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Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Catholic crisis.

Catching up on my reading, I came across Catholic biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson's extraordinary essay in Commonweal (sadly, not on-line), "Sex, women, and the church: The need for prophetic change." Johnson makes the important point that conservative Catholics "argue that the crisis demands no fundamental change in church teaching or structure. They deal with the crisis by isolating it. They see it involves both sex and power, but they connect them only superficially. Nowhere in Neuhaus's and Weigel's writing on the crisis, for instance is there any awareness that God may be calling the church through the cataclysmic changes of recent decades to a more fundamental consideration of what fidelity really means." Amen to that.

Late in the article, which will challenge liberal attitudes as well as conservative ones, Johnson writes four extraordinary paragraphs:

Finally, the all-male magesterium has not grasped that its profound, deliberate, and systematic sexism compromises the capacity of the church to speak prophetically about the sexual dangers now posed by the larger society. Everyone knows that most Catholic parishes in this country would close up tomorrow if it weren't for women. I don't mean this in the sense that women have always been more loyal and religious than men, attending Mass while their husbands waited outside smoking cigarettes. I mean this in the very specific sense that women are carrying out most of the work of ministry in many, if not most, parishes.

The same abuse of power with which the male clergy exploited but never fully honored the ministerial labors of vowed religious women in parishes, hospitals, and schools is now being perpetuated in the exploitation of single and married women in local parishes. This exploitation takes place even as such women are denied ordination with the argument that only males can really represent Christ!

Not all parishioners in the United States have yet awakened to this pattern of sexism. They worry over the fact that their parish now has one priest though it formerly had three. Yet they know they are better off than parishes that can celebrate the Eucharist only when a priest visits. They are so pleased to see (and to be) women acolytes and lectors and eucharistic ministers and catechists that they do not yet appreciate how such accommodation simply continues with slight variations the traditional exploitation of women under male leadership.

An increasing number of American Catholic women do see the pattern, and they are angry. They correctly see that the rejection of women lies at the heart of much of the church's twisted and confusing sexual practice. While many of them fervently support the church's position on abortion, even they find it increasingly difficult, in the shadow of this patter, to respond cogently to non-Catholic feminists' charge that the church's objection to abortion is only the most radical form of its demand above all that women be controlled. And if Catholic women finally get angry enough to walk out, the game is over.

["Sex, women & the church: The need for prophetic change," Luke Timothy Johnson, Commonweal 103:2 (June 20, 2003): 11-17.]

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 27 August 2003 at 8:32 AM

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