Monday, December 31, 2012

As 2013 Begins, It Brings Some Justice For Leslie-Anne Knight And A Stirring Message From One Of Her New Employers

The Elders have just hired Leslie-Anne Knight, victim of papal politics, to be the new CEO of their organization.

I don't normally get inspired to post at night, but tonight is a different story.  I thought I'd start out 2013 with some good news.  I was seriously dismayed back in March of 2011 when the Vatican summarily fired Leslie-Anne Knight as head of Caritas Internationales.  There was no real reason given, except some mumbling about Catholic identity issues being blurred by the social justice mission of Caritas and as the head of the organization Leslie-Anne Knight was not pushing the identity issues strongly enough. Subsequent to that the Pope just recently issued a motu proprio emphasizing the importance of Catholic identity markers for Catholic evangelization in Catholic charitable works. 

Back in 2011 I thought Lesli-Anne Knight had been sand bagged by the men with an agenda.  I hoped and prayed we would hear from her again.  Well, as of January 2nd she begins a new position as CEO of the Elders.  The Elders is a group of retired world leaders who are committed to work together to foster peace and human rights.  They are especially working for the advancement of women and girls in traditional societies whose customs ignore human rights for women.  This link will take you to the home page of the Elders.  Readers will recognize more than a few of the names of the Elders. No major Catholic figure is among them, but now one is their CEO, and since God is good, Leslie-Anne Knight is going to find things very different.

When you read the following blog piece from the Elders website by Bishop Desmond Tutu, try to imagine Pope Benedict writing this piece.  It was virtually impossible for me, the passing of the Philippine Reproductive Rights bill still on my mind and so was his anti gender bender speech to his curia, but my imagination soared with the idea that this sermon from Bishop Tutu is what I am working towards as a 21st Century Vatican II Catholic.

“I call on men and boys everywhere to take a stand against the mistreatment of girls and women. It is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men.”

 On 25 November, we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is deeply saddening, though perhaps not shocking, to learn that around 70 percent of all women experience physical or sexual abuse during their lifetime. Despite the progress we have made, this world remains a cruel and arbitrary one for too many women and girls.

Do not be fooled, however: this is not some so-called “women’s issue”. After all, we know that more often than not, the violence suffered by women is inflicted by the men they share their lives with – their fathers, husbands, intimate partners. If the majority of women in this world have suffered at the hands of their men, how many millions of men must have hurt and abused women? How many millions of men have stood by and let it happen?

If men overwhelmingly brutalise women, then men are overwhelmingly brutal.

This is something I cannot accept. This is why I call on men and boys everywhere to take a stand against the mistreatment of girls and women. It is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men .

An unspoken kind of violence
I am an Elder now, and have witnessed many forms of brutality. There is the direct, physical violence often committed in anger or in war. But there are other forms of violence, too – more complex, more insidious, more unspoken – that we must not overlook.

In Ethiopia, last year, my fellow Elders and I met a woman called Himanot who was forced to get married when she was 13 years old. She was not physically forced or dragged to her wedding in chains – in fact, she wanted to run away. But her mother told her that she would kill herself if Himanot ran away. So what choice did the child have?

Inflicting this kind of emotional pressure is a form of violence against women. Taking away a girl’s education, a girl’s right to develop in her own time, to fulfill her potential: yes, this is violence. Yet, I do not judge Himanot’s mother too harshly. Most parents who marry off their daughters young have their best interests at heart – not many of them would willingly have their child face the shame and stigma of defying “tradition”.
So if this is violence, who is the perpetrator? If not the family, is it the community? Where does the responsibility end? The statistics tell us that 70 percent of women suffer violence at some point in their lives. But I suspect this figure would be higher if we included all the emotional, structural violence that for many girls and women forms the warp and weft of everyday life.

Child marriage is violence against women
When it comes to violence against women, there are few practices as harmful, or as widespread, as early marriage. It is not just the intense emotional and social pressure that the young bride is put under. Fundamentally, it violates a girl’s right to determine her own future – how can a child give her “consent” to marry when she is just 10 or 12 years old?

In such an unequal union, we know that girls are far more vulnerable to physical violence, especially when they are married to older men. It is hard to insist on practising safe sex, leaving them more likely to contract HIV or become pregnant before they are ready. And early childbearing itself can be devastating to a girl’s body – across the entire developing world, childbirth is the number one cause of death for girls aged 15-19.
And despite all this, the practice is defended in the name of “tradition”. This is why my fellow Elder Ela Bhatt says, “Child marriage is violence that is happening with the consent of society.”

Of course, not all of society consents. There are a few courageous voices, growing louder and stronger every day , who are challenging the status quo. I have been privileged to meet some of those who are showing their true mettle, defying tradition to protect the rights of girls and women in their communities.

Teenage boys challenging tradition in India
The state of Bihar has one of the highest rates of child marriage in India – 69 percent of girls are married before the age of 18. It is actually illegal in India to marry before the age of 18, for girls, or 21, for boys. But for most young people there, the weight of family and community tradition overrides this relatively recent law.
When I travelled to Bihar with my fellow Elders earlier this year , a boy called Premnath told me how his father is pressuring him to find a wife who can help with the housework after his mother passed away last year. But Prem – just 18 years old – is resisting. He has pledged to delay marriage, and proudly showed us a book of similar pledges from other young people and their families.

Together with his peers in the “Jagriti” movement, both girls and boys, he is now mobilising young people all over Bihar to make the same commitment. They already had more than 21,000 signatures when we visited last year – a staggering achievement. It seems, in fact, that he and his peers are defying their own Elders! This takes some guts, and I have to salute them for it.

Men and boys: take a stand
I want to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women by recognising the work of young men like Premnath. It is one thing to stop an individual act of violence, or perhaps a violent individual. But to take on a whole community, a whole tradition, and try to challenge something that has been harming girls for generations – that is courage.

Men have a lot to answer for, I cannot deny it. We have built institutions that oppress and harm women, and we justify our practices as “the way things are” or “the way things have always been”. Yet, as I always say, I am a prisoner of hope. I do believe that we men can help put a stop to these traditions. We can refuse to participate in them, and we can refuse to condone them. We can go further, and campaign against them.
It is not an easy task. But if an 18-year old boy in a patriarchal, traditional community like Prem’s can do it, I have faith that others can do it, too.


As I wrote above it is impossible for me to imagine that too many of our Roman Catholic leaders would have the guts to write the above blog piece.  Well, unless they were retired.  It is just nauseating to me that I truly believe our current Pope would find these sentiments 'radical feminsim'. And principally because Bishop Tutu talks about reproductive rights for child brides, the right to protect their own lives from the sexual transmission of HIV, and the real harm pregnancy does to these young bodies.  Of course here I flash on the nine year old girl in Recife, Brazil and the Catholic insanity surrounding that situation.  It really is impossible to imagine any Catholic leader writing as Bishop Tutu does.  That especially includes his call for men to help put a stop to these patriarchal traditions that exploit women--- because in point of fact our Catholic male leadership is calling for a removal or women's reproductive rights and doubling down on patriarchy.  

I could seriously go on, but in any event, congratulations Leslie-Anne Knight. May 2013 be a very good year for you.  And for all my readers. 



  1. Dear Colleen,

    Thank you for providing news, views and this wonderful forum for discussion.

    Leslie-Anne Knight is with a better organization and I too wish her well. Bishop Tutu is a living saint, a wise and holy man. He is of a "traditional" society, has a wife and daughters, has experienced poverty, oppression, and sacrifice. His call for men to change their behavior could not possible come from an RC in the Curia. They are fanatically devoted to the past, blinded by their wealth and privilege to social injustice, especially the plight of women and girls.

    There are those, like Cardinal Burke, who should be considering why they are not worthy to touch the hem of Tutu instead of wasting their time, lives and money on the next cappa magna.

    Happy New Year!


    1. I really am happy for Leslie-Anne Knight, especially since I think she was another victim of the Vatican's witch hunt mentality. Right there with the LCWR.

      Happy New Year to you too.

      Good god we might actually get a hockey season before the US Congress gets a fiscal cliff deal. Does that mean hockey players and owners have higher IQ's than US Congress people.

    2. Well they both seem to have settled but nobody seems happy with either deal. Woke up this morning to hear USA eliminated Canada at the World Jr. Championships. And now I see I can't use my credit card at the Vatican gift shop.

      Let's hope the rest of 2013 is better than this.


    3. ...and then the code word was "25 neocats" on my last comment.



    4. 25 neocats would be spookier than 25 hockey players. That's too funny.

  2. Thanks, Colleen. Yes, violence against women isn't a "women's issue." A lady I know was abused by her husband and she verbally abused her son. So now we have two damaged persons who would otherwise be intelligent and well-balanced contributing members of society. The son in turn beat up his sister and God only knows what the trauma will do to her. It goes on and on.

    And thanks for the good news about justice for Leslie-Anne Knight. And I love p2p's remark that Burke is not worthy to touch Tutu's hem. So true. Betty Clermont

    1. Abuse breeds abuse, generations of abuse. That's one of the points Richard Sipe keeps trying to point out, and one truth the Bill Donohue's want to silence by insisting the abuse crisis was just a 'progressive/gay priest thing. Clerical abuse and 'mentoring' can be traced back in the American Church to the Civil War, when American bishops and cardinals had enough money to travel to Rome for extended stays, and to train seminarians in Rome's seminaries. They didn't just learn Latin and European affectation.

  3. Colleen, a wonderful posting. As you say, this is good news for the new year. But as you also say--and you're absolutely right--Benedict could never make the gospel affirmations that Tutu makes about the rights of women and sexual minorities.

    We Catholics continue to have work to do in 2013.

    1. It requires a sort of conversion to get from emphasising doctrine & dogma & all the stuff that keeps one safe in one's comfort zone, to going beyond that and letting other people be more important. There is a great deal in Catholicism to re-inforce the notion that dogma must come first, and that idea has been in the Church's psyche for most of her life. To deny the priority of dogma over people can seem like a betrayal of the Church, of its members, and of Christ. And yet - if the Church is to be Christian, & not "merely" Catholic, it cannot play safe in that way. To be Catholic is not enough - the Church can't indefinitely avoid having to fall in the ground & die, just as all of us have to; but it seems to be, well, petrified of doing so. It will only be safe & free if it stops hanging on to freedom & safety - but Catholic theology has recently been very wary of paradoxes like that. STM we are still quite a distance from having a Pope who thinks like Abp. Tutu. The Church suffers from "orthodoxism" - orthodoxy turned unhealthy.

    2. We do Bill, we have a lot more work to do. But as Rat says below, it is a privilege to be alive at the same time as prophetic voices like Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. And in his own backwards way, Raymond Burke.

  4. Bishop Tutu is saying what any decent bishop ought to say. It would be very easy to let oneself be depressed by the comparison with Catholic bishops. As for Catholic identity - our identity is shown by how we treat people - not by yet more tribalism. We are meant to reach out beyond our own community (unless Jesus was wrong) - not re-inforce the walls that divide us from others. The very people the Church ought to insist on helping are those it tries to shun.

    Yesterday I came across a page about Sister Jeanine Gramick - she is someone who is living the Gospel, like Bp. Tutu. It is a privilege even to be alive at the same time as people like these.

    Happy New Year, everyone.

    1. Great comments Rat. I really really like this:

      "To deny the priority of dogma over people can seem like a betrayal of the Church, of its members, and of Christ. And yet - if the Church is to be Christian, & not "merely" Catholic, it cannot play safe in that way. To be Catholic is not enough."

      I wish I would have written this because it's absolutely true and defines a real difference between progressives and conservatives. I may be too far in the Christian camp in the sense my Catholic identity might be too de emphasized, but God Almighty, Catholicism has itself been a cross to bear for too many women and children for too long.

      Happy New Year to you too.

  5. Bishop Tutu is saying what bishops and the Church is continually telling. Of course if you read what they say only when international agencies will find something to make a controversy it is not their fault.

    1. You are right, there have been statements made from Pope Benedict such as this quote, mentioned in your articles, from a 2008 speech"

      "There are places and cultures where women are discriminated against or undervalued for the sole fact of being women, where recourse is made even to religious arguments and family, social and cultural pressure in order to maintain the inequality of the sexes, where acts of violence are consummated in regard to women, making them the object of mistreatment and of exploitation in advertising and in the consumer and entertainment industry. Faced with such grave and persistent phenomena the Christian commitment appears all the more urgent so that everywhere it may promote a culture that recognizes the dignity that belongs to women, in law and in concrete reality."

      The difference I guess, is that Pope Benedict, or other Church leaders, rarely deal with the specifics of child marriage and reproductive dangers. No question women are exploited sexually in the entertainment industry, but girls are exploited by religious traditions that insist they marry early and have children often. In the case of official Catholic teaching these girls can't even protect themselves from the transmission of HIV, much less one pregnancy after another. This too is a form of violence against women.

      The Vatican has indeed focused on domestic violence, and cultural sexual exploitation of women, but as long as it stands as the last bastion against a woman's right to determine the size and spacing of her own family as a right with in marriage and to protect herself against the transmission of sexual disease, it is a hollowed out message.

    2. there the Archbishop of Dehli against child marriage in India seven years ago well before Tutu. But nobody noticed this news.

      The Catholic Church in India took decisions very strong:

      And Catholic agencies are helping children:

      So I find very sad that Tutu's text and campaign was used there for an attack against the Catholic Church when in this topic Christians could agree and fight togheter.

    3. From the first of those links, on child marriage:

      "Catholics who allowed children to be married have even been excommunicated.

      Their children have been denied baptism and the "guilty" families have been barred from attending Church functions."

      ## How is it fair, or Christian, to punish children for the wrong-doing of their parents ? I do not understand that at all. (I'm assuming the report is accurate. In this case, I hope it's not.)

  6. 1. Thanks for the references - I at least was not aware of them.

    2. The CC is not being attacked, but vigorously criticised. I know criticism is often treated or interpreted as anti-Catholicism. but they are not the same. Christians should, as you say, on this topic, and others, "agree and fight together".

    I don't know what you think, but for me, as for others, the reputation and (for lack of a better word) the *ego* of the CC cannot be, indeed, must not be, the Most Important Thing In The World. The Church is not final, not even as an authority and a teacher - if it is to be a *Christian* body, it has to be subject to correction, and it has to be subject to Christ. It is more important to be Christian than to be Catholic - to be Catholic in any sense worth discussing, one must put Christ above the Church; one must regard Him as more important than the Church. If one puts the Church above Christ, that is is idolatry - which is not in any a Christian or a Catholic value. And a Church that has idolatrous attitudes is not helping its members - it is harming itself. The early martyrs preferred to suffer death rather than to let Caesar occupy the place of Christ - the CC has a tendency to try to occupy His place, & that is as wrong as it was almost two thousand years ago. Christ is Lord - the Church is His Bride, & must not seek to be His rival.

    1. "Christ is Lord - the Church is His Bride, & must not seek to be His rival." I really like your comment Rat. I wish though that the Bride of Christ imagery would just be dropped. It makes no sense when the the hierarchical Church as all male.

      What I think it should be, for a number of reasons, and not all of them sarcastic is: "Christ is Lord, and the Church is His donkey." We might see a little humility, a little more service, and a little more self identification on the part of our male leadership.

  7. The bridal imagery does have the advantage of recalling the bridal imagery used for Israel in the OT, which led on to the NT use of it for the Church, the New Israel. It also means that God's faithfulness to & patience with & great love for Israel is implied. Another reason I like it is that is used in Revelation: "the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, come[s]down from heaven like a bride adorned for her Husband" - this is both a present reality,and a future certainty. (Rev. is one of my favourite books, & not because of the fantastic beasts in it either. The bridal theme is also never far away from the Gospel mentions of meals and banquets: these are hints of the "wedding-banquet of the Lamb" in Revelation. Bridal imagery is very important to Biblical thought about the end of history.

    I see what you mean though. OTOH, the hierarchy is not ultimate; no human being can be - but Christ is. Compared to Him, we are as nothing.

    The amusing thing about the donkey reference is that when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, that was not just humility, as per Zechariah 9.9, which emphasises that aspect of His entry: there is also a reference to 1 Kings 1.34 - which mentions how Solomon rode on a donkey to his crowning. IOW, there is a clear hint to the reader that the Entry into Jerusalem is a royal event. As to what you say about humility - complete agreement there. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have thought of your idea :)

    1. Exactly Rat, which is why I said the reference was more than sarcasm. To me it visually states a truth about Jesus and the Church that the bride imagery does not. Brides in Israel at this time were property. Granted we are all 'God's property', but Jesus taught us a very different view of how God relates to his people.

    2. When bridal imagery is used to describe the relationship between God and the Church (or God and Israel), it implies that the Church (or Israel) has some kind of exclusive relationship with God, which I think is unfortunate and something that is best avoided.

      There are plenty of instances in the Old Testament where Israel is described as God's "son," (or where individual Israelites are called "sons," "daughters," or "children" of God) and Jesus encouraged his followers to think of themselves as God's children, and I think imagery like that is more apt than bridal imagery.

    3. Prickliest and Coleen, I think the bridal image is more about old mistaken notions of reproduction. It was assumed that the seed was in the semen, planted into the soil that was the womb. That makes a wonderful image of how God "fathers" us, planting life into mother earth, mother church. That also makes the man the creator and head, and shows why Eve's sin meant nothing but Adam's was damning.

      Only problem is, now we know more. Why cling to these old images? Doesn't Mary's yes then make her a co-creator? In the same way, aren't we called to be co-creators with God, both as church and as earth, giving a wonderful new spin to this old thought? If only we could update our images along with our knowledge. Instead, the old images feed the old fears, and on it goes.

      Matt Connolly

  8. "When bridal imagery is used to describe the relationship between God and the Church (or God and Israel), it implies that the Church (or Israel) has some kind of exclusive relationship with God, which I think is unfortunate and something that is best avoided."

    ## Bearing in mind that the Bible is a *gradual* revelation of God, not something completed in a short time, but something spread over many centuries, there was a tendency, which is seen in some parts of the OT, to think of God as being a tribal god - with Israel being, not so much the recipients of a graciously-given covenant, but the special favourites of God. The problem, was that God *had*, in a way, specially favoured Israel - but the people treated this love and favour as bestowing privileges on them *without remembering* that God's love of them, was meant to evoke a corresponding love for God from them. Chauvinism arises when God's exclusive & unreserved Love for His People is treated as a reason for thinking oneself privileged, without having to love in return, in the same total way as God. And Jesus insists on this total & unreserved love of God, in the Sermon the Mount, by going beyond the letter of the law, to the attitudes behind the actions it forbids.

    So there is an "exclusive relationship" - but it is God's free gift, not man's desert in any way at all. The danger in being the beneficiary of this Love can be averted, by remembering that this exclusive love is from God first, & is wholly undeserved, wholly gratuitous, and that it is not an encouragement to national, social ecclesiastical or individual narcissism or pride, but something God gives in order for those who receive it to share it with everyone else. Jesus embodies it, & shows it - especially by His Last Supper, Death & Resurrection.

    There is no absolute protection against abusing God's love - so long as we imperfect and flawed human beings, there can't be. ISTM this bridal imagery gives us very precious insights into God's Love, into His ways of dealing with His People, & into Christ most of all, that other images don't give us. Whatever imagery we use, it will always be in danger of abuse. By being convinced that God is a God of grace above all, we will have very strong protection against turn the Bible into a defence for our egoism.

    ISTM that the two sets of imagery, bridal and parental, are complementary - each can say something that the other cannot, each casts light on Christ in its own way, and shows us something about life in Christ, now & after the end of time.

    1. It does if you are male and have a male definition of what it means to be a bride. If you are a woman in the 21st century it's not so neat.

    2. FYI Colleen:

      I am commenting weeks after this article was published but I think this piece by President Jimmy Carter is relevant to this discussion and perhaps might merit more discussion here in the future. See: "Losing my religion for equality"

      "The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views."


    3. Great quote Paul. It's probably why Jimmy Carter is a charter member of the group of elders.