I attended the discussion evening on the themes of the book, Elephant in the Church, on Women’s International Day, March 8th, in the Avila Centre in Donnybrook. I experienced it as a momentous event. It is one of the few times I have felt affirmed in my deeply felt convictions about women’s equality in the Church.
Mary T Malone, now 80 and blind, came across as very humble, learned and reflective. I felt honoured and inspired to be in her warm presence. Yet she was disarmingly human and normal. I think we all wondered why doesn’t everyone in Ireland know Mary T?
In her book she explains how women have been airbrushed out of the Church from 55 AD to 1970 – airbrushed out of the scriptures, liturgy, theology, church language and structures. Vatican II was a male council and its attempts to return to the sources and early traditions were merely a return to male ones. It did not go back before 55 AD when there were no men at the crucifixion or the resurrection. It was women who were the live link that kept the Jesus movement going.
In 1970 Paul VI created two women doctors – the first women in the Magisterium – though dead ones! This was a momentous decision – we are changing everything here! Nobody got it – nobody cared to know what these women doctors were saying.
Mary T believes that the question of women in Christianity has not started yet. She states that priesthood is a male construct made by men. Women wouldn’t want to be male priests! It needs to be reinvented with the imput of women’s experiences of God and practical living. She states for example that ‘women go inside themselves to find God and that men go outside themselves to find God’.
The other three women speakers were of the belief that the Church as an institution is a disaster. Angela Hanley refered to the institutionalized exclusion of women by giving examples of how women in the scriptures are excluded from the Sunday Lectionary Cycle.
Women’s function is not to complement men! Pope Francis unquestioningly accepts male theology as the norm and regards other theologies like feminism as satellite theologies. Women don’t want crumbs from the table! Angela spoke of the destructive behaviour of Church leaders and that if the child sex abuse does not ignite a fire for root and branch reform of the Church – what will?
Sharon Tighe-Mooney spoke of how the Vatican took time in 2010 to say ‘no’ to women’s ordination, but couldn’t find the time to address the child sex abuse scandal! If any secular organisation excluded women from leadership today, there would be outrage. Yet why is it that most of us still today can accept that the Catholic Church excludes women from leadership? She gave examples of similar women’s experiences of patriarchy in the Muslim and Mormon religions.
There is a sense that women in society will only be fully free when all religions embrace women leadership. Religion creates the seeds of normality. Normality for most religious people is to see the world through the male lens. What if the world religions systems were reversed and all men were excluded from religious leadership? Sharon shared a wonderful witty ‘Dear Men’ letter – a reverse of the ‘Dear Women’ patronising letters from the Popes and from men leaders! It is not women’s job to save any (male) Church!
Ursula Halligan took issue with some of Pope Francis’s off the cuff outdated views of women – “in the end every feminism ends up being a machismo with a skirt”.
I quote the following texts from her talk related in ‘We are Church Ireland’ Website (8th March).
“The crudity of the Pope’s language was stunning. The fact that his comments came immediately after the first of only three women to speak at the vastly male audience of 190 Catholic leaders, made it worse”.
“So, you can imagine how happy she (her five year old self) was to discover that scholars, investigating the origins of the church, had burst a big hole in the church’s theory that its hierarchical order and exclusive male ministry is the way it is because that’s how Jesus organised it.
Amazingly, many Catholic women still don’t know this. They have no idea that over the last 40 years the history of women in the early church has been significantly revised. They have yet to hear the good news.
They don’t know that new evidence about the role of women has emerged contradicting everything the institutional church ever taught us.
They don’t know that Jesus never “ordained” anyone in his life; that he had lots of apostles, not just 12 and they included many women; that the hierarchical church didn’t emerge until hundreds of years after Jesus’s death and that the word “priest” wasn’t used until the middle of the second century.
These are explosive new findings that have yet to be fully appreciated by the majority of Catholics. Their discovery is due to painstaking scholarship carried out by historians and feminist theologians such as Mary T. Malone.
It was academics like Mary who tunnelled deep into the caves of ancient Christianity and exposed layer upon layer of new facts about the role played by women; Facts that had been ignored by men.
Like a detective forensically re-examining a crime scene, Mary and others discovered that women in the early church were disciples, apostles, martyrs, house church leaders, ecclesiastical scholars, diplomats, missionaries and teachers, just like the men”.
I feel so sad and very angry that these four articulate women have no real place in our Church and that they and many women like them are not being heard and listened to. They have to walk away. They see the Church as beyond reform.
Why are we so afraid of these women and those who are articulate and think differently to us! Why can’t Pope Francis get it about women?
I listen to my nieces and they can’t understand why I would want to remain in such an out-dated Church? I wonder if I have become totally institutionalized?
I remember a man that I used to visit in prison where he had spent most of his adult life. He didn’t want to leave and was forced to. He didn’t survive long outside. He was there so long, he couldn’t imagine any other way of life.
It seems sadly as if most of us priests and bishops in Ireland accept the status quo.
How long more can we keep ignoring what women are saying – the great Sign of our Times’?
Why don’t more priests speak out?
Why do we accept these unjust structures at the heart of our Church? There seems to be a massive silence or inertia.
Every priest and bishop, including the Pope, needs to update themselves with women’s theology. There is no better way than to read Mary T’s book Elephant in the Church (Available from Columba Books)
I sold 10 books at one of the weekend Masses in Caherconlish last weekend.