Sunday, January 26, 2014

Correcting the "theology of women" that currently exists...

Rumors are circulating that Pope Francis might visit the U.S. next year.  He is most cordially welcome to visit my home and even stay here – no charge.  In addition to walking side-by-side with him and the economically challenged in my area, I’d like to discuss this “theology of women” concept with him.  Maybe I’ll send him a letter extending a sincere invitation.  But, just in case he doesn’t accept my offer, let me discuss some things here. 

1.  We’re not going to get anywhere with a “theology of women” if the hierarchy’s emotional abuse of women continues.   So all this stereotyping of women as fluffy, delicate, glowing, wispy, cookie-baking, child-bearing, child-rearing, walking uteri needs to stop.  For instance Francis needs to stop saying stuff like this about women:

  • “The gifts of delicacy, of a special sensibility and tenderness, which are a richness of the feminine spirit, represent only a genuine force for the life of the family, for the irradiation of a clime of serenity and harmony, but a reality without which the human vocation would be unrealizable.”
  • “How is it possible to grow the effective presence [of women] in so many ambits of public life, in the world of work and in the venues where the most important decisions are adopted, and at the same time maintain a presence and a preferential attention, which is extremely special, in and for the family?”

Francis, as the song says, “I can bring home the bacon; fry it up in a pan and never, never, never let you forget you’re a man…’cause I’m a woman…w-o-m-a-n.”  Heck I’ll probably even wind up washing the darn dirty pan.  That’s some of my “special sensibility and tenderness.”  And, you do realize you just said that the most important decisions occur outside the home.  That's not a ringing endorsement for the value of families.

2.  “Theology of women” can’t merely consist of a bunch of unmarried men telling women what it means to be female.  Hierarchy members are lesser authorities on what it means to be a woman than pretty much any female on the planet.  As the character Gracie Hart says in the movie “Miss Congeniality”, “I can’t talk girl talk with a guy in my head.”  So, Francis also needs to stop saying stuff like this about women’s roles, “In this process, the discernment of the Magisterium of the popes has been, and is, important.”  No, really, on this one, it’s not important.  Actually, what is important is making the extensive corrections needed to previous popes’ flawed writings about women. 

3.  Stop telling me I’m supposed to imitate the Virgin Mary just because we’re both female.  She said “yes” to God.  That’s great for men and women to imitate.  But there isn’t anything about Mary’s female life that resonates with me.  She got pregnant without having sex.  She remained “free from the stain of sin” because she remained a virgin.  She was born perfect and raised a son who is sinless and God.  I share no common experiences in that string.  I have to believe raising one perfect son whilst one is perfect themselves is considerably easier than being born imperfect and raising multiple imperfect children.  Mary’s motherhood was purposely abnormal, so I have no desire to emulate it. 

4. Stop telling me my primary purpose is to be a mother.  On average women have about 15 years of peak fertility.  Against a 74 year average life expectancy for women globally, that’s only about 20% of their lives.  Even if a woman had children in the first and last of her 15 peak fertility years that would mean about 33 of her 74 years involve raising children – less than half her lifespan.  Why disregard more than 50% of women’s lives? 

Similarly, stop this hypocrisy wherein “good” fathers should work outside the home but “good” mothers need to prayerfully consider it like they are contemplating entering the bowels of an operating nuclear reactor.  Women and men should work outside the home as called by God.  Good parents will be good parents regardless of if they stay home or not provided they align with God’s will.  That goes for mothers and fathers. 

5.  It is dehumanizing to reduce femininity to a mere metaphor, especially when it is used to mask male hegemony.  The “church’s anthropology” asserts that Jesus, a male, marries the church, a female.  Priests celebrating Mass in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) are supposed to continue this marriage celebration of Jesus to the church. Since the church is “female”, the hierarchy teaches that priests must be males lest they provide a same-sex marriage example. 

However, doctrine also asserts that priests act both in persona Christi and in persona ecclesiae (in the person of the “female” church).  Thus you rightly could claim that every time clergy alone celebrate Mass they actually do perform a symbolic same-sex marriage, but the hierarchy will quickly tell you that the metaphorical “female” church is there.  You see, the hierarchy feels the male role is so important that it must be played by an actual human man.  However the female part is so inconsequential in this marriage that it can be reduced to a metaphor played by anybody – male or female.   That teaching really accentuates the hierarchy’s devaluation of women.

The document, Inter Insigniores, outright admits the hierarchy’s long history of devaluing women, “It is true that in the writings of the Fathers, one will find the undeniable influence of prejudices unfavorable to woman..."  However, that document goes on to explain that these “unfavorable prejudices” did not impair the hierarchy when conjuring up dogma about women.  I think that is an impossible thing to do.

6.  If you balanced the Vatican Library on a fulcrum and then moved all the dogmatic writings by women in it to one side and those by men to the other side, the library will topple to one side.  Women’s writings drown in a sea of men’s voices.  Yet dogmatic writings and the male hierarchy form the “female” church’s official voice.  How can a “female” church have such a decidedly masculine voice?

It’s not that women have been mute.  It’s that they have been largely ignored unless they parrot what the male hierarchy says.  This systematic suppression of the “female” church’s actual female voices and replacement of them with male voices also makes a very strong case that the hierarchy’s marriage example is of a male-male same-sex union with the “female” church being played by male “queens.”

This suppression and exclusion of the female voice deprives the church of truth by denying the Spirit’s work through women.  This cannot be tolerated.  Indeed, with the increasing exodus of women from the church, it’s not being tolerated.  Until this is fixed, no “theology of women” will be taken seriously by the majority of women in the church.

7.  The current “theology of women” rests upon flawed biology and is basically a protracted, hyperbolic romantic fantasy based upon that flawed biology, written by men with limited, healthy intimate relationships with women.  The hierarchy must step away from the arrogance and flawed logic of “but we always thought this…” Clinging to teachings based upon flawed premises and institutionalized sexism unacceptably sacrifices truth in favor of protecting the status quo.

Before we can define a “theology of women” we must purge ourselves of these rampant inaccuracies.  Women are best qualified to analyze existing teachings about women, highlighting and correcting the many errors.  To not permit women to do this is like saying, “Italians are not credible experts on life in Italy.  We better have some Americans write about it instead.”

Once we correct what a “theology of women” isn’t, we can begin to expand upon what it actually is.

What is our role correcting the flawed “theology of women?” 


  1. This is the fullest, clearest description of sexism in the RCC that I have read yet. Absolutely Inspired!!! I encourage you to extend that invite to PF, and include this fabulous piece of writing. Thank you, Ewe!!!

  2. Amazing ... So much food for thought! "REAL FOOD" - needing to be munched, chewed and swallowed as THE REAL PRESENCE of Christ Among Us ...

  3. I went through an RCIA class with my spouse some years back. Of course the question came up: Why can't women received Holy Orders? And the answer was that men needed a male priest who understood what it is to be male that they could take spiritual direction from. The follow-on question was: Well, don't women need a woman who understands what it is to be a woman to take spiritual direction from? And the rather snarky answer came back: Why, don't you think that men can be empathetic to women? The disconnect here was astounding and it came from a priest my age of whom I'd thought he was fair and reasonable and not terribly sexist. That session was perhaps the beginning of the end for me in the institutional Church BECAUSE of the institutionalized sexism.

    I do think that men can be empathic to women. I also think that women can be empathetic to men - perhaps to a more successful degree than the reverse [and allowing for individual differences of course]. Because empathy is one of those qualities that The Church seems to teach as part of that feminine genius. After all, to be nurturing one must be empathetic as well. And yet I get the teaching that men can be ordained based at least in part because only men can be empathic to men so women need not apply.

    I get the feeling that the pope is throwing out the term 'feminine genius' without a clue as to what exact he comprehends in that term. It is nothing more than an empty political gesture. It certainly comes across to me that women are generally not wanted or needed in the Church. It is a penance to men to have to tolerate us at best.

  4. Well written! I am glad to find another woman out there who is thinking these things -- aloud!

  5. I just stumbled on your blog and was interested by your latest post. I believe I have found my calling in the Church and that is to minister to Catholic women survivors of sexual abuse. I don't know how effective I will be, but at least I'm trying. :-) God bless you.

  6. Super piece - every priest should be made to read it! You have made me aware of the subtle ways of ecclesiastical sexism that we are so accustomed to - but shouldn't be.
    Thank you for your wisdom, Ewe - it helps keep me in the Church when reading some other Catholic blogs (e.g. the comments on the Catholic online papers) scares me silly and makes me just want to walk out on all these frankly insane people.

  7. I think the connection with Mary is one that, in its fullest sense, brings us, like her, into that breath of wills where our free will is given over to God's will. She has shown humanity that to gain that self-knowledge that reveals our authentic self with spiritual gifts, we need to give in to God and who He created us to be. Whether or not this is what the Church has always had in mind when lifting up and affirming Mary I do not know. But the Holy Spirit has sure given her to us as the first apostle of Jesus Christ and in her "yes" we, through her gifts, were given our salvation. In my life I, too, was told again and again to be like Mary but the truth was that it was Peter whom I longed to know. That is, until I began providing Spiritual Discernment for my parish and have realized more deeply how her "yes" has impacted mine.

  8. I agree so much with everything that's been said. More and more I get the feeling that ANY participation I have in the Church is going to "ruin" it according to some people! (Blame Cardinal Burke for that impression.)

    But I would linger more on the question of reproduction. I got married at 24. My mom's last baby was at 45. I could have 20 years of fertility .... already in five years of marriage I have had three kids. This is a big part of my life. And much as I love children, it's a big burden too. The Church is against birth control and I do abide by that -- but, good golly, three kids have me exhausted, I don't want to even think of having more! And NFP is fine, but .... seems everyone I know has slipped up with it.

    When Pope Francis said we don't have to breed like rabbits and having eight cesareans wasn't wise, women I know were shrieking with anger ... why? Because the Church TOLD them this was the holy thing to do! That they should lay their bodies on the altar of procreation, that they should risk their lives over and over. Many said, "But I have always understood that it was like a martyr's death if you died to bring another soul into the world!" So for the Pope to now say they shouldn't -- and what's more, to imply that it's really easy to avoid pregnancy with the methods the Church allows -- feels like a betrayal.

    But the Church never has been very clear about when we can space kids and how many we should have anyway. First it was allowed to delay pregnancy for "grave" or "extraordinary" reasons. Then "serious." Then limiting births was called "responsible" but having a large family was painted as somehow more generous. Which is it? And for the most conservative wing of the Church especially, which wants more specific guidance and will follow what they're told, the message that seems to have come across is still "have lots of babies, even if you die in the process." Avoiding pregnancy to pursue a career or special calling, well, that's seen as selfish. These bishops are spending a lot of time talking about women in careers, but in reality, even if you do decide to put off getting pregnant to pursue one, odds are, you'll slip up and get pregnant, and who's going to have to quit their job or cut their hours to take care of the baby? Not your husband!

    This comment has gotten longer than I meant, but this is an issue the bishops are going to have to address if they want to get anywhere talking about women. As long as we are tied into having lots of babies, talk of us being relevant in any sphere outside the home is just talk. We'll be too perpetually pregnant to do anything else till we're in our fifties -- at which point it's a little tough to break into any field.