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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Church & International Women's Day

I saw at Independent Catholic News a story on International Women's Day and the Vatican ..... L'Osservatore Romano commented that the greatest gift to women's liberation has been the washing machine, and the Pope commented on the day as well, holding Mother Teresa up as an example for women.

I don't know where to begin in commenting on these comments, given the reality of how women actually fare under the Church, so instead I'll just post a few parts from a past article I saw recently in Spirituality Today by Sandra M. Schneiders, I.H.M., professor of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California. The article is long and I'm just cherry-picking bits, so best to read the whole thing ......

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The Effects of Women's Experience on Their Spirituality

[...] What effects did women's exclusion from ordained ministry have on their self-understanding as Christians? It is fairly easy to list a number of negative effects. First, women seldom considered themselves as called to ministry. What we would today refer to as ministry, women considered as "auxiliary services," perhaps a form of lay apostolate, or just neighborly kindness. Visiting the sick, singing in the choir, teaching CCD, raising a Christian family, nursing and teaching and social work were not considered part of the official ministry of the church but, as lay activities, ways of helping the clergy in ministry that properly belonged only to them.

Secondly, women early in life developed a fairly pronounced and much emphasized sense of sacral unworthiness. Not only could they not be ordained; they were not even to be in the sanctuary while divine service was taking place. They were not to touch the sacred vessels nor read the word of God in public. Even functions that a six-year-old boy could perform, such as serving Mass or bearing the processional cross, were forbidden to even the most spiritually mature and experienced woman Christian.(7) ........


The effects on women's ministerial consciousness of their socialization into private, male-dependent roles in the church has also been largely negative in ways analogous to the effects of their exclusion from ordained ministry. First, women have been virtually excluded from any participation in the shaping of the church's internal and external policy. The church's laws regarding marriage which apply in their burdensome dimensions disproportionately to women, have been formulated without the contribution of the women whose experience is in question. Canon law regarding religious, of whom three out of every four in the church are women, been formulated by men without the input of the women whose lives it governs (11) and, in most respects, it is also enforced by men. Official church documents on every kind of social problem -- poverty, war, economics, labor, medical ethics, political involvement -- have been formulated without the contribution of women who constitute the vast majority of the poor and the starving throughout the world, who make fifty-nine cents to every dollar made by men for comparable work in this country, who experience in their bodies as mothers a disproportionate number of the medical problems that raise moral issues, who almost always find themselves the sole support of dependent children when marriages collapse. (12) .......


Let us turn now to the less public sphere of women's spirituality, namely, their experience of God ..... Women have rarely been encouraged to imitate the great women of salvation history. Rarely is a eucharistic president, even at a liturgy celebrated by a preponderantly female community, sufficiently sensitive to modify the Eucharistic Prayer's retracing of salvation history in order to call to mind not only Adam but Eve, not only Abraham and Isaac and Jacob but also Sara and Rebeccah and Rachel, not only Moses but Miriam, not only David but Ruth, not only Peter but Mary Magdalene. The only feminine model who has been invoked with real fervor and consistency in the male church has been Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and that invocation has been badly misused in many periods of church history to reinforce and sacralize the subordination and passivity of women. (20) We have fewer records of women saints, partly because men set the criteria for sanctity and wrote the hagiographies. Even those women who have been canonized have rarely had the same type of official prominence that male saints have enjoyed. There was, after all, little they could be except "virgins" or "martyrs," or "neither virgin nor martyr." Until our own day no woman was ever recognized as a doctor of the church,(21) despite the array of women theologians and spiritual giants such as Juliana of Norwich, Catherine of Genoa, Teresa of Avila, Hadewijch of Antwerp, Mechtilde of Magdeburg, the Gertrudes, the Brigids, Catherine of Siena, Marie of the Incarnation, Angela of Foligno, and all the others .......


Now let us turn to a second factor that has conditioned women's experience of God, namely, the presentation of God in almost exclusively male terms. I am not speaking here of the masculinity of Jesus, which is a separate topic too extensive to handle in this article, but of God, the creator of all things and the source of life upon whom all human beings depend .... The negative effects of this exclusively masculine presentation of God on the religious experience of women are not hard to identify. Perhaps the most profoundly destructive is the deep sense of exclusion from the divine that women imbibe as part of their sense of who they are. God, to women, is man "writ large." Men are God "writ small." ......


The religious experience of women has been limited and distorted in many ways while their ministry has gone unnamed and their vocation to ordination denied. But their suffering, inexcusable as it is, has also been a fire in which much gold has been refined. That gold belongs to women, but it has been given to them by the same God who entrusted the message of the resurrection to a woman, Mary Magdalene, who instructs us as he instructed her, to take this good news of salvation to our brothers as well as to our sisters. The good news is that the night of oppression and inferiority is dying and that a new day is dawning -- a day in which the religious experience and ministry of women will be fully at the service of the church for the liberation of men as well as of women. It is the privilege of our generation to greet this new day with the song of Miriam, who led the sons and daughters of Israel in worship after they had crossed over from slavery to the freedom of the children of God.

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(7) That the root of this exclusion of women from the realm of sacred things and actions in ritual taboos related to menstruation and childbearing is fairly generally recognized today. Despite this fact, the exclusion of women from even such minor roles as serving at the eucharistic liturgy was reiterated by the Vatican Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship in a collection of norms on Eucharistic Practices, approved by Pope John Paul II on April 17, 1980 and issued May 23, 1980. The text, "Inaestimabile Donum," appears in Origins 10 (5 June 1980): 41-44; see par. 18, p. 43.

(11) See R. A. Hill, "Canon Law After Vatican II: Renewal or Retreat?" America 137 (1977): 298-300.

(12) See M. P. Burke, Reaching for Justice: The Women's Movement (Washington, D.C.: Center of Concern, 1980), especially chap. 4, for documentation of the disproportionate burden of poverty borne by women.

(20) A particularly valuable study of the potentiality and the abuse of Mariology is R. R. Reuther's Mary-The Feminine Face of the Church (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977).

(21) P. Paul VI declared St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena doctors of the church on October 4, 1970.

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2 Comments:

Blogger cowboyangel said...

Wow. Excellent article.

The church's laws regarding marriage which apply in their burdensome dimensions disproportionately to women, have been formulated without the contribution of the women whose experience is in question. Canon law regarding religious, of whom three out of every four in the church are women, been formulated by men without the input of the women whose lives it governs (11) and, in most respects, it is also enforced by men.

It's really incredible to me that the laity of the Church continues to allow the hierarchy to operate the way they do. This is what I was hinting at when I commented on your "What is the Church?" post. In no other aspect of life would people allow the decision-making structure of an organization to operate the way the Church does. Imagine if the United States decided to go back to 1776 in the way we organized and managed ourselves. Women couldn't vote, African-Americans wouldn't even be considered people. Only moneyed white men who owned land could make decisions. Yet, the decision-making apparatus of the Catholic church follows a model that even pre-dates 1776. And then covers up their absolute power grab by saying it's "God's will." It's insane. Literally. The definition of DELUSION according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: "A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture."

Yet, Catholics continue to let it happen. The Church will only change when the laity makes it change. Because the existing power and decision-making structure [the hierarchy] continues to benefit from the present system and will not bring about change themselves. Simply hoping and wishing that Benedict is not as controlling or right-wing as the previous strong man in power is not a path towards change.

8:48 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

"A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture."

Ha :) People are afraid to try to change the church - every time they do try, they get excommunicated. I'd guess they either mostly do like the beliefs of the church or they do as they please but don't speak up, like how most catholics deal with contraception.

1:33 PM  

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