Sunday, April 14, 2013

Things Are Changing Very Fast In The Worlds Of Gender And Marriage And This Will Be The Challenge Frances May Not Be Ready To Acknowledge In His Reforms

Forty years ago I played on this same basketball court to a total crowd of maybe twenty.

I have to admit I am truly stunned with the accelerating change in attitudes about gay marriage.  This might be a real-time example of the snowball phenomenon in which a small ball starts rolling down hill and becomes the catalyst for an avalanche. Or to put it differently, get enough effort behind an idea and once the collective consciousness reaches a certain point or critical mass,  a chain reaction starts, change occurs, and there is no going back.  There will be no going back on gay marriage.

I also have believed for a very long time that the real threat in gay marriage is it's implied gender equality, and that is a legacy of the women's movement.  I look back on the women's movement and stand stupefied by the changes in some areas that have occurred just in my lifetime.  Back in the early 70's I played basketball on the first team my high school ever had and followed that up by playing on the first team the college I graduated from ever had.  I can honestly say I never envisioned women's collegiate basketball reaching the heights it now currently enjoys.  And yet, I'm saddened to know that male coaches significantly out number female coaches on both the high school and college levels and I don't why that should be. That too, I never expected.  So it seems women still have some more walking to do when it comes leadership roles, and this brings me to Pope Frances and his reforming the Church.

I have really been impressed with Francis in the opening days of his papacy.  He has walked his talk and modeled a very different concept of clerical service from what has previously passed as normal in Rome. I have taken a great deal of hope in his sermons and actions--and I have also carried around a certain undefined nebulous angst that I couldn't identify.  I think I've now identified my angst.  I will not be at all surprised if women under Frances will be allowed to take a higher profile, to operate in more areas, but are never allowed to wield authority in the spiritual or temporal leadership of the Church.  Women will be players, but never coaches.  This is why I am very curious about what Frances will do with the LCWR situation.  EPBXVI through the CDF essentially stated that sisters can play but they will no longer coach themselves.  They have to live their respective charisms using the strategies chalked up for them by their male coaches.  In Catholicism gender complementarity means women do not infringe on the leadership prerogatives of men.  Women are not independent free agents, they are perpetual spiritual dependents.

Frances is going to have to face this gender issue because women no longer accept rigid gender definitions which assign them a dependent role without their consent.  The change in gender definitions for women have by necessity changed the gender definitions for men.  Younger men and women do not see gender in the same rigid terms as previous generations, and this means they see relationships differently.  Marriage is no longer the first relational choice. More and more marriage is coming after children have appeared in the relationship.  The dependency issue has evolved into interdependency as both genders work both inside and outside the home.  Marriage has moved from mother and children dependent on father to children dependent on both parents with less differentiation in roles.  Gay marriage is no threat to this kind of marriage, it only affirms it and this is one reason gay marriage is overwhelmingly accepted by younger generations.  But here's the rub for Catholicism.  This kind of gender equivalency in marriage carries with it a huge threat to  patriarchal religious structures.  It does so because neither gender is operating under those patriarchal definitions and reserving authority strictly to males makes no sense and will make even less sense to children raised in this kind of family. 

A relational arrangement based in an equal interdependence is very different from one based in a dependent form of gender complementarity. If culture in general mirrors family arrangements then we can expect ever further changes in the culture.  The question I have is whether Catholic theology can adapt to changing gender roles and responsibilities.  So far the answer is a resounding "NO".  That will have to change.  The theology will have to adapt to the much larger increase in feminine input and leadership through out the culture.  None of this is going to be easy for a Church which has traditionally been led exclusively by men and whose underlying theology is so dominated by male thinking and male analogies.  

Unfortunately, I don't actually have a lot of hope in Pope Frances taking the Church very far down the road to gender equality, but I do have hope he takes the Church very far down the road in redefining male leadership and how it's expressed.  That would be a bridge to more change in the future and that future could come much quicker than any of us expect.  I certainly never thought I would live to see the day when women's college basketball drew the same sold out crowds the men's version does.


  1. My take on Francis' papacy, exactly, a stepping stone to future change, called to open doors that others will walk through in say ten years time. Cardinal Schonborn, for example, being kept waiting in the wings? Who knows, but the arrival of Francis does feel like a beginning.

  2. I agree Jayden. I think Francis may eventually do more than he even thinks he can. He keeps evolving as a spiritual person and I think he will keep evolving and that in itself is a very important message for a pope to model.

  3. We are seeing this angst regarding changing gender roles playing out greatly in our society at large right now: the increasing constriction on reproductive rights, the push back against equal pay, Violence Against Women Act, etc...

    Patriarchy is losing it's grip, and the fear of change is stirring up all the muck. I pray that Francis follows hope instead.

  4. Just broke from CNS this morning that Francis is upholding the findings regarding Reform of the LCWR. End of the honeymoon. Back to business as usual.

  5. Colleen, a great statement, which seems absolutely right to me. I like how you identify the angst you feel (and many of us feel) as the nagging suspicion that under Francis, the situation of women as players but not coaches is not going to change. And I like very much your resounding NO to the question of whether Catholic theology has yet caught up to cultural changes in the area of gender.

    The Catholic church remains a heteronormative boys' club that gives exceptional unmerited privileged to heterosexual (or pretend-heterosexual) males--and this is true of the theological elite in the church as much as of the clerical elite.

  6. Pope Francis not so open when it comes to the iron fist coming down on American nuns. Continues the inquisitor Pope Benedict program of oppression:

  7. The push back is intense, but in the end futile. Women will not go back to enacting what Friedan called 'the Feminine Mystique".

  8. The Traditional Church has always had to be dragged along with the culture, but this gender thing goes right to the heart of some much Catholic theology. I doubt a consensus is going to be reached very soon.

  9. The institutional RCC worships patriarchy above all. That isn't going to change ever, as they keep their own in power. Best move for the LCWR is to disband their organization and let a new wineskin spring up for the new wine.

  10. nice gender play in the way you spell his name! I am not at all optimistic about this new pontificate...

  11. By now everyone will be familiar with the tragedy at the Boston marathon. My heart goes out to the victims. They have my thoughts and prayers.

    A year ago I met Kathrine Switzer when she was here for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. She was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a registered runner in 1967.

    Please, I beg you to go to the links to see the photos of Kathrine being attacked by race official Jock Semple. He tried to physically remove her from the course.
    'Get the hell out of my race and give me that race number.'

    The best two pictures and short commentary is by Turno Kolesarski Odesek Litija.

    Don't you just love Kathrine's smile in the second photo? Jock never did apologize but this was his offer of peace.

    At the time women were prohibited from competing at any running distance over 1.5 miles by the American Athletic Union. Note that the other men in the race protected her. They tackled Semple then formed a phalanx to ensure she could complete the remaining 22 miles without interference.

    Semple, in an interview with Sports Illustrated later said:
    "I'm not o'poozed t' women's athletics," says Jock, whose burr remains
    almost as thick as it was the day in 1923 when he left Clydebank for
    America. Indeed, he has donated trophies to women's races. "But we're
    taught t' respect laws-t' respect rules. The amateur rules here say a
    woman can't run more th'n a mile and a half. I'm in favor of makin'
    their races longer, but they doon't belong with men. They doon't belong
    runnin' with Jim Ryun. You wouldn't like to see a woman runnin' with Jim
    Ryun, wouldya?"


    Today ten times as many women and girls participate in sports as they did in the 1970's. Certainly the US federal law Title IX helped encourage women's athletics, but it was millions of women who decided they could control their own lives and not be bound by cultural barriers that made the biggest difference.

    Someday, perhaps 5 years from now, the Pope, the Curia, and Catholics of every description will gain the insight that Jock Semple did about Kathrine Switzer. The principle is more important than the rules.

    Galatians 3 28:
    There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither
    slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one
    in Christ Jesus.

    Come Holy Spirit!