Ok, I apologize for the potentially bad latin translation. I went off the old Catholic teaching Extra Ecclesia Nulla Salus (No salvation outside the Church) and amended it to say: Within the Church, no safety for women (and you could also add the LGBT community, but for the purposes of my argument today, I’m choosing to focus primarily on the role of women in the Church, spurred from an interview with Frmr. President Jimmy Carter.
Here is the text:
I think there’s a slow, very slow, move around the world to give women equal rights in the eyes of God. What has been the case for many centuries is that the great religions, the major religions, have discriminated against women in a very abusive fashion and set an example for the rest of society to treat women as secondary citizens. In a marriage or in the workplace or wherever, they are discriminated against. And I think the great religions have set the example for that, by ordaining, in effect, that women are not equal to men in the eyes of God.
This has been done and still is done by the Catholic Church ever since the third century, when the Catholic Church ordained that a woman cannot be a priest for instance but a man can. A woman can be a nurse or a teacher but she can’t be a priest. This is wrong, I think…
…I think that what the major religious leaders say is used by others who discriminate against women as justification for their human rights abuse. For instance if an employer, who might be otherwise enlightened, if he is a religious person and he sees that, he might be a Catholic, and a Catholic does not let women be priests, then why should he pay his women employees an equal pay [as men]?
In the United States that prevails all over. We have an average now of about 70% that a woman earns compared to a 100% that a man earns for doing the same job. And very few of the corporate boards have I think 50% women. Very few of them. And of course we have a very few percentage of women in our House of Representatives and in our Senate. We never yet had a woman president, but I think that’s going to come in the near future. But I think in general terms this is a very derogating thing.
I’ve spent some time thinking about this, had some time to sleep on it and I feel ready to approach this issue calmly and with as much respect as I can give it. But I think President Carter is spot on in his assessment. This is not to say that the women who do feel safe within the Catholic Church are wrong, or that their experiences are somehow less valid because they are very privileged to be the lucky few who still feel welcome and equal in the Church. What upsets me the most, however, is when these women see their privilege as being the norm, and if other women feel differently, then they are simply wrong and they shouldn’t be listened to. It upsets me greatly as a Catholic woman, because I, unfortunately, have experienced shame and guilt after seeking guidance from a Church leader.
Months after I was sexually assaulted (about six months) and not seeking any help prior, I decided I couldn’t keep this on the back burner anymore. I had to take care of myself, and while I thought I was being selfish, and while I still feel selfish even talking about what happened to me, I feel as if this is pertinent to my argument. I sought counsel from someone I had seen before, a spiritual guidance counselor, if you will. This was the first time I had talked to any kind of counselor about my assault, and I didn’t know how to tell her what had happened. I somehow found a way, and crying, I told her about what had happened to me. She handed me a tissue and let me cry and we talked for an hour. At the end of the session, she stood up, walked me to the door and said, “I hope you’ve learned your lesson.”
I felt ridiculous. I felt cheated. I was angry. I felt stupid. I had let my guard down, shown my vulnerability and my confusion of what had happened to you and when I sought guidance from the Church I was made to feel ashamed and guilty, even though I had had no control over what happened to me. While I know that not all clergy members are the same, and some are better spiritual coaches than others, and I have met great clergy men within and outside of the Church. My experience is not everyone’s experience, but it is not unlikely. When I hear women saying that the Catholic Church is, actually, a safe environment for women and to say otherwise is either stupid or foolish or just plain wrong, I feel exactly how I did after that session almost a year ago. If you feel safe, good for you. But your experience is not superior, and your experience is not normative, and it is certainly not “the only way.” The privileged experiences of those lucky enough to feel safe within the Church should not discount or invalidate the experiences of others who have been made to feel unsafe.
I have my own reasons for why I don’t feel safe or welcome in the Catholic Church anymore, but there are a few ways in which the Catholic Church perpetuates an environment where women are made to feel inferior in one way or another. One of those ways is the Church’s refusal to ordain women into the priesthood. One of the arguments we’re used to hearing is “It’s always been that way,” but tradition doesn’t necessarily preclude possible changes, and it doesn’t rule out the possibility of ordaining women. The Fathers of the Church used obsolete and archaic ideas to support their position that women are inadequate to be ordained, such as the notion that God created women as inferior beings, and that men were superior to women in intelligence and character. Also they used the concept that God subjected women to men as a punishment for original sin and that women were ritually unclean (WO.org).
“And what about Jesus?” most oblivious opponents of women’s ordination will say. “He didn’t have any female apostles, did he?” Well, first of all, you’re not Jesus, so let’s not try and put words in His mouth, shall we? Furthermore, “Jesus’ not chosing any women as apostles does not mean he deliberately barred them from ever becoming priests.”
However, Jesus’ not chosing any women as apostles does not mean he deliberately barred them from ever becoming priests. After all he left many aspects of his apostolate to the future church; the writing of the New Testament, or the abolition of slavery, not to mention the full liberation of women which is still in process. The decision not to include women among his twelve apostles says nothing about women as priests except that Jesus, as a Jewish male of his time, knew that the custom and tradition of his day did not allow women to assume leadership roles. By following the prevailing custom Jesus was not precluding a time when women, along with men, could be ordained.
For if women were to be permanently excluded then why not Gentiles? Cultural conditions can change and with them the justification for barring women from the priesthood. The fact that women were not among the twelve does not rule out a day in the (near) future when women will be ordained as priests. Using tradition as a rationale for why a practice does not exist is no proof that it won’t become a reality in the future.
Rome also uses a male priesthood as the norm when it proclaims that women do notimage the male Jesus and therefore only ordained men can adequately represent Christ. However, they ignore the fact that the priest is not signifying Christ’s maleness, but rather his role as mediator. Women can, just as truly, signify Christ because they are equal in Christ.
The idea that “its always been that way so it’s ok” or “God made women and men differently” falls directly in line with douche-monkey Erikk Erickson’s claim that since men are made “biologically stronger” than women, then women can’t possibly be the breadwinners because that means society as we know it will crumble and the earth will open up and swallow us all, right? Well, while we’re waiting for that to happen (don’t hold your breath), here’s why those arguments don’t work for the whole “The Church is a safe place for women” argument. Not only is the idea that men are made different from women unfair to women looking to express their faith as openly and equally as their male counterparts, it also puts an unfair pressure on men. Like with the breadwinner thing, casting men as the primary breadwinner of the family unit places an unfair burden on the man to do “all of the work” just to have other people spend “his” hard earned money. Allowing women to have more of a role in “bringing home the bacon,” it takes away the pressure of the man having to do it all the time. By only allowing men to become priests, not only are we ostracizing half of the Church’s demographics by saying since they have boobs, they can’t possibly have as much faith as men, we’re placing this immense pressure on men to become priests in order to save the priesthood from dwindling down into nothing.
By focusing on the maleness of Christ, rather than the peacefulness and love of His words, we are assuming that women are not equal in Christ’s love. Simply because of anatomical differences. Last I checked, everyone’s hearts look pretty much the same (whoa, cheesy. Slap that on a Hallmark card, someone!). So, how are we still supposed to believe that women are safe or seen as equal within the Church? With the arguments of “men are different from women” and “its always been this way” just perpetuates this image of women always being the players, but never a coach. Furthermore, the Church, in reality, is just pathetically clinging to gender roles that are no longer normative to today’s society. Gender roles have shifted-and they are not always so clear cut (and should not be for that matter). Pretending otherwise will just perpetuate the notion that there is an inferior sex that is unworthy of being seen as equal among their peers. By the way-this is usually when people break out the “Well why should THEY have MY rights?” bullshit argument. Sit down. Nobody is actually trying to take away your rights, they’re leveling the playing field by bringing those who have been cast down and raising them up to have the same opportunities as those privileged enough to have them (and isn’t that an act of Christ-like compassion? To advocate and fight for the vulnerable or for the downtrodden?). This supposed threat to your comfort and privileges is fictional, and a ludicrous reason to oppose reform. What’s comfortable isn’t always right.
In the end, the Catholic Church continues to remain a heteronormative boys’ club that continues to give power and privilege only to the men. Pretending that one’s experience of privilege and comfort within the Church is the only “right way” to feel within the Church is to refuse to listen to anyone else’s experiences-particularly those who are merely trying to obtain a respectful hearing within the institution and its theological academy. Turning a blind eye to the inequalities or the injustices of ANY institutions, is to ignore the pleas for change amongst those who are craving it most-and you’d be surprised by how many of those who have been cheated out of feeling welcome in their Church actually want to come back. Just because things haven’t changed for years, decades, centuries or whatever, doesn’t give us a reason to ignore the reasons for why change is necessary and that, yes, those reasons do exist, and we should not let comfort, privilege, power, or ignorance outweigh the experiences of those who have been made to feel guilty about who they are or what has been done to them.
It all boils down to this: we must listen as Christ would listen. To ignore the stories of others as false or wrong or not in line with what we believe or what we find comfortable is not what Christ taught us. He came to Earth to deliver a message, a message that was difficult to hear at the time, but it was necessary that He deliver it. Think of were we’d be if we didn’t listen (and you know, some people technically didn’t until it was too late [you know…there are always those people]) to Christ’s message of undying love, grace, and mercy. I think it’s time we start listening once more. This time to each other.