Monday, October 7, 2013

Matthew Fox, Letters to Pope Francis: "It Is Essential to Talk of Women's Rights"

Throughout his book Letters to Pope Francis, theologian Matthew Fox points out that one of the major gifts to the church of the saint whose name Cardinal Bergoglio chose for his papal name--Francis--is the gift of gender balance. Fox notes (p. 12) that Francis of Assisi's actions "reveal a man who recognizes the necessary balance of masculine and feminine, yang and yin, in all beings and in all relationships if we are to be a sustainable species."

Fox states frankly to Pope Francis in the penultimate letter in the book,

Speaking of issues of liberation, it is essential to talk of women's rights. The growing awareness of the subjugation and oppression of women and the rights of women is a sign of our times. The Vatican Council urged us to heed the signs of our times. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Vatican could join the people of God who are fighting for women's rights and to put an end to the horrible sex slavery and burdens of unneeded and unwanted pregnancies that burden women the world over? Up to now, I have been disappointed by your rather off-the-cuff remarks about women in the church. It is pretty clear to me that you have not had the privilege--as I have had over the years--of sitting at the feet of honorable and committed women theologians to learn of their questions and profit from their scholarship. I think doing so will change some of your attitudes and religious thinking (p. 121). 

And then Fox goes on to note that the struggle for the rights of women is not confined to the Catholic church, but is a global struggle affecting many religious groups, because oppression of women is embedded in many cultures and many religious bodies around the globe. He observes,

This reality [i.e., of the global context of the struggle for women's rights] helps to realize that this "sign of our times" of the rights of women's rights and consciousness is a recent worldwide phenomenon and that it is not only western men (or western clerics) who felt deeply threatened by the suggestion of the rights of women. But things evolve--yes even doctrine evolves as John Henry Newman, newly canonized a saint, wrote about at length in the nineteenth century in his classic work, The Development of Doctrine. Doctrine evolves like everything else on earth and doctrines against birth control and against other women's needs and issues do evolve and must evolve (pp. 122-3).


You have chosen the hallowed name of Francis, a controversial choice of a name as I pointed out in my introductory letter. One that sets the bar very high. People know Francis and they will be watching you because of that choice alone. They will be watching for signs, some of which I have listed in this book: Signs of commitment to the poor that is not just about personal pieties but includes real critique of what prevails today as economics and whether you will support those who offer alternatives for an economy that works for everyone (including all of creation); signs of commitment to a sustainable and ecological world where the human finds their humble place among the other species who also have rights and dignity and indeed carry the "Cosmic Christ" in them; signs of a new found balance of masculine and feminine, men and women, the Divine Feminine in tandem with the Sacred Masculine and acknowledgment of how religion itself has contributed to the subjugation of women; signs of invitation to creativity and adventure and joy that the young bring to the table; signs that ossified and insipid religion will not triumph over genuine practice, intellectual study and spiritual growth; signs that science and spirituality can and must work in consort; signs of authentic deep ecumenism and interfaith practice; and of course signs that you recognize the low state the current church finds itself in and that you are serious about implementing a clean-up and cleaning out of the hen house that the Curia has become--a cleaning up of financial, sexual and theological messes (pp. 129-130).

As I said in my first posting of the day, which stresses the links I see between the abuse crisis in the Catholic church and the refusal of the church's leaders to recognize the rights of women in the church, I hope Francis is listening. A great deal depends on his willingness to listen--for the entire planet.

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