For the fourth time in two weeks Pope Francis has chosen to focus on women in the Church as part of his teachings and witness.
On Holy Thursday he washed the feet of 12 prisoners at a juvenile facility prison in Rome. Francis washed black feet, white feet, male feet, female feet and even a foot with tattoos. Kneeling on the stone floor as the 12 youngsters sat above him, the 76-year-old Francis poured water from a silver chalice over each foot, dried it with a simple cotton towel and then bent over to kiss each one. In addition to including girls and women in this service, also included were an Orthodox Christian and a young Muslim man. (The traditionalist custom has been to wash the feet of 12 retired priests in a high Mass in church.)
Pope Francis told the detainees that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service. “This is a symbol, it is a sign — washing your feet means I am at your service,” Francis told the youngsters. “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service.”
Holy Saturday he dedicated his Easter Vigil homily to the women as the first witnesses to the Resurrection. “There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil,” he said. “The women encounter the newness of God.” On Tuesday he spoke about Mary Magdalene’s tears and how we should follow her example of faith.
On Wednesday Pope Francis expanded his reflections to the women of the world, whom he said have a special and fundamental role in the Church and the transmission of the faith. He says:
In the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women. This is because, according to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses. In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role. Here we can see an argument in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were a invented, in the context of that time it would not have been linked to the testimony of women. Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women.
There are difficult days ahead for this pope — with the Vatican bank, the ongoing sexual abuse scandal, and the fundamental corruption that clericalism is wreaking on the church. But in the past 21 days, he has done more to restore integrity to the Catholic church than at least the previous two popes. And he is modeling Christ for the world. I intend to soak up all the healing, all the pastoral and inspiring gospel teaching and all his humble actions that he’s pouring out on the soul of the world.
An excellent reflection on the sede vacante, the vacant seat of St. Peter.
“There’s no need to rehash the recent disastrous track record of the all-male Roman Catholic hierarchy. The sordid abuse of children by priests, the sinister coverups, the callous treatment of nuns, the deaf ear turned toward Catholics who happen to be gay or divorced — it’s all on the front page. The Catholic Church is hemorrhaging moral authority.
What’s much more devastating is that it is losing believers, too. If you can’t trust the messengers, why trust the message? It is not too much to say that the crisis in the church is contributing to a crisis of faith in the Gospel itself.
This is a crisis not of management nor of theology. This is a crisis of the spirit. But before the church can address its great moral collapse, it will have to recover its spiritual bearings. The next pope should be a mystic.
A mystic? Absolutely! Contrary to popular perception, a mystic is not a magician or a crystal-ball-gazer. A mystic is rather a person who has had an experience of God’s love so unmistakable that it changes him or her forever, imparting a confidence that cannot be shaken, a humility that cannot be doubted, a freedom that exudes love and gentleness and authenticity. A mystic knows from experience, not books, that we are each beautiful beyond our understanding, loved beyond our capacity to love, united beyond our perceptions of difference and division.” —Timothy Shriver is the chairman of Special Olympics.
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.”
On the papal plane, Shepherd One, en route to Portugal to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, National Catholic Reporter senior correspondent John Allen got an interesting response from the Pope on the issue of the “sin within the church.”
Benedict’s emphasis on the greatest challenge to the church being from within, rather than attacks from the outside, is different from what other church leaders have recently claimed, that the media, the Jews, or secularists were to blame for unjust criticism of the church. (Really? That old playbook?)
The Pope’s response in the interview with Allen is intriguing because Benedict aligns the suffering of the church as embodied in the suffering of the pope – “because the Pope stands for the church” – but then states clearly that the greatest challenge of the church is sin from within. This raises the final corollary question – does the Pope carry the sin of the church within himself? The question is, of course, both theological and personal.
That the whole conversation is couched in the mysticism of the appearances of Mary at Fatima in 1917 is also fascinating. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
John Allen: Now we look to Fatima, which will be the spiritual culmination of this trip. What meaning do the apparitions of Fatima have for us today? When you presented the Third Secret of Fatima in a press conference at the Vatican Press Office in June 2000, you were asked if the message of the secret could be extended beyond the assassination attempt against John Paul II to other sufferings of the popes. Could it also be extended to put the suffering of the church today in the context of that vision, including the sins of the sexual abuse of minors?
Pope Benedict XVI: First of all, I want to express my joy to go to Fatima, to pray before the Madonna of Fatima, and to experience the presence of the faith there, where from the little ones a new force of the faith was born. It’s not limited to the little ones, but has a message for the whole world and all epochs of history, it illuminates this history. As I said in the presentation, there is a supernatural impulse which doesn’t come simply from someone’s imagination but from the supernatural reality of the Virgin Mary. That impulse enters into a subject, and is expressed according to the possibilities of the subject, who is determined by his or her historic situation. The supernatural impulse is translated, so to speak, according to the subject’s possibilities for imagining it and expressing it. In this expression formed by the subject, there are always hidden possibilities to go beyond, to go deeper. Only with time can we see all the depth which was, so to speak, dressed in this vision, which was possible for the concrete person.
With regard to this great vision of the suffering of the popes, beyond the circumstances of John Paul II, other realities are indicated which over time will develop and become clear. Thus it’s true that beyond the moment indicated in the vision, one speaks about and sees the necessity of suffering by the church. It’s focused on the person of the pope, but the pope stands for the church, and therefore sufferings of the church are announced. The church will always be suffering in various ways, up to the end of the world. The important point is that the message of Fatima in its substance is not addressed to particular situations, but a fundamental response: permanent conversion, penance, prayer, and the three cardinal virtues: faith, hope and charity. One sees there the true, fundamental response the church must give, which each of us individually must give, in this situation.
In terms of what we today can discover in this message, attacks against the pope or the church don’t come just from outside the church. The suffering of the church also comes from within the church, because sin exists in the church. This too has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way. The greatest persecution of the church doesn’t come from enemies on the outside, but is born in sin within the church. The church thus has a deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. Forgiveness does not exclude justice. We have to re-learn the essentials: conversion, prayer, penance, and the theological virtues. That’s how we respond, and we can be realistic in expecting that evil will always launch attacks from within and from outside, but the forces of good are also always present, and finally the Lord is stronger than evil. The Madonna for us is the visible maternal guarantee that the will of God is always the last word in history.
I’m a practicing Catholic. I practice and practice and practice. I hope when I get to the pearly gates, Saints Peter and Mary Magdalene will tell me that all my practicing made me perfectly eligible for heaven. God willing. Until then, we muddle along here in the earthly realm that, while shot through with light-bent beauty, is also riddled with sin-punched hearts.
The Catholic hierarchy is on trial right now in the world court of public scrutiny for aiding and abetting child abusers. If the Catholic church indeed represents “organized religion,” then – given the multiple jurisdictions crossed transnationally moving priests to avoid being caught and punished – this is certainly an example of organized crime. In this context Jesus’ words in Luke come to mind:
“Watch yourselves carefully,” said Jesus, “so you don’t get contaminated with Pharisee yeast, Pharisee phoniness. You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town” (Luke 12:1-3, The Message).
Structural sin has long been a concept in Catholic theology. Structural sin, said Pope John Paul II, (see Sollicitudo rei socialis) proceeds from the accumulation of personal sins. It is, said the Pope, “a question of a moral evil, the fruit of many which lead to ‘structures of sin.'”
This is a time for the lens of such scrutiny to be turned on the Catholic church hierarchy itself. But the church leaders can not heal themselves from the inside out. They must humble themselves before the laity and ask for forgiveness and help in shaping the Catholic church more into a body that is less occluded with secrecy, silence, dominance, and clericalism, and that with greater transparency allows for the light of Christ the shine through.
Below are excerpts from a few commentaries I’ve found particularly insightful on the “scandal.”
They kept women far from any power, then and since. It’s a male-run church, now steaming ahead full throttle in legalistic mode. Shocking headlines pop up daily about what one or another Catholic bishop knew or didn’t know about pederasty in his diocese. From Munich to Milwaukee, across Ireland and into nearly every country in the world, the tales multiply.
What’s not been heard so loudly is the story of diversionary strikes emanating from the Vatican, perhaps aimed at discrediting U.S. nuns who built the charitable and educational infrastructure of the church.
Two separate investigations — one led by the Vatican department charged with overseeing religious institutes worldwide, another led by Pope Benedict’s successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — are burrowing into the lives and work of U.S. Catholic sisters.
The Vatican appointed an American sister to lead the larger investigation, but didn’t fund the effort. She’s asking the convents her teams are visiting to pay for the intrusion. Some say that is typical of how bishops treat nuns: ask them to do something, as well as the money to do it.
The other investigation focuses on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group for heads of most women’s religious orders and institutes. American Cardinal William J. Levada is directing a paper chase looking for doctrinal errors. He is the same man who called the (female) process server “a disgrace to the Catholic Church” when he was subpoenaed to testify about priestly pederasty.
Hello? What is going on? In the United States, not one bishop who oversaw pederasty or who used church money to break the minds and hearts of complaining victims has suffered any consequence. As Duquesne law professor Nicholas Cafardi points out in the lay Catholic magazine Commonweal, the only bishop to resign — Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston — got promoted to a cushy job in Rome. Law also belongs to the Vatican congregation that nominates bishops.
That’s right. The U.S. bishop who presided over the biggest pederasty scandal in history helps choose new bishops, and can even vote for another pope (at least until he turns 80 in November 2011).
The capital of trust between the people of the church and their leaders is dangerously close to empty. The bishops cannot take the people for granted any longer. We were raised to love the gospel, to seek the truth, to serve justice, to grow in the bosom of the sacraments. But we will not do it under their leadership unless they change.
What’s needed is a conversion of the bishops and the pope himself. That’s right: It’s time for the pope and the bishops to convert their culture to one that is centered on loving God from the depths of their souls and to leading a church that is as much mother as father, as much pastoral as theological, as much spiritual as doctrinal. It is time for them to listen to the deep and authentic witness of the people of faith, to trust the spirit that blows where it will, to abandon their defensiveness of their positions and trust only the gospel, and not their edifice of control. Conversion is a total experience — letting go of the old and putting on the new.
The conversion we seek for them is the same conversion they invite for us: Put on a contrite heart and fall in love with God, recklessly, totally and passionately. Let the love of God be the only measure of their actions.
For American Catholics there is no consolation in the confirmation of what we have known all along: namely, the sexual abuse crisis is not uniquely American. Our season of Lent is long and protracted, and the heartbreaking discussions, discouragement and dismay are as fresh these weeks as they were in 2002. There are multiple opinions– constructive, emotional, factually inaccurate, prejudicial, insightful and heartbreaking. Whether one’s objective is to exonerate or excoriate the pope, surely what matters most for those who belong to and care about the Church is that the outcome be a genuine commitment to penitence and penance, stronger accountability, deeper humility, exemplary managerial and governance oversight practices, openness, restored trust and credibility.
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, president of the German bishops’ conference, likened the spreading sex abuse scandal to other recent causes of “suffering in our lives,” including earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and this week’s attack by terrorists on the Moscow subway.
“In many cases the victims could not put their injuries into words,” Zollitsch wrote, in a statement posted on his archdiocese’s Web site. “The wounds inflicted on them can scarcely be cured … This is a painful reality that we have to face.” Writing on the day when Christians commemorate the death of Jesus, the archbishop likened children and young people molested by priests to the crucified Christ, as fellow victims of “injustice and violence.”
The church needs to cast aside the lawyers, the PR specialists and its own worst instincts, which are human instincts. Benedict could go down as one of the greatest popes in history if he were willing to risk all in the name of institutional self-examination, painful but liberating public honesty, and true contrition.
And then comes something even harder: Especially during Lent, the church teaches that forgiveness requires Catholics to have “a firm purpose of amendment.” The church will have to show not only that it has learned from this scandal, but also that it’s truly willing to transform itself.
MARK SHIELDS: I think — I say this as a practicing Catholic. I think that the church has handled the child abuse scandal from the very beginning in the worst possible manner, that their first inclination seemed to be to protect the priests, and then to protect the bishops who were protecting the priests. And there seemed to be minimal concern, in too many instances, for the child, especially the most vulnerable and the least powerful, and, in some cases, handicapped children who were abused. Are there people who are delighting in seeing the church embarrassed and humiliated and exposed? Sure. But that — that is not — the facts are the facts. That was the first charge that was leveled against The Boston Globe when they revealed the stories about Cardinal Law, that this was part of an anti-Catholic — maybe there was a concern, but the facts stand for themselves.
JIM LEHRER: What about — what about this — the anti-Semitism angle?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, you know, as a semi-practicing Jew, the comparison between a child molestation scandal and the victims of the Holocaust is an offensive comparison. And I think Jews and most people are offended by that comparison. And I think — but what it speaks to is not — is an insularity in the response and a tone-deafness to the response. At least a small coterie of people who are making statements — and this was not reflective of church policy — but who are making statements who have been inside the corridors of a world and have difficulty perceiving how things are understood and interpreted outside.
MARK SHIELDS: The archbishop of Dublin, archbishop of Dublin, Archbishop Martin, made a compelling statement echoing — really taking great issue with the Vatican and its handling of this whole crisis and scandal.
JIM LEHRER: As a semi-practicing Protestant, who is going to win the Final Four?
The Pope gave a talk on 11 January 2010 to the Vatican diplomatic corps in which he expressed how bummed out he was about the failure of the Copenhagen climate conference.
Of course, being the Pope, he says it all in a much more elevated language and puts it all in its broader moral framework. Below are some of the more significant pull quotes:
In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, I invited everyone to look to the deeper causes of this situation: in the last analysis, they are to be found in a current self-centred and materialistic way of thinking which fails to acknowledge the limitations inherent in every creature. Today I would like to stress that the same way of thinking also endangers creation. …
The denial of God distorts the freedom of the human person, yet it also devastates creation. It follows that the protection of creation is not principally a response to an aesthetic need, but much more to a moral need, in as much as nature expresses a plan of love and truth which is prior to us and which comes from God. …
If we wish to build true peace, how can we separate, or even set at odds, the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn? It is in man’s respect for himself that his sense of responsibility for creation is shown. As Saint Thomas Aquinas has taught, man represents all that is most noble in the universe (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 29, a. 3). Furthermore, as I noted during the recent FAO World Summit on Food Security, “the world has enough food for all its inhabitants” (Address of 16 November 2009, No. 2) provided that selfishness does not lead some to hoard the goods which are intended for all. …
How can we forget, for that matter, that the struggle for access to natural resources is one of the causes of a number of conflicts, not least in Africa, as well as a continuing threat elsewhere? For this reason too, I forcefully repeat that to cultivate peace, one must protect creation! Furthermore, there are still large areas, for example in Afghanistan or in some countries of Latin America, where agriculture is unfortunately still linked to the production of narcotics, and is a not insignificant source of employment and income. If we want peace, we need to preserve creation by rechanneling these activities; I once more urge the international community not to become resigned to the drug trade and the grave moral and social problems which it creates. …
Among the many challenges which it presents, one of the most serious is increased military spending and the cost of maintaining and developing nuclear arsenals. Enormous resources are being consumed for these purposes, when they could be spent on the development of peoples, especially those who are poorest. …
On this solemn occasion, I would like to renew the appeal which I made during the Angelus prayer of 1 January last to all those belonging to armed groups, of whatever kind, to abandon the path of violence and to open their hearts to the joy of peace. …
The grave acts of violence to which I have just alluded, combined with the scourges of poverty, hunger, natural disasters and the destruction of the environment, have helped to swell the ranks of those who migrate from their native land. Given the extent of this exodus, I wish to exhort the various civil authorities to carry on their work with justice, solidarity and foresight. …
It is clear that if relativism is considered an essential element of democracy, one risks viewing secularity solely in the sense of excluding or, more precisely, denying the social importance of religion. But such an approach creates confrontation and division, disturbs peace, harms human ecology and, by rejecting in principle approaches other than its own, finishes in a dead end. There is thus an urgent need to delineate a positive and open secularity which, grounded in the just autonomy of the temporal order and the spiritual order, can foster healthy cooperation and a spirit of shared responsibility. …
Sunday’s Washington Post had an interesting article by David Gibson on Pope Benedict’s radical regressive reforms. For the Pope who predicted he’d only have the papacy for a few short years, he’s certainly getting a lot of mileage out of it. It appears that this pope is outgrowing the Fisherman’s shoes with all the changes he wants to make.
Gibson, a religion journalist, is author of the book The Rule of Benedict, a psychological profile of Benedict XVI and his battle with the modern world.
Here’s an excerpt from Gibson’s article:
Thus far, Benedict’s papacy has been one of constant movement and change, the sort of dynamic that liberal Catholics — or Protestants — are usually criticized for pursuing. In Benedict’s case, this liberalism serves a conservative agenda. But his activism should not be surprising: As a sharp critic of the reforms of Vatican II, Ratzinger has long pushed for what he calls a “reform of the reform” to correct what he considers the excesses or abuses of the time. …
Of course a “reformed reform” doesn’t equal a return to the past, even if that were the goal. Indeed, Benedict’s reforms are rapidly creating something entirely new in Catholicism. For example, when the pope restored the old Latin Mass, he also restored the use of the old Good Friday prayer, which spoke of the “blindness” of the Jews and called for their conversion. That prayer was often a spur to anti-Jewish pogroms in the past, so its revival appalled Jewish leaders. After months of protests, the pope agreed to modify the language of the prayer; that change and other modifications made the “traditional” Mass more a hybrid than a restoration.
More important, with the latest accommodation to Anglicans, Benedict has signaled that the standards for what it means to be Catholic — such as the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Mass as celebrated by a validly ordained priest — are changing or, some might argue, falling. The Vatican is in effect saying that disagreements over gay priests and female bishops are the main issues dividing Catholics and Anglicans, rather than, say, the sacraments and the papacy and infallible dogmas on the Virgin Mary, to name just a few past points of contention.
That is revolutionary — and unexpected from a pope like Benedict. It could encourage the view, which he and other conservatives say they reject, that all Christians are pretty much the same when it comes to beliefs, and the differences are just arguments over details.
In July, Pope Benedict wrote you a love letter. Like all love letters, it’s worth savoring.
I say he wrote it to you because Charity in Truth, his third encyclical, isn’t just for Catholics. It’s addressed to “all people of good will.”
I call it a love letter because the opening word is caritas—love. And because any social change worth its salt must spring from love and pursue love as its ultimate goal.
The media says this encyclical is about globalization, international development, transnational governance, and the financial crisis. It’s about all those things. It’s also about fostering sensitivity to life, healthy sexuality, human ecology, and the way technology reveals our human aspirations. But its bookends are love.
If you’ve watched your 401(k) plummet in the last two years or sweated to make your mortgage payment, then there is something in Charity in Truth for you. If you wonder what good it does to dump billions of dollars in aid money to developing countries while we’ve got 9.7 percent unemployment at home, there’s something for you. If you want to know why labor unions are important and why they have to change, or why families are the building blocks of society, or why happiness is sometimes confused with material prosperity, pick it up. The pope is writing you a love letter because his heart breaks at the burdens you carry. He wants your life and struggles to have meaning.
Charity in Truth is about the relationship of economies to human dignity. “Grave imbalances are produced,” the pope writes, “when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.” The marketplace, he says, cannot become a sphere where the strong subdue the weak. In fact, it must be a yeasty mix of the fair exchange of goods and services, judicious redistribution of wealth in service of social justice, and an unexpected dash of profligate generosity. In this kind of economy, businesses that are solely responsible to their investors have limited social value and should be in the minority.
You’ll find mention of the fair trade movement, microfinance and microcredit, the sins of predatory lending and speculative finance, the temptation of aid agencies toward poverty pimping (my language, not his), the “grammar of nature” that teaches us how not to exploit our environment, and a proposal for a “worldwide redistribution of energy resources.”
Some commentators wrongly portray the pope as promoting “one world government.” Don’t be fooled. Christian Zionists have been raising this specter for years as a way to demonize Catholics and Jews. I clarify this to keep focused on the actual point: Trickle-down economics within nation-states is dead. If we are going to direct capital markets toward a global common good, then reform of international financial institutions is mandatory.
You don’t have to agree with what the pope writes. There are sections that will genuinely irk political conservatives and liberals. But Charity in Truth prompts the right questions and opens up a conversation that American Christians, in particular, need to have. We’ve been deadlocked so long in a Religious Right-Secular Left battle that it has warped our brains. This fight has deprived us of a culture that fosters self-knowledge, teaches ethics and values as tools for making personal, professional, and political decisions, and nurtures interiority, soul-making, and reflection.
Charity in Truth is a love letter reminding us that openness to God opens us to one another. Our lives are made for joy and our work for fulfillment and shared satisfaction.
Rose Marie Berger, a Sojourners associate editor, is a Catholic peace activist and poet.This column first appeared in the Sept-Oct 2009 issue of Sojourners magazine.
The March 7 issue of the British Catholic newspaper The Tablet has an intriguing article by Tina Beatie, Deadlier Sin of the Male, that I recommend reading. Beatie is a professor in Catholic studies at Roehampton University in Bristol.
Apparently the “Pope’s personal theologian” recently endorsed a theory that “men and women sin differently.”
“When you look at vices from the point of view of the difficulties they create,” Msgr Wojciech Giertych, theologian to the papal household, wrote in L’Osservatore Romano, “you find that men experiment in a different way from women.”
Beatie reminds us that this approach has been explored by feminist theologians for at least 50 years since Valerie Saiving published her groundbreaking essay titled The Human Situation: A Feminine View.
Beatie does an excellent job of separating the reality of “gendered sin” from the hierarchy of sin. As you might imagine, the Pope’s theologian not only thinks men and women have different temptations but also that women’s are more dangerous than men’s. (The gall of that guy!)
And as an added twist, Beatie examines the male sin of greed in light of the economic collapse and the fact that “among the leading bankers that have brought the British economy to its knees there are no women.” This is mirrored in the U.S. situation.
Check out Tina Beatie’s article below:
In a recent article in L’Osservatore Romano, the Pope’s personal theologian, Mgr Wojciech Giertych, endorsed a theory by a 95-year-old Jesuit, Fr Roberto Busa, that men and women sin differently. Based on the Seven Deadly Sins, the list of men’s sins includes lust at the top and greed at the bottom, while women’s sins have pride at the top and sloth at the bottom. As usual when the Vatican says anything mildly controversial about sex, the news was greeted with a flurry of media interest. But in fact, it’s not news at all, since feminist theologians have been writing about the gendering of sin for nearly 50 years.
In 1961, Valerie Saiving published an essay in which she appeals for greater awareness of the ways in which concepts of masculinity and femininity shape the ways in which we experience sin. Her article has had a formative influence on much feminist theology, and her theories have been developed and refined by two generations of female scholars. At first glance, Saiving’s theory appears to contradict that of the Vatican. She writes that sins associated with femininity “have a quality which can never be encompassed by such terms as ‘pride’ and ‘will-to-power’.” Rather, women are likely to be guilty of “triviality, distractibility, and diffuseness”; of “inability to respect the boundaries of privacy; sentimentality, gossipy sociability, and mistrust of reason – in short, underdevelopment or negation of the self”. Yet perhaps this is what Mgr Giertych means when he refers to “pride”, since he cites as evidence the example of women Religious in convents, who “are often envious of each other over little things, but when the church bell rings, everyone goes to the chapel to sing vespers.” Monks, on the other hand “aren’t often interested in each other and, therefore, aren’t jealous, but when the church bell rings, few take part in common prayer.” Whatever else these anecdotes reveal, the behaviour of those nuns might suggest envy (which is second on the list of women’s sins), but they seem far more to do with triviality and “gossipy sociability” than with pride.