Category Archives: Pope Francis

For those who need a place to vent, talk, mourn, etc. in wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury report

I’ve put off posting about this, mainly because the right words escape me. To my fellow Catholics, I just signed this statement calling for the collective resignation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I have chosen to remain Catholic in spite of the many crises of faith that I have experienced long before the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released. For many people, Catholic Church has not been a place that they can call “home,” including but not limited to women, divorced and remarried persons, LGBTQ persons, and those who, faithful to their conscience, say or act in a way that does not align fully with the Magisterium.

For those, like myself, who identify as Catholic, I believe we hold a responsibility to not only be aware of the systemic evil and injustice that has taken place in the institutional church but also to be willing to listen to all those who have been affected by it. For those of you who want someone to talk to about recent (or not so recent, since we have known that sexual abuse has been happening in the church for a LONG TIME) events, I am here- and I hope to offer the same to my students as we start a new semester next week- I am hear to listen without nudging you to leave the Church or stay in the Church, etc. I firmly believe we need to create space for people to express their feelings and reactions, even if those may be hard for us to hear.

However, one thing I WILL ALWAYS MAINTAIN is that GOD IS NOT THE PROBLEM. The way we talk about God is the problem, even right down to the very names we use for God. Human beings have a done a good job of convincing various people that God does not approve of them, that their suffering is somehow deserved or pre-ordained by God, but just because human beings abuse their power and utter such sentiments, that does not make them true. The God that I believe in is not an almighty ruler looking to punish us for every transgression or a distant God removed from the suffering and pain of our every day lives, but A CRUCIFIED GOD, a God who suffered and was crucified again every time a child of Hers was abused. We need to do a much better job of proclaiming this Crucified God. The institutional Church has abandoned God’s people, but God has not abandoned His people.*

The switching off between His and Hers as pronouns for God is intentional. God is beyond gender and no human category can exhaust the incredible Mystery that is God. All people – men, women, and transgendered persons, are capable of imaging God and therefore, God should be expressed and named using many different kinds of words and images.



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?

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?