The cry of women SIGNS 13

The nightingales are sobbing
In the orchards of our mothers.
And hearts that we broke long ago
Have long been breaking others.

W.H. Auden

There are three things which characterize our modern age, Pope John XXlll wrote in his April 1963 encyclical.The seond of these  issues, even in retrospect was obvious. This wonderfully warm, sharp prelate, beloved by the world  had become abundantly aware of the rising tide of feminism in the culture at large. In Pacem in Terris,his encyclical, he wrote:

Secondly, the part that women are now playing in political life is everywhere evident. This is a development that is perhaps of swifter growth among Christian nations, but it is also happening extensively, if more slowly, among nations that are heirs to different traditions and imbued with a different culture. Women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity. Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument, they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.

John XXlll laughingly described himself as “a feminist pope.” Now his successors have been making war on feminism  or “radical feminism” as they prefer to call this Spirit movement.There seems to be no understanding that there is only one baptism—for both male and female and “in Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.”  Galatians 3:28

Of all the signs of God’s presence,the equality of women, has been the most embarrassing sticking point for the celibate clerical caste in the Catholic Church to embrace. Despite the overwhelming support from the people of God, who have wives, mothers, sisters and companions, the adamantine resistance to include women in every sector of the church as equal partners has caused millions of Catholics to withdraw support from the institution which raised them. Over the past forty years women the most loyal servants  in the Church have been rejected for the full complement of all seven sacraments.The pathetic justifications for this refusal  are simply too embarrassing to enumerate.This refusal to ordain women has stamped the Catholic church in too many eyes as a reactionary institution unworthy of serious support.

A i write this first essay the Vatican is moving ahead to throw Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois out of the priesthood for saying what many of us believe: sexism is a sin! Bourgeois  believes “that God calls both men and women to the priesthood.” After being asked to retract his statement Bourgeois emphasized that he could not as he would see that as lying and “betraying [his] conscience.”

A few years ago the much respected American bishop Thomas Gumbleton was giving a workshop in Kingston, Ontario and a member of the audience asked him what he thought about the Roman Catholic Church’s failure to ordain women. Prayerful man that he is, Gumbleton pondered the question and then stated simply, ”It is a sin.” These are the exact words Fr Roy Bourgeois used in his homily at the ordination of Janice Sevre-Duszynska, The sin in this case the failure of the Roman Catholic Church to grant the full privileges of baptism to a female member of the Church.

The rejection of patriarchy has been steadily growing for at least two centuries. Women and progressive men have fought an uphill battle against the forces of reaction for far too long. The history is well known—the struggle for the vote, for equality before the law has been a slow but inexorable march. Heroes abound in the struggle-from Mary Wolstonecraft to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony  and the Pankhursts to Nellie McClung in our own country.

Millions of course have  had to march, picket, resist, go to jail in search of basic dignity and equality. This has all been part of the birthing process. Within the creaking barnacles  of the Catholic Church, history’s oldest Christian communion, the struggle has been particularly tedious and long suffering. Women and female religious did most of the heavy ecclesial lifting throughout our Canadian history and had to endure the repeated slings and arrows of an obtuse and insensitive male dominated church and hierarchy. We are in the final throes of tis battle today. The male, celibate lub is slowly disintegrating.The new wine is bursting the old wineskins.



  1. 1

    I have read all 13 articles to date in this series of Signs of the Times, and I couldn’t agree more with the points of view expressed. However, I am a bit puzzled as to where all this is leading. In the author’s ideal world, what should the Catholic Church look like in future?

    Underlying all the ills (failure to embrace feminism, justice for the poor, earth day, etc.) described in these articles, to me there underlies a notion of the Catholic Church as God’s chosen people who don’t have to answer to anybody on this earth, a cut above the other religions (or non-religions), who are fundamentally flawed and not in the same league as Catholics.

    I presume this is not the Catholic Church that the author would like to see. To put it positively, what is that ideal situation for the Catholic church and the rest of humanity to which the author aspires?

    Perhaps the basic flaw of the Catholic Church is its “exceptionalism”, that it doesn’t consider itself bound by the same norms of natural ethics which apply to those not fortunate enough to be Catholic. Maybe it should climb down from its Roman pedestal and join the rest of humanity.

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