At Huffington Post, Angela Bonavoglia has published a very fine open letter to Pope Francis entitled "For Pope Francis: A To-Do List for Women." The letter calls on Francis to stop talking about the role of women in the church, when the subjects that should really be under discussion are justice and equality. As Bonavoglia notes, further talk about where women's "place" is only further underscores assumptions that the male experience and perspective are normative, and women's experiences and perspectives are somehow to be wedged into the normative paradigm established by males.
Bonavoglia also notes that women's experiences provide them with moral authority that might be instructive for Catholic leaders, if they chose to listen to women. And in that area of listening: what about the magisterial feminist theologians like Elizabeth Johnson, Bonavoglia asks? Why do Catholic leaders keep condemning the magisterial work of such theologians, rather than learning from that work?
Bonavoglia makes other outstanding recommendations--bless the use of contraception, stop the obsessive focus on the Virgin Mother as an intolerable schizophrenic model for Catholic women to emulate, appoint a woman to the College of Cardinals, end compulsory celibacy, and hold the men in the world's "oldest and largest surviving boys' club" accountable. Finally, she calls on the pope to stop talking about women as if they aren't in the room, invisible and voiceless while their humanity is being dissected and their worth parsed by a boys' club that never consults those being so dissected and so parsed.
As I read Bonavoglia's open letter to Pope Francis, I think of passages from Ivone Gebara's book Out of the Depths: Women’s Experience of Evil and Salvation, trans. and intro. Ann Patrick Ware (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002). I'm currently reading Out of the Depths, and will be offering readers here reflections on and excerpts from the book after I finish it.
Meanwhile, here are points Gebara makes early in the book that seem to me to dovetail very well with points Bonavoglia raises in her open letter to Francis--as she notes, while church leaders ignore women's concrete experiences--while they ignore women as women--they speak as if male experience is universal:
The church, an institution created and dominated by men, has interpreted women’s experience of evil, whether undergone or committed by women, in a way that bears little or no resemblance to what women feel or ask for, whether in theology or within the structures of the church. The same can be said for the means of salvation. These means are tightly bound to a male religious approach that presents itself as universalist; any differences are subsumed into global egalitarian speech, which often hides its particular character (3).
Gebara also draws on liberation theology, with its insistence that the preferential option for the poor isn't simply a faddish new optic to tack onto the traditional theological enterprise, but must be allowed to reframe the whole enterprise, to make a similar point about feminist perspectives:
Similarly, I would say that feminism, or the marginalization of women, is not just one more theme but that the appearance of women on the public stage of history had to change the very structure of the theological enterprise, taking this new problematic into account (52).
I agree wholeheartedly with Angela Bonavoglio: Catholic pastoral leaders, Francis included, have much to learn from the powerful theological work of Catholic women like Elizabeth Johnson and Joan Chittister. I'd also add Ivone Gebara to the list.
The video: a promo for the upcoming (8 February) Moral March on Raleigh, North Carolina.