- The editorial team shares with Archbishop Nienstedt a “dream of solidarity, mutual respect, reciprocal care, and shared mission among all Catholics in this archdiocese.”
- William Coughlin Hunt reviews Charles Pilon’s novel Waiting for Mozart, a novel that powerfully and entertainingly explores current conflicts within the church.
- Mary Lynn Murphy seeks to understand the increasing climate of fear among liberal Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis.
- A media release from Call to Action-Minnesota highlights an international campaign for the Vatican to restore women leaders to the history of the Church, and to invite female scholars to next October’s International Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.
And then there’s Paula Ruddy’s insightful article, “Why We Cannot Cheer the Pope,” in which she identifies the “oppressive sour note” that makes it difficult for many in the church to take a balanced view of the recent papal visit to the U.S.
Paula’s article is reprinted in its entirety below.
Why We Cannot Cheer the Pope
By Paula Ruddy
The Progressive Catholic Voice
By Paula Ruddy
The Progressive Catholic Voice
Vatican II. The Council’s name has become a code word for division. Whose church is it? Lay people who have gone about making it their own find themselves in a tug of war with clergy and hierarchy. They feel angry, fearful, and sad when power descends arbitrarily.
What can be done about it? Ecclesiologist Richard Gaillardetz, speaking at the Call To Action-Minnesota meeting on April 19, cautioned us against “demonizing” people who do not agree with us. He tries first to look at the commonalities with people who disagree with him and to see the good that they do before bringing on the criticism. It’s a respectful and balanced attitude toward people. Good advice, in general.
But a power clamp-down on people’s autonomy is not just garden variety disagreement. It’s oppression. The problem is that oppressed people cannot take a balanced attitude toward their oppressor. A battered wife, for example, can’t take a dispassionate view about how wonderfully her husband treats his colleagues at work. Those of us who feel oppressed could not hear a good word Pope Benedict XVI said on his visit to the US. Praise for him leaves us cold. Why is that? Are we “demonizing” him? We are fully aware that he is a human being, fallible and limited like the rest of us. He can have some good ideas and do some good things. But we wouldn’t go to see him and we do not want to listen to him. As theologian Anne E. Patrick puts it in the introduction to her Liberating Conscience:
A single cipher is enough to ruin an entire musical experience, no matter how splendid the composition or accomplished the organist. A droning note ought not to be endured. Someone must say: “Stop the music." No one can follow the melody on racial and economic justice, no one can hear the harmonies of peace and respect for life until this cipher on women and sexuality is repaired.
The oppressive sour note is about authority and control and is, therefore, primarily about sexuality. The oppressed are women, suffering from unequal status and the moral teachings around reproduction and marriage; they are gays and lesbians excluded from communion; they are victims of sexual abuse by predator priests and nuns and the bishops that protect them. Anyone who dissents in a Roman Catholic parish or educational institution on the moral teachings around sexuality feels the oppression. For example, no Catholic parish or organization in Minneapolis or St. Paul can let the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, Dignity, or Call To Action meet on church property for fear of the descent of power to punish them.
The more absolute the power, the more profound is the disrespect for the man who wields it abusively. It is said of the pope, “He could solve these injustices with the stroke of a pen.” He could remove bishops who connived to protect sexual predatory priests. He could use current science to update the moral teaching condemning homosexual partnering. He could move to ordain women and make celibacy in the priesthood optional. He could set the bishops of the US free and instruct them to listen to their people. Rage boils up when he visits the US in his red shoes, oblivious of the suffering he is responsible for. Are we demonizing the pope? No. We are saying “we cannot hear you until you recognize us as equals in baptism.”
And we have no expectation that this pope, any more than the last one or his appointee bishops, will be able to recognize us as equals. They are not demons; they live in a different universe. They act out of a patriarchal construction of church – Gaillardetz’s pyramid with the power at the top – and we see church as existing fully in each community – Gaillardetz’s interrelated circles. With regard to moral theology, they define “good Catholic” from the point of view of patriarchs, and we define it from the point of view of our egalitarian culture and its interpretation of Vatican II. Anne Patrick characterizes the two very different paradigms of virtue in the current conflict:
The [patriarchal] paradigm is based on a metaphor of domination, which emphasizes control of the lower by the higher, the unruly body must be dominated and tamed by ‘dispassionate’ reason. …The rigid emphasis on control from above extends beyond sexual matters to include social ones as well, hence the high value placed on obedience in this model. (pp.77-78)
In this model, she says, “chastity becomes the pinnacle of perfection.” All “matter” is grave where sexual sin is concerned, but violations of charity and justice are more or less grave. Along with physical chastity, obedience to authority makes one a good Catholic. Since Patrick wrote her book, some social “sins” have now been added to the list, but the patriarchal model remains intact. Both men and women have been formed in this model, and it feels normal to perhaps a majority of Catholics.
In what Patrick calls the egalitarian/feminist model (to distinguish her model from other conceptions of feminism) a “good Catholic” acts entirely differently. Both women and men are increasingly being enculturated in this model.
Rather than understanding power as control over others, this paradigm operates with a sense of power as the energy of proper relatedness. … It recognizes that the focal sign of religious devotion should not be the directing of one’s energy to controlling bodily impulses and other people, but rather must involve a stance of ongoing commitment to the well-being of oneself and others, which has material as well as spiritual components and entails building social relations of respect, equality, and mutuality. (p. 79)
People who are comfortable in the patriarchal/pyramidal model will not understand how oppressive the Roman Catholic Church is for a person formed in the egalitarian/feminist culture. The thousands of people who cheered the pope, rather than feeling oppressed, probably appreciate the stability of the age-old model. It takes some compassion to put oneself in the shoes of sexual abuse victims, discounted women, gays and lesbians, divorced and remarried Catholics, silenced scholars, and all the persons whose lives have been restricted by hierarchical power. Until the people conscious of oppression outnumber the comfortable ones, the paradigm will probably not shift.
One option for those feeling oppressed is to seek a less patriarchal church community. Many Catholics are doing that. Another option is to put the egalitarian/feminist model to work in our own parishes in whatever way we can. Read our local author Charles Pilon’s new novel Waiting for Mozart for a dramatic rendering of how that can be done. You will find Bill Hunt’s review of Waiting for Mozart also in this issue [of The Progressive Catholic Voice].
Paula Ruddy is a co-founder of The Progressive Catholic Voice.