National Catholic Reporter
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August 27, 2004

Letters Vatican document on women

I wonder how many people will read the English translation of “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the church and in the World,” as discussed in the Aug. 13 NCR.

The Vatican is waging battle with an image of feminism that is pretty much gone and obsolete, if it ever had much validity beyond blowing off some of the steam of oppression. But I want to discuss another aspect of the letter.

One of the things I found amazing about it was its lack of symmetry. It expended its energy defining the state and role of women and said basically nothing about the state and role of men. This was despite the claim that it is the relationship between male and female that is in the image of God, and despite the title of the letter.

I guess that mirrors the present state of the human world: We are, at times, groping toward a better understanding of women and the feminine (the Vatican’s epistle notwithstanding), but any consciousness of what might constitute men and the masculine seems missing. I think we take it for granted, but I think this is a grave mistake. Like the emperor’s clothes, I am afraid we assume or make believe that we know what a man is, should be and what masculinity entails -- and that it is all currently present in perfection. But it seems to me that it is not so, at least for most people.

As a newly minted grandpa, I wonder to myself what I can communicate to Simon W. about who he is and who he might become.

The Vatican’s epistle doesn’t help a bit.

I guess I couldn’t expect them to do any better.

Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

* * *

It is difficult to imagine a more simplistic response to the Vatican’s recent document on feminism than Pia de Solenni’s essay.

There is, admittedly, some positive and credible content in the Vatican document, and I don’t want to minimize that. However, Pia de Solenni’s reaction to the text ignores a basic premise of the text; namely, that one’s integrity is fundamentally tied to one’s gender (note the pronouns used in her essay).

I’m sorry, but this document is far too important to be treated so tritely as does Pia de Solenni’s reaction to it.

If indeed Pia de Solenni is a theologian, as is proffered by her published credentials, we deserve a better analysis than this.


* * *

“Now the conversation can begin,” by Pia de Solenni, is obviously a favorable piece on something else written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It certainly does not treat of “The Letter to the Bishops on Collaboration of Men and Women,” released July 31. Proof? The very next column by Sr. Joan Chittister, as well as the document itself, which happens to be one of the most poorly written high school compositions ever seen by this former teacher of English composition. I give Ratzinger an “F.”

It is good of you, though, to salt and pepper your newspaper with ultra-right jargonisms. Helps us keep our balance.

Pine Point, Maine

* * *

I became a feminist 34 years ago and still am an activist for women’s rights on the national and international level. Were there radical feminists? Yes, but they were few and far between. The anger and competitiveness that characterized some of the actions of feminists have long since faded. Unfortunately, radicalism and anger tend to be the things that people remember, and they forget what the majority of feminists stood for.

Feminism was and is about giving women choices and opportunities. In my mother’s generation, there were few choices for a young woman. Feminists envisioned a world where women would have equal opportunity to pursue the career of their choice or to be homemakers. They could have a career and a family too, or they could choose not to marry and/or have children. The list of possibilities, at least in our minds, was endless.

We advocated and fought for flexible work schedules and for corporations to allow daycare facilities within their places of business. We won some battles and we lost even more. Did we make some mistakes? Absolutely. Were we instrumental in enacting some positive changes? Yes, I believe we were.

Pia de Solenni and others have suggested that “On the Collaboration of Men and Women” will be an excellent conduit for conversation about the roles of men and women in the church and society, but I believe that until we rid ourselves of this myth that feminism was comprised primarily of man-hating radicals, any conversation generated by this letter will be based on the false premise that the bulk of the feminist movement was radical.


* * *

The document on women from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will go down in history as one of the great contributions toward a deeper and richer knowledge of genuine feminism and the relations between women and men. It is an ode to womanhood. NCR and all the naysayers will be on the wrong side of history for their unfounded and mean criticism of this document. However, I did find the Aug. 13 report on the document by John Allen, your Rome correspondent, to be quite honest, respectful and objective. Let’s give this extraordinary document a fair chance: Let’s read it.

Stone Park, Ill.

Interreligious dialogue

Thank you for the July 16 article by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy: “Catholic monk and Zen sensei.” The installation of Cistercian Kevin Hunt as Zen sensei by Jesuit Roshi Robert Kennedy was indeed historic.

It is quite surprising that the chosen reference to interreligious dialogue from Rome was the quote from Cardinal Ratzinger warning of the danger that Buddhism poses to Roman Catholic practice. You could not be unaware that the recent report from the Major Superiors of Men (Nov. 26-29, 2003) is titled “The Priority of Interreligious Dialogue” and states that “dialogue is not a ‘hobby’: It is an urgent matter for the consequences it has on the faith of believers and on the social and political life of society.” In addition, the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue was established in 1978 to foster dialogue on the level of spiritual practice and experience between North American Christian monastics and contemplative practitioners from other religious traditions. The members of the board are drawn from Benedictine and Cistercian communities in the United States.

Rather than issue a warning about the Christian practice of Buddhism, the urgency of dialogue would be advanced better by recognizing the history of a fruitful dialogue that has enriched Catholic life for more than 30 years.

New York

Sacred Heart Sr. Joan Kirby is the U.N. representative for the Temple of Understanding.

Non-Catholics take moral lead

Your July 30 NCR provides many pages identifying the present endeavors of the Catholic church hierarchy, with a particular focus on the bishops’ behavior relative to molestation claims, partisan political interventions and bankruptcy filings.

I was very glad to see, on Page 4 in the “People” section of the paper, one single paragraph that noted the efforts of the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, who had been arrested outside the Sudan Embassy in Washington for protesting Sudan’s role in the genocide occurring in Darfur.

Rev. Edgar said he hoped his arrest would draw attention to “the urgency of the situation in Darfur ... where people are dying.”

We appear to have reached a point where one looks for moral episcopal leadership in the Protestant world, from the Rev. Bob Edgar and the National Council of Churches. Meanwhile, Catholic bishops are busy protecting their assets and what’s left of their reputations.

Orinda, Calif.

Intervention needed in Darfur

I found your July 16 reporting on the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Darfur, Sudan, to be off balance. While your reporter, Joseph Adero Ngala, unemotionally lists the documented atrocities being perpetrated against the black Africans in Darfur by the fundamentalist Islamic regime of Sudan, he uses an ironic tone toward those who would call for international intervention to stop those atrocities. He calls Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit a “road show.” He claims “those with axes to grind against Middle Easterners of Arab descent” are responding to the crisis because of their own political agenda. What your reporter finds “interesting” is “that the international community never noticed what was coming in Darfur.”

I suggest that Ngala apply some of his critical analysis to the perpetrators of the violence, the Sudanese government, rather than to the responders to that violence. Rather than uncritically repeating Omar Bashir’s claims that the Sudanese government wants to “solve the problem” of Darfur, I suggest that Ngala ask whether Bashir will be held accountable for the genocidal practices he has already committed in Sudan. The Sudanese government’s actions in Darfur are simply an extension of the vicious war it has been waging against the black Africans in southern Sudan for 20 years, in which more than 2 million people have been killed and 4.5 million more have been displaced.

The government of Sudan is only at the negotiating table with southern Sudanese rebels because of pressure from the surrounding African countries of Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the United States and several European Union countries. What its actions in Darfur demonstrate is that the government is really not interested in peace if it means sharing power with the black Africans in its midst. What its actions also demonstrate is the cynical calculation that the world community will not intervene until there are no people in Darfur with whom to negotiate.

Jamaica Plain, Mass.

Buying the Catholic vote

In regard to an item in the July 30 NCR: There are two things that scare me about this upcoming election season. The first is that it seems to be an “election of the lesser of two evils.” The second is the absurd lengths to which each and every candidate seems determined to go in order to discredit, defame, shame and obliterate any opposition.

Nobody’s talking. They’re just seeing who can yell the loudest.

And now the president wants our parish directories? I don’t think so. If one registers in the primaries as wanting to align oneself with a particular party, that’s fine. The parties can have those bits of data. However, coming into the church (any church, any denomination) and saying, “We want your directories” is a gross invasion. I supplied information for my parish directory in order to be available to other parishioners. Not -- I repeat, not -- to be inundated by political propaganda from any party. The arrogance in the assumption that the “party faithful” will turn over information on the “congregations of the faithful” is nauseating.

Crest Hill, Ill.

* * *

President Bush, speaking recently to the Knights of Columbus in Dallas, told his audience that religious organizations would receive part of $188 million in government grants this year for social service programs. It is obvious Bush’s faith-based initiative was politically motivated and initiated to buy votes for him and his party.

The important prophetic role of the clergy is greatly jeopardized when they accept money from the government. Will the churches’ priests and ministers take the grants and still continue to speak truth to those in power? Would President Bush promote and implement his faith-based initiative even if it did not win him a single vote?

Our president is chipping away at one of our country’s founding principles -- the separation of church and state. We must not allow the church to manipulate the state. Likewise, we must stop the state from manipulating the church via President Bush’s vote-buying faith-based initiative.

Louisville, Ky.

Lay ministers deserve more

The conference on management reported in the July 30 NCR is a welcome development. But the exclusive focus on financial management leaves out an important consideration: human resources. That lay church employees are underpaid is well known. What about other aspects of employment justice? Some dioceses do not participate in state unemployment insurance and do not disclose this fact to new hires; some dioceses trump lay access to positions with clerical priority; few dioceses financially support continuing professional education by lay professional employees. There is much more, of course.

The bishop-as-captain-of-the-ship model of ecclesiastical governance makes for a highly uneven national reality facing those lay people who choose to work for the church. There are no common standards for positions. Bishops should reflect on the fact that when a lay person chooses to self-finance his or her education for ministry and goes to work for parishes and church agencies, other employment alternatives are closed permanently. Church work does not easily translate into other employment sectors. So when employees are blithely terminated to give a job to a priest or because the pastor is uncomfortable or because it is expedient, there can be serious professional and financial consequences for the terminated employee. As we enter the third or fourth decade of substantial lay employment in catechetical, pastoral and service ministries, is it not time for the institutional leadership to comprehensively review, evaluate and set standards of church employment justice in the United States? Yes it is, but don’t hold your breath!

St. Paul, Minn.

Good Bishop Hubbard

Many thanks for your article in the July 16 issue announcing that Bishop Howard Hubbard has been cleared of sex abuse charges through a thorough and professional investigation. I have known Howard for 25 years and can witness to his moral integrity, holiness and deep concern for his people. I worked for the Albany, N.Y., diocese for nine years and knew Howard to be an excellent and deeply spiritual priest and bishop. He was chosen to be bishop because of his exemplary record as a priest committed to working with the poor. During his time as bishop, he has been an outstanding pastor and leader. Never for a moment did I give credence to these false and slanderous charges! It was indicative of Howard’s character that in the article he placed his own suffering from these false accusations to be secondary to the pain and anguish experienced by victims of clergy sexual abuse.


In defense of Bishop Keleher

As one of the faithful of the Kansas City, Kan., archdiocese, I was offended by the Editor’s Note by Tom Roberts in the July 16 NCR. I have seen Archbishop James Keleher take many steps to assure the protection of children and young people even before the Charter was adopted in 2002. I will say that I feel that Bishop Wilton Gregory has had a monumental challenge. I acclaim his determination in addressing this. I do not feel that in praising him, one needs to knock down another bishop.

We are finding that old ways of dealing with this challenge are no longer effective and it is now essential to take a much more vigilant stand. I think all of the bishops would agree that they would have done things differently. I feel it’s time to quit accusing and start supporting the efforts made by them. I am glad that C.W. Green (NCR, Letters, Aug. 13) came to the archbishop’s defense.

Topeka, Kan.

Bishops have said ‘sorry’

Richard Sipe (NCR, July 30) in his article, “American hierarchy seals fate,” ends by saying, “Not one bishop has stood to say that he regrets his ignorance, his complicity, his self-interest, his lack of compassion and the dereliction of his duty to protect his flock.” From what I have read in many newspapers journals and books, including the widely accepted Our Fathers by David France, this is not true. Also, I suggest a reading of the address given at the Dallas conference of bishops by Bishop Wilton Gregory. It is replete with apologies to all who have been victimized by their serious lack of pastoral concern in cases of sexual assault by priests.

I hope that this response of mine will not occasion an argument in semantics.

Chino Hills, Calif.

Pro-Palestinian Jews

In her letter alleging “anti-Israel bias” on the part of NCR (July 2), Lisa Haddock seems to equate opposition to the Sharon government’s policies with “let[ting] the Jewish people down again.” Yet “the Jewish people” themselves, both in Israel and outside, include many who find these policies morally reprehensible and ultimately disastrous for the country. Examples: the Peace Now movement; thoughtful and eloquent advocates of justice such as Neve Gordon; those Israeli military officers who several years ago risked their careers by publicly refusing service in the occupied territories. Doesn’t our Christian commitment to peacemaking and reconciliation call us to solidarity with brothers and sisters such as these, who are no less concerned for Israel’s survival and well-being than those whose solution is to bulldoze homes, expand illegal settlements and wall others off from land and livelihood? Must we not, with them, point out that previous victimization does not give any people a free pass to make victims of others or to ignore international law, which holds that one people’s understanding of its religious tradition cannot constitute a valid basis for appropriating land on which another people has lived for centuries?

We do the Jewish people no favors -- and show them no true friendship -- by encouraging Israel’s political leaders in a course of action that not only mocks the spirit of both our faiths but thereby corrupts their own society at the same time that it provokes their Palestinian neighbors to further violence.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Jesuits and women’s equality

I read with interest Fr. Robert Drinan’s column in the July 16 issue of NCR, “Glimmers of hope for women’s equality,” especially his reference to the “34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, 1995” on “The Jesuits and the Situation of Women in Church and Civil Society.” Imagine my surprise at reading his article this past Sunday in the wake of the recent Vatican document “Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World,” which was released on July 31, the Feast of St. Ignatius.

This leads me to ask, what have the Jesuits learned in their listening to women these past nine years? How might the Jesuits respond to this letter from Rome? I implore Fr. Drinan, on behalf of women’s equality in the church, to respond to this issue publicly and with fortitude.

Richmond, Calif.

Invigorating ‘confessions’

The article by Fr. Kevin Tortorelli on the hearing of confessions (NCR, Aug. 13) was excellent! I go to NCR hoping for some shot-in-the-arm articles or stories. This was one. Keep ’em coming!

Liberty, Texas

Letters to the editor should be limited to 250 words and preferably typed. If a letter refers to a previous issue of NCR, please give us that issue’s date. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Letters, National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141. Fax: (816) 968-2280. E-mail: Please be sure to include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number.

National Catholic Reporter, August 27, 2004