Feminism and Catholicism

Feminism and Catholicism, a very incongruous concept. Chalk and cheese. Oil and water. Fundamentally incompatible.

I consider myself to be both.

The role of women as prescribed by the Catholic church is the secondary role of caregiving, mother, nurse or if you are called to any holy orders a nun. How we are to express ourselves is limited. Sexual expression is limited to the confines of marriage only. Women are to hold themselves to a higher standard when compared to men. Women are made to be responsible for sustaining our marriages, our children, the happiness of our family, whereas men are also responsible, but there is more leniency towards the men.

Feminism is the opposite of all of that. And the church I belong to and love very much have often spoken about a ‘feminist conspiracy’ to bring down the church. Very Adam and Eve like narrative, really old and so untrue. The attacks on American nuns doing God’s work by helping the poor were charged with anti-church practices because they didn’t advocate the pro-life message strong enough, instead they chose to focus on anti-poverty. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that having excessive children in which you cannot provide for is one of the the direct causes of poverty. The nuns didn’t hand out birth control pills, give them addresses to abortion clinics or even advocate any sort of non-church approved natural family planning, they simply chose to focus on the reasons why they are in poverty and try to alleviate it, and if it happens to be, as is usually the case, having excessive amount of children then they would find ways to discourage that. A full investigation was ordered by the Vatican to look into the activities of these nuns. To their credit, they didn’t bow down to the pressure, they continued doing God’s work and the investigation was later dismissed with no sanctions against the nuns. If I were the Vatican I would focus on trying to get pedophile priests out of the priesthood but before that, teach them to keep thy hands to thyselves and pants firmly zipped up. It would be a good place to start.

The main reason why I remain a Catholic today is because of all the amazing women and selfless men of the church who do God’s work and not just stand at the pulpit and preach in their ornate robes (though that’s nice too, I love Mass rites). They get in the trenches go to godforsaken places and do the work often at great personal danger to themselves. When I meet these people and hear of their stories, their selfless sacrifice for creature comforts of the world to tend to the downtrodden and fight for social justice, I know there is, too, a place for me in this big corrupt organization known as the Catholic Church. My views may be more progressive than the average nun but because I hold the same beliefs of mercy, justice, salvation and redemption, this is the church for me.

In every big, powerful and wealthy organization, there is bound to be corruption and in the case of the Catholic church, it’s no different. The Catholic church is unique in the sense that it’s powerbase is run exclusively by men, much older men who’s never worked a day in the real world, who have never been married, do not know what it’s like to run a family, manage a career and support the household finances and yet they make themselves the moral authority on these things. As much as I have loved all of the local parish priests I’ve known throughout my life, they would be the last people I would go to for marital advice or any sort of advice that involves my day-to-day life. That’s not to say they can’t offer insight or wisdom on my everyday struggles and provide spiritual counseling, but to expect sound concrete advice from a priest who has lived under the protection of the Catholic church, that’s like extracting blood from a turnip.

Catholic nuns also are not married and most haven’t worked in the real world, but because they deliver babies, take care of the sick, look after people who can’t look after themselves, they have intimate access to see what it’s like for a struggling family in ways others can’t. They see what it’s like first hand when a family has too many children in which they can’t support, so it would follow that their views on the church’s strict doctrine against contraception and avoidance of pregnancy is not as rigid than their fellow priests.

All that being said, the church will not amend its views now or anytime soon regarding the progressive issues of our society today.

Same Sex Marriage – never going to happen. The current pope or any future pope will never, under any circumstance, stand at the papal balcony in the Vatican, host a mass marriage ceremony after Christmas mass, offer apologies to all of the persecuted homosexuals and sing kumbaya. It will never happen and it shouldn’t happen. If it’s the church’s view that same-sex marriage or homosexual relations isn’t allowed, they should be allowed to express that view. I know many gay practicing catholics, who live a gay lifestyle have no problem waltzing up the altar to receive his or her communion and at the same time, they also respect their church’s position on the subject.

Abortion – except in the case where a mother’s life is threatened, will never be tolerated. Life begins at conception and ends at natural death. I find this to be true and reasonable. The church will not change its views on that even if it makes women who’ve had abortions (for whatever reason) feel shameful. The church’s stance on abortion isn’t about shaming women, it’s about protecting life, all lives, including the old and infirm, people on death row – not just cute little unborn babies, the church values all lives, including that serial killer sitting on death row (Republican Party – take note). Once we (the human race) start to decide whose life is more valuable and why then we are on a slippery slope. This is however the church’s stance, a religious stance. This should not ever spillover to the secular government. I am a firm believer of separation of church and state. The church has a right to believe and teach what it wants to teach, as long as their followers do not object, but it has no right to influence public policy and laws to suit its own teachings. They can get their message out in many platforms without having to influence our lawmakers and change our laws.

On the issue of abortion, there’s no black and white. Each individual woman choose abortion for many different reasons, each reason is personal and painful and it’s a private matter. The bottom line is abortion needs to be legal, safe and accessible for those that need it. Period. End of Story.

There’s no need for the Catholic church or any church to get their panties in a wad about the abortion issue because, last I checked, they aren’t offering abortion services. No one is forcing them to offer abortion services. They don’t even offer information about artificial contraception. So, they are in no way violating their religious beliefs. If they are afraid that people who work in Planned Parenthood will go to hell for the 3% of abortions they carry out each year and feel the need to save their souls, they should look inward and save their own souls, or do what they do best, pray for all the ugly sinners.

Divorce and subsequent remarriage – the church is finally budging on this issue. Divorce in the Western world is at 50% and they are budging because they are losing members to divorce. If I were the pope and I took a business perspective, this is bad for business and I would try to amend the prohibitive cost and rules around getting an annulment.

The sex thing – according to church doctrine, sex is only between and husband and wife (yeah right), any other form of sex is fornication or adultery. Though not directly addressed, even the antediluvian cardinals in the Vatican know that many people are having sex everywhere and anywhere without regard to their relationship status. Frankly, anything the Catholic church has to say about sex and how it’s done will be greeted with a collective universal yawn. Next. They’ve lost all credibility on this issue. Look in your own backyard, clean up your house first. Next.

Women priests – my views are more complicated about this issue. The suggestion of having women priests is to provide a counterbalance to all the testosterone on top of the Catholic hierarchy. If men and women came together to make decisions about the church, then the church would be more equal, less corrupt and would serve its followers better.

This sounds good in theory and on paper, but difficult to implement. To create a woman priesthood ministry, new cannon and laws would have to be written to accommodate women priests, this alone could take decades. New seminaries would have to be built and new processes and procedures would have to be enacted quickly to accommodate women wishing to join the priesthood. And then there’s issue of whether Catholics around the world, especially in developing and Thirld World countries where most new converts are won, will accept women priests as most Third World countries are patriarchal societies.

If the goal is to introduce gender balance and equality in the top echelon and decisionmaking levels of the Vatican, so that not all major decisions are made by geriatric priests, another solution to that could be to create a leadership organization amongst the holy orders so that nuns can be elected or appointed to leadership positions, whose authority is the same as the local parish, bishop and cardinal. The church could elevate the position of women from caretaking roles to leadership and decision making roles.

The Vatican is racking its brain to solve the pedophile priest problem without reducing the number of existing priests and seminarian recruits, as there is already a worldwide priest shortage. There is only one solution. All priests that have been accused of improper sexual conduct involving a minor needs to be investigated as soon as possible and during the investigation, that priest needs to be suspended until he is cleared of the allegations. If the allegations turn out to be true, he needs to lose his robes. The end. People who are prone to pedophilia cannot, under any circumstance be around children, and most definitely cannot be in a position of moral authority. He needs to go get treatment, seek help get away from the parish. He needs to be disrobed. End of. It’s not that hard. It doesn’t require decades deliberation, Vatican meetings and empty apologies. He just needs to go.

Having married priests may not necessarily solve the problem as pedophiles come in all manners. And the Vatican’s assertion that the pedophiles are homosexuals are just wrong and offensive. A homosexual does not equal pedophile. They are two separate things. The reason why the priesthood attracts so many pedophile is the culture of secrecy. A priest instead of being reported to the police, he’s reported to his archdiocese and he can always wiggle his way out of the accusations. He can disappear for awhile and reappear at another parish and it goes on and on until the allegations become too much and the church cannot hide it anymore. If the church had a more transparent policy of dealing with improper conduct from its clergy, it would not draw so much ire and criticism from the secular world.

Finally, the role of women, laywomen in particular needs to evolve beyond the wife and mother model, as so eloquently put by Gina Messina-Dysert in her piece, The Francis Blindspot. She says though pope Francis has talked about expanding the role of women in the church, there’s been little action and like all good Catholic boys, romanticizes the role of motherhood:

There are clear issues with such a romanticizing.  To begin with, there are many women who are unable to bear children, or who are not called to the role of motherhood.  What does this mean for these women?  Are their lives less important?

There are women regardless of the ability to have a child choose not to. They choose to put their passions into other equally fulfilling things besides motherhood. Women today besides being mothers fulfill a multitude of other roles, entrepreneurs, CEOs, the loving aunt, high achieving career woman, a go getter, all of which don’t involve the use of her uterus. This should be celebrated by the church as well.

The church likes to promote this earth mother image of a woman. If she’s not yet a mother, it should be her ultimate goal. As Messina-Dysert points out,

Addressing reproductive health and wellness is critical to the pope’s goal of prioritizing the needs of those living in poverty. Data demonstrate that two-thirds of low wage jobs are held by women.  In addition, women are more likely to head single parent households.  Family structure and poverty are deeply intertwined with nearly 40% of single mothers impoverished.  Women disproportionately cover the costs of contraception spending approximately 70% more than men each year. Lack of healthcare and high costs of contraception contribute to a lack of reproductive health services for women. As a result, women living below the poverty line are five times more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy which leads to significant consequences for childbearing outcomes.

The church’s position against using contraception was always confusing to me, since nowhere in the Bible discusses anything against limiting family size. The Bible does encourage people go forth and ‘multiply’ but this was written in antiquity, where the life expectancy of women is 40 if she’s lucky with high infant mortality rate and the concept of birth control or limiting one’s family size wasn’t even discussed. Yet they take that supposition and insert it into the 21st century where contraception is abundantly available and cost effective. Children are a gift from God, if under the right circumstances, no parent wants to bring a child into poverty and instability. When a family is struggling under the weight of too many offspring and the ability to adequately feed, house, clothe and educate said children, it’s a strain on everyone. It causes social problems, of which the church isn’t interested in solving. In Third World countries, where contraceptives should be handed out like candy to alleviate poverty and spread of sexually transmitted diseases, but instead to preach traditional Catholic values to already impoverished populations is cynical and irresponsible, especially when contraceptives are now cost effective and easily available.

As the world population becomes more enlightened by the ‘facts of life’ and the realization that excessive childbearing leads to a life of  unnecessary poverty, lack and suffering, of which women take most of the brunt. These outmoded and outdated teachings of the church will be wholly rejected, even in developing and Third World countries. Throughout history, women have bore the brunt of childrearing and the poverty that result if the family doesn’t have enough resources to raise those children properly. It’s the woman that sacrifices her education, her career, her earning years to care for those children. It’s not rocket science, too many children but not enough income or earning potential will lead to poverty and a life of unnecessary suffering, which no God wants.

To most rational thinking people, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. No life is harmed, no life is destroyed, only prevented. Prevention is far far better than the alternatives, abortion or a child born to extreme poverty, all because of some outdated church doctrine.

For those that preach against providing contraceptive access to all women regardless of income level should then be prepared to raise a child that are born to women due to lack of contraceptives. So far, no one has been willing to take on that burden.

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