When I woke in the wee hours of the morning and scanned the news before trying to catch a few more hours of sleep, Huffington Post had these two articles juxtaposed on its main page — the first is at the head of the posting, Michael Moore warning men that our "10,000-year reign" is over.
The second headline, which HuffPo had placed (along with a dueling photo) right beside it: Pope Francis announcing that female Catholic priests are never happening:
If a pope said it, he said it. Pope St. John Paul II, whose signature word, one that seemed to encapsulate his entire reign as pope, was No! said No! to women's ordination. And No! means No!
Forever. Since if a pope has said it, a pope has said it, and a pope's words are infallible. Right?
An interesting juxtaposition, isn't it, Michael Moore, a lay Catholic, calling on his fellow male humans to recognize that our 10,000-year reign is over; and a pope lionized by the media as a sign of a new spring in the Catholic church, a sweet zephyr breath denied us in the long Catholic winter through which we've been living for decades now in the period of two popes who said No!, announcing that when a pope says, No!, he means No!
Especially where women are concerned.
To be specific, what Pope Francis said in response to a question from a reporter about whether the door will ever open to women's ordination (Will that sweet zephyr blow through all the cold, dark nooks and crannies of our top-heavy clerical-controlled institution?) was, "The last word [from Pope St. John Paul II] is clear."
And like many utterances by Jesuits, one of whose charisms appears to be to know how to parse words so that they may be read as both yes and no, depending on one's inclination, that statement is capable of several different constructions: The last word is clear, of course, but whether it's a final word remains to be seen. Or: The last word is the last word. There will be no other word, after a pope (who is by definition infallible) has spoken.
Pope Francis' Jesuitical tendency to appear to be saying yes and no at the very same time is, to my way of thinking, one of his least attractive qualities. It's cannily crafted to allow for media management and spin as is the historic Jesuit simultaneous commitment to social elites (Someone has to fund our ministry to the poor!) and to those on the margins of society (We use the system to overturn the ill effects of the system!). It allows the media and Catholics who still sense that sweet zephyrous breath at the threshold of our stifling, cold institution to think we are hearing yes, while we completely ignore the no that, in fact, remains embedded in the church's behavior, in its policies and practices.
It allows us to imagine change is occurring when, in fact, no change is taking place at all — something we might see if we moved beyond the media spin and looked at what is actually happening in the church, no matter what pretty words come to us from the top and are madly spun by a compliant media as signs of the imminent zephyr. As one of those who have been the victims of the actual practice of the church in its approach to a marginalized community, I confess my impatience with pretty words that mean nothing at all, when all is said and done.
I confess my impatience with pretty words that do not change the real world in which I and others like me actually live. The church remains, beyond any or all words spoken by any and all popes, a misogynistic (and heterosexist) institution that grants unmerited power and privilege to straight or straight-posturing men. The church remains, when all is said and done, an institution rabidly committed to the 10,000-year (and plus) reign of heterosexual males. The church continues to be, beyond any words spoken by any and all popes, an institution controlled in toto in its governing structures by ordained men most of whom vow celibacy as a prerequisite for ordination.
Its approach to the question of ordination is resolutely embedded in misogyny and heterosexism, and it does little good for any of us who hope for a more just and gospel-oriented institution to pretend about this. It's not as if these questions are merely abstruse theological or Catholic-parochial questions right now for many of us, either. Michael Moore's statement addresses a presidential campaign in the U.S. in which issues of gender (and misogyny) are at the very center of our political discussions.
If you doubt this, cast your eyes across the collection of electoral maps provided us by Dave Gilson this morning, and see how the electoral lines would fall if only men voted. Or if only white men voted . . . .
If Donald Trump wins the coming election, it would be wise for us to keep those maps in mind, since his winning of the election will be a loud and clear proclamation that, in its structures of political power, the United States remains wedded to a misogyny and white supremacist racism both of which are very deeply rooted in the religious beliefs of many Americans — and which remain substantially unchallenged by the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church.
Since how can Catholic pastoral leaders possibly challenge misogyny and name it as a sin, when a pope has spoken and said No! to women? And when another pope following him tells us that No! means No!
Though the utterances of a pope are decidedly not infallible, and anyone with even the most passing knowledge of Catholic history knows that popes have repudiated the statements and teachings of previous popes over the course of Catholic history — just as anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the New Testament knows that Paul upbraided the first pope Peter when Peter tied up the gospel message in a straightjacket of purity requirements handed down from Christianity's mother religion . . . .
Make no mistake about it: Pope Francis' reiteration of the decisive No! of Pope St. John Paul II about women's equality with men (of women's full equality with men) in the Catholic church has significant implications for people living in the real world, in a world in which the assumption of men (especially, but not exclusively, straight ones) that they should own and control women because God has set the world up in such a way, has real-life implications for women seeking to exercise political power on a par with men in the political arena. On this point, see Christina Cauterucci this morning on the gross difference in how men and women running for office are treated by the media.
So, to pick up on a discussion I mounted here two days ago in response to Father James Martin's call for bridge-building between the LGBTQ community and the Catholic hierarchy: Should the emphasis be on trying to understand why men assume that they are superior to women? Should we listen with open ears when Donald Trump casts himself as a victimized white male?
Are women as responsible for misogyny as men are, having "allowed" men to reign (and abuse) for 10,000 years? Are LGBTQ Catholics as responsible for our immiseration in the Catholic church as are the bishops and Vatican?
Where does the bridge of "understanding" really lead, when we allow Donald Trump to convince us that he's the real victim or when we chide LGBTQ Catholics for mocking the pretensions of lace-and-silk clad prelates thundering about the need for the church to be more masculine and for the priesthood to be weeded of lisping gay men?
I've spent this posting confessing my impatience with nonsense. Let me add one more confession of impatience: I simply no longer have patience for the rhetoric of "understanding" when it's very clear where lines of justice, of right and wrong, of gospel imperatives lie in major social discussions of issues like gender, racism, or homophobia.
I see the goal here as not to "understand" how things are and why they are, and as very emphatically not to "understand" why many men abuse women or why many white people assume they are superior to people of darker complexion. The goal is not to understand the world. The goal is to change it.
And though it's easy to recognize here echoes of Karl Marx (and I think he was right about all of this), I'd underscore, as a follower of Jesus, that this is what I hear Jesus saying in the gospels. There are imperatives — and they're built right into the gospels, into the foundations of Christianity — to view men and women as fully equal in the eyes of God, and as deserving of the same rights and privileges regardless of gender.
The commitment of the leaders of the Catholic church to turning women into second-class citizens militates against the gospels in the most fundamental way possible. For Jesus, there is no "final word" or "forever" when a group of human beings are denied human rights. For Jesus, there is only the open-ended imperative — a "forever" imperative — to live constantly towards a vision of the world in which men do not lord it over women with claims that God has set the world up in such a hierarchical and unjust way.
For Jesus, the point is to change the world, not to draw a veil over injustice by calling for greater "understanding" of those who oppress, trample on the rights of others, abuse, and lord it over others. And for Jesus, the call is to listen first and foremost to those who are the victims of systems of oppression, not to the pleas of the victimizers that they be better "understood" as victims, too.