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.

kathlawr64@gmail.com
2 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 1 day ago

Sharing this

WILLIAM ULWELLING
2 weeks 1 day 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 weeks ago

Thanks for that acknowledgement!

lynne miller
2 weeks ago

Thanks for that acknowledgement!

Winifred Holloway
2 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 1 day 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
1 week 5 days ago

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

Tim O'Leary
2 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 1 day ago

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

Tim O'Leary
2 weeks 1 day ago

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

Nora Bolcon
2 weeks 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 weeks 1 day ago

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

Reyanna Rice
2 weeks 1 day ago

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

lynne miller
2 weeks ago

What? Where did that come from?

Solvitur Ambulando
2 weeks 1 day 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 weeks ago

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

Linda Cleary
2 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 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.

Elaine Boyle
2 weeks 1 day ago

Women are getting it right, by coming out against Francis and his cover-ups. Women are petitioning for the cover-up and deceit to end. Gay priests have hurt our sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, nephews, and bankrupted our dioceses, and brought moral relativistic into our family and kids’ lives, undermining the Faith.

Vigano is a gift from Jesus. He’s right, the homosexual networks must be uprooted. Women are finally getting on the right side agsinst these gay MALE beasts. We support our Catholic men instead of the perv men.

Reyanna Rice
2 weeks 1 day ago

Vigano has created divisiveness, is being exposed as someone who lied to B16, has been exposed as someone who ordered the stopping of an investigation into the sexual exploits of Nienstdadt and then wanted a letter destroyed that would cover up his request to stop the investigation. He also swindled the sale of a house right out from under his sister who owned it. I think Vigano is not a gift from Jesus and has a lot of answering to do to Him.

Elaine Boyle
2 weeks 1 day ago

Vigano was cleared of the calumny of “stopping the Nienstedt investigation”. That is circulating as fake news by the pro-pervert, pro-gay priest, pro-coverup, secular, anti-Catholic, non-Catholic, and pro-Francis crowd,

LuAnn O'Connell
2 weeks 1 day ago

Sexual abuse is often about power and access rather than sexual fulfillment. Hypocrisy and deceit in the Catholic Church and the broader Christian church in general, is what is undermining faith.

Elaine Boyle
2 weeks 1 day ago

Not sure how heterosexual men and priests are deceitful or hypocrites. The lavender mafia alone owns that, and all the abuse payouts that have robbed us Catholic sheeple.

Ed Dem
1 week 3 days ago

I hate to say it but I will. I think this "Elaine" writer is a Russian troll trying to stir up resentment. I don't know why the editors have not deleted your comments. You write about as hateful as one can and in the most inflammatory manner. Please stop.

Elaine Boyle
2 weeks 1 day ago

Most women are supportive of gay priests and their pink-hat unCatholic politics. I don’t think women could possibly uproot these heinous man-on-man lust networks. We don’t have the strength to stand up against them. We could firstly STOP supporting these pervs.

lynne miller
2 weeks ago

I'm pretty sure Jesus would not consider calling people pervs, lavender mafia, and subscribing to sniping comments such as "frilly outfits" and "pink hat" policies to be loving one's neighbor. These people are wrong, and have done terrible things, but we are called to forgive them and pray for them. (And to keep our children safely away from them.) It's hard not to develop an ugliness of spirit when it comes to people who do such harm, but nobody said being a Christian would be easy.

Catherine Ivancic
2 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 1 day 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 weeks 1 day 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.

Elaine Boyle
2 weeks 1 day ago

PF1 who can never shut up, always speaks off the cuff, claims to be straightforward, etc. now is quiet? Lol, lavender mafia omertà 😂.

lynne miller
2 weeks 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 weeks ago

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

Erin B
2 weeks ago

I love everything about this commentary. Well done.

Floyd Richardson
2 weeks 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 weeks 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 weeks 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
1 week 5 days ago

Well written

Phillip Stone
1 week 5 days 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.

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