Monday, April 15, 2013

A Footnote to Discussion of Gender Politics in the Catholic Church: Pope Francis Affirms Rebuke of American Women Religious

"Women will be players, but never coaches" in the papacy of Pope Francis, despite his new style. It turns out that Colleen Baker's statement written only yesterday (and see my posting about Colleen's remarks) is pretty prophetic, isn't it? 

As Joshua McElwee reports this morning for National Catholic Reporter, the new pope has reaffirmed the decision of EPope Benedict XVI to put the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in receivership, and to rebuke American nuns for having failed to be players sufficiently obsequious to their male coaches, the hierarchical leaders of the Catholic church. This decision is, of course, a new slap in the face to American women religious, whose hard work built and has long sustained the institutions of American Catholicism--work for which they are not given any credit at all by those in the Vatican charging them with infidelity, work taken for granted and used by the men running the church but returned with a series of demeaning slaps in the face designed to let Catholic women know who's boss.

If anyone doubts that this is how the old boys' club running the church and its lay cheerleaders see the situation, simply read through the thread of jubilant, taunting remarks that began to appear at the NCR site immediately following McElwee's posting of his article. The boys' club reads Francis's decision as one sending a strong signal that he intends to stand in solidarity with EPope Benedict XVI when it comes to knocking uppity women back into their places. Check the names of the old boys who are jubilant about Francis's LCWR decision, and you'll see that a significant proportion of these same old boys are the very men logging into NCR discussions of gay issues to assure that gay folks know they're  beneath all dignity and deserve to be slapped down decisively, too.

In other words, in the area of gender issues--just as Colleen has predicted--it appears that the new pope intends to keep alive, to energize, the impulse of right-wing Catholics to let some of their fellow Catholics, notably those supporting women's rights and gay rights, know that they are simply not welcome in the Catholic church that belongs to the old boys. "Please walk," is their none-too-subtle message to these fellow Catholics.

And so, as I myself have been predicting, large numbers of Catholics in the U.S.--where sympathy for women religious is very strong, and where there's considerable outrage at what the Vatican is doing to them--will continue to walk. Many of us will continue to hear the command that we walk and will move ourselves accordingly to the margins of the church or outside it, because we cannot tolerate having the essence of Catholicism defined as prejudice and discrimination, and we cannot accept having the gospel message twisted in such a fundamental way by a heteronormative old boy's club clutching all power to itself as it informs the rest of us that it alone understands that message and defines its application in the world in which we live today.

Here's our first, and powerful, indicator that a new pope who exhibits a transformative new style may be less about substance than style, as he takes this step just after having appointed the odious anti-gay Australian cardinal, Pell, who has a deplorable history vis-a-vis the abuse crisis, to his commission to advise him about reforming the Curia. Though this decision energizes the smaller-and-purer set in the Catholic church who have been intent on driving liberal-minded Catholics out of their church, it will definitely have the opposite effect among many other Catholics, and will assure that the precipitous exodus of younger Catholics from the church will continue for the foreseeable future.

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