Monday, June 04, 2007

Catholic Church: "Womyns is Teh Stoopid"

We went to mass with my in-laws on Mother's Day. It was my second time going to mass; the first time was several years ago before the birth of my second child; I strongly suspect the Mother's Day visit will be the last. Ever.

On the cover of the bulletin the church passed out was written "Happy Mother's Day" and a quote from Proverbs 31:28 - 30:

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs at the days to come. She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel. She watches the conduct of her household, and eats not her food in idleness. Her children rise up and praise her; her husband, too, extols her: "Many are the women of proven worth, but you have excelled them all." Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Inside the front page was the Pastor's Note:

Dear Parishioners,

The world has a weird way of trying to advance women's rights. They Church is all for justice for women but we disagree with women trying to become men as the world recommends. The world also diminished the value of motherhood, whereas the church upholds mothers as a symbol of God's love for us all. I think it is sad that the vocation of being a mother is looked down upon by career minded people. Motherhood is as much of a career as any job. We further believe that motherhood reveals an aspect of a woman's dignity in a beautiful way. We honor the Blessed Virgin Mary with her highest title when we call her "Mother of God."

Mother's Day is a time to reflect upon the truth of motherhood and to defend it as an important institution in our society. Women respecting the right to life of their own children is a moral imperative in our country today. Sentiments of our appreciation for our own mothers need to translate into valuing the mothers in our midst. Being a mother is a vocation in the truest sense of the word. God called women to bring life into the world. Some women cannot be mothers, some have motherhood imposed upon them; but God calls them to bring life into the world. Everybody needs to assist mothers in this essential task. Today we say thank you and we value the vocation, the career, of being a mother. Happy Mother's Day!
But then the sermon was "Don't you dare question the Catholic patriarchy."

I shit you not.

When I told my mom about this, she asked if that was really what the sermon was or if that's what I interpreted it to be, since she believes I have such a militant bias against religion that my fevered brain will almost deliberately misconstrue even the most innocuous of doctrines. A nearly direct quote from the sermon was, "imagine the gall of any Catholic who questions the Archbishop or the Pope," and it was delivered very passionately and forcefully. And, no, it wasn't delivered by Bill Donahue.

The sermon was about apostolic authority. Christ charged his apostles with spreading the faith, one of them founded the Catholic Church, and therefore there is a direct traceable line of authority from Christ down through every Pope and Archbishop (how the Priest issuing the sermon might have answered my questions about anti-Popes, schisms, Galileo, and Purgatory, I don't know). So, of course, to question the dogma of the church is to question Christ. I guess he was trying to make charges of heresy popular again. But the message was clear: "sit down and shut up." Or as I whispered to Pither during the sermon, "respect my authoritah!" Or, as I also thought at the time but didn't voice, particularly since I couldn't remember the exact quote: "Do you know what the chain of command is? It's a chain I go get and beat you with until you understand who's in ruttin' command here."

I'm not the only one who understood the message. Pither and his devoutly Catholic mother understood exactly the same thing (she's one of those Catholics who quietly disagrees with aspects of the Catholic doctrines and didn't much care for the sermon herself).

Pither tells me there is a popular belief that Catholics keep guns in the basement of their churches for the day when the Pope orders the attack. The tenor of this quite literal "come to Jesus by being mindless drones and obeying without question" sermon wouldn't help that perception any.

But there is real reason for that sermon to be particularly disturbing for women, particularly when coupled with the protestations of advancing women's rights. If men really want to change or at least have influence in the Catholic church and decide they'd rather not sit down and shut up, they can potentially become priests, Archbishops or the Pope. Despite the claims of honoring female Saints who wore armor into battle in the name of the Church, women are denied real participation in fundamental decision-making (btw, that sainted woman who defended the church may have had her property stolen from her daughter by that very same church).

The Catholic church claims to support the advancement of women's rights, but then narrowly defines what rights women have. Women don't have the right to careers outside the home if they have children; women don't have the right to make medical or reproductive decisions about their own bodies and lives; women don't have the right to make spiritual decisions through influencing church doctrine.

So exactly what rights for women does the Catholic church advance? Apparently, females have the right to not be killed as infants; to read and be generally educated; to hold property and be in positions of worldly power; to have access to healthcare of a limited nature; very specifically, "[t]hey must be empowered to share fully in the enjoyment of those rights which are theirs by nature, and to fulfil their responsibilities by contributing to society and to the family." [emphasis added] The determination of these "natural rights" are left solely to men, and even when women are in positions of worldly power, they are still required to be secondary and submissive to the Catholic Church's patriarchal order.

And that is the fundamental issue. Until women can be included in the decision-making and authority of the Catholic Church, any protestations of advancement of women's rights, of honoring women and mothers, is more than empty and meaningless; it's downright insulting and patronizing.

The same goes for any other religion. Women must be allowed to participate and have religious authority.

But I did get a lovely red rose on my way out of the church. So there's that.

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