Airbrushed out of Church…. – Elephant in the Church

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.

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  1. Kevin Walters says:

    So having once again reflected on the problem of creating an inclusive Priesthood I have concluded that it will not be resolved, until the authoritarianism and elitism that is embedded within Clericalism which emanates from an abuse of this teaching given by Jesus Christ, is confronted.

    “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”

    Jesus appears to be conveying that His disciples do to take honour to themselves, which did not belong to them; nor even choose to be called by such names, as would lead people to entertain too high an opinion of them, and take off of their dependence on God the Father, and Himself, as these titles the Scribes and Pharisees loved to be called by, rather look to the mandate given at the last super, to those who would lead in His name’

    For a Christian, in order to live a life based on honesty and integrity, you must know, who you are and what you stand for before our Father in heaven, and this can only come about by standing in humility before Him, the only place the Holy Spirit can be embraced.

    Taken from the excellent article in the link below on clericalism

    “The truth is that you can’t be both the religious system’s poster boy and a man of God”

    “A culture is a network of personal meaning and valuing. Clerical culture hinges on leaders attracting similarly disposed persons through the laws of social attraction, evoked in different ways since Plato as the principle of “like seeks after like.” The psychology engenders webs of kinship among priests, bishops and similarly disposed lay groups, bishops and cardinals, wealthy lay Catholics and think tanks. They always find each other through family resemblance, whatever that happens to be.

    Recognition based on merit and social capital is one thing; a personal worth indistinguishable from public image is another. Not just clergy but anyone, including those of us who earn our bread and butter in the academy, can be no less smitten by our systems’ portrait galleries and the protocoled rituals of maneuvering for and keeping honor.

    One way to enhance my self-worth is to occupy an office or have a title which says, “I am the image that you see.” That ‘image’, needs care, protection and strategic promotion, like a politician on the campaign trail, or a theater actor whose self-worth rises and falls with the chatter about his latest performance. Moral compromises happen when the religious system ratifies my identity. At worst I become a recognition junkie, insatiably restless, flitting away the qualities that make me unique for the temporary haven of external validation. Jesus was less poetic: “Why do you look to one another for approval and not the approval of the one God” (John 5:44)? This is the peace that the world gives … and takes back”…

    But to embrace in humility the true Divine Mercy Image one of Broken Man would confer a ‘liberating identity’ of authenticity, where His peace cannot be taken from you

    Please consider continuing via the link

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Mary Vallely says:

    Roy, you are a very courageous and honest priest and I pray you feel supported by your parishioners and colleagues. Thank you for this report. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get up to Dublin that evening and to affirm the wonderful Mary T Malone. What a witness, what an inspiration!

    However her statement or belief that, ‘ men go outside themselves to find God and women go inside themselves’ is something I need more time to think about. A measure of truth in it but generalisations are dangerous!

    I find Christ in so many people, many, many outside the Church of course. No point going into a rant here about the inequality of women in the Catholic Church as I presume most people who dip into this website agree that it is iniquitous. Iona, my granddaughter in Edinburgh, won’t go to mass as she proclaimed last year at five years of age, her arms folded and a fiercely determined expression on her face, that girls cannot become priests like boys. She can aspire to anything the boys in her class want to be but that. It is unfair! ( and anyway, she sighed, mass is ‘ boring.’)

    So the questions you pose, Roy, about why we accept the status quo, not just you priests and bishops but women who form the bulk of congregations, is a challenging one. I ask myself, why can’t I walk away? Am I being an enabler of unjust structures and blatant discrimination because I continue to support my parish financially? Should I not withdraw this support? These are questions that trouble me and then I ask myself where would I go? I have a great need for community worship. The Quakers seem more and more attractive but I would miss my own parish community, the sacramental comfort, that sense of belonging…

    However, like you, Roy, I question myself and I struggle. Somehow though there is a strange comfort in knowing others struggle too, especially priests, and I do wish more of your priestly colleagues would speak up with the same courage you show.
    Rath Dé ort. Keep the heart up.

  3. Walter G. Sandell, Jr. says:

    I now go to a Mass by ‘Roman Catholic Women Priests.’ in Drexel Hill, PA.
    This is one of the best articles I have read.
    I recently attended the Confirmation of a niece, and felt awkward about this ceremony, which backs up the authority of a misogynist hierarchy. I want to support her Faith, but need to find a way to help all of my Grandchildren to examine their Faith.

  4. Paddy Ferry says:

    This is a really excellent piece which I have shared on the Scottish laity Network Facebook page.

  5. Myra Noonan says:

    Dear Roy I too was at the Mary T Malone book launch on Friday March 8th. When you spoke of Katherine Zappone that night you reminded me of something. I had the pleasure of being a student of her late wife Ann Louise Gilligan when training to be a teacher at St. Patrick’s College in the 80’s. She encouraged us as students at the time to start praying the Our Father with children with the words “Our Father Mother who art in Heaven.” Some of us were shocked “Surely children needed to imagine a picture of an old man with a grey beard to build a relationship with Him.” It Has taken many years for me to appreciate the importance of what she was saying. Put simply Faith, life, the planet is out of balance because the Divine Feminine has been neglected. Children probably understand more than we adults who become quite infantilized by religion. I watched later as Ann Louise and Katherine became important witnesses to the struggle to have same sex marriage included in the Irish Constitution. They modelled a more loving, and inclusive Irish society. All good educators sow the seeds and it can take time for those seeds to mature and as the four women at the book launch said education is the way forward. Language is important and so too is the truth which Malone and many Irish women are now telling. It is good you were there to listen. Thank you.

  6. Paddy Ferry says:

    Mary, that is so true but not just for enlightened women.

    “So the questions you pose, Roy, about why we accept the status quo, not just you priests and bishops but women who form the bulk of congregations, is a challenging one. I ask myself, why can’t I walk away? Am I being an enabler of unjust structures and blatant discrimination because I continue to support my parish financially? Should I not withdraw this support? These are questions that trouble me and then I ask myself where would I go? I have a great need for community worship. The Quakers seem more and more attractive but I would miss my own parish community, the sacramental comfort, that sense of belonging…”

  7. Eddie Finnegan1 says:

    Partly like Mary@2 and Paddy re-voicing her@6: “These are questions that trouble me too – but then I ask myself who on earth would (a) need (b) want me?”
    In fact these are questions which I’m sure the legendary 1,000+ ACP members who never darken the portals of this forum should have been asking themselves over the near decade of this association’s and forum’s existence. But Roy Donovans are much fewer and farther between than Mary T Malones. If the majority (or indeed any) of this allegedly reforming association had been publicly exploring Malone’s themes of the historical bulldozing of women in the Church and the late male construction of priesthood and all that follows from it, instead of ochoning over the shrinking of that male-invented-control panel from Dublin to Derry and Killala to Kerry, at the very least their few thinking colleagues, Tony Flannery and others, would not have been hung out to dry alone by the Kremlin. The dogs in the streets have known that for yonks.

  8. Maureen Mulvaney says:

    Well done, Roy for your splendid and excellent article and review of the launch of Mary T. Malone’s book, ” The Elephant in the Church, Revised Edition.
    1 You have started a conversation going here, one that is important and long overdue.
    You have put Mary T. on the map here, also, and by selling and sharing her book with your parishioners, hopefully you have given courage to many more priests to do likewise.
    Keep up the good work Roy. There might be more hope, if we had many more Roy Donovan type priests in our parishes throughout Ireland.

  9. Frances Burke says:

    The all female editorial team at Women’s Church World magazine have resigned. Following their release of the story of priests abusing nuns, the magazine which is published alongside the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore were told that Andrea Monda, the male editor of L’Osservatore, would be taking over at the magazine too.

    Mr Monda states that ‘In the few months since I was appointed director, I guaranteed to professor Scaraffia, and to the women’s editorial team, the same total autonomy and the same total freedom that have characterised the monthly supplement since the day it was born, refraining from interfering in any way other than to offer my dutiful contribution (regarding topic suggestions and people to be involved).”

    It appears that Mr Monda does not see any contradiction in his statement which claims that the editorial team would have total automy and freedom and then in the next breath offering his dutiful contribution regarding topic selection and people to be involved. No censorship there then!

    It’s good to see that women are not taking that crap any more and as journalists are prepared to walk away from a publication which does not want hard truths to be exposed.

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