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.

Catholic women rising

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Okay, so this is a bit of an experiment, but I’d really like it to catch on and would also like the support of the entire Catholic blogosphere, certainly in the UK and what an amazing thing if this could go global.

Inspired by Deacon Nick Donnelly, who has such an inspirational apostolate with his Protect the Pope blog, my blood pressure rose when I saw that a certain ‘Catholic’ theologian is once again hinting at doctrinal changes, seemingly misunderstanding that these are simply not possible. This isn’t meant to be a personal attack on Tina Beattie herself, I can understand that it must be unnerving to feel constantly besieged by a group of bloggers on the internet, but in a recent interview in the Guardian she states:

The new pope must show that he is willing to engage seriously with women’s theological voices and moral perspectives in a way which is broadly representative of the diverse experiences and aspirations of women, and not just with a few carefully selected theological handmaids.

The Church is not a democracy. Furthermore doctrines cannot change, Catholicism is based upon the truth that was revealed to us by Jesus Christ and handed down by the apostles to their successors. Revealed truth cannot change, the deposit of faith is comprised of this revealed truth expressed in Scripture and sacred tradition and thus cannot change. The church does not have the power to change or remove anything that has been given to us by Christ and His Apostles.

It is beyond annoying being told what the Church should do in relation to women, by people who are either not Catholic, or want the Church to change her doctrine in order to accommodate their own personal agendas, whether that be to allow self-destructive behaviour, to validate their own insecurity or to give them more ‘power’, which is never a healthy thing. None of us should crave positions of power or leadership.

Many faithful Catholic women are fed up of being told that they are not representative of the Catholic faith, that they are somehow brainwashed or marginalised, that their Church hates them and that most Catholic women are against the Church’s teachings, especially with regards to contraception, abortion and the male priesthood, most of which is based on dodgy poll data.

Here’s what I’d like to do. I’m not sure if this blog is the best forum for it, but then again it is run by a married mother of 4 young girls, who is passionate about female equality and empowerment, it’s just my definition of what that looks like, is very different to that of militant feminists or unrepresentative politicians and journalists, who think working women is all about a high-powered job in a nice city office somewhere on mega-bucks, or perhaps a well-paid newspaper column working from home, whereas the reality for most working mothers and children is entirely different.

I’d like to get as many Catholic women as possible, to sign up in the comments box below, to say that they agree with the following statement.

I am a faithful practicing Roman Catholic woman, who attends Mass at least once a week and who believes in and practices the Church’s teachings, specifically pertaining to matters on sexuality, contraception, abortion, marriage and the ordination of women. I believe that the Roman Catholic Church is sympathetic to and representative of the needs and concerns of women and their children, wherever they may be in the world. I would like to offer our new Pope Francis, my prayers and support and thank him for his continued protection and support of mothers and their unborn children. I fully endorse Church doctrine in relation to women’s issues. 

This could be an amazing gift for the Year of Faith. Imagine if every single faithful Catholic woman were to pledge their solidarity to our new Pope and Church doctrine in one place. What a gift, blessing and comfort, not only for Pope Francis, but also for ALL the Catholic clergy, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Monsignors, Priests, Deacons, as well as those members of the laity, who are engaged in catechesis. How heartening for them to see the fruits of their work and how loved, supported and appreciated they are by Catholic women everywhere.

Also, what an opportunity for catechesis this could be, in terms of promoting the New Feminism. If you do see this and you are a Catholic women who feels in good conscience that she cannot sign up, don’t leave a comment on this post, I’ll open up another sticky and we can get debate going there, or better still, discuss it with your priest, or someone you know who can sign in good faith.

What a message to the Pope, to the Church and to the world and media at large. We, the undersigned Catholic women, have a love for Christ and his Church burning in our hearts and we do not wish to alter or change doctrine one little bit. We are empowered by a beautiful teaching that recognises us as having an equal dignity and sets us free to live in love.