Vatican Council on Women Would Be Funny Were it Not So Insulting

bishops

It may be Women’s Week at the Vatican, but you have to look carefully at the skirts to find many women. However well-intentioned Vatican officials may be, they embody Murphy’s Law when it comes to women: everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Maybe if women were more than bit players, things might improve.

The Pontifical Council for Culture in Rome, presided over by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi and made up of cardinals and bishops who are all men, are discussing “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference” from February 4-7, 2015 in mostly closed-door sessions. There are enough contradictions in that sentence to end my analysis right here.

I persist, if only to encourage others to trust their intuitions about such dubious endeavors and to think about women when they sing the praises of Pope Francis. Women make up slightly more than half of the Catholic population, and many more than half of its active members. Only by ignoring women can Francis fans herald his achievements.

Only by setting aside the all-male priesthood, bracketing any mention of kyriarchal decision-making structures, and passing over outmoded notions of gender can one honestly say that Francis, who captains the ship, is any better than his immediate predecessors when it comes to half of the church.

His own unfortunate choice of women-related words like “Europe is now a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant” and women theologians are “the strawberries on the cake!” reveal his personal limitations with regard to women. Let every praise of his papacy contain an asterisk until it is no longer necessary. Maybe that will motivate some people who want him to succeed to get working on women’s issues as well as poverty, war, the environment and the like, all of which have disproportionate impacts on women.

In a pitiful effort to solicit women’s input, the Council enlisted Italian actress Nancy Brilli to invite women to make one-minute YouTube videos that would explain their lives to the committee. The bumbling this time would be comical were it not the best these folks can muster when it comes to women. Saturday Night Live has nothing on this crowd.

I leave it to the reader to watch and decide, but for most Western women the piece is a bad parody of what not to do! The come-hither approach does not entice most women. It is no wonder that the Council took down the English-language video almost as soon as it went up. Nancy Brilli is probably ruing the fact that she cooperated.

Moreover, what small sliver of the population has the time, energy, technology, and/or inclination to make such a video? Most of the world’s women are too busy finding potable water and safe food, too burdened with childrearing and economic survival to even know about this outreach, much less respond in the week they were given to do so. Those who are wise to these gentlemen know that if we made videos about our lives, our aspirations, or our critiques, they would be deleted long before the committee drank its first cappuccino.

Adding insult to injury, the Council chose, as RD’s Patti Miller pointed out yesterday, Man Ray’s “Venere Restaurata” as the cover illustration for its study document in preparation for the meeting (Venus Restored, 1936). Art is always dicey, but for a notoriously patriarchal institution to feature a female nude torso bound in rope is simply too ambiguous for prime time. The Council has seven women Consultors (who have no vote) including art historian Micol Forti, who gamely defended the choice by claiming that the piece is a starting point for new ideas. I should say so! But unless the document writers are willing to concede (which they do not) that the Roman Catholic Church’s theology and policies on sex and reproduction tie women in knots (except for their Fallopian tubes), I respectfully suggest that this image, like the YouTube video, be retired before it causes more scandal.

Irish women’s ordination activist Solime Humbert identified the problem:

Like many other male Surrealist artists, Man Ray tended to objectify women and define them as subordinates…there is a recurrent sadistic streak in his artwork, as well as in his relationships with women, characterized by domination and aggression.

We can debate the fine points later, but I think the description applies quite well to the way the Vatican has long treated women. For too many people such imagery is not fifty shades of anything but violence and oppression.

The study document poses equally problematic content. It is unsigned except for the acknowledgement that “this text has been composed by a group of women in the light of pastoral considerations sent in by our Members and Consultors…” (p. 1) Maybe the various women Consultors were assigned just one of four sections because the document as a whole lacks any explicit methodology or coherent central argument. It is important to note that while it has no weight as official teaching, it is a clue to the kind of input the Council accepted (what it received we will never know) and how it parses and prioritizes the arguments.

The document opens with a gender binary affirmation by Edith Stein who died in 1942, well before the advent of contemporary gender studies. It continues with a remarkably essentialist and egregiously ahistorical view of global society:

At the dawn of human history, societies divided roles and functions between men and women rigorously. To the men belonged responsibility, authority, and presence in the public sphere: the law, politics, war, power. To the women belonged reproduction, education, and care of the family in the domestic sphere. (p. 1)

Historian Max Dashu thoroughly dismantles these old saws citing women clan heads, chieftains, and medicine women: “For a long time, it was possible to get away with claiming that public female leaders never existed, but too much documentation has piled up for this to fly anymore.”

In four rather disjointed sections, the writers try to square several circles. For example, in the first section they want to say that women and men are equal but different. They insist on proclaiming women’s maternal instincts (whatever those are) without ever mentioning men’s propensity to care and nurture. They cite a highly accomplished woman who, when asked what title she liked best, said “Grandma.” To prove their point about difference, the writers mused whether a man would respond in the same way.

Ouch.

As a scholar, it is hard to know where to start with such material. Given a similar paper from a college student or as a journal submission, I would point the writers to decades of careful, complex feminist study in myriad fields—notably psychology, sociology, philosophy, literature, and yes, even theology—that have led to far deeper analyses of these matters. Would the Vatican Observatory begin a conference on astronomy with such outdated science? If not, why here?

The second theme is generativity, a way to think about human activity. But gender straightjackets hijack its usefulness. A sample suffices to give the document’s flavor:

The physicality of women—which makes the world alive, long-living, able to extend itself—finds in the womb its greatest expression. (p. 5)

What about women’s brains? Would we say that men’s physicality finds “in the penis its greatest expression”? Sadly, maybe in some circles, but I hope not. Such objectification of persons, such reduction to the purely physical is never appropriate.

It seems to me that generativity is a human quality that some women at some moments in their lives choose to exercise in a physical way by giving birth. Why not simply say so and move on to the many other ways human beings are generative? Otherwise, men are excluded from generativity, and women who choose not to bear children are left aside.

Section three is on the female body, referred to as “the feminine body.” Decades of gender analysis that has offered alternatives to socially constructed binaries and produced a wide spectrum of ways human beings understand themselves gender wise is completely ignored.

Oddly, the first issue raised is plastic surgery, as if the Vatican were gearing up a campaign against it akin to its anti-abortion efforts. Oh, that pesky matter of choice again. There is much to critique about the medicalization/commercialization of women’s bodies that lines the pockets of unscrupulous surgeons. But I would advise this committee to debate the moral issues on the basis of male enhancements and not tummy tucks. That way, they could prove just how equal men and women really are; or, in Catholic terms, are not.

Imagine a similar discussion of the masculine body. I bet the mere suggestion of penis enlargements as a moral issue for men would stop more conversations than it would start. Try a simple substitute of ‘masculine’ for ‘feminine’ in this section of the document:

Plastic surgery that is not medico-therapeutic can be aggressive toward the masculine identity, showing a refusal of the body in as much as it is a refusal of the ‘season’ that is being lived out. (p. 7)

Add to that a little chat about the relative moral merits of birth control pills and Viagra and I suspect the subject would change in a hurry.

More troubling is what might be the best section of the paper on aggression toward women. Even in this part of the text, there is no clear analysis of kyriarchal structures that create the conditions of women’s servitude. Rather, there is victim blaming:

Women cowed by depression…who accept a level of presumed inferiority… (p. 8)

Tell that to children and teens trafficked by greedy men in prostitution. The question is not, “Why are women killed by a husband, fiancé, partner or ex-partner after years of life together…” but, “Why do men kill?”

Nor is it helpful to ask, “Why at the first physical act of aggression, or even at the first harsh words, do [women] not put distance between themselves and the men who threaten…?” (p. 9). Let’s start by talking about economics and whether women can afford to leave. Nevertheless, the question is: Why do men act violently and get away with it, and what are we going to do about it?

The final section is on women and religion. The much-needed feminist critique of Catholic structures, teachings, and policies is conspicuously absent. The heart of the matter is this: “Why with their great presence have women had so little impact on the Church’s structures?” (p. 10) Answer that question honestly and the Council would go out of business in a blaze of glory.

Instead, they protest too much about women’s ordination, saying statistically women do not want it. I would love to see the numbers. Since when did the Vatican worry about public opinion? Until and unless this very obvious example of Catholic women’s inferiority and marginalization is resolved, the organization is on thin ice to claim moral authority on much of anything.

On the substance of religion, the best these writers offer is a series of polite questions. By now several generations of Catholic women have given explicit answers. To help the Council along, I can sum them up as three simple matters: Catholic women want agency, transparency, and equality.

This week’s exercise reminds me of a similar one thirty years ago. On March 4, 1985, Catholic women held open hearings at Augustana Lutheran Church in Washington, D.C. (the pastor of St. Augustine Catholic Church panicked at the last minute and withdrew permission to use that space) on what are now familiar neuralgic issues: ordination, racism, sexuality, power, freedom of conscience. We did so because the U.S. Catholic Bishops were doing what the men in Rome are doing this week: discussing, debating, even voting on women’s issues without women being present, much less involved as equals. The U.S. men had women consultants too, several of whom resigned in the process.

I watched a video of the event recently with deep consternation about how little progress we have made on any of these matters, how much opposition the Vatican has put in the way of Catholic women. Moderators of the event included the talented Maureen Fiedler, now host of Interfaith Voices, and Carol Coston, the founding director of NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. Speakers came from many walks of life. Feminist leaders from social justice organizations made their cases. More than four solid hours of testimony—complete with babies crying and audience participation—showed another way to be church, and it left an indelible impression. We lived the future and there was no going back.

The testimony proved that women want to be agents of our own lives, to make decisions in community, to have our autonomy and our abilities match our vision of justice. I have yet to see that operationalized in any aspect of kyriarchal Catholic life, beginning with the most personal matters of sexuality and reproduction.

Women also expect transparency of ourselves, one another, and our organizations. Let the structures and modes of decision-making in the Catholic community be laid bare, and then see if we all agree on how things work. I doubt it, and I know there are better ways to organize even a billion plus member organization. There are simply no excuses for duplicity, power grabs, and hierarchies, and none are accepted.

Thirty years ago women focused on equality in U.S. church and society. Today that expectation remains largely unfulfilled around the world. The institutional Roman Catholic Church is widely seen as the epitome of male privilege run amok, covering up some of its leaders’ criminal sexual behavior and illegal financial dealings by focusing on the perceived shortcomings of women. I fear this current discussion of women, and even the seemingly helpful efforts to eradicate sex trafficking that are being discussed in Rome this week may be more smokescreens than picture windows. I long to be proven wrong.

  • Jim Reed

    So what are you women going to do? I think you have two choices of where to go from here. You could demand women be admitted to all levels of church leadership or you are going to leave the church and start a better one.

    Or you could scream as loud as you can and demand change, then accept however it turns out.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
    Too bad the author feels insulted, but the meeting at the Vatican this week about women issues is a sign of hope. The real issue is whether or not being male is required to be in apostolic succession and exercise apostolic authority with sacramental power to sanctify, teach, and govern in the person of Christ and in the name of the Church. This is the fundamental option that must be reconsidered (CCC 1598). It should be made clear that this is not about what women (or men) want. It is about discerning what Christ wants for the Church in the 21st century, for the glory of God and the good of souls. Would Jesus, in today’s world, choose 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel?

  • Jim Reed

    That is the same thing. Do those currently in power in the church decide what Jesus would want? The only power women have is the power to decide whether or not they will submit to church authority.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    It is not the same. We should not equate sacramental power with secular power. Both should be used to serve rather than dominate, but sacramental power is transmitted by apostolic succession, not by democratic election.

  • Jim Reed

    Apostolic succession is under the control of the men in power in the church. If women submit to that authority, they don’t deserve anything better than what they have.

  • Dedangelo

    Can we please stop pretending this supposed new era at the Vatican is anything more than the addition of a good PR director? Between “Women’s Week” and the same-old, same-old gay bashing Francis is doing of late, it’s clear nothing has or will, change.

  • Craptacular

    “…but sacramental power is transmitted by apostolic succession, not by democratic election.” – Luis Gutierrez

    So why do the cardinals cast ballots for papal succession? Is it a sham election?

  • Craptacular

    “…but the meeting at the Vatican this week about women issues is a sign of hope.” – Luis Gutierrez

    As opposed to the other meetings they have been holding on “women’s issues” for the past 100 years? Why does this one give you a “sign of hope?”

    “It is about discerning what Christ wants for the Church in the 21st century, for the glory of God and the good of souls.” – Luis Guteirrez

    Actually, it is more about SHOULD we believe them when they say they are speaking for jesus and telling half the population their primary value to society is pumping out future members.

  • DavePasinski

    Mary is thorough, fair, comic, and sadly poignant… and right on… thank you!

  • Jim Reed

    Popes select cardinals, and cardinals select popes, and it just keeps going. You need to set up a system something like that if you want to permanently claim divine authority for your leadership line.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    This is not about what women (or men) deserve. We don’t deserve anything. Sacraments are divine gifts, not human rights.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    Goodness, the college of cardinals is not a democracy, since they are not democratically elected. The apostles were not democratically elected either. They we chosen by Christ. The issue now is whether or not Christ wants to perpetuate the choice of only males.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    Our faith is that the church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The real issue is that “apostolic” does not necessarily mean “male-apostolic.” But we cannot simply dispose of the apostolic mark of the church. Doing so would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  • Jim Reed

    The faith is under the control of the men in charge. Do women want to submit to that authority, or do they want change? They need to decide, and the men won’t be able to help them in that decision.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    The first time in history that a Pope formally taught something about women (other than the Virgin Mary) was 1988. Just throwing stones at the Vatican is not helpful. They are prisoners of a 5000-years old patriarchal system, and we should encourage them to face the issue rather than trying to intimidate them with recriminations.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    The Holy Spirit is our only hope, and the Holy Spirit can work through both men and women. It is not “either/or,” it is “both/and.”

  • Jim Reed

    The church structure makes it one vs. the other. That’s what the whole discussion has been about.

  • Jim Reed

    If you look closely it might not actually be a baby.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    Hierarchy is not the problem. Patriarchy is the problem.

  • Anka

    “We don’t deserve anything” – really?? This article and discussion are not about legalistic concepts of ‘apostolic succession’ or ‘human rights’. We, women and men equally, are all God’s beloved children. We all certainly do deserve mutual acknowledgment of, and respect for, one another – if not necessarily for our own personal virtues (since as individuals we are admittedly less than perfect in our humanity), then in recognition of the blessing, grace and dignity inherent in the fact that we are all equally members of the body of Christ; that we are Jesus’ friends, declared explicitly as such by Himself; that we are – as His followers – in Peter’s words, a chosen people, a holy nation, and a royal priesthood. Women as much as men, with no privilege or preference.

  • Michael Skiendzielewski

    “….. It may be Women’s Week at the Vatican, but you have to look carefully at the skirts to find many women…..”

    Sorry, Mary, but if you look at the image at the top of this article, you’ll see plenty of “skirts”.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    This refers to the common priesthood of all the baptized. It does not mean that we “deserve” to be baptized, let alone be ordained. Receiving any sacrament is a divine gift, not a human right. Any attempt to frame this issue in terms of human dignity and rights is DOA.

  • maryehunt

    Thanks, Dave, happy to do so if it will help us build something new. Best wishes and keep the letters coming to the NYT

  • Jim Reed

    That makes this just about preserving the power structure currently in place, and giving it fancy titles as a justification.

  • Soline Humbert

    A cartoon with an insight into the real reason behind the headless,bound,female torso http://wearechurchireland.ie/cartoon-why-women-can-not-be-priests/

  • Mary

    If this meeting is a sign of hope, it is a really twisted sign. All women should feel insulted, rightfully so, when the vatican thinks it is promoting listening and dialogue—-with NO listening OR dialogue.

  • Mary

    And you men could help by understanding that this affects the entire church and not just women.

  • Mary

    Right, Jesus certainly did not care about human dignity at all.

  • Mary

    They are prisoners of their own lust for power and control. And money. They do not need our ‘help.’

  • Jim Reed

    That is not in the cards. You women have to handle this by yourself. Haven’t these thousands of years taught you anything?

  • Whiskyjack

    With all respect Luis, read a book on the history of the papacy. You will seldom find a bigger set thieves, murderers, pornographers and villains contained in a single book. How can you possibly contend that “they were chosen by Christ?” If they were, Christ is not the guy you evidently think he is.

  • apotropoxy

    Christianism would never have moved from a fragmented Jewish cult to a spin-off religion were it not for the wealthy widow supporters Paul found in the “pagan” communities he visited.

  • Craptacular

    I thought about my post and agree with you…it is no democracy, not even a republic-type representational body. More like the board of directors in a privately held company. But I still stand by my other statement that it is more about whether or not we believe them when they pass along the word from jesus. Your words seem to indicate you have already ceded your will to whatever they decide…which is what I find sad. Perhaps not, though, and I am misinterpreting your words.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    Yes, he did and he does, but that is not the point. The point is that receiving any of the sacraments is a gift, a privilege, not a right.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    The apostolic “mark” of the church must be preserved. To be an apostle, or a successor of the apostles, is not a fancy title. We can throw away all the fancy titles, such as “your holiness” and “your excellency”, but we cannot deny that Christ chose apostles to be his witnesses.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    There is an old saying, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” Keep the faith!

  • Mary

    Yes Jim, it’s taught me that some men can really be offensive a**holes when given a chance—theoretically speaking of course! XOXO

  • Marianne Duddy-Burke

    You almost don’t have to read the piece–looking at the image chosen to illustrate it clearly depicts the Vatican’s efforts to forcibly constrain women. Great analysis, Mary!

  • Tim Olsen

    A catholic with a decent catechism would understand that it is not within the Pope’s authority or power to change the nature of the sacraments. The Pope, this or any other, cannot change the matter or form of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Which makes this bit, an uneducated assertion by the author.
    “Only by setting aside the all-male priesthood, bracketing any mention of kyriarchal decision-making structures, and passing over outmoded notions of gender can one honestly say that Francis, who captains the ship, is any better than his immediate predecessors when it comes to half of the church.”

    The “strawberries on the cake” quote here paints the context that women are mere decoration, however when looking at the full context it implies that women theologians are the best part, and too few in number. And it comes within an invitation and calling to women to become theologians.

  • Jim Reed

    Thanks, I appreciate the chance.

  • Jim Reed

    If you look at the history, it seems they chose themselves.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    According to the gospel narratives, it was Jesus who chose them.

  • Tim Olsen

    “Sacrament power” is not elected, the office of Pope is elected. You are confusing the ability of priests to stand “in persona Christi” and administer the sacraments with an office in the Church.
    Sacramental Power is received through the sacrament of Holy Orders, not election.

  • Jim Reed

    The gospels were written later. Before that in the middle of the first century there was a different Christianity found in the writings of Paul. None of the gospel stories were known then.

  • Tim Olsen

    That’s an untrue assertion. There was an invitation to women with the youtube campaign, but you blast Church for the quality of responses by women.

    There were a number of women ask to participate, a plastic surgeon that works with breast cancer patients. Kurdish woman combatants, mothers, nuns that work with sex-trade victims, women business owners and economists. It appears the real hang up you have here is just that that those women aren’t priests. Women do need a larger role in the Church, you incorrectly assume however that a woman cannot be a theologian, that the roles women hold in the Church are less important than the role of priest. You reject and paint the Pope’s invitation for more women theologians as an insult, when really, the only way to achieve women priesthood is through an theologically sound argument.

  • Barbara Blough

    See the following two articles for what’s going on outside the Vatican:

    Minnesota church women count words in Bible spoken by women
    http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/290489131.html

    Your ParallelUniverse
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/02/04/1362408/-Your-Parallel-Universe-is-Annoying-Me

  • Barbara Blough

    Poor Jim. “No-Skin-In-The-Game-Jim,” can stand on the fence and think about what Jesus said about that. And, yes, we’ll just go ahead without you. Bye-bye.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    Correct, but it does not follow that the gospel stories are wrong. The gospels are theological reflections on the mysteries of Christ’s life. We should read them seeking the truths they convey, not accidental details. The entire Bible is an inexhaustible source of divine revelation.

  • Jim Reed

    That’s fine as long as you don’t think divine revelation is true.

  • Jim Reed

    I’m just trying to get a good view. I report as best I can.

  • Jim Reed

    Who is the judge of what is a theologically sound argument?

  • Mary

    Youtube videos of less than a minute—when most of the world’s women don’t have access to technology? Participation in this conference by women is reserved for some 7 ‘consultors.’ Actual council has no women at all. The best women theologians have been soundly and recently slapped for writing anything that deviates from the old boys thinking.

  • Mary

    The point is, I didn’t have to give you the chance.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    Jesus Christ is the Truth.

  • Tim Olsen

    So, what was in your video? While surely I don’t expect you to be the voice for all women, you clearly have access to technology, and I suspect you could articulate clearly and concisely your perspective in under a minute –or at least pick one issue you wanted heard to open the door to more inclusive dialog.
    Or did you just dismiss the opportunity because you didn’t like the invitation?
    Provide some evidence ideas from female theologians were rejected merely because they came from women. Not because they were not well rooted in theology, scripture and/or apostolic Tradition. Have similar writings submitted by male theologians been rejected?
    Advancing our collective understanding of the full depth and dimension of what God has revealed to us through Christ, is not easy, it has been examined by the Church for centuries, and there aren’t a lot of new theological ideas. Even Vatican II as revolutionary as it was, didn’t change anything at the core of the faith. Messing with the sacraments is messing with the core of the faith.

  • Gregory Peterson

    Reminds me a bit of the very heterosexual male (they come with marital bona fides) dominated Southern Baptist Convention conferences on “diversity.”

  • packerpf

    Improvement among gender and gender equality has never come in leaps and bounds it has come in snail trails…this though is an improvement..how can someone who expects so much not see this is a major step in the right direction. This will more then likely turn into a yearly or bi yearly discussion and that’s a great thing. Women have made major movement but some of you truly are never happy with enough and want more and more or all of it right away (and IDEALLY I’m 100% behind the idea of that) but the practicality isn’t there.

  • Jim Reed

    I think the point is still what will the women decide. The men made their move, so the women have to respond.

  • packerpf

    What article did you read? I read an article that was reflective of a quick college paper. Any woman who was truly and overly concerned with their church would easily make a video (it’s 30 seconds to 1 minute and 30 seconds) she doesn’t give her own gender enough credit. She also attempts to make mountains out of mole hills. The church has made improvement, is it enough NO, but improvement and instead of pointing out the many benefits of this she’d rather nit pick like a bitter old croon.

  • packerpf

    Most men have no qualms with women being on an even playing level. The people who have to make the move is ENOUGH women though; you have to have a collective, and sure male support is good, but it’s all about your gender in this instance.

  • Jim Reed

    So even if you don’t understand that, as long as you believe in the name Jesus Christ you have salvation.

  • packerpf

    With sexuality that’s different, with gender this is a major improvement, only a total cynic won’t allow themselves to see the many benefits of this; ESPECIALLY when we compare the various times in history things similar to this have happened.

  • Jim Reed

    The sacraments are just something the church set up so that people would continuously express they are following the church. They have no value beyond keeping people in tune with the church.

  • packerpf

    You appreciate no improvement…that’s the problem with the way your generation was taught you can’t appreciate the improvement in social movement. My generation has come to accept people as people and we’re moving to do what we can, but we actually understand it’ll take a very long time. You think this is nothing, but before was LITERALLY nothing.
    You don’t know if this will turn into a yearly thing, you don’t know if one year they invite current and former female prime ministers or leaders. You don’t know who all sent in videos to them; you just assume by the way they ran their platform that it wasn’t good enough for you, just like this writer.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    Absolutely. Faith is a gift. Faith cannot be irrational, but it transcends reason.

  • Jim Reed

    Was the request for them to make videos a good idea? Only the women can decide that. The opinion of the men wouldn’t matter.

  • packerpf

    Idc if it’s a good idea or not, I care that this woman who’s supposedly trying to stand up for women doesn’t give her own gender enough credit, and certainly wouldn’t know how many videos were actually submitted but assumes it was a worthless effort undercutting her own gender and what they may have done or could have accomplished.

  • Jim Reed

    The men are in charge, so the women have to judge.

  • Jim Reed

    This is what you get when you start a religion and claim it has authority from God. The longer it continues, the more tangled it becomes.

  • Tim Olsen

    I suspect Jim you are either not a Catholic or have had a horrible Catechist. Sacraments are Gifts from Christ, they were instituted by Christ, and give us the Grace we need to grow closer to God in our daily life. They were practiced by the earliest Christians, and are supported Scripture. I get you don’t subscribe, and that’s ok, but without a core understanding of the faith, how do expect to be taken seriously as a critic of its practices?

  • Jim Reed

    I am not a Catholic, and I left Christianity over 40 years ago. Here on RD I think it is important that we stay grounded in reality, and any beliefs need to be checked out because unquestioned beliefs are so often damaging to society. In the case of Christianity, I think history is showing us the Jesus story was constructed and written towards the end of the first century, and is not what Christianity was in the middle of that century when Paul was writing. We are just barely beginning to understand the significance of that, but we have been making some progress.

  • Tim Olsen

    I hope you find your way back.

  • Catherine Mill

    Yes its just to pretend to the sheep that the vote was democratic. The Pope Must Die is a must watch.

  • Catherine Mill

    That holy/whole spirit is invoked annually at the Red Mass for all the judiciary in USA, UK, Ireland etc.

  • Catherine Mill

    Yes and good read is to be found here to see the his story left behind by the Roman Catholic cult and its still going strong.
    http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/murderers.htm
    Loving Your Neighbour? – Killing Your Opponents!

    “The list of religious atrocities committed in the sacrosanct name of Christ is long and varied …
    In proof of this, witness the gibbets, the wheels, the massacres, and the horrible burnings at the
    stake of nearly a hundred thousand human beings in a single province -the massacres and devastations of nine mad crusades of Christians against unoffending Turks, during nearly two hundred years; in which many millions of human beings perished-
    the massacre of the Anabaptists-
    the massacres of the Lutherans and Papists, from the Rhine to the extremities of the north-
    the massacres in Ireland, England, and Scotland, in the time of Charles the First, who was himself massacred-“

  • Catherine Mill

    You best learn then what them so called “gifts” really mean.

    Let us take the gift of baptism – ah yes your parents sign over your soul to the Vatican on the day you are welcomed into the Roman Catholic cult. The contract is signed and you the baby soul never got a say.

  • Jim Reed

    I left Christianity in 73 because it didn’t make sense. Since then, the “Moral Majority” was started and Christianity sold their soul to the party of the rich, Bush was elected by Christians and used them to support his Crusade to get control of Iraq oil fields, and then historical research showed us Jesus is a myth. I think the path back has been pretty solidly blocked.

  • Tim Olsen

    Forgive me, you lost me. You left Christianity because you didn’t like the way American Christians were acting? Without debating the role of Christianity in late 20th Century american politics, don’t you see the logic problem here. Christianity isn’t uniquely American, what did say south American Christians have to do with Bush, republicans or America’s involvement in the middle east. To condemn the faith by the ability of those that practice it, to practice it well, it is like throwing out algebra because you know people bad at math.
    The Church isn’t for the Holy. The Church is for the broken (and we are all broken) who are called to Holiness. It’s a vehicle and guide to living as God intends. Christians as individuals, and as a collective fail, often. We fail to meet the demands of the faith. That doesn’t negate the faith, nor diminish its value or invalidate it any way.
    Again, I hope you find a way back.

  • Jim Reed

    I left before the political problems because I didn’t think Christianity had any connection to God. I didn’t check out all the other countries looking for any better Christianity. When the political situation developed, it made me glad I was already out. Then later it turned out Jesus is a myth. I was already totally out of Christianity way before then, but that seems like something that might ultimately be able to influence others and help the world recover from the religion addiction.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    There is the assent of acceptance, and there is the assent of faith. I have no problem with the assent of faith regarding dogmas that have been properly and infallibly defined by the Church (CCC 891-892). The assent of acceptance (“religious assent”) sometimes is very difficult and requires a discerning conscience; for this I find the “serenity prayer” very helpful.

  • Brendan

    I feel like just because things are better now than they used to be in regards to gender equality, it doesn’t mean that it’s done. Like the author pointed out, they’re still stuck using gender binary terms, they’re still imposing their uninformed stereotypical views of women onto all women, they’re still not even letting women vote on women’s issues within the church. To borrow some of your words, only a total cynic would allow themselves to think where the church is at now is satisfactory.

  • Brendan

    To apply your logic to a different case: that’s like saying to slaves that their owners made their move, so it’s up to the slaves to respond, to free themselves. And that’s pretty frickin twisted. Especially when there’s people like you who are just sitting back, leaving things as they are. In my analogy, you’d be like the slave owner sitting back and cracking the whip saying, “Don’t like it? Then do something about it.”

  • jfigdor

    I wonder if there will actually be a significant movement to reform the Catholic Church’s policies with respect to women. When I was a student at Harvard Divinity School, I knew tons of very feminist Catholic women. But either they aren’t loud enough to get the Pope’s attention, or he just doesn’t care. It seems like the best choice for Catholic women is to vote with their feet. Imagine if Feminist Catholics “struck” from Church, and agreed not to attend mass for, say a month. Imagine what a statement that would make to the Vatican and the hierarchy, when they stood up in front of their almost entirely empty, all-male congregations.

  • Jim Reed

    That’s true, except the slaves would be concerned about being killed. If the women rebelled, they would win because there is nothing with the power to stop them. They could set up the religion, fix lots of problems, and the men would just fall in line and follow them. Nobody could whip them or really do anything to them.

    (this would only apply to some places like the US and Europe. Might not work in Africa.)

  • elzbss

    Ummmm…. A lot of women don’t even have computers. The meeting was about women, period–not just women in Italy who own computers.

  • cranefly

    “The physicality of men—which makes the world alive, long-living, able
    to extend itself—finds in the penis its greatest expression.”

    That pretty much sums it up.

  • claynaff

    Mary Hunt shows great wit and makes incisive critiques throughout. I especially like her observation about the church tying women in knots, except in their fallopian tubes, and this line: “There are enough contradictions in that sentence to end my analysis right here.”

    However, when she turns from the satiric to the prescriptive, she loses focus. “Women also expect transparency of ourselves, one another, and our organizations.”
    Women? What women? Surely not all women, because those ranks would include Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, and Laura Ingraham, to name a few, and I think Ms. Hunt would agree that transparency is not the hallmark of their organizations. Personal transparency is a rare and risky quality in any human being, one in direct conflict with that other virtue, privacy. Unless some some special meaning of transparency is intended in that line, it smacks of utopianism.

    The widespread habit of idealizing women when critiquing patriarchy is both intellectually lazy and corrosive to the cause. It makes some who support equal rights for women back away from the feminist label, and it makes feminism itself a relatively easy target for satire.

    That friendly criticism aside, I join Ms. Hunt in longing for real change in the Vatican.

  • Jim Reed

    What if they don’t make real changes? Should the women just start another church?

  • DavePasinski

    I want to respond just this once to packerpf’s remarks although I believe that everyone should sign their names to remarks as a statement of personal integrity and responsibility. The statement by packerpf contains an attempted insult _”bitter old croon” (and I think the writer meant “crone” which is actually celebrated in some feminist reflections as a older wise woman), but this should be a column for conflicting ideas, not ad hominem arguments. I think that the issue is not “improvements,” but a deeper sense of thinking about what is Church and how responsibility, power, love, and ministry is exercised in the example of Jesus and I think that is what Mary in this article and others does well- albeit with some sharpness and ell-placed humor.

  • packerpf

    No one EVER claimed it was done, but this absurd author expects everything RIGHT NOW and it’s never happened that way

  • packerpf

    Roughly 4 billion women in this world, over 40% have computers. Does this reach all…NO..but it’s just one of the MANY outlets. The church invited FEMALE experts in various fields from various countries this author wants you to believe so little was done in actuality so much was done.

  • noterroristsallowed

    Tell me how do we know if they even watched those videos. Don’t you think, talking to a woman makes more a civil approach to address such issues. Like would you ask your kid to send you a utube video, addressing his concerns.

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    Name the benefits.

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    What is the improvement?

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    I do not submit to male authority. I want change.

  • joeyj1220

    what has changed? How is it a “major improvement”?

  • colkoch

    I believe Cardinal Ravasi said the five women consultors were all friends of his from Italy.

  • colkoch

    And the greatest artistic expression of the penis is the Intercontinental ballistic missile.

  • colkoch

    Women theologians, no no. Women apologists are the strawberries on the cake. Ask the theologians in the LCWR how valued they feel.

  • cranefly

    With life… comes death.

  • MJ Warren

    Hey! Who are you calling an old crone? Just because you don’t agree with what she says, you immediately have try to degrade and demean what she is and what she says. I happen to be an old crone and proud of it. In actual fact, the etymology of the word is wise woman, elder, leader, healer, etc. You have really honored her, even though you had no idea of what you were saying. Men have attached loads of negative connotations to the word, though we crones know the truth. So go on calling us old crones and we will thank you for the compliment. Oh, and by calling her a wise woman, you have just accepted her words as wise words. Again, thank you.

  • MJ Warren

    Um, you are doing the same thing you accuse her of doing. You have no idea of how many videos were sent in or what they contained, but you assume there were tens of thousands from every continent and from every economic level and they agreed with you. Not a good idea to try to prove your case by doing the same thing you just accused her of doing. Kinda defangs your argument. Tsk, tsk.

  • MJ Warren

    Um, wrong again. The church, as a whole, invited bishops to invite females in their diocese to send in videos with a one week time limit. You say 40% of women have computers. Where did you get that number? How many of that purported 40% of women are Catholic? How many of those Catholic women were even notified of the invitation? None were so notified in my diocese. I could say only those that might give a favorable reply might have been notified, but then, that might or might not be true. You have to cut that purported You must cut the number of Catholic women with computers down even further since the English version of the invite was withdrawn almost at once and only the Italian version was broadcast. How many of the non-English speaking women with computers spoke Italian? Hmmm? Your 40% is looking rather puny, to say the least. Only those who spoke Italian or had bishops who cared to get the videos would have been able to reply. How many Italian women cared to reply or had the time to reply, given the tight frame of reference? Then again, surely many of those women would have disagreed with you. As pollsters say, the results would be statistically insignificant.

  • MJ Warren

    Actually, the mere threat of women leaving the church in droves would be a deterrent. When the Women Religious stood up to the inquisition, they backed down. Woman-church is getting going with a handful of priests, all women. This is just how the reformation started – with one man and one list of demands.

  • MJ Warren

    If that remark weren’t so offensive, I would be rolling on the floor LMAO! Have you ever heard of an ancient Greek book called Lysistrata? Silly question. It shows you what can happen when men think they are in charge and there is nothing women can do to change it. How smug and sanctimonious you sound. You are in charge, as a man, and no matter what women want or say, your answer will always be NO. I remember when men said the same thing about women doctors, dentists, women going to university, voting, being politicians and Anglican clergy, then bishops. And, I might add, men are just as involved as women because they are the ones who will be most affected by the changes.

  • MJ Warren

    You’re joking, right?

  • MJ Warren

    More jokes, right?

  • Jim Reed

    The men would only fall in line and follow the women if a good majority of the women left and formed their own church. If it is only a few of the women, the men won’t care.

  • MJ Warren

    What are you talking about? The catechism was promulgated by a bunch of men who got together, over the centuries, and decided what they wanted. Women were excluded. Pope Francis would have to be blind and deaf to do a worse job than the last two popes did, as far as women are concerned. One of them decided that it was right, yep, women could only have babies, raise them and keep a home. No divorce, no birth control (which, BTW, he has lost badly since the vast majority of Catholic families use birth control), no say in their lives or church, if they did get divorced, then no sex forever, no marring, etc, etc. No this, no that, no anything! Oh, but women can be nuns or sisters, as long as they agree to do what they are told and obey every wish of priests, bishops, cardinals and the pope in that order. And as icing on the cake, nuns must be locked away for the rest of their lives and even give up their names. At least Sisters are allowed to be out and about with people teaching and nursing and tending to the needs of those they serve.

  • MJ Warren

    NO!

  • Luis Gutierrez

    I agree, the answer is a resounding NO! So we have to keep searching and asking honest questions. We also need to pray, because this is a visceral issue that cannot be resolved by reason alone. Acts 15 is a good model of how to proceed.

  • Tim Olsen

    You confuse leadership with an office. They are not one in the same.
    I suspect you don’t know any nuns, they are not locked away, not all orders must change their names, and while they do take a vow of obedience and poverty, Priest take the same vow of obedience, and many orders take a vow of poverty as well. You also fail to recognize that there is a male religious life that exists outside the priesthood that parallels the commitment and service of nuns. I’d recommend you befriend a nun, have a beer together, learn their perspective. (Totally allowed btw, to forge friendships and have a beer with their friends).
    The smallest “unit” of the Church is the catholic family. Yes the Church is greatly concerned when families are torn apart. I don’t care how patriarchal a family may appear, I’m certain wives have incredible influence in a marriage. If they do not, there is probably a good case for an annulment, an indication that the sacrament was invalid, that the Marriage never took place.
    You understand the Church Hierarchy to be a top down organization, when in fact, parishes exists to support the families, dioceses to support the parishes. —but don’t confuse the faith with a democratic organization, matters and faith and morality (what is right and wrong) are not shaped by the will of the people. When those lines are blurred, for an individual, they can turn to their priest, the priest to his bishop, the Bishop to the Pope, or his advisers for direction.
    Sex outside of marriage, for women AND men is considered sinful. In fact there isn’t a separate moral code for the genders, if it is sinful for one gender, it is sinful for the other.
    There are many vocations open to women in the Church. While ordained priesthood or the offices they hold are unavailable to women, it does not diminish their value, or influence in the Church —especially if you remember the smallest unit is the Catholic family. Finally, whatever vocation an individual follows, their title on earth means nothing come judgment day. What we are all called to is communion with God, to be saints (don’t confuse this with canonization process), to get there, we are called to love and serve each other –some as unmarried individuals, some as wives and mothers, some husbands and fathers, some in the lay ministry, some in religious life and some in the ordained priesthood.

  • cranefly

    The quote is from the Vatican, only instead of “men” it says “women” and instead of “penis” it says “womb.” Mary Hunt suggests trying out the gender inversion in her article, because many Catholics (like the Magisterium) are desensitized to language that reduces women to carnal reproductive tools with a mystical flourish. Use the same language on men, and it sounds like a dirty joke.

  • phatkhat

    Regarding using one’s real name… This is Disqus, not a private forum maintained by RD. Any remarks one makes are part of their Disqus profile, and if one comments on many forums, the use of a real name could prove problematic. Not all forums are as [usually] civilized as the one here.

  • phatkhat

    This ^ is exactly why I cannot be a Christian. I cannot discard reason.

  • phatkhat

    Well, it CAN be resolved by reason alone. And that is why a lot of atheists are former Christians (or any other religion, for that matter).

  • Luis Gutierrez

    To say that faith transcends reason is not irrational. It means that what is known beyond reason cannot be irrational. For instance, knowing that God is a Trinity of divine persons cannot be attained by reason alone, but is not irrational.

  • phatkhat

    Well, no more irrational than belief in any other god(s) that belong to any other religious group. I have never had it satisfactorily explained why believing in your god is not irrational, but believing in, say, Thor or Bastet, is.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    Absolutely, we all need to believe in something bigger than ourselves. This is the reason that all religious faiths should be respected. For us in the Christian tradition, we believe that the Bible reveals the Trinity, but we should not make an exclusivist idol of any human understanding of God.

  • packerpf

    Either blind or ignorant make your choice….women’s perspective has NEVER really been this major thing for the church and now it’s gradually being engraved. They want to know what the other sex goes through around the world, they want to gain knowledge. As I said in my post all of you folks who are ignorant expecting a giant and instantaneous change will be extremely let down, a religious change has always come at a snails pace.

  • packerpf

    No what I’m not doing is being willing to undercut a whole gender at the same time supposedly trying to empower, like this author. I have no assumptions of the videos except that SOME were sent, that alone is an improvement. Maybe some day we can have tens of thousands, but it has to start somewhere and in this new year it’s a great time to start. I find it outrageous and laughable that so many of you can’t see this “tiny” improvement as the giant stepping stone it is..

  • Janhoi Mccallum

    As much as I agree with much of what this article says…….it comes off as a screed. Yes….women need to be empowered. Yes the Roman Catholic Church is patriarchal in its structures. Heck……I believe in women leadership at all levels of the Church. And of course there needs to be changes in other areas regarding reproductive issues and sexuality. But when Mary seems to imply that because Pope has not made immediate changes in all these areas, that somehow we can just dismiss every thing he says, that is just hog wash.

    The fact of the matter is that, inspite of the Popes social conservative on many areas, he is seen as a popular figure across the globe because of his stand on social justice in many areas. And I might add that while Mary Hunt, a Western Feminist author, is displeased with Pope Francis and seems to want to throw cold water on those across the globe who are enthusiastic about the Pope, it seems as if many people, especially in the Third World, love Pope Francis. It seems as if specifically many women who live particularly in developing countries, love Pope Francis.

    So with this, I think two things need to be pointed out. 1) Change does not happen over night. This idea that people have where they expect change to happen suddenly over night is nonsense. Yes….I think womens rights should be expect and I hope to see a day where not only are women in positions of leadership, from the priesthood to the Papacy itself, and also have their reproductive rights respected. But realistically that is not going to happen over night. Nor will this happen overnight for other issues. When you have conservative Cardinals in the Vatican, plus the Congregation of the Doctrine of the faith, and the Roman Curia to deal with anyone who thinks there are gonna be sudden changes over night is kidding themselves. 2) Just because the Pope has faults or points where we disagree with him, does not mean you automatically dismiss him as a world leader. Yeah……the dude is a social conservative on womens issues and reproductive issues, so I am all of a sudden gonna dismiss everything he says on Capital Punishment, Climate Change, Economic injustice, and even a bit of the head way he has made(though not full) on LGBT rights. That position makes no sense. That would be like me saying that because I disagree with Barack Obama on Drone Strikes, mass survellance and whisteblowers, that I am automatically gonna dismiss everything he says on other issues like Health Care, LGBT rights, Womens rights, etc. Or me saying that because Nelson Mandela failed to make changes in certain areas such as HIV-AIDS, Economic Inequality, and Crime, that I automatically dismiss everything he said and did on issues relating to Racial Justice and Anti Apartheid activism.

    So people are gonna have to get over it. Yes the Pope is a social conservative on many issues, and we might disagree with him on some of those. But he is still immensely popular with the masses of people across the globe, because he has important things to say on many issues.

  • Jim Reed

    The issue might be not so much the pope as it is the church. Is the church based on ancient scriptures of limited value and sacriments that the modern world should see are actually of no value? Conservative forces in the church might be holding the world down, whatever direction the latest popes try to move things. Perhaps the declining church in the more advanced parts of the world is a good thing, and to be encouraged. These are the kinds of issues that we try to deal with here on RD.

  • Falkone Suzana

    MEN STARTED PORNOGRAPFHI AND IT WILL END WITH MAN

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