Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Empowering Women Is Critical To Catholicism But Not Necessarily To The Priesthood

Here we have an example of Pope Benedict studiously ignoring that which is right in front of him.

The following is yesterday's post from Sr Joan Chittister at the National Catholic Reporter.  It has already generated three pages of comments.  I have reprinted it in full because it is an old story, and I too had to attempt to answer the same question from my own daughter at about the same age as the girl mentioned in Joan's post.  Just as my parents had to try and answer my own same question at about the same age.

Lack of women will irreversibly harm the church

Sister Joan Chittister - National Catholic Reporter - 10/17/2011
The story is an old one and I've told it before, but never has it felt so ominous as it does right now.
It happened this way:

About 15 or 20 years ago, I gave a series of conferences in a parish in Canada.
I like Canada a lot — its beauty, its pace, its seeming patience with conflict and its apparent calmer approach to otherwise disruptive subjects — subjects that lead to almost immediate choosing up of sides down here. Maybe it's the Brit in them. Or maybe, given their smaller population and more far-flung population centers, wildfire simply isn't as wild north the border as it is here. Whatever.

At any rate, what was already euphemistically called "The women's issue" here appeared at that time to be a great deal less of an issue to our neighbors to the north.

So I was surprised when the topic came up at lunch from the couple hosting my visit. More than that, I was surprised at what triggered it.

It wasn't the dearth of theology around the question of the ordination of women that piqued them. It wasn't the growing statistic on the coming decline in the priesthood that worried them. It wasn't the fear of merging parishes that troubled them.
On the contrary. They had a good parish, they said, a fine and loving parish priest, the kind of congregation that was family to them and the kind of faith to trust the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit among them.
What bothered them was their 4-year-old daughter. She was a quick-minded child. Precocious. Persistent. Confident. They knew, they told me, that some day, she would question the difference between what her brother could do in the church and what she could do. That would be years away, of course, but still — maybe more for themselves than for her — they were struggling, to no avail, to find a reason good enough to appease her, they said.

Then, suddenly, one Sunday morning after Mass as they sat at the family breakfast table, it happened.
"Mama," she said suddenly, "why don't we have any girl priests at our church?"
They looked at one another, dumbstruck, unprepared. Too late. There was nothing left to do now but be honest. (One is never prepared to attempt to defend the indefensible. Honestly is the only policy.)

"Because, darling," the mother said, "our church doesn't allow girl priests."
The little girl pursed her lips and frowned. "Then why do we go there?" she demanded.

With the retreat to Vatican I in full force, this question and its answer get closer and closer.
Feminine language is fast being cut from the very prayers of the church. The invisibility of women is official policy again. Women have been removed from various church boards stealthily but steadily.

All talk of the restoration of the diaconate has been suffocated.
"If the diaconate is restored for women," an official spokesperson is reported to have said, "they will assume they can then be ordained to the priesthood."

It has not occurred to the spokesman, it seems, that the restoration of the diaconate for married men did not launch an assault on the chancery doors to require a married priesthood. Either that, or the old "you know how irrational women are" argument is being dusted off again, too. (That fact is kind of interesting, but the allowance for a married Anglican Ordinariate clergy is starting just that assault.)

And now, in places even in this country, some dioceses are denying girls the opportunity to become altar servers, despite official church acceptance of female servers since 1983 and the long-established practice in churches everywhere.

The idea that women are to be "seen and not heard" is fast becoming "neither seen nor heard."
Here and there, little by little, the hoary head of chauvinism, of patriarchy, of sick and petty and adolescent sexism is making one last desperate attempt to make us a totally male church again.
Correction: To make us a serving female church, a parading male church again. And all of it, as usual, in the name of God. In defense of the faith. In imitation of the church of Christ.

It’s one thing for a city council in Topeka, Kan., can reduce wife beating from a felony to a misdemeanor so they can save money by not prosecuting this endemic and dangerous holdover from the days of women as chattel. The Constitution will eventually resolve that one in favor of "liberty and justice for all."
But when a church can simply erase the women in its midst, refuse to discuss the subject and attempt to go on calling itself church, Christian and holy, that is another matter entirely.

Which is when I find myself thinking about that little girl in Canada again.
That little girl in Canada is still out there somewhere. She's in her 20s now — still watching, still wondering what church it is that treats her like the full human being God means her to be. She's out there determining what church it is that really looks like the Christians they claim to be. And she is out there deciding what church it is that not only preaches the Gospel but lives it.

From where I stand, it is clear that the church already lost a good proportion of one generation of women in the last 25 years and is now willing to lose the next one to reassert its maleness. The question rises again with new and demanding urgency for many: Why do we go there? 

The answer to it will not only affect the women and their children for generations to come. It will affect the church in ways no number of male altar boys can begin to heal it.


I maintain that women will not find their true place in the scheme of things until they stop confusing sacramental authority with spiritual authority.  Female mystics out number male mystics by a considerable margin.  We don't refer to male intuition. Jesus did not spend time trying to teach women about the Kingdom because He knew He didn't have to spend much time with women.  Women can connect with the spiritual realm stirring soup on a stove or sitting at His feet.  He was raised by a woman who talked face to face with the angelic realm, in the moment in real time, while his step father dreamed dreams.  The women in His family were very familiar with reality working beyond human perceptual limits.  The men in his family thought He was crazy.  He was surrounded by women who were willing to walk His talk because they instinctively got it.  No fear for them. They were at the foot of the Cross and at the dawn of His Resurrection.  Mary Magdalene was the Apostle to the Apostles.  St Micheal the Archangel is depicted as the general of Mary's celestial army.  St Joan of Arc was not St John of Arc for a reason.

Women may be the weaker physical sex, but that is balanced by having the stronger psychic/spiritual connections; by being the sex which nurtures life---all kinds of life.  Men can be taught these same connections but it's a much harder path for most men to achieve what women do naturally.  I have thought for a long time that the Church has maintained an all male sacramental priesthood to hide this truth behind a facade of ritual power, and to keep women blind to their real strength and thereby spiritually dis empowered. 

When my daughter asked me the same questions about an all male priesthood, I gave her a different answer about her own spiritual potential.  What Catholicism really needs is not women with sacramental authority, but women flexing their spiritual muscles, making real spiritual connections.  I strongly suspect the Vatican attack on the LCWR had a great deal to do with the fear that these religious women were coming to these very same conclusions.  It's not that these congregations were going beyond Christ, it's that they were moving beyond the static spirituality constrained by the sacramental priesthood.  Jesus did exactly the same thing by teaching a spiritual system unrestrained by the Temple priesthood.  He too paid a price for those teachings.

The lack of recognition for women's spiritual abilities has already irreparably harmed the Church.  What's worse is the fact where Catholicism intersected with cultures who did understand these attributes, the forced adoption of male spiritual supremacy has seriously impacted those cultures and manifested not just in patriarchal family structures, but in generational physical and sexual abuse. "By their fruits you shall know them." 

It's past time women Occupied Their Rightful Place in the spiritual scheme of things.  That's not necessarily behind altars so much as it is in standing as true bridges between realities.  That is a vocation worth pursuing and one this planet desperately needs.



  1. Thanks Colleen.
    We both have found this article a powwerful indictment of the church's position, havng both posted on it.What struck me also is the fact that there were so many comments. I too find it indefensible that the hierarchy have pronounced the discussion closed on this !!
    What effect do they wish this to have on people unless they wish to drive us off and out as some sort of crazed "gadarene swine" ???
    I am so weary of it all !! Thanks for a great post. With you in spirit !!

  2. Bravo and Amen!

    Every time I attend Mass I take a rough survey of those present. I have visited over a dozen parishes in the diocese of Toronto in the past two years. About 70% of the congregation is female.

    Our former Cardinal, the recently deceased Aloysius Ambrozic, in true conservative fashion, really tried to end the practice of having altar girls. At the time Ambrozic made his announcement he also reassigned priests to new parishes. Our parish priest read a letter from the priest who was to be our new pastor. Father Charlie said he would be obedient to the wishes of the Archbishop but that he would not remove any girls from the altar who were serving at the time of his arrival. Instinctively, or perhaps intuitively, the little girls flocked to the altar. There must have been 50 of them instead of the usual group of a dozen or so. Twenty years later our parish still has a ratio of 9 girl altar servers for each boy.

    The hierarchy is willfully blind to what is right in front of them.

    Women and girls have higher achievement in school at every level. Across North America there are more women than men enrolled in post-secondary education. There is no possible way that the RC Church can hold back the incredible talent and energy of women.

    Incidentally I have had the good fortune to meet the Right Reverend Linda Nicholls, Anglican Bishop of Trent-Durham. It pleased me greatly to see a woman in this position. I am a Catholic, more likely to fight than switch, but I am tempted. The Anglican Church in Canada is not without flaws.

    Without a doubt I remain Catholic because of the good works and influence of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Loretto sisters (IVBM). It is NOT due to the priests, and I know many good priests.


  3. Credit here, Colkoch. Your answer was better than the one in the article.

    "...because it's not allowed..." is pathetic and irresponsible.

    The rest of your post is pretty sexist and I disagree in - as you know - other areas, but I'll dwell here on the good!