Friday, September 25, 2015

Joan Chittister to Pope Francis: "It Is Impossible, Holy Father, to Be Serious about Doing Anything for the Poor and at the Same Time Do Little or Nothing for Women"

Because I do remain a bit muzzy in the head due to my recent tooth issues (and, above all, the difficulty one has in sleeping as she/he deals with pain in the night), I don't think I can write anything of great substance or length right now. (Lucky you, right?)

But I'll share a few top-of-head thoughts with you. Much of value is being written in the past several days about what Pope Francis has been saying and doing in the U.S. I can't give you a comprehensive report of everything that catches my eye.

I do, though, want to zero in on the following section of Tom Roberts's National Catholic Reporter commentary on the pope's remarks to U.S. bishops two days ago: Roberts writes that "Francis laid out an insistent call for dialogue – with everyone and in all directions," as he emphasized:

The dialogue should be with everyone – among bishops, in their presbyterates, with lay persons, families and with society. "I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly," he said.

I want to zero in not only on this observation, but on the word everyone: Francis encouraged the bishops, according to Roberts, to build within the U.S. Catholic church dialogues that include everyone.

But then he notes the response of theologian Gina Messina-Desert to Francis's address to the bishops:

Gina Messina-Dysert is "thrilled with Pope Francis and all that he is bringing not only to the Catholic community but to the general community" but she also wishes that among the invitees to the dialogue [at the upcoming Vatican Synod on the Family] were women and that among the subjects were those also of interest to women. 
A feminist theologian and dean of graduate and professional studies at Ursuline College, she said she "would  like to see women welcomed in to the conversation. Women are not individuals to be feared."

So we have two sides of what seems to me a seemingly insoluble problem here. We have a quandary:

1. The dialogue should include everyone.

2. But within the church itself, women are not at the table.

Women are never at the table in Catholic intra-ecclesial dialogues that have any direct import at all for or direct effect on governance decisions within the church, since the all-male leaders of the church have decreed that women may not sit at the table. They may not be ordained — ordination being the door to the table, the door to a dialogue including everyone — and the possibility of ordaining women may not even be discussed, without severe penalties if one is a bishop, priest, or even a woman religious.

And so we have a wonderful call for all-inclusive dialogue — everyone should be at the table — from the very church leader who has told us that he will not permit the reopening of any discussion about the ordination of women. Since that door is closed and must remain closed . . . . 

Condition #2 seems rather to undercut condition #1, does it not? 

As Jeff Schweitzer notes today, the media — whose coverage is still to a huge degree dominated by male voices, especially within the Catholic commentariat — has a huge man crush on Francis and will not talk about such disparities. And the whole church, the public square, suffers as a result of this disconnect and this dishonesty.

Francis tells us to take care of the poor, to draw them from the margins of society into the dialogue that shapes society, but he refuses to talk about the fact that, around the world, poverty wears a female face. And the poverty of women around the world is compounded by the magisterial teaching that contraception is forbidden: as Schweitzer notes, 

Despite this well-documented need for and benefits of contraception, the Pope opposes any effort to give women the right to control their own reproductive destiny. You cannot claim an affinity for the poor while promoting the very policies that ensure the poor will remain ever so. The Pope's claim to care for the poor is fraud supported by media that refuse to call him on his hypocrisy.

You cannot claim an affinity for the poor while promoting the very policies that ensure the poor will remain ever so. Condition #2 — poor women may not use contraceptives — undercuts condition #1 — the poor should be drawn into social participation, into the dialogues that build societies around the world.

As Sister Joan Chittister has just told Pope Francis in an open letter, many of us applaud his insistence that the exclusion of the poor from the structures of society, the denial of the basic necessities of life to the poor, be addressed by people of faith. 


But there is a second issue lurking under the first that you yourself may need to give new and serious attention to as well. The truth is that women are the poorest of the poor. Men have paid jobs; few women in the world do. Men have clear civil, legal and religious rights in marriage; few women in the world do. Men take education for granted; few women in the world can expect the same. Men are allowed positions of power and authority outside the home; few women in the world can hope for the same. Men have the right to ownership and property; most of the women of the world are denied these things by law, by custom, by religious tradition. Women are owned, beaten, raped and enslaved regularly simply because they are female. And worst of all, perhaps, they are ignored—rejected—as full human beings, as genuine disciples, by their churches, including our own. 
It is impossible, Holy Father, to be serious about doing anything for the poor and at the same time do little or nothing for women.

It is impossible, Holy Father, to be serious about doing anything for the poor and at the same time do little or nothing for women. Condition #2 — pretending that poverty does not have a woman's face, at a global level — undercuts condition #1 — the call to address poverty around the world.

This problem — the marvelous statement articulating an ideal many of us want to pursue being undercut by the tacit, unacknowledged exclusion of whole sectors of the human community as that ideal is pursued — runs throughout the Catholic world today. And it may be particularly pronounced in the United States, where we have not merely a highly polarized Catholic church, but a bipolarized one.

Our binary, black-white, either-or, Democratic-GOP, right-left political system in the U.S., which has deeply framed Catholic discussions, too, locks us into simplistic ways of seeing and doing that keep us in stasis. Simplistic ways of seeing and doing that set us at each others' throats when we should be seeking common solutions — and the system is designed to do that very thing, to set us at each others' throats so that the system remains in stasis.

In that simplistic, binary way of doing business, the media have long played a collusive role. The media quite deliberately do not put the two sides of the equations together for us. They do not point out the discrepancy between objective #1 and objective #2, the disconnect between rhetoric and reality.

They are paid not to do so.

We do not and cannot have honest discussions of these and many other issues within the Catholic world because the media cheerleaders, the folks who hold forth in the "official" discussion spaces of the U.S. Catholic media, are, to a great degree, not merely men, but white, heterosexual men. White, heterosexual men are mediating to the rest of us — with fulsome cheers — a message from the pope about building dialogic spaces that include everyone, when their very own Catholic dialogic spaces clearly do not include everyone.

When they lock out the voices of many groups of people who have seldom been brought to the table and who cannot access the table, since they lack the power and privilege to do so . . . . And, once again, this is particularly true of the Catholic media in the U.S. American Catholicism has long paid lip service to the ideal of here comes everybody, while living quite cozily within a dominant capitalistic culture of atomic individualism that pits you against me, and which excuses the exclusion of "losers" with myths about how those on the margins deserve to lose.

Unlike you or me, they have not played the game right. If they're gay and Catholic, for instance, how did they ever imagine that they would be included in the Catholic conversation, while they ignore Catholic teaching about human sexuality? (Never mind that we ourselves ignore that very same teaching as we use contraceptives in our married lives — but, then, we aren't losers like those folks are, are we?)

The gurus of the Catholic media in the U.S. (most of them, but not all, straight white males, and women who find power within networks of straight white males) are very adroit about playing the two sides of our bipolarized church system against each other, while pretending to stand in the middle and occupy some neutral — some superior — space above the fray. As non-losers have always loved to do . . . .

They are very adroit about implying that anyone asking honest questions about putting conditions #1 and #2 together, in order to make sense of papal messages that seem to be praiseworthy, is simply anti-Catholic, anti-pope, and deserves to be excluded from the conversation defining Catholic identity.

Come to think of it, how is what I'm describing here with the Catholic media any different at all from how the church itself does business, in its governing structures?

(Please forgive me for not responding to most of your very welcome comments here this week. I'm trying to mete out my strength for what is necessary and let other things slide. Please do feel free to keep talking among yourselves in the conversation boxes here.)

The graphic is from the image gallery of Almeria Middle School in Fontana, California. 

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