As the church faces another crisis, look to women for help

Photo by Kaylee Eden on Unsplash

So you are a Catholic mother bringing up daughters, and as soon as they are old enough, you have some explaining to do.

Because even though Jesus wasn’t sexist, the institutional church is, right? It is a given for women. When an entire sacrament is denied you solely because of your gender, that is textbook sexism. I say this with love, as a Catholic mother who is not leaving, as a faithful dissenter, as an imperfect follower of Jesus.

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I was recently chafing on Jesus’ behalf at the inherent sexism lurking behind some dress code notes in a parish bulletin. The text implied that women and girls who come to Mass in skimpy clothing—and we have all seen them—are responsible for causing sinful thoughts in the minds of “others” (meaning: men). Apparently, men cannot ever grow up or be trusted to treat women like fellow human beings. I am not a fan of cleavage in church, but it occurred to me that female rape victims are the only victims of crime who are ever asked, “What were you wearing?”

Jesus doesn’t ask, “What are you wearing?”

Why didn’t the pastor’s notes admonish men not to wear tight T-shirts, the kind that might outline a pair of broad shoulders and a righteous six-pack of abs, thereby causing impure thoughts in many an ovulating woman? That sounds ridiculous only because we unthinkingly accept the rut of sexism into which our human church has fallen.

When an entire sacrament is denied you solely because of your gender, that is textbook sexism.

This example of small-scale sexism in the Sunday bulletin cannot, of course, compare to the deeper pit of the sex abuse scandals in which the church currently sprawls. I am sickened to the depths of my soul by the recent grand jury report in Pennsylvania, detailing episodes of pedophilia, sexual assault and rape committed by 301 members of the Catholic clergy on over 1,000 victims, along with the by-now-familiar cover-up of criminal behavior by the church hierarchy, perhaps even more sickened than I was in the past by similar reports from Boston or from Ireland or from Los Angeles—the archdiocese I contribute to—or from Chile or from any other Catholic diocese, because it is a cumulative illness. Most infuriating, it is a preventable illness.

It is high time for us to understand how this keeps happening and to stop it. But as long as we continue to treat clergymen as though they are somehow more angelic than us inferior lay people, as long as we expect them to be asexual super-humans, as long as we do not monitor them as we do any adults who interact with our children, we will suffer sexual predation. As long as we shy away from any honest discussions of sexuality and cloak sexuality in shame-filled secrecy, as long as we refuse to allow women to occupy positions of real authority within the church, we will bring these revolting abuses and subsequent headlines on ourselves.

Jesus relied on women to get it right. From his own mother to the women who questioned or challenged him to the women who befriended him to the women who braved the crucifixion to the women who proclaimed the resurrection, Jesus treated women as equals and as holy. We have been there with him. That is our historical and spiritual birthright. Over the centuries, we have tended to the sick and fed the hungry and taught the children and laundered the linens and staffed the offices and offered our envelopes and witnessed our faith and kept the church’s home fires burning, but we have not been in power. We have not been empowered. And maybe that is partly on us. We allowed generations of societal norms to obscure Jesus’ example.

We women are being called to shake things up, to redesign and repurpose this church of Jesus, our beloved one, holy, catholic, apostolic church.

Jesus talked to men and women about loving God and loving your neighbor and not being afraid to follow God’s will. Jesus also taught us to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. These predators hiding in priestly vestments among us are surely our enemies. They surely persecute our children. While we mothers might like to strangle these monstrous manipulators ourselves, we are called to forgive them. Just as certainly, however, we are not called to enable them. They and the official protocols that protected them have lost our trust.

We women are being called to shake things up, to redesign and repurpose this church of Jesus, our beloved one, holy, catholic, apostolic church. It is hard to think of the Holy Spirit in the same thought as sex offenders, but we are experiencing a radical call to get our act together. The male-centric church and its ordained ministers may only truly heal when women—lay and religious—apply the salve. It is sometimes our tendency as women to let the professionals—the men in charge—sort out the problems, but that is obviously not working. We can choose to leave this corrupt and stinking edifice and find another house of worship, but that is not helping. We can withhold our time, talent and treasure, but that mostly hurts us.

What are we to do? What would Jesus do? Maybe Jesus would agree with Mr. Rogers’s mother, who advised Mr. Rogers, in times of confusion and tragedy, to “look for the helpers.” We are the helpers. We women, the proven and time-honored helpers, must stand for the littlest ones, the injured ones, the vulnerable ones. Regarding church personnel and practices, we must keep the best and throw out the rest, the sexism, the clericalism, the dishonesty, the hypocrisy. We must welcome the fresh and feminine breath of the Holy Spirit. That is exactly what Jesus did.

So what might Jesus hashtag? Maybe, in lay terms: #timesup.

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Mary Rakow
2 months 1 week ago

Brava.

Mary Rakow
2 months 1 week ago

Brava.

kate lawrence
2 months 1 week ago

Beautifully written. Every paragraph should be read by all our male clergy, pondered in their hearts, and taken to heart - acted on. Especially you Jesuits (who I love, but sheesh, I expected more from one of your own. That's my fault.)

Jason & Amy Rogers
2 months 1 week ago

Sharing this

WILLIAM ULWELLING
2 months 1 week ago

We have demonized our sexuality. It is difficult to ask women for help because we have thrown them overboard. From this vantage point, coverup looks like loyalty. Jeremiah would have seen the hand of God in the Grand Jury.

lynne miller
2 months 1 week ago

Thanks for that acknowledgement!

lynne miller
2 months 1 week ago

Thanks for that acknowledgement!

Winifred Holloway
2 months 1 week ago

Amen, Amen, Valerie. Another commission on sexual abuse will not do because the Vatican bureacracy has the last word. Actually, they don't even bother with words. They slow walk suggestions, they obstruct, they blather on about canon law. They will not change. Lay people have to take this on, in large numbers and stay relentless in demanding accountability. The hierachy will not and cannot investigate themselves.

Regina Bannan
2 months 1 week ago

There is a Time's Up action packet on the www.CatholicsToo.org website if you want to respond to this article in a concrete way next weekend.

Crystal Watson
2 months 1 week ago

Yeah, that us, the janitors of the church, good only for cleaning up the messes the guys leave. It will always be that way because Catholic women seem happy enough to accept this role and they support a pope who has said women will *never* be priests (or apparently deacons either). I don't understand why women stay in this church.

Molly Roach
2 months 1 week ago

I don't want to clean up this mess that the men made. Let them clean it up.

Tim O'Leary
2 months 1 week ago

Valerie: "It is high time for us to understand how this keeps happening and to stop it." If you mean the McCarrick affair and the revelations of goings on in the seminaries, I would agree something is going on now. But, the PA Grand Jury is not of things going on now. It is horrible but historical. Here is the best analysis I have seen. http://actsapologist.blogspot.com/2018/08/the-philadelphia-report-by-nu…. It matches results from the much larger John Jay College investigation in 2002, with a peak in abuse cases in the 1970s-80s that has dramatically subsided. The PA GJ Report cannot evaluate the Dallas Charter since they found almost no events since 2000. The Jay report had 81% same-sex. The PA GJ report has 82% same-sex, both mostly teenagers abused by young adult priests. Not pedophilia but ephebophilia. Better Policies matter. Vigilance is essential.

Tim O'Leary
2 months 1 week ago

These women are taking action now, writing an open letter to Pope Francis. 30,000 signatures already. You can sign up here. https://catholicwomensforum.org/letter-to-pope-francis/ It opens as follows:
"You have said that you seek “a more incisive female presence in the Church,” and that “women are capable of seeing things with a different angle from [men], with a different eye. Women are able to pose questions that we men are not able to understand. We write to you, Holy Father, to pose questions that need answers." and ends with "In short, we are the Church, every bit as much as the cardinals and bishops around you."

LuAnn O'Connell
2 months 1 week ago

Since this letter comes across as supporting Viganò's unsubstantiated accusations, I am not comfortable with signing it.

Tim O'Leary
2 months 1 week ago

LuAnn - the women are just calling for answers. Another thousand signed up today.

Nora Bolcon
2 months 1 week ago

Well that is a bunch of nonsense and these non evidence supported claims are harmful to womens equality not helpful.

Women do not have different eyes than men and we equally represent Christ who came to represent man not men. There is no feminine genius. Ideas do not have gender or flesh.

Women should not be discriminated against for any ordained ministry because they are equally people, equally baptized Christians, equally intelligent and able to lead, equally important and sacred in God's eyes and equally called to ordained priesthood by God which makes this discrimination demeaning to the humanity of women.

It does matter that we stand up for justice for the right reasons and don't add to the ignorance.

James Haraldson
2 months 1 week ago

Do you ever write a non-infantile column rooted in anti-Christian sociological determinism?

Reyanna Rice
2 months 1 week ago

Are you capable of not being an arrogant sounding dolt??

lynne miller
2 months 1 week ago

What? Where did that come from?

Solvitur Ambulando
2 months 1 week ago

One thing is certain, we know the experience of being marginalized and excluded. Thank you for the encouragement – we need to continue to serve, in spite of it all. To be pastoral even if we aren’t named pastors, to help our families and our communities where we do have influence, to reconcile with others, self and God. The injustices of our Church cannot paralyze our abilities to help each other toward healing, from not only this profound abuse but all the soul injuries that are being neglected in the chaos and ego-centrism of these times. We all have some level of power and influence. Let us use it toward the good.

lynne miller
2 months 1 week ago

Amen! Do what we can with what we have now - and keep pressing forward!

Linda Cleary
2 months 1 week ago

The sisters have been trying for years and have become eminently qualified for leadership positions in the church. Have at it, though. Some of us are tired and may be rejuvenated by your efforts.

Jorge Luis Luaces Rabaza
2 months 1 week ago

I love this part, Valerie: “Jesus relied on women to get it right. From his own mother to the women who questioned or challenged him to the women who befriended him to the women who braved the crucifixion to the women who proclaimed the resurrection,” So, so true. Women were pivotal leaders in the early Church. The Blessed Virgin Mother was in the Upper Room with the Apostles (Acts 1:13-14)

“When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”
http://www.usccb.org/bible/acts/1

Let the women run the Church and make the old, fat white guys remove their flamboyant frilly attire so that the women can put them to good use: clothe the naked. It is always the Women who care for the poor and do everything else Christ commanded.

TJ Rauch
2 months 1 week ago

I agree that we women need to speak up and shake up the hierarchy. I've already written to the USCCB as an angry MOB (mom of boys) and think every woman should write her own letter and express our righteous anger.

However, Schultz's view of the priesthood is informed by the same mistake the hierarchy and the priest-offenders make: that it's about power.
If priests AND laity viewed the priesthood as Jesus intended it, that is, servitude, then we wouldn't have clericalism, which is part of what got us where we are now, and we also wouldn't have the (theologically nonsensical) clamor for women priests that we do. An all male priesthood seems to me to be another sign of Jesus's favorable attitude toward women: He instituted the only form of servitude in the world that is NOT the domain of women.

lynne miller
2 months 1 week ago

I agree with you up to the last point. While I have never had a desire to be a priest, there is nothing theologically wrong with the idea. Women were sent out to preach, too, just never talked about, and we are still called, as are men, to spread the Word, as well as be of service.

Catherine Ivancic
2 months 1 week ago

Crazy that I thought I was the only mother of daughters struggling to explain the huge blind spots of the male dominated Church hierarchy. Thanks Valerie for the article.

Catherine Ivancic
2 months 1 week ago

Crazy that I thought I was the only mother of daughters struggling to explain the huge blind spots of the male dominated Church hierarchy. Thanks Valerie for the article.

Mark Chandler
2 months 1 week ago

I read this article right after reading an article from the Buffalo news about the Catholic Charities social workers fighting back against the Church administration to continue to help families. It looks to me like the laity will have to fight the church administration to force it to do what is right and good.

Meg Stahley
2 months 1 week ago

Thank you, Valerie. It is high time for women to take the reigns in all areas of Church leadership, governmental leadership, and humanitarian leadership. Women have checked their egos at the door for so long and have been the problem solvers, not the problem makers. We are well trained and ready.

Angela Beltran
2 months 1 week ago

What a breath of fresh air! Thank you for validating women in the church and for validating what I personally have felt for years. May the Holy Spirit iluminate us, so we may prepare for the changes that are coming in the church. Blessings Valerie!

Sue Shebosky
2 months 1 week ago

The Pope recommends "silence and prayer". Good luck trying to work with him and the church hierarchy as they turn their backs & bow their heads. Sadly, I am turning my back too on a lifetime of Catholicism. God help us all!

Reyanna Rice
2 months 1 week ago

He recommends silence and prayer in the context of facing the kinds of accusations Vigano has leveled at him, to those who are creating this scandal of accusations and divisiveness in the Church. In his other writings where he has also talked about this same type of silence and prayer he says that instead of our ferocious defending ourselves which will escalate the problem our silence let’s God bring out the truth. That is the reference he was making in his homily at Casa Santa Marta this morning. He is not saying this in relation to the clergybsrxvabuse scandals. In fact he was very vocal in Ireland last weekend about them calling it crimes and the cover up of these crimes shit.

lynne miller
2 months 1 week ago

Thank you, Reyanna! There are those here who might do well to engage in a period of thought and silence before expressing themselves in terms that condemn themselves.

lynne miller
2 months 1 week ago

So true, and so well done! May it be read and prayed about by every clergyman in the Church!

Erin B
2 months 1 week ago

I love everything about this commentary. Well done.

Floyd Richardson
2 months 1 week ago

Church is my safe space and I hope that everything will be alright. I believe that Church and concert tickets at https://somethingrottenshowtickets.com/ are two things that will save us all from the devil.

Larry Hawes
2 months 1 week ago

Wonderful Valerie. Recently Pope Francis appointed 3 women to senior Church positions. I noted that they were PHD’s and university professors.
This points out that there is so much female talent available. It is a shame we are not bringing far more women in to the Church at all levels.

Larry Hawes

Nora Bolcon
2 months 1 week ago

Valerie, as long as women like you use verbiage like places of real authority instead of the forbidden demand for ordained priesthood be given to women and exact same treatment and sacraments be offered to women , you too are a part of the problem. If women and decent men do not protest in all the ways you wrote off women will continue to be treated as subhuman and subsacred. Jesus taught all men to treat all women and men exactly how they wished to be treated themselves. Why are you afraid to demand this command be immediately followed in your article.

Instead you blame celibacy which there is no evidence is harmful nor does it cause sexism or pedophilia.

You seem to be supporting gender segregation in a sneaky way like the organization future church. You seem to want married male ordained priests and want their wives to be mere less sacred salve ministers to their more sacred ordained husband's. You seem happy to leave women in lesser sacramental roles as long as they have a vote in decisions.
You fail to realize the greater insult to women is the belief we are less sacred not that we have less authority and vote. The first belief is what results in the restrictions placed on womens authority voting and voice.

The truth is married men are more likely to be pedophiles than unmarried. Sexism or any treatment of one sex differently than another without cause based on ability is abusive and traumatic to the one treated less and difference always has one group treated less.

We must protest in every way until women are given same sacraments , same opportunities, same respect and prestige when it has been earned, and same support as men. Part of the definition of sexism is the allowance of different roles for different genders. There is no such thing as different but equal. Only different or equal treatment and humanity are our choices.

Kathleen Guentner
2 months 1 week ago

Well written

Phillip Stone
2 months 1 week ago

Well, sister in Christ, we need you to tell us, does a handsome male dressed to emphasise his masculinity and strength and fitness and beauty have the tendency to evoke, that is stimulate in a female a response of some sort of arousal, excitement, interest, distraction and the like? : you tell us, we do not occupy female bodies and cannot read the automatic responses ourselves.

There is still the question about who bought him or chose his clothes and does he have any idea other than to get dressed like all the other guys so he will not be bullied as a dork.

Then, if the answer is yes, can you please explain how that might be sinful?

You are without doubt looking from and at yourself, other females and all males from the point of view of femaleness - currently this is know as sexism: do you accept this? I have no objection, by the way, as I think it is in the nature of humanity to do so, it is Marxist feminism who claims it is somehow abnormal.

Nora Bolcon
2 months 1 week ago

Well this is a rather silly comment you have written. First of all, the sexism came from the bulletin she had read which only chastised women's attire and not the men's. Yes, my husband and teenage son choose their own clothing, both what to own, and what to wear and so does my daughter. Women are not responsible for dressing the males in their families unless they are under 10 years old.

Yes women do find scantily dressed males in tight tank tops showing tanned muscular bodies or very tight shorts or pants distracting and a bit arousing. I agree both women and men should try to be a bit more modestly dressed for church and both genders often fail to do so equally. The bulletins however often tend to only reprove women which is, I believe, the writers point. That constitutes sexism, and no people are not naturally sexist but taught to be so and often by their religions. This is a sin of those who run the churches and promote that harmful sexism in order to keep the status quo by shaming only one gender for what both do in error.

Phillip Stone
2 months 1 week ago

In these days of universal easy communication, it has been vital to call to mind wisdom from down the ages - it is not what a person says that matters as much as what he does.
Words are cheap, actions are actual events in the real world which stand alone, to be judged but never altered “The moving hand once having writ moves on. Nor all thy piety nor wit can lure it back to cancel half a line.”

Jesus did not appoint any women as apostles.
None, zilch, nada!
You have detailed just how many females were part of his intimate circle and there are others you did not mention.
None of them appointed as apostles, none.
He was completely free to do so.

He is not reported as saying, when the Holy Spirit inspires the reproductive physiologists to invent the oral contraceptive pill or understand the signs of ovulation so pregnancy can be avoided then you can have female apostles.

I have no intention of maligning women, or consecrated women religious, and yet I will insist that throughout a 50 year span of being a Catholic doctor and Psychiatrist I am witness to the cruelty and violence of some of these females as would make your hair stand on end. Call to mind Catholic Convent laundries, nuns and 'fallen women'; most children murdered in Australia are by their mothers and that is not counting those who have abortions.

Christ is our King, the apostles and their successors are his government and persons are ordained in the way Jesus ordained.

One nit to pick, gender is a technical word used in language studies to tell whether a word has a he or a she associated with it in French, German, Italian and others. In English, ship is female gender and time is masculine gender.
Are you sure you are not a cultural Marxist subversive, they are the ones trying to pretend sexual identity is social, cultural, optional?

Nora Bolcon
2 months 1 week ago

Jesus actually didn't have a choice to pick women among the original 12 apostles because although he never picked the apostles to be priests - his words in two different Gospels - but only judges, and only for the Jews, as promised by prophesy to those Jews who died before having seen the birth of their savior, this was a matter of fulfilling lineage and inheritance in the name of Abraham to whom all the promises of the Messiah were made. In Judaism only males can inherit property because this enabled fair distribution of lands and property among the 12 tribes and ensured land and property did not leave thru marriage to outside the 12 tribes, or to one tribe being unduly enriched thru marrying wealthy women from a different tribe. This inheritance issue was not designed to be sexism since the law considers wives to be one being with their husbands so whatever is their husband's is theirs to use as needed or wanted but could not be sold by her against her husband's agreement. In theory based on the law, he should not be selling or giving away property without consulting her either. In theory of the law, men don't really own anything either since they are not allowed to do whatever they want with their property or lands. There are severe restrictions on who men could sell, especially land property to within Israel and outside of their boundaries. The concept of these laws was all people of Abraham's blood are an extension of him, thru blood lineage, and since only men pass down their lineage, only men could officially inherit.

The church is considered an extension of the possessions of Abraham but could not literally be so unless his blood inherited it, legally. Christ is the son and lineage of his Father, God, and so not Abraham's lineage legally. Christ is of Abraham's flesh and family thru Mary but for the church to officially be of Abraham's distinct blood lineage then Jewish men, who contained his bloodline, must represent the 12 tribes of Israel as inheritors. Once this is done or accomplished thru the original 12 apostles it no longer needs to be done again. This is why both women and gentile blooded men can be priests, bishops, cardinals and popes in the Church. For the record, neither Jesus nor his original apostles ever claimed to ordain anyone priests or above. Actual ordination came hundreds of years after all of them were sitting in heaven. Peter never described the existence of a priesthood outside the Royal Priesthood which he claimed all believers were equally a part - both men and women. He did claim to be a presbyter which is someone who leads a church and presides over Holy Eucharist but women were also presbyters at this time and also led churches in their homes equally and the apostles never did anything but laud such women.

Ed Dem
2 months ago

For what its worth, I too long for the day when women are permitted a more visible and valuable spiritual and healing leadership roles within the Church. I am still dumbfounded that there are not female priests, or at the least, female Deacons. How does one get our Church to change? My mother has voiced many times how she does not believe it is right for the current Church policy. She still goes to Church. She prays for the Church. I am dumbfounded by this continued policy.

Marion Sforza
2 months ago

I am sick of helping. Helping those in power who, when push comes to shove, don't give a damn about me or my sisters. Yet I still help. Certainly not to keep them in power. I help because social ministry would fall apart. I help because even if they don't want to listen, I still speak up and maybe it will help more and of us speak up so we become more brave and outspoken. I help because I love the Eucharist and cannot imagine living without it. I help because I want to believe that one day the Holy Spirit will say "ephrathah" and they will have the will to listen. Please God.

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