Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Why is the Catholic Church the last feminist frontier?

Jesus carries the cross, stained glass from St Mary's, Greenville, SC.

The comments at the recent Feministe thread by Aunt B got me thinking. Even though Aunt B (whom I adore!) was careful to counsel pagan commenters not to trash the monotheists, some could barely contain themselves. Understandable. But this thread, combined with Thursday's post (about North Carolina cops that may have overreacted in the shooting of Courtland Smith) and the recent arrest in the Jaycee Dugard kidnapping in California, helped me clarify some issues.

Male law enforcement vs female law enforcement, for starters. Viva la Difference!

Although I am as interested as the next scandalmonger in the case itself, and how Philip Garrido managed to hide an 11-year-old girl, later a woman with two children (!), in his backyard for 18 years (!), I found myself far more impressed with the rank-and-file college law enforcement officers at the University of California at Berkeley, Lisa Campbell and Ally Jacobs, who sniffed him out in a totally non-violent fashion. No guns drawn, no pre-dawn raid, no outrageous look-at-me behavior ala the David Koresh debacle. They asked questions. Something was amiss. They asked him to come back the next day! (appealed to his ego and desire to talk) As one who has been very critical of law enforcement on this blog... let me say this might be the most impressive example of police work I have ever seen. Bloodless, sharp, making intelligent use of databases and psychology.

It came down to their weird vibes about his daughters, and the realization of his parole officer: but...he doesn't have any daughters.

Bingo. Garrido, you are busted.

As I said, I am extremely impressed with these women. The fact that one chatted with the girls as the other cop talked to dad? Utter brilliance. And they followed their instincts; one came right out and said she was a mother, and something just wasn't right. YAY FOR MOM COPS! More of these, please.

Would Courtland Smith have been mowed down by one of these women? I just don't think so.

At left, DEAD AIR's kind of cops: UC-Berkeley law enforcement officers Alison Jacobs and Lisa Campbell, smelled a rat. Photo from Examiner.com.

Thus we see, bringing women into traditionally-male occupations can have some unexpected benefits, BECAUSE (not in spite) of our woman-ways. In politics this can also be true, particularly in local politics, which involves lots of hands-on work with constituents.

Now, what about the Church? Yes, I refer to the behemoth to which I nominally belong, the Catholic Church.


For the life of me, I can't understand why feminists support the right of women to fight in patriarchal, colonialist, nationalist wars; become law enforcement officers enforcing unjust laws; head up capitalist businesses that think nothing of destroying the environment (and even depend on doing so, for profits), etc etc etc... but if I should say "Well, I would like to have been a priest!"--all hell breaks loose, you should pardon expression.

Feminists are not supposed to want to be priests unless they are Episcopalian. Then it is marginally okay, but still not really okay. But women seeking equality within the Catholic Church? No. Bad. You CAN'T GO THERE.

Why not?

I see no reason why women should not be priests, monsignors, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes. NO REASON.

Are feminists endorsing this? No.

Are women outside of the Church bringing their considerable political leverage to help women who are trying to make this happen? Ha!


As we see from Aunt B's thread: you are not supposed to want this. One cannot be, they say, a feminist and believe in monotheism. But of course, you CAN be a feminist and drops bombs on people you don't know, under orders of your (patriarchal, one assumes) government.

Why is one acceptable and the other not? Why is one regarded as MORE PATRIARCHAL than the other?

Looking at those super-duper cops, I can't help but think an increase in women officers would be GOOD for all law enforcement, despite my general misgivings about the institution of law enforcement. Likewise, I know that an increase of women priests would be good for the Church. In just the same way.

Did I just compare priests to cops? Wow, I guess I did. But my point is how patriarchal and male-dominated an existing institution already is. I'd say the military and the government, as well as the world of Fortune-500 companies, qualifies. They are patriarchal not just in the sheer number of males, but in their overall approach, culture and values.

Again, I refer to my comparison above... a situation that did not need to become deadly, in which deadly force was used. And a situation in which a known sex-offender was harboring a kidnapped child for 18 years, and simple TALKING and CHECKING HIS STORY, was able to flush him out.

I think many women might well be better at the actual job of being a priest, as well as lots nicer.

Yes, I want a Wise Latina for a priest, please! If one can sit on the Supreme Court, why not the Roman Curia?

Why are those of us who seek equality in the Catholic Church, being ignored and called unfeminist, when others who want to participate in patriarchal institutions, are enthusiastically exhorted to do so?

This is a double standard I find infuriating... and besides that, I just don't get it.

I'd like to discuss that here, if people are up for it. Play nice and be respectful, although pointed and intense questions are welcome. I'd really like to get to the bottom of this, actually, and a follow-up post will likely be the result of any qualitative and in-depth discussion.

Caution: No name-calling and baiting of any kind; I have already blocked the IP address of one troll this week, and I am ready to block more if I have to.

(Our Lady of Guadalupe candle is from my Flickr page. And a very Happy Birthday to you, Blessed Mother!)


sheila said...

Well...no fighting here Miss Daisy! I couldn't agree with you more. And I thought the SAME thing when I found out it was 2 women in that case who broke that case! I was stunned that neighbors called the po-po years earlier and NOTHING happened...not even a walk through of the backyard where the reported complaint was concerned with!


Those women should REALLY be commended.

As for the church. Ughhhh. I just don't get it.

Mama Moretti said...

I believe the idea is that a male God is not feminist. They might not realize the exalted position of Mary to so many in the CC which sometimes even supercedes Jesus, God, Trinity, ect.

D. said...

As I am a Catholic of less than a year's duration, I should probably give this a pass. However (you knew there was going to be a however there, right? Not a surprise?), there are as I understand it various organizations devoted to bringing this about, some (later nullified) ordinations, and not an inconsiderable number of women who don't think it such an unspeakable idea,

This might be an issue for which the American church must lead the way.

John Powers said...

I won't be offended if you delete this.

I thought of something Sharon Astykwrote recently:

"And they would not be here without the courage of ordinary mothers, who sometimes choose rightly, and sometimes wrongly, sometimes can resist the forces of history and sometimes are swept along with them, but whose best they can is sometimes nearly enough."

Over at Religion Dispatches Peter Laarman asks:

"But what do the creeds and fine distinctions of theological argument have to do with commitment to justice?"

When I think of Catholic religious women whom I admire the most, justice rather than doctrine seems the main theme. And not perfect justice, but rather, "sometimes nearly enough" justice. It's life engaged in creation.

Laarman cites Buber's Two Types Of Faith: "the Hebraic concept of emunah—collective adherence and justice-doing commitment—to the Hellenic concept of pistis, the kind of individual ideation that follows conversion." I suspect something following a similar bifurcation can be found within most spiritual traditions. And perhaps the two streams always lead in the same direction.

Feminism within the Catholic Church seems to me very much a part of emunah. To survive and flourish the Catholic Church must engage creatively in real life.

I'm not religious, so opining is a bit silly of me. I mention not-religious also to say I'm not making a Gnostic argument when I say "sometimes nearly enough" is a feature not a bug of the human condition. Every parent guides their children, but knows it's still up to the child to find a way. The wise sage cautions us to look where the finger points not to the finger.

Brought up an Episcopalian, women priests don't seem odd to me, even when there were none when I was growing up. But I think the core issue is not so much hierarchy, but the spiritual path of creation. Silencing women's voices strangle the life out of churches. It's a good thing some women are not easily shut up.

Rachel said...

I think one of the reasons that the feminists you speak of might not be as concerned with church participation for women is that we all must live within government and captialism, therefor, ought to have a part in it, i guess is their thinking. As long as they fight to keep the religious's fingers out of reproductive rights and etc, they figure that because people can take or leave the Church, then it is not important. I don't think this is the right attitude to have about it, either; obviously if feminists get involved in Church politics and the Church has no choice but to accommodate them or lose its footing, then ultimately there will be women priests. Then, rather than a struggle against the Church, people who have typically been excluded can work with the Church. Even though that would be much better, it might take more effort. Sort of like the liberal elitism you wrote about a while back; it would take more effort for them to reach out to people who could be allies if they had the resources and information to do so than it does to poo-poo on them and ignore them cause they are "backward." I think it's the same sort of thing going on. Sometimes it is easier just to escape oppression that is religious in nature than it is to do what you can to eradicate that oppression in the first place, and if someone grew up outside of that religion, it might be easier for them to assume that it shouldn't affect them and doesn't matter. On top of this add the idea that "science" is the ultimate, final say-so in what is real and that religion is a bunch of fairy tales thought up to keep people in line, and...well, that's that.

word verification: micclib

Ann oDyne said...

"I found myself far more impressed with the rank-and-file college law enforcement officers at the University of California at Berkeley, Lisa Campbell and Ally Jacobs, who sniffed him out in a totally non-violent fashion. "

YES yes. That jumped at me too.
Thanks for their picture - I hope they get good pay.

Also, I hope the judges who paroled that beast TWICE after rape convictions have hung their heads in SHAME.

It is world literacy day, and I just heard myself (at a blogpost on it) mention missionaries teaching (3rd world) children to read.
The corrupt Indonesian military began their massacre at Aceh by killing nuns and priests, and I guessed it was because they were creating 'informed' citizens of the future, a big threat to control and corruption.

DaisyDeadhead said...

John--now come on, why would I delete someone who links Mary Hunt? :)

I am partial to the Sisters of Loreto... which reminds me that I don't subscribe to Buber's bifurcation thing... I like St Ignatius and Ignatian spirituality. I would have been a Jesuit if I'd been allowed. There is no "female auxiliary" of Jesuits, unfortunately--as most orders of male priests have a complimentary or parallel order of nuns for women.

D, the Sisters of Loreto have been at the forefront, as have women like Mary Hunt. But I do want organizations like NOW to make it part of their agenda, too: We want women senators, women plumbers, women priests, women mechanics, etc. Endorsing women in the police force and military is a political statement; I don't think there is any good reason why we can't be added to the long list.

I haven't written about this because I've been a bit cowed by the 'men's rights' guys (primarily at Feminist Critics), who say I whine too much over the fact that I was not allowed to play drums. Well, the whining over drums ain't nothin compared to my whining over what I regard as my missed vocation.

I do regard it as a loss.

Nell Gwynne said...

I'm Episcopalian, and the several women priests I know are INSANELY BITCHIN. I do support women of any religious denomination to undergo the ordainment process if they feel so called. Where I live (west michigan), there has been quite a bit of hooplah about women's roles withing the Christian Reformed church.

I think the issue is perception. Many automatically assume that Christianity is inherently bad for women. I acknowlede the many dick moves that Christians have done throughout history, but I think more people need to learn about the many, many women in the Church that have fought for all kinds of social justice.

John Powers said...

I didn't think my response was bad, just maybe off topic. It's a big subject that can go in so many different directions.

I remember when I saw the first women police officers on the beat. There was a quick double-take and then recognition of duh!

The experience of Episcopal priests is probably revealing. Just in general at the same time as women were becoming priests, the role of priests and ministers has evolved. There's more of an expectation now that priests and ministers be a sort of mental health professional.

My sample of priests is small, but when I think of women priests many of my sample have entered into alternative ministries.

There are complicated reasons, among them certainly discrimination. But at root what I see is work to re-imagine spiritual communities. Worship and liturgy is important to them, indeed many don't want to be seen as mental health care providers, but instead properly engaged in the practice of faith.

Still, ministering in ways that include the excluded is a common thread. This isn't always the neediest,for example efforts to imagine a "parish" as a place for study, contemplation and worship.

Women priests change things in perhaps subtle, but fundamental ways.

John Powers said...

I'm so happy you are training your incisive but kind eyes towards religion.

Struggling in my responses to your post partly because I'm not putting patriarchy front and center. Part of that my just be my male obliviousness, but another part is that religion and spirituality is shared by both women and men, although probably experienced differently.

Many religions show evidence of syncretism--reconciling contrary beliefs. Many scholars of Islam reject syncretism by saying Islam is a revelation. I think Catholic Church authority takes a similar view.

Your Catholic faith Daisy incorporates many elements of syncretism within the tradition of Catholicism. Your comments on Aunt B's post about the role of saints in your faith made me think of Maria Lionza. That religion is very interesting if for no other reason to shine light on the idea that religion incorporates a view of the world: how the world really is with a woman at the source.

There are many women Christian ministers. Episcopalians and Anglicans in general are somewhat syncretistic of Catholicism and Protestantism. Roman Catholics do not consider claims of Apostolic Succession among Anglicans valid.

It seems to me that Apostolic Succession is a way in which priests embody a doctrinal religion. That Episcopalian priests and bishops claim this Apostolic Succession is one reason for paying attention to them in re Roman Catholic women becoming priests.

Presbyterians are probably just as under the spell of patriarchy, but women Presbyterian ministers don't have this same requirement of embodying the doctrine as do Catholic priests. That's why women priest make a fundamental change.

Prior to women being ordained priests in the Episcopal church there were ordained deacons. The role of deacons within the Episcopal church is somewhat different form Roman Church. The importance of Episcopal deacons serving vows of a lifetime servant ministry is also related to a struggle to answer the question among Holy Orders of what it means to be a Christian in today's society. Deacons are one way to finesse this.

As I understand it the Roman Catholic Church ordains women as deacons. It also seems Catholics are somewhat aware of what happened in the Episcopal Church: deacons as a prelude to ordination as priests. The advantage of women deacons is a recognized ministry without opening the can of worms of a priest actions “in persona Christe.”

In the Post-Gazette yesterday was an article about young novices. One woman studied civil engineering at Pitt before entering orders. Her goal is to address the crisis of potable water in the global south. She knew which organizations within the Church were doing projects which would benefit form her expertise and has followed a path within the Church to make a difference.

The Roman Church wants women professionals. The struggle over ordination of women as priests really is over ultimate views of how the world really is. And I think the arguments over the hijab are similarly fundamental for many Muslims. It's not so much about trying to reconcile the modern world with religious beliefs, and it's more about reconciling differencing beliefs about women and men under what is believed to be divine revelation.

The Catholic Church hasn't been able to extinguish Maria Lionza in Venezuela, nor other syncrestistic cults of saints within its tradition. It's certainly possible to maintain ones Catholicism partly through embracing such traditions. But I'm not sure that such traditions really advance the movement towards ordination of women as priests. Whereas professional women serving ministries probably do more towards this end.

DaisyDeadhead said...

John: As I understand it the Roman Catholic Church ordains women as deacons.

Absolutely not. Historically, appears to be some proof that there were women deacons; but this is hotly disputed.

AF said...

WARNING: Graphic Description Ahead!!

On "women's intuition" and law enforcement and Garrido and that whole mess, Take a gander at this blast from the past, which has pissed me off for 18 years:

In the early morning hours of May 30, 1991, 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone was discovered on the street, wandering naked, heavily under the influence of drugs and bleeding from his rectum. Two young women from the neighborhood found the dazed boy and called 911. Dahmer chased his victim down and tried to take him away, but the women stopped him. Dahmer told police that Sinthasomphone was his 19-year-old boyfriend, and that they had an argument while drinking. Against the protests of the two women who had called 911, police turned him over to Dahmer. ... The two policemen failed to run a background check that would have revealed that Dahmer was a convicted sex offender and child molester still under probation. The officers laughed about the incident, one joking that his partner was “going to get deloused.” Later that night, Dahmer killed and dismembered Sinthasomphone...

John Powers said...

Thanks for correcting me about the deacons! My reading comprehension is often quite poor.