Here are two more pieces of good commentary I'd like to recommend to you, regarding the discussion of the possibility of studying the place of women deacons in the Catholic church and Pope Francis's recent remarks to a group of women religious about this. I discussed this topic last week.
At National Catholic Reporter, Jamie Manson calls attention to repeated statements Pope Francis made to the group of religious women to whom he spoke recently, demonstrating his continued commitment to a reductionistic biologistic understanding of gender and gender roles, which precludes ordination of women because they lack a phallus.
Pope Francis believes that women cannot assume these leadership roles in the church because of our bodies. He believes that God simply cannot work through the female body in the way in which God works through the male body. He believes that, when it comes to consecrating the Eucharist, the female anatomy somehow renders God powerless.
I realize that, among progressive Catholics, the source of hope for Francis comes from a place of love -- a love for the church, a desire to see it serve its people well, a longing for it to be more fully a force for good in our world.
But no one is served from only reading sound bites that seem to offer an inkling of hope, while downplaying or ignoring altogether the words from the same statement that demonstrate clearly the injustice that women are facing with this pope.
After the enthusiasm exhibited by so many last week, some may have been led to believe that sacramentally-ordained women deacons are a fait accompli. But Francis' own words suggest that women are far from being recognized as genuinely equal and that there is still so much work to be done. These sounds bites and headlines have only expanded the myth of Francis' revolutionary attitude toward women.
From early in Francis' pontificate, criticism of the papacy and the Vatican seemed to fall out of favor. This widespread refusal to cast a critical eye on the pope's understanding of women is simply irresponsible -- and it has an especially perilous impact on poor women.
At Religion Dispatches, Mary Hunt also notes the biologistic, reductionistic understanding of male-female roles with which the pope is working, and how they require the subordination of women to men within the Catholic scheme of things: she writes,
They [i.e., the women religious to whom Francis spoke] asked Francis about women preaching, something that deacons do. He replied that in prayer services, or Liturgy of the Word, it is not a problem. But when the Liturgy of the Word meets the Liturgy of the Eucharist and they become a Mass, it is another question because then Jesus is the presider and only men can image Jesus. The Church is female, the priest male. It is sort of like egg meets sperm and sperm wins. He seems to believe that the symbols work that way, a kind of primitive anthropology in this day and age. Good heavens. No wonder the women suggested that he set up a commission to study the question.
Then she offers a prediction about how the process of studying the role of women in the diaconate will play out:
My expectation—and I have longed to be proven wrong by the kyriarchal church but it has not happened—is that Pope Francis will steer women up the ladder that goes nowhere in terms of decision-making or jurisdiction. That would be consistent with his vapid statement about not judging LGBTIQ Catholics and his tinkering with annulment processes that have not led to substantive changes in teaching. In so doing, he will be seen to be acting kindly toward women when in fact he will effectively coopt women's ministry in the name of a dubious "feminine genius" that he insists is so valuable to the church. He will succeed in keeping women busy doing the daily maintenance tasks of the community, thus freeing up men to preach, teach, and make decisions. The pattern is predictable.
It is highly probable that even these crumbs will be given only to women in canonical religious communities—that is to sisters—who have already signaled by their vow of obedience some willingness to cooperate with the current system in exchange for public status as religious. This is a nightmare scenario insofar as it will divide women from one another. I regret to say it is not out of the question, but I urge women to guard against it by rejecting any offers that come only to some and with strings.
Common sense tells us, after all, that "gender ideology is goofy." Doesn't it? So Michael Sean Winters, who never misses an opportunity to lend his "liberal" Catholic support to the magisterial teaching about the (subordinate) place women must occupy in the Catholic scheme of things, informs his NCR readers today. Thereby placing "liberal" Catholic understandings of gender and gender roles squarely in the camp of rabid right-wing anti-LGBTQ activists like the Benham brothers of North Carolina, who helped stir the pot in North Carolina which boiled over in the hate bill targeting transgender people in that state . . . .
Thereby suggesting — and isn't this grandly scandalous and deeply disappointing — that the very best even "liberal" Catholic commentators have to offer our culture as it negotiates complex questions about gender today, and as real-life human beings pay the price of that negotiation in painful ways, is this flippant, juvenile recourse to a reactionary commonsensism that is itself eminently nonsensical, since the common sense it peddles does not stand either scientific or historical scrutiny.
"Common sense" used to tell the conservative white evangelicals among whom I grew up in the American South that you do not mix black and white, since it "stands to reason" that if God made some people white and others black, "He" did so intending for those two color schemes to live on opposite sides of a restraining wall. As Virginia judge Leon Bazile put the point when he upheld the criminalization of the marriage of Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter in 1959,
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
Why it's common sense! It stands to reason! And Almighty God has put "His" stamp of approval on it!
It would be arrant nonsense — it would be goofy nonsense! — to question such common-sense rubrics stamped with the approval of Almighty God. It would be beyond goofy nonsense to suggest that restrooms, for God's sake, where white women and white girls enjoy the protection from sexual molestation afforded by racial segregation, ought to be opened to black and white folks equally, without discrimination. Imagine the dangers to which you'd be subjecting our wives, sisters, and daughters if you let the racial barriers fall in public restrooms.
Imagine the fatuity of human beings born without phalluses confecting sacraments, or preaching — dogs walking on their hind legs — at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It's tantamount to imagining pigs trying to take flight.
Common sense tells us this.