The Vatican has announced a crackdown on US sisters, who, amongst other offenses like running hospitals and educating countless children and young adults, are possibly guilty of promoting “radical feminist themes.”
This news kicked off a lot of frenzied tweeting on my part. I saw Doom arrive in the form of this announcement. I cried “But I DON’T WANT TO BE A UNITARIAN!” and quickly followed that with “But I just don’t know how to not be a Catholic! KHAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
I was one of those who was educated in the post-Vatican II era, when there were yes, guitars (I’m running a one-woman campaign to bring back the Folk Mass in its glory), and also—dare I say it—progressive ideas kicking around parishes and high schools.
I actually took a class in high school called “Christian Woman,” which had a text, I remember quite clearly, called Christian Feminism. At the time, I was just glad to not be in the dreaded Adult Christian Living any more (see more about this here) but I have to admit, “Christian Woman” had quite an impact on me, as loathsome and eye-rolling as I found it at the time. There’s a reason why feminism is quashed, belittled, said to mock God himself. It’s nothing less than the notion that women, despite our “sexiness” (allegedly so much more than men) and procreative powers, are actually just people. That’s right. Humans. I daresay Jesus was on board with that too.
I recently saw a story about a group of young seminarians protesting outside an abortion clinic in full cassocks, looking quite dandy, merely praying. Classy move, I thought. Much better than shouting and waving pictures of pulped embryos. Who doesn’t like people in garb, anyway? It makes the world a little bit more magical. But I also had this thought: Wouldn’t it be beautiful if those young men escorted women to the clinic in their finery? Wouldn’t that be chivalrous? Christlike? Because the spectacle of harrassing women at abortion clinics has never seemed like anything to me other than kicking the vulnerable when they are down. Where is the compassion for the humans who are just trying to take care of themselves and their families?
Recently, some nuns were reprimanded for doing this very thing. I believe these women are courageous and heroic, stepping into the breach to aid those most in need of comfort.
The problem is that I might be considered a “radical feminist” but I don’t think that “feminism” is actually radical. In fact, I learned about it in Catholic school. I wouldn’t have had the courage to set off into the wilderness and become a writer had I not been exposed to these ideas. Therein, I suppose, lies the problem. I feel like a prototype that has been discontinued and expunged from the record.
I tend to write a lot about nuns because I find so much inspiration there, not only as a woman. As a human. My heroines, who include Sister Corita, St. Therese, St. Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Hildegarde, Jeannine Deckers, Sr. Nancy Murray, Dolores Hart, and of course, all the wonderful nuns I have known and met in my life, show me now to live, how to love and how to think. Education of women, which the church has excelled at in America, is imperative to the progress of humanity. The problem for the patriarchy (yes) is that education of women leads to women having ideas about being people.
For the time being, I’m heartened by the response of Fr. James Martin and his #whatsistersmeantome campaign, and his writing about nuns, and my friend (and KtB editor) Nathan Schneider, who noted on Twitter that a woman religious with a full-time trans ministry (the only one in existence!) saved his faith. I’m grateful to Occupy Catholics for inventing the #radicalfeministthemes hashtag and for giving me a reason to stay. It will be enlightening to see how this all plays out. I can’t help but imagine Grand Moff Tarkin, in Star Wars, trying to bring the universe into line with his dark plans. “Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.”
Then Leia, the warrior princess, says, “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”
Mary Valle lives in Baltimore and is the author of Cancer Doesn't Give a Shit About Your Stupid Attitude: Reflections on Cancer and Catholicism. She blogs on KtB as The Communicant. For more Mary, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.