Category Archives: feminism

Challenging the Traditional Gender Binary is not a Disorder: The Insensitivity of the Diocese of Marquette’s Comparison of Gender Dysphoria to Anorexia

The Diocese of Marquette recently received attention for issuing a guidance stating that “a person who publicly identifies as a different gender than his or her biological sex or has attempted ‘gender transitioning’ may not be baptized, confirmed, or received into full communion in the church, unless the person has repented.”

To defend this, the Diocese compares transgender persons to persons suffering from anorexia.

“In this disorder there is an incongruence between how the persons perceive themselves and their bodily reality,” the guidance says. “Just as we would refer a person with anorexia to an expert to help him or her, let us also refer persons with gender dysphoria to a qualified counselor to help them while we show them the depth of our love and friendship.

This shows not only how insensitive and close-minded the diocese is toward LBGTQIA+ persons, but also how out of touch they are with the reality of those suffering with mental health issues (many of whom are also gay or transgender).

According to ANAD, eating disorders, of which anorexia is the most deadly, kill one person every 52 minutes. Although extreme weight loss and/or body dysmorphia sometimes accompany an eating disorder, less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically underweight. In other words, anorexia is not simply a thin person thinking they are overweight (which already is a problematic term given that the BMI is a racist, sexist standard that was invented to measure populations of white European men, not health). Going to sleep at night and not knowing if you or your loved one is going to wake up due to the physical effects of an eating disorder is an experience that I would not wish on anyone. I cannot believe that living with an eating disorder is living how God intended one to be, although I believe God’s love is never far from a person in the depths of one. 

Being gay or transgender is neither disordered nor unhealthy. The disorder, rather, lies in the hearts of those who remain closed to any challenge to a strict gender binary.  God desires our human flourishing, and unlike the case of an eating disorder, I cannot believe that a person being able to perform the gender identity that fits with what they feel in their heart is against God’s will or intention. What kind of God would want otherwise? The only reason being gay or transgender is life-threatening is our reactions. According to the Trevor Project, 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. As a college professor, I have read and talked to numerous students who have lost their faith in God due to the cruelty they have experienced from Catholic parents, clergy, teachers, and friends. I always tell them that with this reaction, they show a knowledge of God deeper than most. In the words of Edward Schillebeeckx, “it is better not to believe in God than a God than enslaves human beings.” Whatever “God” would treat them as such cannot be God at all.

When I was fifteen, I witnessed a gay teenager get kicked out of an eating disorder treatment program, a program he did not feel comfortable in since it was clearly and explicitly designed for cisgender girls. I can still vividly remember his mother’s cries. Perhaps, being only fifteen, people might let me of the hook for not saying or doing more. However, thirty-two year- old recovered me with a PhD in theology has no excuse and refuses to stay silent any longer.

I am a volunteer support group leader for people struggling with eating disorders, many of whom are transgender or non-binary. Transgender college students report experiencing disordered eating at four times the rate of their cisgender classmates. Eating disorders are linked to the experience of being forced to hide one’s true identity from others, to not be able to express themselves freely (something non-binary people would not have to do if we could all be more kind). Eating disorders are hell as it is. Imagine on top of that having to worry about where you can use the bathroom, or whether your relationship will be recognized by others, or whether you will be forced to leave your church, your gym, or even your family simply for being who you are. I hear stories like these all the time.

If the Catholic Church truly cared about people with anorexia, this comparison would never have been made. And, of course, the Catholic Church cannot claim to care about those with eating disorders and at the same time, deny sacraments to non-binary people. Eating disorders are issues of gender, sexuality, race, ability, and socioeconomic status. Discrepancies still exist among who gets diagnoses and treatment and who does not. You cannot be a true mental health advocate if you do not acknowledge this and attempt to dismantle gender and racial biases in health care.

Sure, many of you may tell me that this is just one diocese statement, that its likely not going to be put into practice in many parishes, and you are right. However, the words have been said and damage has been done. The pain of being rejected by one’s “home parish” is not always remedied by just going to a different, more progressive one, which, while it might be kinder, still cannot marry a gay couple. Also, not everyone has access to multiple parishes in their neighborhood.

The denial of sacraments to gay and transgender Catholics should bring pain to all of us. Leaving others out does not bring joy. Rather, it makes a mockery of the sacraments, which are not contests but encounters with God that are not meant to be reserved for the “in crowd.”

And yes, it also time for the Church to do something about weight stigma too. Funny the diocese mentions getting help for someone with anorexia, yet I cannot tell you how many people I know who have heard disparaging weight jokes from the pulpit during Lent.

It is sad how religious people often want to claim a certain “type” to be holy. Yet, God is beyond human, and therefore God does not have a size, a race, a gender, a sexual orientation, etc. So, really, we are all called to see the image of God in so many different people and places, and relationships. Maybe that’s challenging and uncomfortable sometimes, but Christianity was never supposed to be easy.

Challenge Hillary If You Must But Stop Telling Her To Lower Her Voice

In the 2016 Democratic primary, we have two strong candidates. There are legitimate reasons to prefer one candidate over the other. Most of us do. Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable to critique Hillary Clinton on her policy positions, past speeches/votes/decisions, etc. As a Hillary supporter, I want to hear such critiques and dialogue with those who have opinions that differ from my own. After all, my fiance is “feeling the Bern” and we are still happily engaged.

However, to be frank, I am tired of hearing people complain about Hillary Clinton’s voice. Is she loud? Yes. IT’S A POLITICAL DEBATE. In political debates, people vigorously defend their policy positions. When have you ever seen a candidate sit back and say, “Oh gee thanks, you’re right, I’m wrong, sorry I’m running for president and taking up your time.”

Before dismissing the possibility that sexism is at play here, please think carefully. As a woman in academia, I can say that many people are still very uncomfortable with a woman being assertive. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have been told I was “loud” or should “calm down.” Every day, I witness female students (undergraduates all the way up to the doctoral level) apologize for raising their hand to make a point, or for disagreeing with a professor or fellow student. Numerous studies have shown that American workers still prefer a male boss to a female boss. A male leader is strong and efficient, while a female one is often “bitchy” and “loud.” Women are still subject to scrutiny for their appearance more so than men (Barack Obama’s suits never seemed to get as much air time as Hillary Clinton’s did in 2008). Women are expected to always smile (yes, it was also wrong to criticize Carly Fiorina for not smiling enough), be polite, and look pretty. I am not accusing men here, women expect this of other women too, albeit often unconsciously.

There is nothing wrong with not liking what a woman (or any public person) has to say. All I ask is that we all think twice before criticizing the way she says it or for defending her beliefs (even if they are not your own). There are a lot of questions Hillary may need to answer from voters, but she does not need to apologize for taking up space.

Personally, I want a president who is loud (I think most of us do!). I want a president who feels passionately about the issues facing this country. I want a president who is going to be boisterous in protesting Congressional attempts to restrict women’s access to reproductive health care, or to defund Planned Parenthood, or to justify discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

Last night, I was very proud of both candidates, namely for talking about the issues that matter instead of the size of Donald Trump’s you-know-what. Did things get heated? Yes. But BOTH candidates interrupted one another to correct what they believed were misrepresentations of their views, and BOTH candidates were pretty vocal in defending themselves against criticism. And I am glad they did! That’s how debates work. That is why moderators are there.

So, please, tell me why you are voting for Bernie Sanders. Challenge me. Ask me questions.  I am not always right, neither is Hillary Clinton (or anybody!) But, please, don’t tell me to be quiet or lower my voice (unless we are in church or the library or a context where it is inappropriate to argue politics). And don’t tell Hillary to lower her’s either!


A Loud and Proud Female Voter

For The 2016 Presidential Campaign: As A Woman, 6 Things I Ask of Fellow Voters

During the 2008 presidential campaign, I was a freshman at Fordham University and an avid Hillary Clinton supporter in the Democratic primary. While I did not get up and shout this from the rooftops of my dorm room in Manhattan, I did proudly display stickers on my backpack and was happy to tell people whom I was voting for when asked. I was deeply offended when many people expressed the following sentiments to me:

“Are you just voting for her because she is a woman?” Yes, even though I am a political science major, I know nothing about politics. And when I participated in the Young Democrats in high school, I was secretly a diehard Republican.

“You should read up on the issues.” Because, of course, an eighteen year old woman is too stupid to pick up a newspaper.

“Just so you know, electing a woman is not going to solve all the problems of gender inequality.”   Sorry. I totally mistook Hillary Clinton for the second coming of Jesus Christ.

“You should vote for the best candidate instead of voting for someone because you want to see a woman president.” Yes, because there is just no way a woman could actually BE the best candidate. No way, not when there are men running.

Some of my rejoinders are sarcastic, but I think my point is clear. So, this year, I am making a few simple requests.

1. Please do not accuse me of supporting Hillary Clinton just because she is a woman.

You can disagree with me, and you can even actively campaign against Hillary Clinton. However, please respect that I am an informed and intelligent woman. I would not vote for a woman who does not share the same concerns as I do or who holds policy positions that differ drastically from my own.

2. If you are going to criticize Hillary Clinton, please criticize her on something that is actually relevant.

Keep your comments about clothing, weight, hair style, and appearance to yourself. Not only are such comments rude and demeaning, but they contribute nothing to your argument that I should vote for your preferred candidate. Women are not sex objects.

3. Before reacting negatively to a particular comment or speech, please honestly ask yourself “Would I feel the same way if this had been said or done by man?”

Would you think a man was unable to cope with the stress of the presidency if he were to show emotion?

Would you call a man bossy or a bitch for being a demanding leader or for being assertive in a debate?

I am not saying that women cannot abuse their power, but women and men should be held to the same standards.

4. Please do not say something along the lines of “I’m sorry, but I’m voting for …..”

Don’t apologize. I am not angry with you for not supporting Hillary Clinton and I do not think you are sexist. As theologian Emilie Townes states, “refusing to critique is a sign of devaluing and disrespect or worse- ignorance.” If you can tell me that you are not voting for Hillary because you disagree with some of the actions she took as Secretary of State, or differ with her certain political issues, all without using misogynist language, it shows that you take a woman seriously as a presidential candidate. It also shows that you recognize my intelligence, strength, and maturity as a woman voter. My two favorite topics are politics and religion (the two things you are not supposed to talk about at the dinner table), I can handle a debate!

5. Do not tell other women they are supposed to vote for Hillary or else they are traitors.

What women are SUPPOSED to do is making an opinion based on their own values, beliefs, and concerns. Telling a woman she needs to vote for a woman in order to be a feminist defeats the entire purpose of feminism.

6. Do not say that sexism is a thing of the past just because we have a female running for president.

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 were celebratory moments, but racism still persists. There is still work to be done. Similarly, if we elect Hillary Clinton in 2016, it will signal that some more progress has been made, but it will not be a panacea for all the struggles women still face in our country. We all still need to examine our own biases and listen to those who have been and continue to be marginalized on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or physical disability. 

Disagreements, even among persons of the same political party, are inevitable as election season gets into gear. We need not shy away from expressing our honest opinions, but let us please do so without using misogynistic, racist, or heterosexist language. To the person who disagrees with you, say “I disagree with you. I feel differently, here is why….” instead of “You’re an idiot.” In the end, let’s face it, none of us (not even Hillary Clinton, although I admire her greatly) has all of the correct answers!

2016 election

A Message to Pope Francis: Birth Control is an Economic Issue

On Monday, Pope Francis made quite a remarkable statement in beseeching Catholics to speak of “responsible parenthood.” He continued, “Some think that- excuse the word- in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No.”

What great news for Catholic families, right? Not so fast.

While Francis seems to be condoning the practice of couples making a deliberate choice to limit the number of children they have, he still firmly upholds the Church’s prohibition on the use of artificial contraception outlined in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. According to Francis, “this is clear and that is why in the church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors.” In his view, God gives [parents] methods to be responsible” and couples should rely on natural family planning.

Considering that Pope Francis has wanted to make the poor a central focus of his papacy, I cannot help but be extremely disappointed in his remarks. Family planning has often been considered a feminist issue and rightly so, in that it helps move beyond the idea that a woman’s role in life is simply to be the bearer of children, regardless of what this does to her physical or emotional health. However, family planning is also very much an economic issue. Of course, it cannot be denied that feminist issues and economic issues are constantly intertwined, as sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination are directly related to poverty.

First of all, as a woman, I find it troubling that celibate males continue to be the only authorities in the Church who dictate Catholic teaching. These men have never experienced life in a woman’s body, yet they seem to consider themselves experts on this topic. While natural family planning may be a successful solution for some couples, it is not applicable to all women. Not all women have regular menstrual cycles, due to a variety of factors including genetics or certain medical conditions. Yet, even for women with cycles which are not irregular, ovulation does not occur at the same time each month and no woman’s menstrual cycle is identical from month to month. The rhythm method has an average failure rate of 13-20%.

Now, wait a minute. If the failure rate is 13-20%, that means the success rate is 80-87%. Not bad, some may say. And for some couples, those statistics may be comforting enough. For the healthy man and woman who both have secure jobs with benefits, a large home, and the money to hire a nanny for the three children they already have, adding a fourth might not be such a frightening prospect. Sure, it might be tough having another newborn, but they at least have the money to feed and clothe this child, and eventually help him or her through college. This couple also has a low chance of a pregnancy complications. This is not to say that such a couple must or should always be open to more children, but simply that taking their chances with the rhythm method may be easier for them to do than for some other couples.

Not every family is as fortunate to be financially secure. It is estimated that in the United States alone, anywhere from 47-50 million families are living in poverty. This number grows exponentially when taking into account families across the world. This number also increases when considering families who do not meet the standards to be considered impoverished, but are struggling due to a lay-off or disability, or parents who work two or three jobs to stay above poverty level. Taking time off from work to have a child may can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for many parents. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women make only 78% for every dollar earned by a man. This gap is even larger for African American and Hispanic women.  Yet, women make up half of the work force and are the primary breadwinner in 4 out of 10 American families. Furthermore, the Family and Medical Leave Act only requires companies to provide 12 weeks of unpaid lave for the birth or adoption of a child if those companies have 50 more more employees and an employee has worked at the company for at least a year.

Besides financial problems, some couples also struggle with mental or physical health issues. Pregnancy affects all women differently. Even though I have never been pregnant myself, I have known many people who have and hearing their experiences proves the preceding statement is true. Some women will experience very little pain throughout their pregnancy, while other women have complications that result in being put on bed rest, or they struggle with depression. Some women are even told after giving birth not to have any more children, as this could put them in danger of serious health issues and may even cause death. Suddenly, when the entire family’s well-being is at stake, 80-87% success rate is just not enough.

Artificial methods of contraception, in particular the pill and IUD, have success rates close to 99%, and are a safer option for women with menstrual irregularities. Furthermore, some women chose to use birth control pills for reasons other than contraception. They are often necessary for women with painful menstrual cycles, an experience for which the Magisterium cannot claim to know firsthand. They also protect against some forms of cancer. Sadly, birth control is still unaffordable and inaccessible for many women, even after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Wait a minute. If some couples are truly unable to have another child, shouldn’t they avoid intercourse? Some may say so. However, love happens across economic boundaries. Why should a couple who is less financially well-off not be able to express their mutual love and affection for one another? Is sexual intercourse only for the economically and socially privileged?

Finally, Catholic couples are finding through their own personal experience that use of contraception does not inhibit their ability to be loving disciples of Jesus Christ. In 1963, Pope John XXIII established the Papal Commission on Birth Control. In 1966, this commission released its majority report, which saw the use of artificial contraception as a valid extension of natural family planning, “for it is natural to man to use his skill in order to put under human control what is given by physical nature.”

Pope Paul VI’s ultimately rejected the commission’s position, by maintaing the Church’s ban on artificial forms of contraception in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. It is now 2015, and so may devoted Catholics are still made to feel ashamed for making the reproductive health decisions that are best suited to their particular situations. Pope Francis, if you truly care about the poverty and oppression, will you please step up and listen to Catholic families, and in particular, Catholic women?

Resisting from the Inside: Cardinal Burke and Why I Won’t Leave the Catholic Church

“No! Not again!” That was all I could say as I looked at my computer on Friday morning, reading Cardinal Raymond Burke’s words about same-sex marriage in a recent interview. Here is an excerpt:

“We wouldn’t, if it were another kind of relationship — something that was profoundly disordered and harmful — we wouldn’t expose our children to that relationship, to the direct experience of it. And neither should we do it in the context of a family member who not only suffers from same-sex attraction, but who has chosen to live out that attraction, to act upon it, committing acts which are always and everywhere wrong, evil.”

What do I say this time? I’m tired of making arguments that “this does not represent everyone in the Catholic Church.” I’m tired of telling people to just find parishes or communities that are more “progressive” and “do not share these views (while living in Boston, I have been fortunate to find such communities, but not everyone has).” I’m tired of quoting theologians. I’m tired of quoting the Gospel. Why? Because I think everyone is tired of hearing these same old defenses! Nothing I can say about Catholicism can take away the fact that sexism and homophobia are very prevalent realities in the church. Nothing I can say can take away the hurt that people feel over comments like those made by Cardinal Burke on Wednesday.

How do I defend my decision to not just leave the Catholic Church? I am not yet a mother, but I hope to be someday. While I am heterosexual, some very important people in my life identify as gay or lesbian- and these are people that I would want in my children’s lives from the very start- and this would not be for the sake of being “inclusive,” but rather simply because these are people that are smart, hard-working, funny, kind, and loving- qualities I want my children to have! What I want to shield my children from are comments like Cardinal Burke’s- I do not want them to see that even “holy men” can be cruel, I do not want them to see that sometimes when people are their truest selves, not everyone accepts them. As a Catholic who plans to remain such, I already have been struggling over what to I will tell my future daughter (if I have one) when she asks why there are no “girl priests.” How will I explain that its not allowed, that along with the modern media, the Catholic Church also will tell her that her body isn’t good enough, that it is not able to act “in persona Christi?” Furthermore, how will I show the people I care about that I really do reject the church’s teachings and statements regarding women, LGBTQ persons, and others who feel marginalized by the church? Am I not a hypocrite for remaining Catholic? Am I really resisting?

Then I happened to be reading God is New Each Moment, a series of interviews with Edward Schillebeeckx. Schillebeeckx, who died in 2009, was a Dominican priest who loved the church but was not afraid to criticize it, especially later in his life. When asked why he remains Catholic, he said “if all those who criticize the church leave it, the anti-biblical tendencies in the Church will simply be strengthened.” Using the example of Hans Kung,a Swiss theologian known for his rejection of papal infallibility, Schillebeeckx said, “What Rome would have liked most of all, I suspect, is that Hans Kung had become a Protestant…. But he continues as a Catholic and is a thorn in the flesh of the Catholic Church.”

While I certainly maintain that leaving the church is the right decision for many people, Schillebeeckx’s words reminded me that it is not the only way to resist. Resistance can come from within and in fact, resistance from within may at times prove even stronger. Cardinal Burke may not want to listen to the voices of LGBTQ Catholics and their allies. The pope may not want to hear women’s continuous calls for ordination. This does not mean we need to stop speaking! And as long as we keep speaking, the church is forced to acknowledge us, we are a “thorn in its side.” We are a constant reminder that there is an alternative, and although not everyone may want to help us bring it about, IT LIVES- it lives in the minds, and hopes, and dreams of the marginalized voices of the Catholic Church. Some ask, what good do small, progressive Catholic communities do? My answer, they do a lot. Simply by being present in the world, however small their presence may be, they say no to a vision of the Catholic Church that is exclusive of women, same-sex couples, divorced and remarried persons, and others. We may not have power to make formal rules like the magisterium does, but we do have the power to make words such as Cardinal Burke’s less powerful by saying “no” to their validity.

Women are Human Beings, Not Beautiful Things: A Response to Pope Francis’ Recent Interview

On Sunday, Il Messaggero published Pope Francis’ first ever interview with a female journalist. The interview covered a wide range of topics, and I recommend reading it in its entirety here.

It is what Francis said toward the end of the interview that deeply perturbed me.

When Franca Giansoldati asked Francis what place women occupy in the Church, he responded:

Women are the most beautiful thing God has made. The Church is a woman. Church is a feminine word. We cannot do theology without this femininity. You are right, we don’t talk about this enough. I agree that we have to work more on the theology of woman. I said it and we are working on it.

Giansoldati then asked if Francis sees a certain “underlying misogyny,” to which he responded:

The fact is that woman was taken from a rib… (he laughs heartily). It’s a joke, I’m joking. I agree that we have to study the feminine question more deeply, otherwise we cannot understand the Church herself.

She then followed up by asking Francis if we may expect any historical decisions from him such as “a woman head of dicastery,” to which Francis laughed and said, “Beh, many times priests end up under the authority of their housekeepers.”

As a woman, I feel the need to make a response. (Please not I do not intend to speak for all women.)

I am a woman. I am not the “most beautiful thing God has made.” Like everyone else, I have flaws. Simply because I am a woman, I do not as Pope Francis has suggested in his most recent encyclical, possess “sensitivity, intuition, and other distinctive skill sets… more than men.” My gender does not define me. Like all of the saints throughout the history of Christianity, I have a unique story, one that sometimes affirms and sometimes defies common stereotypes about my gender, age, race, religion, etc. This is why we do not need another “theology of women,” but rather “more women doing theology.” Its about time that our voices are heard and our stories find listeners who take them seriously. I am not some beautiful moral exemplar, but a tried and true HUMAN BEING who has a body that can image Christ and can preach a thought-provoking homily. Like everyone else, I have wisdom to impart to others. I also at times need to be challenged by others to be a more loving, inclusive person.

I get it. Pope Francis was “only joking.” But misogyny is no joke. Neither is racism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, or any other type of oppression. As a heterosexual woman, if someone asked me if a certain one of my viewpoints or a certain situation was an example of homophobia, I sincerely hope I would not respond with a joke, especially given that I will never know first-hand what it is like to experience the discrimination faced by LGBT persons all over the world each day.

I get. The suffering I experience as a woman pales in comparison to that suffered by women who are impoverished or who have been the victims of sexual abuse. But, it is important to note that earlier in this interview, Giansoldati asked Francis how he feels in the face of “moral decline,” citing for example the fact that “on the streets of Rome, you can see girls as young as 14 forced into prostitution amid general neglect.” Francis replied that “the exploitation of children makes me suffer,” that the men who do this to young girls are pedophiles, and that “these problems are resolved through good social politics,” such as “social services that  help families get out of difficult situations.”

We need more than a change in laws and policies. We need a change in the culture of the Church. As the example given by Giansoldati illustrates, women are still treated very much like “objects” to be used for pleasure, who are supposed to sacrifice for others to the point of self-negation (notice the automatic association of women in the Church with the term housekeeper). At first glance, it may seem endearing to be called “the most beautiful thing God as made.” But we are not “beautiful things.” The statements of a celibate male hierarchy cannot fully capture our human experience. As Edward Schillebeeckx said, “the hierarchy does not have control over the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is constantly working through all people, calling them to a variety of ministries, She does not discriminate based on gender, race, sexual orientation, or other factors. It is about time we take women’s thoughts seriously, and recognize the work of the Holy Spirit within them. We women do not need to be told we are “beautiful” and “necessary” and “morally superior to  men.” We should not be held to a male-imposed standard of “femininity.” Women can and should be given the opportunity to define who we are and what our vocation as Christians should be. This is why I do feminist theology.

Please note, I do not intend for this post to be a bashing of Pope Francis or the Catholic Church. I am not angry, I am just disappointed in the remarks made by a leader whom I still respect and admire.

A Feminist Catholic Reaction to Evangelii Gaudium- We Can’t Tackle Poverty Without Tackling Sexism

I had just returned home for Thanksgiving (which I wasn’t actually supposed to do, but Mom’s pumpkin pie before syllabi, right?) and had tons of reading and research to do in preparation for four lengthy final papers. So, you can imagine I was a bit perturbed when Pope Francis came out with an encyclical on November 24th. Of course, I had to read it. And of course, it was so relevant to one of my already-written final papers that I had to go back and add another section. I mean, couldn’t he have waited until after finals were over?

Seriously, all kidding aside, I have mixed emotions about the release of Evangelii Gaudium. Part of me, the Jesuit-educated girl whose Catholic faith saved her life at one time, wants to keep spreading the Pope-love. He washed the feet of a Muslim woman on Holy Thursday! He doesn’t have red shoes! He spent his birthday with the homeless! He just defended breast-feeding in public! The list goes on and on. I love this man. I feel hope. As I read through the encyclical, I found myself shouting “Amen!” at many points. He cautions against viewing the Kingdom of God as a purely otherworldly reality. Religion does not solely exist “to prepare souls for heaven,” as God wants “his children to be happy in this world too (182).” The kingdom is already in our midst. I wondered, do I do enough to bring it about? How often do I forget the poor?

He outright condemns capitalism (this does not amount to Marxism! Sorry Rush Limbaugh!), He calls for a financial system which serves rather than rules. Quoting St. John Chrysostom, he exclaims, “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods we hold, but theirs (57).” In many ways, Francis reflects liberation theology’s call for a preferential option for the poor. Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to become fully a part of society (187).”

Yet, I was disheartened as I came to the section of the encyclical where he discusses women’s role in the Church. Pope Francis writes:

 “I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church. Because the feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures (103).”

However,“the reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion (104).”

Furthermore, the Pope has not challenged the theory of gender complementarity, which asserts that by nature, men and women have certain traits that compliment one another. They are separate parts that together make up one composite whole. This view which fails to take into account those who do not fit into the male-female gender binary.

I realize that this post is a ripe target for criticism. Can’t I just appreciate all the good in this encyclical? Surely, the Pope can’t just change everything right away! Finally, isn’t my ability to worry about issues like women’s ordination a sign of my own privilege? Isn’t that a first world problem? And these critics would be correct. I am a middle-class female doctoral student in North America. I do not have to worry on a day to day basis whether or not I am going to eat or have a place to sleep. I’ve been fortunate to have never been a victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse. So, I do not have to focus on basic survival the way other women do. I think back to my freshman year at Fordham University. President Joseph McShane, SJ welcomed us with the words, “To those whom much has been given, much is expected.” I have been given the opportunity to study theology at three of the most prestigious institutions in the country. I believe pushing for women’s ordination and a change in Church teaching on issues regarding homosexuality, birth control, etc., is something I am compelled to do with the knowledge I have gained.

Is getting food on everyone’s table more important than getting to hear a woman give a homily next Sunday? Absolutely! However, what people have failed to consider is that women’s subordination is directly correlated with poverty. We cannot end poverty without tackling racism, sexism, homophobia, and other types of oppression. Households headed by women are more likely to be in poverty than those headed by men. Though the wage gap is narrowing, women, on average, have lower salaries for the same occupations. Women are more likely to be impoverished than men. Joanna Manning, in her book, Is The Pope Catholic? A Woman Confronts Her Church, describes the effect of Humanae Vitae on women in Africa. Many of these women are threatened by husbands if they refused to engage in sexual intercourse, yet are not able to obtain birth control, which results in the birth of more children than these women can feed, educate, and shelter. Women have been fired from jobs in Catholic schools for getting pregnant out of wedlock. The same has happened to openly gay and lesbian teachers. Abortion is prohibited even in the case of rape or to protect the life of the mother. Yet, women are more likely to be the victims of rape, domestic violence, and sexual assault than men. The Church claims to champion equal rights for women in the workplace, yet maintaining gender complementarity, the Church insists that a woman’s (but not a man’s) primary duty is the home, that women should not work outside of economic necessity. This makes it harder for women to find jobs when abandoned by their spouse or when walking away from an abusive relationship.

Systems of oppression intersect with one another. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are major causes of poverty, as they treat persons as less than human, and decrease their opportunities for achievement. If, as the Pope advocates, we are going to end the hierarchical gap between the rich and the poor, then we need to eliminate other oppressive hierarchies as well: man over woman, white over black or Latino, straight over gay or lesbian, etc.

So, yes, I am not satisfied with Evangelii Gaudium. I respect the Pope, but I cannot celebrate an encyclical that seeks to end poverty without addressing the subordination of women, which contributes to poverty. If the Church really wants to end poverty, Pope Francis should order that all single pregnant women and gay/lesbian teachers who were fired from their teaching positions be given their jobs back to ensure their economic security. The Church should finally acknowledge that women can act “in persona Christ” and not let young girls grow up in a Church in which they are made to feel that their bodies are taboo, that regardless of how much they love Jesus, they cannot consecrate his body and blood at mass. The Church should realize that not all families fit into the male-female gender binary, and push for these “non-traditional families” to receive the benefits and protections they need to provide for themselves and their children.

The Church needs to set the example, the Church needs to make the kingdom of God a reality now. In that kingdom, there is no domination. There is no structure where only celibate men get to make all the decisions, and decide what is best for people affected by oppressions they have never had to experience.

Maybe I am asking the Pope for too much, but doing “too much” and shaking up the status quo is the only way to really put a stop poverty. Sure, it might cause controversy and it might make the Pope really unpopular with certain groups of people. But, hey, Jesus wasn’t exactly Mr. Popularity.

Two thousand years ago, a poor Nazorean woman was pregnant, not by her husband. She brought the Savior into the world. How would we treat Mary if this event happened today?

Two thousand years ago, a poor Nazorean woman was pregnant, not by her husband. She brought the Savior into the world. How would we treat Mary if this event happened today?