A woman’s place…in the church

Prodigal Daughter - Meredith Gillis (Cara Smith/AQ)

Religion and politics. We say they don’t belong together, and yet both form such critical parts of our identities we frequently can’t separate them.

As a Catholic, I believe in the inherent dignity and equality of all people, and as a feminist I believe we need women’s voices to be heard on issues in order to fairly represent the public view. As a woman, I believe I am naturally suited to different things than men. I’m horrifyingly traditional, I know.

I’m also completely okay with my traditional views. The world is changing very quickly, and I’m not convinced it’s for the better in every instance. As much as people rag on the Catholic Church for being slow to change and forever behind the times, and as much as it frustrates me at times, I’m glad it’s like that.

I’m glad the Catholic Church takes so long to change doctrine; that it doesn’t try to reform itself with every social movement. Being slow about it gives us, the people within the church time to evaluate what we think about societal trends. It gives the Church time to see if a trend furthers the gospel mission, and if the changes coming from it help or hinder the marginalized.

These past five months, I’ve watched as everyone and their Catholic mother commented on how the Vatican handled talks with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). The LCWR is an organization which represents 80 per cent of the congregations of nuns and sisters in the United States.

In students’ union terms, the LCWR is the equivalent of CASA, and the nuns and sisters it represents are the VP Education from students’ unions at every university in Canada.

In April, the Vatican published a report saying there was “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR.”

When the report came out, everyone jumped on the radical feminism bit. There’s that patriarchal church oppressing women again, why can’t they just let the nuns keep doing their good work?

I really wish people would read the whole thing. It never asked the nuns to stop serving the poor and the marginalized, nor did it say they were wrong for doing so.

What it’s really about is the LCWR’s stance on women priests. In 1977, when the Vatican said only men could be priests, the LCWR publicly rejected the teaching. They’ve never changed their position, and in recent years, have hosted speakers further entrenching their position.

Here in New Brunswick, we have the Purple Stole Society, an organization which can be seen lobbying for women priests at major church celebrations in Saint John and occasionally in Fredericton.

The idea of women priests has been around for years. The popular opinion is generally that since men and women are equal, women should be able to do anything men can do, including administer the sacraments.

I have trouble with this thinking. As recently as two years ago, I’ve agreed with it. But as I’ve grown in my understanding of what it means for me to be Catholic, my way of thinking about gender has changed. I’ve never agreed with the way a lot of feminism seemed to devalue the role of women in the home and the family. The more I’ve learned about feminism, the more I’ve needed to find a way to integrate it with my faith.

Thankfully, there is a place for feminism in the Catholic Church. We already believe in the equality of all people, and recognize the differences making each of us unique.

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese wrote, “the core of feminism lies in the simple demand that women receive the same respect as men as independent, capable human beings.” As a Catholic feminist I believe men and women are different but complementary.

I don’t want women to be priests. If women were to start becoming priests, it would take away from the work they are currently able to do as nuns and sisters. Priests take care of the soul, women religious take care of the body. It’s not that they aren’t capable of feeding the soul, but there’s no reason to double up. Responsibilities work better when they’re shared.

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  • Vic

    You are so closed-minded. This article makes me sad. If women want to be Priests, then saying '[that] would take away from the work [you] are currently able to do as nuns and sisters' is an act of oppression. In a society that's truly equal, as you claim to espouse, gender wouldn't be an indicator for assignment to either role. The assumption that women and men have their roles and that crossing over should be forbidden is exactly the assumption that feminism seeks to counter.

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