Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Thursday Again, and Return of the Don't Let Women Get a Foot on the Altar Debate

And, as if to prove President Carter's point that in many of the world's religions, male religious leaders frequently read "their" scriptures in a highly selective way to demean women and exalt men at the expense of women, this year, as Holy Thursday approaches, there's the usual controversy about whether the feet of women may be liturgically washed by priests —even though Pope Francis did precisely that last year, washing the feet of a number of young women at a juvenile detention center in Rome. As David Gibson notes for Religion News Service,

On Thursday evening (April 17), in a familiar reprise of an ancient rite, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wis., will wash the feet of 12 men, all seminarians — a re-creation of Jesus’ action at the Last Supper when he washed the feet of his disciples and, according to Catholic doctrine, formally instituted the priesthood. 
That same evening, thousands of miles away, Pope Francis will also observe the Holy Thursday rite, though not in a cathedral like Morlino but at a center for people with disabilities. There he will wash the feet of a number of residents, all lay people and perhaps some of them women and even non-Christians or nonbelievers.

Morlino has, in fact, forbidden priests in his diocese to wash the feet of women during the Holy Thursday liturgy, citing Catholic rubrics that developed only very recently that restrict the washing of feet to viri selecti — to "select men" — an exclusion never reflected in much more venerable liturgical texts governing the celebration of Holy Thursday. For right-wing Catholics, the exclusion of women from the foot-washing ritual on Holy Thursday has become all about holding the line against women's ordination, since, well, you know, let women get a foothold on the altar, and . . . 

Or something like that. It's all about showing women who's boss, ultimately. It's about using religion to demean, hurt, and display preening male power over denigrated others.

It's of the same ilk and the same retrogressive religious-social mindset as the attempt to argue that God has just turned the moon to blood to punish President Obama, or that God afflicts women who have had abortions with children who have physical disabilities. Religion can have both liberating influence in the world, as we see with the admirable work of a former U.S. president late in his life to uplift women and relieve women and girls from suffering; or it can have an ugly, sour, toxic effect, as we can see in the utterances and actions of any number of radio bible babblers or televangelists who look for any way possible to turn any natural action into any sign at all that their punitive, angry male God is displeased with everyone except themselves — and, in particular, with anyone who questions their right to rule the world solely because they happen to have been born with a penis.

And, yes, I see Bishop Morlino and all the right-wing Catholics cheering him and his ilk on as not much different at all from those scanning the moon for bloody signs and using physically and mentally challenged children to assert the wrath of their angry male God because "He" no longer controls with automatic ease the women, gay folks, poor, people of color, you name it that "He" ordered about so much more biddably in the past.

The photo: a Via Caritas photo of Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, washing the feet of a woman holding her child at a Holy Thursday liturgy in Buenos Aires in 2005, by way of the Washington Post.

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