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-Talk, Gaia and God, Women 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.