Catholic Feminists Meet, Strategize by Rosemary Radford Ruether and Theresa Yugar

During July 8-11, 2012 twenty Catholic feminist leaders met in a retreat center near Baltimore to discuss their concerns and hopes in the light of the recent and ongoing attacks of Catholic bishops on women and especially on feminist work in the church. The group consisted of representatives from many sectors of Catholic institutions and movements.  There were the founders of a peace and justice movement of the Sisters of Charity and the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Action. There was a pastor and leadership trainer from an alternative parish and a writer for the National Catholic Reporter.

Many in the group were professors of theology or ethics at Catholic, Protestant or state schools. Among them were teachers at Whittier College, Claremont School of Theology, Santa Clara University and San Jose University in California, Loyola University in Chicago, St. Catherine in Minnesota, Drew University in New Jersey and Boston College. Catholic reform movements were well represented, with leaders from Dignity, the Women’s Ordination Conference, Call to Action and RomanCatholicWomenPriests. There was a teacher at Marymount School in New York City, the President of Marymount School in Los Angeles and a doctoral student in theology.

Mary Hunt and Diane Neu of WATER (The Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual) in the Washington, D.C. area had planned the get-together with several of these leaders, as well as Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, New Testament professor at the Harvard Divinity School, who at the last minute was not able to come.

The group spent the first day getting to know each other and discussing their work and involvements in Catholic reform.  They then explored the crisis situation in Catholicism and how to counter the bishops’ attack on Catholic sisters and feminism. Their resources for organizing and influencing the Catholic community was also a topic for discussion.

The last day was devoted to what they wanted to do in the light of a more organized network of Catholic Feminists in the United States. Mary Hunt suggested they should think freely, undeterred by lack of financial resources.  What were the “strategies” for change? Among the key ideas suggested were a Center for Catholic feminist thought that would be a think tank for continuing the conversation on Catholic feminism and organizing local groups that could have access to people in parishes. These would be in contact with the center. Finally there was a discussion of who our allies are, both in the Roman Catholic Church and ecumenically and how to create networks with them.

This was an important meeting. Catholic feminist scattered in many institutions and activities began to see themselves as a community and to imagine how they might create a movement to shape the Catholic community for greater gender justice in the United States and internationally for the future.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, Ph.D. is Professor of Feminist Theology at Claremont Graduate University and Claremont School of Theology.  She is also the Carpenter Emerita Professor of Feminist Theology at Pacific School of Religion and the GTU, as well as the Georgia Harkness Emerita Professor of Applied Theology at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. Rosemary has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a scholar, teacher, and activist in the Roman Catholic Church, and is well known as a groundbreaking figure in Christian feminist theology.  Ruether is the author of multiple articles and books including Sexism and God-TalkGaia and GodWomen Healing Earth and The Wrath of Jonah: The Crisis of Religious Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Her most recent books include Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism(2008), Many Forms of Madness: A Family’s Struggle with Mental Illness(2010), and Women and Redemption: A Theological History, 2nd ed.(2011).

Theresa A. Yugar is a constructive Latina feminist liberation theologian. She is a Ph.D. candidate at Claremont Graduate University in the Women’s Studies in Religion program. Her scholarship and activist work centers on gender and ecological justice. She is a Christian Religious educator and active member of the Women’s Ordination Conference, Women’s Alliance for Theology Ethics and Ritual, Women Church, local and national, and most recently the Roman Catholic Womenpriest Movement.


Author: Rosemary Radford Ruether

Rosemary Radford Ruether is the Carpenter Emerita Professor of Feminist Theology at Pacific School of Religion and the GTU, as well as the Georgia Harkness Emerita Professor of Applied Theology at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. She has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a scholar, teacher, and activist in the Roman Catholic Church, and is well known as a groundbreaking figure in Christian feminist theology. Ruether has published numerous books, including Sexism and God-Talk, In Our Own Voices: Four Centuries of American Women’s Religious Writing (ed. with Rosemary Skinner Keller), and The Wrath of Jonah: The Crisis of Religious Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Her most recent books include Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism (2008), Many Forms of Madness: A Family's Struggle with Mental Illness (2010), and Women and Redemption: A Theological History, 2nd ed. (2011).

10 thoughts on “Catholic Feminists Meet, Strategize by Rosemary Radford Ruether and Theresa Yugar”

  1. Hooray for the Catholic women! Hooray for the feminists! Hooray for the nuns and theologians! May the Goddess who is the Grandmother of God bless them and their work.


  2. Dearest Tom, Barbara, and Lene, I want to thank you So very much for your positive energy and responses with regards to this historic gathering in Baltimore, Maryland. For me it is a Kairos moment in the rrchurch. The tables are being turned and women are rightfully standing, grounded in their truth, that it is they who are in actuality living out the gospel more authentically than the prelates of the Vatican whom are more concerned with preserving man-made doctrines. I left this event empowered and with a keen sense of where our energy and efforts need to go if the feminist movement for gender and eco-justice is to continue to thrive and flourish in secular and religious settings. In conversation among these varied and diverse feminists the answer to the question on strategizing for a more equitable church and world was the need for allies, and/or, alliedships. Together, we recognized that the success of the Feminist Movement, past and present, has been the powerful role of relationships in our efforts to advocate for individual’s who lack justice and thus a voice in our world. It is time for us, individually and collectively, to move forward creating allies with individuals who share our common goals and passion for gender and eco-justice in our world. The task of ally-ship is not an easy task. It must be organic and authentic. If not, it would be reflect another variation of white privilege that continues to hurt the Movement in its efforts toward global solidarity among all women and allies in the struggle. Momentum, global solidarity, and allied-ships.


  3. I have given this a lot of thought since Theresa and I had a discussion about it some months ago. I really think that the nuns in America are in a strategically good position. The Catholic church is having a terrible time attracting both nuns and priests in the U.S. Therefore, many tasks that used to be done cheaply by nuns are now being done by hired professionals. This is becoming expensive.

    Therefore, it is my thought, the nuns should organize. Yes, I know that this is already happening, but I think they should organize in the style of labor unions. Yes, I know that the Vatican is going to be VERY unhappy about this, but the nuns are doing good work. The Vatican has, for whatever reason, missed the point of what they are doing.

    I think this is a golden opportunity for these women to create earth-shaking change, and I am very excited about it.


  4. Theresa and Rosemary
    This work is so important. Women must continue to articulate our side of religion, of Catholism, of Christ and of God. The voices of the other half of androcentric religions can no longer be defined by the very androcentrism that produced them in the first place. We understand and acknowledge our thoughts, our beliefs and our conceptions of God from a dialogical, both/and empowered reciprocity that no patriarchally dominated religion, or any other hierarchical organization seems not to have in their corporate DNA. It is up to those of us who understand the need for the female side of our table to be represented equally because we bring the other half of humanity’s tale that has lain untold for almost our entire written history. We are writing that history now and filling in the hugest gap in the human with God story.
    Our dear nuns are now realizing this fact and can no longer be the doormats or the unpaid for all the work they have accomplished in upholding our Church. They have so many US Catholics and others behind them. They have us and the Vatican must begin to listen, truly listen because we will not go away, as we never have. Only this time we want it public and out in the open so we know who all the players are–who the women are because they deserve to be known, by the world!! For we are half the world and we are half the Church!!
    All my love, support, intellect and spirit are with you–


  5. I am so glad to see these names and this initiative — hope you can link with Catholic feminists in the UK. The misogynist forces in the institutional church are very strong and will require consistent and concerted effort to challenge them. It is critical to think systemically.


  6. I say this comment with a very heavy heart. I love Jesus! However, it just seems that because He is a man and the Son of God, there is absolutely no way for women to “win” the war on equality. It does not make any sense to me that God would choose only ONe SEX to represent Divinity on earth; but that is what most of us have been taught since birth. How can anyone not put the male sex above female when even God chose that sex over the other?


    1. GOD did NOT choose one sex above the other, though we were and are still taught that way.

      The myth of divine maleness will stand un-repudiated as long as women and men allow it to be so and as long as women, in particular, are content to worship at the altar of divine maleness.

      Yes, some women theologians offer matriarchal religions as alternatives for male-god religions, but this is not the solution for those who see a gender-free deity. Meanwhile many women hang on to male-gendered religion because it is the only institutional option available.

      Until women religious leaders of male-god religions
      choose to step TOGETHER
      into what their respective religions call HERESY OR SCHISM,
      there will be NO deeply significant theological change in this regard
      within institutionalized religions.


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