725 Catholic patriarchalism "acts as a powerful brake on dismantling the architecture of misogyny
Day 725 Friday, March 11, 2022
Catholic patriarchalism "acts as a powerful brake on dismantling the architecture of misogyny wherever it is found
Dismantling Catholic misogyny: searching for a way forward
The former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, garnered worldwide media coverage when she bluntly called out misogyny in the Catholic hierarchy in her keynote speech at the Voices of Faith (VOF) event held in Rome on International Women's Day.
"The Catholic Church has long since been a primary global carrier of the virus of misogyny," McAleese said. "It has never sought a cure, though a cure is freely available. Its name is equality."
We have been part of a civil and ecclesial tradition that has offended against women. And, like many men, we have a tendency to convince ourselves that there is no problem. However unwittingly, we have often contributed to a form of clericalism which has reinforced male domination with an ostensibly divine sanction. By making this declaration we wish to react personally and collectively and do what we can to change this regrettable situation.
In McAleese's prophetic words, Catholic patriarchalism "acts as a powerful brake on dismantling the architecture of misogyny wherever it is found."
Moreover she said its "hostility to internal criticism" — despite regularly critiquing secular culture — actually "borders on institutional idolatry."
Such words are hard for churchmen to hear, just as it can be hard for white people to hear about white privilege from people of color.
But there is no way forward without voices that tell us things we'd rather not know but desperately need to hear.
Polish theologian and author Zuzanna Radzik spoke about her work with Christian-Jewish relations. As a young woman, she quoted Nostra Aetate to convince a Catholic pastor to remove the anti-Semitic bookstore in his church basement. He refused.
Nostra Aetate (In our Time) focuses on the relationship that Catholics have with Jews." It's considered a monumental declaration of Vatican II that describes the Church's positive relationship with people of other faith traditions.
It "reveres the work of God in all the major faith traditions" and begins by stating its purpose of reflecting on what humankind has in common in these times when people are being drawn closer together.
When she approached the bishop's office to demand the bookstore be closed or removed, she was asked, "Why is a woman dealing with it and not a priest?" After wondering why she should stay in such a church, Radzik chose to study Catholic theology "because at the end of the day I really wanted to do work for Christian-Jewish relations." Five years later, she finally succeeded in getting the bookstore closed.
Today Radzik is working on a book about women in early Christianity because she hopes to "bring all sorts of role models so that women and men can broaden their sense of the church and what women are saying in the church."
Voices of Faith suggests promising pathways for dismantling Catholic misogyny:
(Mary McAleese - speak out!)
Speak up about female oppression in the church and don't be complicit in silencing women's voices.
The Catholic Church belongs to women as much as to any misguided cleric. Women (and the men who love them) must stay and confront the demons of anti-Semitism, homophobia, misogyny, and clerical patriarchalism.
It would be good if our priests preached about domestic and sexual violence against women. (I'd love to take a survey and find out how many Catholic priests even mentioned #MeToo or Time's Up issues from the pulpit.)
Engage a new generation of young people in conversation about faith and the things that matter in their lives. We have much to learn from each other.
Begin an educational program or study group in your parish or small faith community about women's leadership in early (and later) Christianity.
There's more, but this seems like a good start.
[St. Joseph Sr. Christine Schenk served urban families for 18 years as a nurse midwife before co-founding FutureChurch, where she served for 23 years. She holds master's degrees in nursing and theology.]