I don’t know about you, but I never realized how many male sexual predators held positions of power in government, the arts and the media until the tsunami of headlines this month. It is demoralizing to know that thousands of women have endured shame and great pain in silence for years.
In no way do I want to downplay the impact of their experience, nor to minimize the importance of this ongoing conversation men and women now are having.
But it’s Thanksgiving. And even a Catholic feminist has to take a breath, during this month of shocking news, to take stock and give thanks.
I’m thankful for Pope Francis. Nope, he’s not the pope of my dreams. He has demonstrated, more than once, that he does not truly understand women, and he’s stuck on the “women as mother” role model. He also has closed the door on the ordination of women in the priesthood, really an unforgivable lapse in judgement and even common sense.
But at least this pope calls us to help the poor, relieve income inequality and care for the earth. It’s nice to see social justice trump sexual mores, at least as far as the Vatican is concerned.
I’m also grateful that the pope recently reaffirmed the primacy of individual conscience in making moral decisions, something Vatican II proclaimed quite clearly more than half a century ago.
In recent remarks responding to ecclesiastical critiques of his encyclical on marriage and the family, the pope said there was an important difference between informing the faithful and dictating what they should do. He reminded them that they should support couples as they strive to make the decisions for their families, but he made clear that priests’ dicta cannot “substitute” for what their hearts tell them is the right thing to do.
And he’s been good at taking the clergy down a peg or two. He’s spoken out on the evils of clericalism. He’s chastised priests who “feel they are superior,” who “are far from the people” and unable to respond to their needs.
I’m thankful for feminist theologian Mary Hunt. Mary’s vast and sophisticated store of knowledge is eclipsed only by her warmth and generosity. We met after my publisher asked Mary to give me a blurb for my book, Catholic Women Confront Their Church: Stories of Hurt and Hope (Rowman & Littlefield). She liked the book, I think, because it aimed to talk to other Catholic women in the pews. We are not theologians. We just know that we’ve been second-class citizens in the church for too long.
Mary’s erudition has not prevented her from writing from the heart. Her own life exemplifies the power of love and support.
I’m thankful for my daughter, who is a fierce feminist. Valerie wears a necklace that says, “Smash the Patriarchy.” I do not think that I ever will be the feminist she is. You can’t entirely escape the reality of growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. But she forgives me for my lapses. I am so proud of the work she’s doing on racial and social justice. Seeing her find her voice and develop her leadership skills gives me great joy.
I am thankful for the life and legacy of Barbara Blaine. Barbara was one of the Catholic feminists I profiled in my book. The 61-year-old founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) died this year, far too young. Barbara’s unflinching honesty and her vivid embrace of the gospel message to love your neighbor touched thousands of people over the course of her life. I think the bishops and cardinals who tried to suppress her fight to protect children from sexual predators in the church will be quite surprised to see Barbara in heaven, as they proceed to that other place. (You know who are you are!)
I am especially grateful for the kindly editors who gave me my first break in journalism. I started out as the only reporter for a Catholic weekly in Upstate New York. Our executive editor was a priest, but my immediate supervisors were laymen. They gave me a lot of freedom, and offered me many opportunities to develop my skills. Our staff cartoonist even taught me how to drive, and got me to my driving test, even though he was battling the flu. They never harassed me or made me feel uncomfortable in any way. I think they would have blushed at the thought.