The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date: December 26, 2003
Reviewed by WILLIAM CLEARY
This book reports on a series of lectures staged in New Yorks Westchester County, refereed by Commonweals former editor, Margaret OBrien Steinfels and involving 10 important women in the church. The book cover declares the book to be a no holds barred discussion -- an unfortunate suggestion of dominance imagery -- but even worse, untrue. One hold is barred: disbelief. Lots of questioning, lots of doubts, lots of quiet desperation, lots of large-souled hope -- but real disbelievers were not invited to speak on any of the four discussion evenings.
Theologian Elizabeth Johnson, author of the award-winning, paradigm-shifting 1992 study She Who Is, in cooperation with the competent Catherine Patten of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative, brought the scholars together and has beautifully contextualized each evenings presentations with useful chapter introductions. The women represented include a Harvard Ph.D., a congresswoman from Ohio, a Grawemeyer Award winner, professors and scholars and writers: formidable all.
Johnsons own chapter is stunning: Imaging God, Embodying Christ: Women as a Sign of the Times. She convinces me. But she ends: From this point on there can be no future for the church that women have not had a pivotal hand in shaping. Pivotal? That will be a day to celebrate.
Thoughtful talks are given by Barbara Hilkert Andolsen, Ana Maria Diaz Stevens, Colleen Griffith and Sara Butler, urging change and consultation, welcoming diversity, encouraging activism, opening hot button issues. Miriam Therese Winter is at her feisty, inventive best. But no one says, Enough!
There is some bracing straight talk from womanist theologian Diana Hayes in her satisfying chapter expressing deep disappointment with the churchs response to womens needs and rights. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, having polled more than 100 Catholic women before she spoke, tells it like it is in Politics, Religion and Women. The present-day church is perplexing and dispiriting. Thats helpful input.
But wheres the Harriet Tubman who can lead the way to justice? Wheres the Sue Monk Kidd who retains her ear for the deep song of Christianity while moving beyond to a spirituality that speaks directly to women?
The book is all too tame. These Catholic scholars seem still caught in the trance of a narrowly Roman Catholicism. How about a little visit to Anglican Catholicism where women are (almost) equal?
I heard recently of a mother who took her little girl to an ordination. When it was over, the child asked: When are they going to do the women? (Tears are allow-ed.) Then theres the letter to God from little Sylvia: Dear God, are boys better than girls? she wrote. I know you are one, but be fair! (Sorry, Sylvia, some things just arent fair.)
To me such stories shatter any trance. They suggest the outrageous is still happening. Women are still not even canonically allowed inside the sanctuary during Mass. Susan Mutos opening essay in the book is all about the need to honor celibacy and the single lifestyle for the sake of witnessing to what awaits us in eternity. No critique of the churchs eccentric anti-women atmosphere! Alas, being lady-like in the face of oppression and unjustifiable disdain isnt appropriate for our times, in my opinion.
The Church Women Dont Want might have been a more interesting title, in fact. Ironically, that is exactly that church that is praised by contributor Mary Ann Glendon who ends her chapter of handwringing against womens choice, divorce and sinful society with high praise for Focolare, Communio e Liberazione, and the Neo-Catechumenate who she says are pouring youth, strength and vitality into the life of the church.
I suspect that women who no longer take the church seriously do so because it does not take them seriously. In that survey of womens opinions collected by Marcy Kaptur in preparation for her powerful chapter -- and printed in the book after her speech -- someone named Mary Lee Gladieux says it best: The Catholic church needs to do what it wont do -- recognize women as full and equal partners with men -- and anything else is not worth discussing.
William Cleary is the author of Prayers To She Who Is (Crossroad, 1997).
National Catholic Reporter, December 26, 2003
|Copyright © The
National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd.,
Kansas City, MO 64111
All rights reserved.
TEL: 816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280 Send comments about this Web site to: firstname.lastname@example.org