A dissenting voice

st mary's university college twickenham

An interesting comment appeared in response to my post about the Catholic Women Rising project, stating that I am never going to manage to attempt to get every Catholic woman to sign up. Maybe not, but just because something may be difficult, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth doing.

As a point of note, the Catholic Women Rising site is not meant to be a personal vanity project – the intention is to hand over blog administration to any other Catholic women (or men) who may wish to be involved, especially in the apologetics side. The aim is to promote the New Feminism, winning over lapsed Catholics and hopefully even persuading women of other denominations,  as well as a manifestation of the huge amount of grass roots support that exists for Catholic teaching.  I don’t care from whence the apologetics comes so long as it is not only sound, but gentle – there will be no time for hectoring those who struggle with teaching or at times fall short. Whilst sin or error can not be validated,  one catches more flies with honey than vinegar as the saying goes and it is intended to be a place of joyful witness to the truth, not petty sniping or personal carping. I wonder whether women are better placed in terms of evangelising to other women nonetheless.

In the meantime, it will mainly be pro-life and personal witterings reflections as per usual on this site, but so far the response has been overwhelming, my email and social media inboxes have been inundated with support, with Francis Philips of the Catholic Herald, Joanna Bogle and Marianne Cutherbertson, being among those who have supported the site and signed. It’s early days yet, but I do intend to keep plugging away at it and getting as many names as possible and publicising the initiative outside of the internet.

Whilst not wishing to pick on the person who left the comment, another one of her points was that unrest exists within the Catholic church with regards to women. If this is the case then this needs to be identified and engaged with, not least so that women who feel uncomfortable with doctrine, are at the very least, afforded the privilege of being listened to and it needs to be established whether any pastoral solution can be sought, or whether they are labouring under a misapprehension. No-one is claiming that unrest doesn’t exist, but it’s a question of how representative some of the media narratives are. The majority of Catholic female voices in the mainstream media (Catholic Herald staff aside), from Joanna Moorhead to even Cristina Odone, seem to publicly dissent from at least one aspect of teaching. The project aims to offer a response and counter, to which a new post has gone up, which names some of the women of influence within the Holy See itself.

Tina Beattie suggests that the handful of women to whom the Vatican are listening are “selected handmaidens”, a deliberately inflammatory phrase, designed to reinforce the notions of patriarchy and sexual subservience and oppression. If one were of a less charitable disposition, one might wonder whether or not there is a hint of bitterness or frustration that as a theologian in a Catholic university, she is not among their number.

Occam’s razor comes in handy here – if there are not as many women as perhaps would be desirable amongst those positions open to the laity in the Curia, it has as much to do with the fact that many Catholic women have a vocation of wife and mother which is incompatible with a full-time job located in Vatican City. The complaint that ‘diverse prominent women theologians’ are not being listened to is due to the nature of the dissenting views of such theologians as opposed to their gender. Hans Kung wasn’t stripped of his teaching faculties on account of his sex.

If the church fails to take account of the problems of the women in the world, and I’m far from convinced that this is true, then this needs further definition.

But the most interesting aspect of this comment, is that it appeared to jump on the fact that I had apparently misunderstood and taken Tina Beattie’s Guardian quote from Protect the Pope, out of context and it appeared to be leaping to her defence. I have no intention of attempting to out the person who made the comment, who I suspect was a student and neither do I have the time or inclination to pursue or track down those who leave comments expressing disagreement.

WordPress does however automatically log the IP address of those who leave comments and as such I can often identify persistent trolls. This commenter is not a troll, she was simply disagreeing with me as she is perfectly entitled to do so, however what jumped out at me was that WordPress assigned a name to the originating comment, which was St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, a Catholic University, which has been experiencing a fair amount ofshenanigans of late.

That we have a student who seems to be in agreement with Professor Beattie is nothing to get rattled about. But it does once again pose the wider question about what might be going on in terms of teaching or catechesis at that university, which seems rather sad.

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