St. Francis in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 26 Event

St. Francis, Sacramento

I’ve been hearing from Catholics in various quarters about how they called attention to and honored the contributions of women in the Catholic church on Sept. 26. Here’s a note that Penny at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Sacramento, CA, sent to her friends and parish staff who attend the noon Mass:

Dear Friends,

I will not be at noon mass this Sunday, 09/26/10. I am abstaining from mass in solidarity with other Catholic women-the women of Ireland, who are stunned by the pervasiveness of the abuse in Ireland; the women who minister in other parishes throughout the world who are not valued and respected as we are at St Francis; the sisters who are investigated because of their implementation of the gospels and loyalty to Christ above rules; and, the women who hear the call to priesthood and are vilified by the hierarchy and equated with sexual abusers.

I have spent significant time in prayer to discern whether i would participate in this symbolic action. My decision to join in solidarity with these women has nothing to do with my respect and appreciation of  … the staff at St Francis. I love each of them for who they are and the gifts they so generously share with us. It is because of the many ways they acknowledge the wisdom and sincerity of the feminine that I feel a strong need to stand strong and straight (because its impossible for me to stand tall) with the oppressed women of the Catholic church.

I will be praying with and for all of you on Sunday. Please remember me in your prayers, also.

Thanks, Penny. I look forward to hearing more reports from the field.

St. Lucy’s in Syracuse Reports on Sept. 26 Event

St. Lucy's in Syracuse, NY

I’ve been hearing from Catholics in various quarters about how they called attention to and honored the contributions of women in the Catholic church on Sept. 26. Here’s a note from Nancy at St. Lucy’s Catholic Church in Syracuse, NY:

At St. Lucy’s we elected to do it a little differently on the 26th because we have a priest who supports the participation of women & has been preaching about this for a long time. So a big crowd of women & many men do not go to be seated until after Father Jim processed. He turned around at the altar, raised his arms & asked, “Where are all the people? Where are our women?” Then the crowd processed in, with green ribbons tied around our arms (& also Jim’s) to show solidarity with “Our Irish prophet Jennifer.”

One of our organizers, Rachel Guido-DeVries, went to the altar & spoke about what we were doing & why. Women did all the readings at Mass, read the Gospel & gave the homily on the 26th, as well as choosing songs for the Mass about the contribution of women & doing an addition reading by Joan Chittister. This was all done with full support of our pastor & other leaders in our parish. It was especially moving to participate in giving Communion.

I hope many who participated in some way on the 26th will be in Milwaukee for Call to Action in early November & perhaps we can meet up there.

Thanks, Nancy. I look forward to hearing more reports from the field.

Jennifer Sleeman Speaks Out on Sept. 26 Mass Boycott

“Women are no longer happy to be second-class citizens.”–Jennifer Sleeman

Jennifer Sleeman, Cork, Ireland

On Tuesday, the Irish Times ran an op-ed by Jennifer Sleeman, the Irish woman who has launched Sept. 26 as the “Sunday Without Women” in support of respectful recognition of women in the Catholic Church. (See my interview with Sleeman.)

Women (and men) around the world (check out the map) are preparing for Sunday.

Marie from Portland, OR, articulated the intent well: “Our goal is equality for women to hold positions of decision-making on all levels in the church. We want dignity and respect for women who work for parishes, schools, and archdiocesan offices. There are many stories of womens’ gifts and skills not being respected and taken seriously.”

Sept. 26 is an opportunity for faithful Catholics and those who care for us and our church to enter into prayerful dialogue about shared authority, the celibate priesthood, church teaching, lived experience, and “the sense of the faithful.” Read Jennifer Sleeman’s commentary below:

I did not have a Catholic childhood and I have been amazed, talking to Irish friends, at how their early experience of religion was one of fear: fear of God and fear of the church. There were rules, and you broke them at your peril. Maybe I was lucky.

I embraced Catholicism in my 20s. My husband was Catholic and I saw he got great comfort from it. Then I met a wonderful priest who gave me instruction and received me into the church.

I lived happily with my decision. However, with the horrifying sexual abuse revelations, cracks began to appear for me, and I started wondering and talking to other people about the church in the reality of the 21st century.

I had often questioned the fact that only men could be ordained. There was also the rule of celibacy. I discovered that many women and men were also concerned and working towards having their voices heard.

It seemed there were organizations and people protesting all over the place, and the idea came to me of a boycott of Mass for one Sunday (September 26th) to draw all these voices together. Let empty pews give the powers-that-be in the church the message that women are no longer happy to be second-class citizens.

The support for the equality of women in the church has been massive: lovely letters and cards, and phone calls have come from Ireland, Australia, the US and Canada, from men and women.

Neighbours and strangers have come up to me in the street to congratulate me and tell me I have “hit a spot”. It is time for the focus to move from me to anyone and everyone who realizes the church needs to change, and what they can do to bring this about.

There are those who support women priests but would not miss Mass. They have other ideas to get the message across.

There have been a few angry letters, and some of them have been more in sorrow – that people would boycott Sunday Mass. I understand. Many of my friends have said they support me – but they could not miss Mass.

Others have come up with different ideas to reveal their dissatisfaction to the hierarchy. I hope they carry these ideas out.

One compelling reason for the ordination of women is the shortage of priests. The average age of priests in Ireland is 65, and as far as I know very few young men are entering the seminaries.

Already there must be tired, lonely and aging men celebrating Masses, attending to weddings, funerals and Baptisms, with no time or energy for visiting their parishioners – or indeed for themselves. There are wonderful priests out there ministering with courage and compassion, some of whom have given me their support. They are heroic, but how long can they last?

There are nuns doing demanding and sometimes difficult work, brilliantly. Why is the church so afraid of women, and especially their ordination? They constitute half the population of the world and at least 60 per cent of Mass-goers. They minister very well in other churches, for example in the Church of Ireland.

I see celibacy as another way of keeping women out. Is the fear that the church might become gentler, more in touch with the reality of family life in the 21st century, a safer haven for the scared? I think the church has changed since children grew up in fear – and I hope it has the courage to change again.

My hope is that empty pews on September 26th will move the hearts and minds of those in charge, that change will happen, and that the church will emerge invigorated by the equality of all.

In the wake of Pope Benedict’s elevation of John Cardinal Newman to the position of “blessed” and as we approach Sunday, it’s worth recalling what Newman was most known for:

Church teaching, he argued cannot be a top-down enterprise, a one-way street. It must be the result of a conspiratio, literally a breathing together of the faithful and the bishops. It is the first responsibility of the episcopacy and papacy, he said, to listen carefully before teaching doctrine (see “Robert McClory’s article).

Eric Stoner Asks if Sept. 26 ‘One-Day-Action’ is Start of Movement?

Eric Stoner over at Waging Nonviolence has a good post on the Sept. 26 “Sunday Without Women” event offering critique and support. Read it here.

… In general, I think this is a great idea. Given that the church is such a large institution though, to have a real effect a boycott like this would likely need to include millions of Catholics. They would also need to be outspoken about their reasons for not going to church, otherwise the Vatican might not make the connection.

And although it would be difficult, the boycott would need to be an indefinite. Staying away from church for one Mass will be easily ignored. That said, this one-day action could prove to be an important first step towards building a larger movement for change in the Catholic Church. …

See full post here.

Joan Chittister on Biblical Women Leaders

In the run-up to the Sept. 26 “Sunday Without Women,” here’s an excerpt from Benedictine leader Joan Chittister on the power of women in the Bible.

Finding role models to live by in Scripture, if you are a woman, is slim picking. I spent a fair amount of my young life looking for them, in fact. I heard a great deal in church and school about the kings, Solomon and David. They taught us about the faithful ones like Job and Joseph, for instance, who, despite their sufferings, never cursed God. But they said precious little, hardly a word, about women. Except about Delilah, of course, who had tempted Samson, leading to his ruin, and about Eve, who had tempted Adam and left us all in ruin.

Such teaching left girls with very male images of what it meant to be loved by God, or “made in the image” of God. Abraham and Moses and any number of men–such as Noah, Jacob, Daniel, Isaac, Joshua, and Isaiah, to name a few–had been entrusted with the work of God. But you didn’t hear much about women at all, except, of course, for Mary, “the mother of God,” who was clearly too exalted, too divinized to be a real model for real women. Women, it seemed, were also-rans where the work of salvation was concerned.

It takes years for a woman to realize how effective, how distorting, that exclusion can be to a woman’s sense of herself before God. What had become clear to me, over the years, is that men got us to heaven; women went along. Men were the doers of God’s will; women were everybody’s “helpmates,” but never their leaders. Women, in fact, were seldom or never the carriers of the vision. They were almost never the speaker of God’s word. I admit to being disappointed by it all.

As a result, I did what most girls did. I looked to male figures and male saints and male spiritual leaders, for direction, for the interpretation of what, if anything, God expected of me in life. But somehow or other, little or none of it fit. Worse, all of it reminded me of a woman’s secondary status, even where God was concerned. There was something not right about that.

Then, one day, I discovered, almost by accident, the books of Ruth and Judith – two women who were strong leaders and committed followers of the Word of God. But these books had never been read in my church. I had never heard anyone even preach a sermon on them. I never saw any pictures of these two women hanging anywhere on sacred territory. But there were their stories, full and entire, right in the middle of the Bible. They were not pieces of religious fancy. These were, the priest told me, solemnly, “the Word of God.” Suddenly, things began to change.

If anything in Scripture prepares us for the Jesus who walked with women, taught women, and commissioned women, these stories are surely it. They prepare us to see, if only we will open our eyes, the place and power of women in the Work of God. They enable us to realize the message of redemptive presence that comes through the stories of the women around Jesus–Mary, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman, the woman in the house of the Pharisees and all the women of all the house churches in the New Testament.

The books of Ruth and Judith are signs to us all. They are signs to men of the ministry, that they must share equally with women. They are signs to women of the ministry, for which they, too, must take clear and conscious responsibility, knowing, indeed, that God is with them, in them, calling them on, as witnesses, ministers and leaders–for all our sakes.–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Joan Chittister’s introduction to the book Judith and Ruth (Darton, Longman, and Todd, 2010)

Interview with Jennifer Sleeman, Catalyst for Sept 26: “A Sunday Without Women”

Jennifer Sleeman, Cork, Ireland

Jennifer Sleeman’s call for Sept. 26 to be “A Sunday Without Women” on behalf of justice for women in the Catholic church, is picking up steam around the world. Sleeman, an 80-year-old Catholic convert from Clonakilty in Cork, Ireland, is an active member of her Catholic church. She is also the person mainly responsible for Clonakilty becoming the first Fair Trade town in Ireland and has received an award from the Cork Environmental Forum, in recognition of her “outstanding contribution to sustainability in Cork city and county through partnership and participation in the promotion of environmental care.”  I interviewed her last week over email.

Rose: What was the context for you suggesting the Mass-boycott day? What prompted you and why did the media pick it up?

Jennifer: Rose, I’m delighted to answer your questions. It is so exciting seeing the idea traveling world wide! I was aware that a lot of individuals and groups have been campaigning for equal rights in the Catholic Church and the idea of Boycott was to pull it all together. I was greatly encouraged and helped by friend who had a mailing list. It never crossed my mind that Sept.  26th is just after the Pope’s visit to England. I have been wondering a lot why I decided to risk it and why now — is there a spirit at work?

Rose: Other than the media, who has responded to your call?

Jennifer: I have had the most fantastic support from both women and men. Letters (proper ones on paper!), cards, emails, phone calls. 99.9% positive.

Rose: What are your plans for Sept. 26? Will you gather with others?

Jennifer: I don’t know what I will do on the 26th.

Rose: Is there any message you’d like to send to Catholic women around the world?

Jennifer: We are the majority. Together we have strength and our absence, the empty pews will be noticed. I would love the focus to go away from me and onto all women and men who see the great need for change in the Church. If people have ideas to gently reinforce the message, go for it.

The movement to “boycott Mass” for justice for women in the Catholic church may not be the perfect instrument. But in the language of social movements it would be considered a “weapon of the weak” — a nonviolent way that a subordinate class wields power over a a dominant power structure that purports absolute control (See James Scott and Karl Gaspar). Sleeman’s call is not only for justice for women but fits in a stream of actions and speeches that are geared to confronting the “restorationist” movement happening within the institutional hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

South African Catholic bishop Kevin Dowling described it this way:

“Restorationism: the carefully planned dismantling of the theology, ecclesiology, pastoral vision, indeed the ‘opening of the windows’ of Vatican II — in order to ‘restore’ a previous, or more controllable model of church through an increasingly centralized power structure; a structure which now controls everything in the life of the church through a network of Vatican congregations led by cardinals who ensure strict compliance with what is deemed by them to be ‘orthodox.’ Those who do not comply face censure and punishment, e.g. theologians who are forbidden to teach in Catholic faculties.

Lest we do not highlight sufficiently this important fact. Vatican II was an ecumenical council, i.e., a solemn exercise of the magisterium of the church, i.e. the college of bishops gathered together with the bishop of Rome and exercising a teaching function for the whole church. In other words, its vision, its principles and the direction it gave are to be followed and implemented by all, from the pope to the peasant farmer in the fields of Honduras.”

Read Bishop Dowling’s entire talk here. And let me know if you are taking action for women on Sept. 26. I’ll add you to the map.

‘U.S. Catholic’ Blog Post on Sept 26: A Sunday Without Women

Here’s a shout out to Megan Sweas over at U.S. Catholic for posting about the Sept 26: Sunday Without Women. There are some good comments in response to her post. Below see the comment that I left.

Boycotting the Mass
U.S. Catholic magazine
Rose Marie Berger of Sojourners has created a map of places where women are boycotting the Mass for her personal blog. Questions abound with such an idea.

Comment

Hi Megan– Thanks so very much for posting on the Sept 26: Sunday Without Women. I’m getting more and more comments at my blog everyday from women around the world who are standing up for women’s justice in the Catholic church.

I had a brief email interview with Jennifer Sleeman this week. She’s seeing lots of support bubbling up. The great thing is that women are coming up with all kinds of creative ideas. Many have decided to go to Mass on Saturday night in order to participate fully in the weekly liturgy. But will join with other women (and men) on Sunday morning during regular Mass time to pray together for the Holy Spirit and Mary and the women saints to intercede for the male Catholic hierarchy to receive new wisdom on an egalitarian model of Catholicism.

In Europe and the UK, men and some women decided to attend Mass but are wearing green armbands to signify their protest. In Portland, Oregon, several churches are banding together for a public prayer witness.

Jennifer Sleeman’s call was to “boycott Mass,” in part because she wanted to avoid any protest that would disrupt the liturgy. And I think she has a valid point there.

Keep the conversation going. Peace and All Good–
Rose Berger

BP: Is It Time to Ban Companies Again?

It appears that BP has decided it needs tips from the Spin Master to protect its thoroughly corroded reputation in the U.S. No, they haven’t hired Republican strategist Frank Luntz. Instead they head-hunted Anne Womack-Kolton to take up the lead role for BP’s U.S. media relations.

In one of her previous jobs Anne was  press secretary to the Master of the Dark Arts, none other than Dick Cheney himself. She was also the handler on the National Energy Policy Development Group aka Vice President Cheney’s “Energy Task Force” that was supposed to be made up of “government officials” and ended up being packed with CEOs from BP, Chevron, Enron, ConocoPhillips, American Petroleum Institute, and … wait for it … Grover Norquist and Gail Norton’s Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy.

With BP’s stock in a much-applauded death spiral, we can now look forward to the high-sheen of Anne’s corporate disinformation campaign.

Carcass of a decomposing dolphin on rocks at Queen Bess Island in Gulf of Mexico.

Additionally, in the last few days more than 300,000 people have joined the Boycott BP Facebook campaign and are demonstrating in the streets, at BP gas stations, and boycotting BP products (such as Castrol, Arco, Aral, AM /PM, Amoco, and Wild Bean Cafe).

The best news is that Attorney General Eric Holder is opening a criminal investigation against BP. This is exactly how a government should behave and I applaud Holder’s forward movement on this.

In my estimation, BP should be banned for 50 years from doing business in the United States. Whether or not criminal charges are brought against the company, they are guilty of criminal malfeasance and endangering thousands of lives.

Here’s a section from a great article in The Guardian:

Robert Reich, the former labour secretary under Bill Clinton, today called for BP’s US operations to be seized by the government until the leak had been plugged. A group called Seize BP is planning demonstrations in 50 US cities, calling for the company to be stripped of its assets. The stock plunged 15% , or $6.43, to close at $36.52 at the end regular trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The criminal investigation announced by the American attorney general was launched just hours after Obama promised to prosecute any parties found to have broken the law in the lead up to the disaster. The president dropped several threatening comments into a 10-minute address from the White House to mark the start of an independent commission to look into the causes of explosion.

But the reality is that even if there was enough public and political pressure to close down British Petroleum, we wouldn’t have solved the problem. These massive environmental catastrophe’s are going to continue.

Here’s the radical wisdom of Catholic teaching that addresses this situation from Pope Benedict’s encyclical Charity and Truth:

The Church’s social doctrine has always maintained that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence. The social sciences and the direction taken by the contemporary economy point to the same conclusion. Perhaps at one time it was conceivable that first the creation of wealth could be entrusted to the economy, and then the task of distributing it could be assigned to politics. Today that would be more difficult, given that economic activity is no longer circumscribed within territorial limits, while the authority of governments continues to be principally local. Hence the canons of justice must be respected from the outset, as the economic process unfolds, and not just afterwards or incidentally….

In the global era, the economy is influenced by competitive models tied to cultures that differ greatly among themselves. The different forms of economic enterprise to which they give rise find their main point of encounter in commutative justice. Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift.

Maybe BP can convert itself into a transnational nonprofit dedicated to establishing bioreserves where they pay local communities to keep the oil in the ground and to keep the natural habitats healthy and whole.

Where is Israel’s Pressure Point?: The Ethics and Morality of Boycotting Israel

On March 5, 2010, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia appeared on Democracy Now! with Palestinian human rights activist Omar Barghouti at U.C. Berkeley to discuss the whether the “Boycott, Divest and Sanction” campaign against Israel is the most effective way to bring justice and peace to Israel, Palestine, and the neighboring Arab countries.

It’s a fantastic discussion between two passionate, nonviolent grassroots activists, who are both pro-Palestinian, and who state clearly their different points of view.

Rabbi Waskow also discussed these issues in Sojourners back in 2005 in an article titled A Question of Tactics where he said, “My own assessment is that the way in which much of the divestment campaign has been conducted bespeaks an exercise in quasi-private purity rather than a serious effort to change public policy.”

Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

OMAR BARGHOUTI: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, campaign is a call by Palestinian civil society. It’s supported by almost the entire Palestinian civil society, political forces, NGOs, women’s organizations, unions, and so on.

It’s calling upon people of conscience around the world to boycott Israel and institutions that are complicit with Israel, including companies and so on, because of its three-tiered system of oppression against the Palestinian people: its occupation, 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and that includes East Jerusalem; as well as its system of racial discrimination against its non-Jewish citizens, the Palestinian citizens of Israel; and the third and foremost is its denial of the right of return for the refugees, Palestinian refugees, in accordance with UN Resolution 194. So these three forms of injustices are exactly what we’re targeting. We’re targeting Israel because we want to end its impunity, and we want to end complicity of the world in this system of injustice.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Rabbi Arthur Waskow, could you explain to us why you think this is a wrong approach to the problem?

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: So, first let me say shalom and salaam and peace to you, Amy and Juan, and to Mr. Barghouti, and to say, to begin with, that in a sense I think the question, yes or no on BDS, is the wrong question. The right question is, how do we bring about an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the blockade of Gaza, and of East Jerusalem? And it seems to me that when you put the question that way, BDS really becomes an ineffective and, in some ways, unethical way of going about it, that the major change that needs to happen is a profound change in the actions of the United States government, and that there were hints of that, more than hints, in the rhetoric of President Obama, but a total failure to carry through in policy on the rhetoric of the Cairo speech and some work since then.

The real question is, can the United States—will the United States—it can, for sure—will the United States use its enormous influence and power to end the occupation, to end the state of war between Israel and the entire Arab world except for Egypt and Jordan? Can the United States bring about a full-fledged peace treaty between a new state of Palestine, the state of Israel, and the Arab states. The Arab states have, in fact, proposed this. The Israeli government and the last US government, the Bush administration, totally ignored the proposal. There are hints that that’s what the Obama administration wants to bring about.

But it won’t happen unless there is a public movement in American society to demand that. It won’t happen otherwise. And when I ask the question, so what’s the most effective way of bringing that about, it seems to me an alliance of the three groups of people in America who care passionately about the peoples of the Middle East—Muslims, serious Christians and serious Jews—an alliance of those in those three camps who are committed to peace is now possible. In the Jewish community, there are now organizations and commitments and human beings ready to act on this, even though the classic, formal, institutional structure of the established Jewish institutional system doesn’t. But the Jews do, and among Muslims and among most Protestant and Catholic Christians—not some of the right-wing fundamentalist Christians, but the rest of the Christian community. But they have not come together in any way to make this happen. And that’s what needs to happen.