At the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER) website, theologian Mary Hunt asks why feminists should be concerned with the transition in the Roman Catholic papacy. Her short answer: POWER. The papacy itself is about tremendous power; the transition of the papacy is about power in the balance. And feminists must be concerned about how power is allocated in the world, if they are to achieve their goal of a more just and equitable distribution of power worldwide.
And so Hunt looks at who's prancing center-stage now as the papal conclave gathers. And who's not:
But there are virtually no women in the big news of the papal transfer save the nuns who were relocated from their convent so that the Pope Emeritus will have a new place to live in his old neighborhood.
And who else is not there?
Young people, married people, out LGBTIQ people, more than a few men of color, the list is endless. Yet no one seems to notice, or if they do notice they do not seem to care. I notice and I care!
In Hunt's view, the new pope has, in all likelihood, already been selected, and "[c]hances are good that the new pope will be even more conservative than the two before him." He'll possibly put a more charismatic face on the old conservative model, "but the fundamental conservative trajectory is set, not to be undone."
And so all the pageantry and excitement, the colorful costumes, the horserace-style betting on the new pope, the breathless 'round-the-clock news coverage, is just window dressing that facilitates the totally flawed, dysfunctional system of governance with which Catholics have ended up, and which the last two popes did everything in their power to cement into place and treat as unchangeable and as God's will for the church.
Here's what that fundamentally flawed process means for the church as a whole, Hunt maintains:
No matter who is elected, the process is mortally flawed because it represents a model of church that is long out of date. Until and unless structural changes take place to develop a well integrated, representative governing model in which all members of the Catholic community—including women, married/partnered people, young people—are involved there will be no change. Beginning with local base communities and parishes, adult members need to have real decision-making power about personnel, money, property, sacramental, and social justice work. The same goes for dioceses and regions such that increasingly representative bodies make decisions that clerics cannot overrule. This includes people from the poorest most marginalized parts of the world whose well being and dignity ought to be the center of Catholic concern but clearly is not. We who are part of the community expect and demand that we exercise voice, vote, and responsibility in ministry and in governance.
Hunt wonders why the media, who so often seem mesmerized by the smoke and mirrors of the medieval monarchial pageant, "are not scratching their heads in utter confusion about the whole scene" in which shareholders have absolutely no input into the process by which the CEO of their church is chosen:
A great deal is wrong with it. The worst part, in my view, is the instrumentalization of religion, of people’s faith, to reinscribe and reinforce ways of being and acting as if they were the will of the divine. This is blasphemy. I make no such counter claim that my approach is what God wants. Rather, I assume that human beings can and should organize themselves in ways that reflect their most deeply held values. To see 115 men hold the power in a worldwide community is frightening because of what it means about their sense of the divine. Obviously they think God favors men over women, the few over the many, their privileged information over the sensus fidelium. Where they read this in Christian scripture is not clear. I respectfully disagree and urge us to change the power model as quickly as possible, beginning by withdrawing financial support from the institutional Roman Catholic Church.
What can Catholics intent on countering this approach and finding constructive ways to live their faith in the world today do in response, Hunt asks? Her feminist suggestion: stop, look, and listen. Stop the process by which kyriarchy is transmitted and sustained; look at how and where authentic Catholic spirituality is being lived in the world today; and listen to the Spirit.
This is an imperative, Hunt thinks, not merely for Catholics concerned about the future of their church, but for those who have no particular stake in Catholicism, but who recognize how significant the way in which the Catholic church wields power around the world is for all the citizens of the planet. As Hunt notes,
The stakes, when examined in global terms, are simply too high. If religions shape worldviews, then everyone has the right and responsibility to look critically at it and go about the communal task of creating something better.
And she's right.
(Thanks to Jerry Slevin for drawing my attention to Hunt's essay.)