In this issue America examines some of the personal, political, liturgical and social-justice issues that are most relevant to Catholic women today. We have asked several writers to consider those aspects of faith and church that sustain them, as well as those aspects that challenge. These articles provide a glimpse into the ways in which the experience of women in our church and our world continues to evolve. We hope the conversations spurred by this issue will help our Catholic community to consider the ways in which the church succeeds in addressing issues that affect women and the ways the church might better provide support for women who are striving to live out their rich faith in a society that does not always back such efforts.
Readers will note that all the principal articles in this issue were written by women. But the prominence of female authors here does not mean that we intend to limit female writers, scholars and theologians to special issues like this. One goal of our Catholic media ministry is to make sure that the voices and diverse perspectives of Catholic women are featured year-round and on a range of topics. This issue is one more step toward that goal. The process of assembling the issue has already produced more ideas than can fit within its pages, and thus has provided additional content that can be found on our Web site and in future issues.
We understand that many Catholics feel passionately about the topic of priestly ordination of women—some in favor of it and some opposed. Our authors do not address that topic here. Kathleen Sprows Cummings points out in her article on a theology of women (p. 20) that in trying to focus attention on or divert attention from this “closed” topic, Catholics have frequently sidelined many other issues of import. In this issue, we have tried to think broadly, creatively and positively about some of these other issues, ones that we hope represent a wide variety of experiences and concerns of Catholic women.
Too often Catholic women are labeled by a single stereotype—progressive protesters or demure wives, for example—a habit that ignores the depth and reality of their experiences. Although the lives of Catholic women may include those roles, their lives are broader and richer than either of them. Catholic women from all backgrounds strive to embody the church they believe in and, like all Catholics, have at times struggled to find the most honest ways to live out the fullness of the church’s teachings.
The editors present this issue with the recognition that the voices it includes represent just a few of the many worthy perspectives within a longstanding and ongoing discussion about women in the life of the church. We hope our readers find in this issue articles that are timely, interesting and challenging, not only to women or to Catholics but to all people of good will who seek a greater understanding of our beloved church.
The women featured in this issue may not agree with one another on every political or social issue, nor would we expect them to do so. But as Catholics they share the belief that all of us—whether male or female—are called to build up the reign of God and called to unity in Christ’s love. Love often begins when we seek a truer understanding of one another; and understanding comes from a place of sincere listening; and listening begins when we allow others the space to speak. We hope America provides a space for dialogue and discussion about our church and our society. And we hope this issue highlights the need for our church to provide women not only with more opportunities to speak up, but to consider new platforms from which these voices can be heard.