Saturday, March 7, 2015

Women in the Catholic Church: Critical Voices Engage the "Francis Revolution" (with Notes about John Boyne's Novel A History of Loneliness)

In a New York Times article yesterday, Elisabetta Povoledo notes that, though Pope Francis has spoken of the importance of women in the life of the church, critics note that he is "strikingly tone-deaf toward the sensitivities and needs of women," and that he has flatly declared that he will not discuss the possibility of ordaining women — the sole door to any official power in the governing structures of the Catholic church. She adds, 

Currently women have little voice at the Vatican. Though women make up a notably higher percentage of those devoted to consecrated life — 702, 529 sisters and nuns compared to 55,314 religious brothers and nearly 420,000 priests and bishop, according to 2012 figures, the most recent available — in tangible terms, they play little role in the decision-making of the church, observers say.

Last evening, I finished reading John Boyne's novel A History of Loneliness (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), which incisively analyzes the roots of the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Irish Catholic church through the lens of a single priest. Boyne writes, 

The men helped to write the parish newsletter, but the women delivered it; the men organized the church social evenings, but the women cleaned up when they were over; the men encouraged the children to take part in family masses, but the women had to look after them when they did. This was not particular to my mother's day or my mother's church; I have known men and women like this all my life, and there are some things, rotten and discordant to the eye, that will never change (p. 238). 

I wonder: what story do these two citations tell, placed side by side as they have entered my own world of thought and prayer through synchronicity in the past two days? Any thoughts?

(For a good review of Boyne's novel, see Jayden Cameron at Gay Mystics — here and here. See also John Boyne's powerful, painful testimony about having grown up gay in Dublin, and having experienced abuse at the hands of priests and lay teachers in church-run schools, and how these experiences form the backdrop of this novel.)

The graphic is a photograph of a recently restored fresco in the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, showing a woman with hands raised in prayer or blessing, from this Reuters article by Philip Pullela crediting Max Rossi.

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