" (masculine article) in Italian.  Should I feel elevated or degraded by that?  How about a whore which in Italian is called "la puttana" (feminine article) not "il puttana" (masculine article)?

I find calling an institution "female" which bars female ordained leadership, which bars females as official voices, downright insulting.  It's like saying, "The Church is a woman and mother and I, a man, speak for the Church but love the Church; so you too should be content that I love you but I will do all the speaking for you while you are off birthing children like a good mommy."  With all male ordained leaders, with all male official voices, no matter what gender article one uses, the Church is masculine because it is a festoon of male hegemony.

He also said that the “type of emancipation” allowing women to enter traditionally male roles "mortifies" women and their vocations.  Women, " order to occupy the spaces subtracted from the male, abandons the female, along with her valuable characteristics."  Ah, I guess Frank thinks me being an engineer “done ruined me.”  Clearly, I will not fetch a good bride price.

But, the really comical statement is this, "And here I would like to emphasize that women have a particular sensibility for 'matters of God', especially in helping us to understand mercy, tenderness and the love that God has for us."  This is ridiculously sexist, painting women as fluffy clouds billowing around giving all the hugs, rainbows and smiley faces of the world.  But, it also makes one question if he thinks women are so gosh-darned superior at "matters of God", why aren't they priests?  Seems like they are the natural choice if you accept Francis' statement.

O.K., this is all a bunch of sexist claptrap and we can laugh about it or groan and roll our eyes.  However, Theology of the Body is what is being taught to an abundance of Catholic school children.  It is what is being taught to Catholic religious education students.  It is what is being taught to couples in marriage preparation.  It is the new Holy Grail housing the “updated” version of Catholic sex education. 

With 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, this is a concern not only to the church but to society because it is an organized effort to re-enslave women into subservient roles and sexist stereotypes.  What is the proper response to Theology of the Body?  What is the proper response to Francis’ perpetuation of the same sexist stereotypes and ignorance?  If you suffered any of the adverse side effects mentioned in the warning statement, what will you do?  Will you permit your sons and daughters to be fed this sexist ignorance and label it as truth?  Most importantly, what witness do you give in your treatment of women and men?  Are they "equal" or "equal with some being more equal than others?"

And Francis, my kids have a great expression that you might want to heed, “Quit while you’re not too far behind.”  If you can’t say anything about women except sexist platitudes, please just be quiet.  If you espouse these sexist stereotypes as “truth” please do women and society a favor and don’t develop that “deep theology of women” that you suggested.  We already have enough sexist statements from male clergy.  By the way Francis, I’m still waiting for a response to my letter.  Tick, tick, tick, I will be in Rome in less than a month.  I would be very happy to chat in person about women and sexism in the church. 

I edited this article since original publication after seeing a more complete transcript of the pope's comments. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Happy Birthday to Ewe!

Three years ago today I launched this blog expecting after a few months of paltry readership I would find another hobby.  I am deeply humbled by the number of e-mail subscribers, Blogspot followers, other visitors, thoughtful comments and personal emails I received over the past three years instead.  Visitors to date exceed 57,000 and come from over 120 countries.  Though this pales in comparison to the New York Times’ readership, it is well beyond my expectations.  I feel very connected to the catholic (universal) church. Thank you. 

The death threats were a little unexpected too but ever since I switched to moderating comments the trolls that wrote them seem to have found other outlets for their anger. However, the angry trolls are a big part of why I began the blog.  I do not wish to cede my religion and religious identity to bullies, especially ones whose views on women deviate from that of Jesus’.

I do carry some sympathy for the angry trolls, though.  They simply reflect attitudes taught about women by many celebrated “leaders” throughout the church’s history.  Some of these “leaders” were declared “Doctors of the Church”, a distinguished position giving their theological writings strong influence throughout history.  If you are unfamiliar with their theological reflections on women, here are a few samples:

St. Augustine (the 4th century bishop who fathered a child out of wedlock and then abandoned care for the child and mother to become a priest)

"I don’t see what sort of help woman was created to provide man with, if one excludes the purpose of procreation.  If woman was not given to man for help in bearing children, for what help could she be?  To till the earth together?  If help were needed for that, man would have been a better help for man. The same goes for comfort in solitude.  How much more pleasure is it for life and conversation when two friends live together than when a man and a woman cohabitate?"

St. John Chrysostom (the 4th century archbishop dubbed “Chrysostom", a word meaning “golden mouthed” in Greek, because of the perceived wisdom flowing from his mouth)

"The whole of her bodily beauty is nothing less than phlegm, blood, bile, rheum, and the fluid of digested food… If you consider what is stored up behind those lovely eyes, the angle of the nose, the mouth and cheeks you will agree that the well-proportioned body is merely a whitened sepulchre."

"There are in the world a great many situations that weaken the conscientiousness of the soul.  First and foremost of these is dealings with women.  In his concern for the male sex, the superior may not forget the females, who need greater care precisely because of their ready inclination to sin.  In this situation the evil enemy can find many ways to creep in secretly.  For the eye of woman touches and disturbs our soul, and not only the eye of the unbridled woman, but that of the decent one as well."
St. Thomas Aquinas (the 13th century priest who nearing his death declared his copious theological writings to be “mere straw”)

“Woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence, such as that of a south wind, which is moist.”

I write this blog also in an effort to countermand the false teachings of men like these Doctors of the Church.  As an aside, the current trend at seminaries is to give greater emphasis to Aquinas’ teachings in general despite being based upon what is now seen as comically flawed understandings of human biology, psychology, and reproduction.

What influences over time have these writings had on women’s roles in the church and in society?  What influences do their writings still carry today?  What can and should be done to eradicate any remaining vestiges of their false teachings? 

When I began this blog I think the only readers were people I knew personally.  But now with hundreds of subscribers many people do not know me other than through the pen name of “Questions from a Ewe.”  I use the pen name because the questions I ask are not about me or any agenda of mine.  I think they are questions shared by many women (ewes), and men for that matter.  So, I don’t think my name matters as much as simply and sincerely challenging concepts built upon faulty foundations. 

I’m not a famed theologian who will gain readership due to reputation.  I don’t seek fame from writing my questions nor do I seek to make money from posing my questions.  My simple hope is that readers come here because they are searching.  I hope they, like I, find many questions that challenge them towards continued spiritual growth and appropriate action.  I also hope that my questions give pause to at least a few hierarchical leaders.

Thank you for helping me evolve this blog from a hobby into a ministry.  I appreciate your prayers, comments, suggestions and encouragement.  I will continue to write as long as discernment of the Spirit indicates I should.

This blog’s name is similar to that of an unpublished book manuscript that I wrote in 2008/2009 and sent to several church leaders called, “Questions from a Ewe to her Shepherds.”  The first page of that manuscript is a lengthy dedication to various people who helped cultivate my inquiring mind.  The last two items in that litany I will share here as my parting thought today. 

This blog is dedicated:

  • To all who seek God and dare to question in their search
  • Most especially to my daughters that through my, their, and others’ questions, they may see a break in male hegemony in their society and their Church

As an aside, I have been asked and agreed to host a discussion table about this blog at the Call to Action Conference in Milwaukee on Friday, November 1, 2013 in something called “Wide Open Friday.”   I would love to see ewe there.

(A quick shout out to my friend Jack who provided me with some of these interesting quotes and another shout out to my friend Jason who shares the same birthday as this blog.)