Imagine a Catholic Church that Loved as only a “Woman” Loves by Michele Stopera Freyhauf


Freyhauf, Feminism, Religion, Catholic Church I came across an abhorrent display of ignorance Saturday when reading an article quoting the Pope’s theologian, Dominican priest Wojciech Giertych, on why women cannot be ordained.  This man is in charge of reviewing speeches and texts submitted to the Pope to ensure that they are free of doctrinal error.  Once you read this, I am sure that many of you will have the same thoughts that I do ranging from – that explains a lot — to —  we are in serious trouble!

Giertych touted the common arguments made against ordaining women – Jesus was a man, Jesus chose only male disciples, etc.  However, then he put forth statements about, (1) the theologian’s task, (2) why maleness is essential to the priesthood, and (3) what the vocation of women is and is not.

What is the Theologian’s Task?

According to Giertych, the theologian’s task in determining the definition of priesthood:

 “In theology, we base ourselves not on human expectations, but we base ourselves on the revealed word of God” without the freedom “to invent the priesthood according to our own customs, according to our own expectations.”

According to CTSA (Catholic Theological Society of America), the theological task is described as follows:

Theologians throughout history have promulgated the riches of the Catholic tradition by venturing new ways to imagine and express the mystery of God and the economy of salvation revealed in Scripture and Tradition. This is a Catholic style of theological reflection that very many Catholic theologians continue to practice today. The teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) is especially eloquent on this responsibility” (See Gaudium et Spes #44).

“Such endeavors, which theologians offer in service to and love for the Church, should be encouraged by all in the Church. To suggest that a theologian who engages in the difficult task of interpreting revelation for present times and cultures is denying the knowability of the very revelation—the Word of God—that theological reflection takes as its authoritative source, strikes us as a fundamental misunderstanding of the ecclesial vocation of the theologian.”

Clearly, a huge disparity exists between the Vatican’s own theologian and CTSA.  Anyone who read the Canonical Warning issued against Sr. Margaret Farley knows that the theologian’s task has been redefined to require explicit agreement with church doctine, warning theologians to not challenge the Church’s teachings.  I guess this attitude would also explain the Church’s recent crusade against theologians and the rash of women who have been blacklisted from getting jobs for being outspoken and disagreeing with the Church.

Why Maleness is Essential to the Priesthood?

After recognizing the courageous nature of Jesus, as “countercultural,” not following “the expectations of the powerful,” and doing his own work and mission, Giertych explains why only men can be priests:

“The son of God became flesh, but became flesh not as sexless humanity but as male” and “since a priest is supposed to serve as an image of Christ, his maleness is essential to that role.”

This is more of the same kinds of antiquated arguments used to justify the subordination of women.  I will respond with the same response that most people use against this statement – an ancient baptismal rite that appears in Galatians 3:28,” in Christ there is no more male or female”– meaning simply that the resurrected Christ is without gender, disqualifying the argument that men must “serve as an image of Christ.” Maleness has no place within the biblical interpretation of the baptized.

“Men are more likely to think of God in terms of philosophical definitions and logical syllogisms…a quality valuable for fulfilling a priest’s duty to transmit church teaching.”

As I understand this statement, Giertych is implying that women are not intelligent enough to understand, let alone convey church teaching to the faithful without error. If this statement isn’t offensive enough, he also stated:

“Priests love the church in a characteristically ‘male way’ when they show concern ‘about structures, about the buildings of the church, about the roof of the church which is leaking, about the bishops’ conference, about the concordant between the church and state.”

If I understand this correctly, Giertych is saying that men love power and things.  Nowhere in this statement do we see any concern for the people of the Church.  Could this way of thinking that he attributes to men be the root of problem dividing the Church today?  We see a Church more concerned with buildings and power, than people – no wonder there is such a swift backlash by the Church spokesmen against people who challenge their way of life.

Dare we imagine, if you will, a Church that loved and nurtured as a Woman loves and nurtures?

What the Vocation of Women is and is not: 

A woman’s statement that she is called to the priesthood, according to Giertych, is “a ‘subjective’ belief [that} does not indicate the objective existence of a vocation.”  While he states explicitly that this does not mean women hold an inferior place in the church, he also acknowledged that:

“women are better able than men to perceive the ‘proximity of God’ and enter into a relationship with him” as demonstrated by the “privileged role played in the women in the New Testament.”  Women had “special access to the heart of Jesus…in a very vivid way of approaching him, of touching him, or praying with him, of pouring ointment on his head, of kissing his feet.”

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene

This and another aspect of women’s faith as he understands it are reasons women should not be ordained:

“women are more apt to draw from the mystery of Christ, by the quality of their prayer life, by the quality of their faith.”

I think that having special access to Jesus and being able to perceive God (despite our stupidity, as he cited earlier) is a truly sound reason to exclude women from the priesthood.  Seriously, what kind of Church would we have if priests had a deep faith and deep prayer life, with the ability to draw from the mystery of Christ, not to mention the ability to understand God that is “special” and unique to women!

He continues:

“the mission of the woman in the church is to convince the male that power is not most important in the Church, not even sacramental power.”

This statement seriously contradicts his reasons women cannot be ordained.  Moreover, I think that I can state with great confidence that women as well as men (even ordained men) are reminding men all the time that power even SACRAMENTAL power is not the most important thing in the Church.  However, when people do speak up or act, they are excommunicated.

In his concluding remarks, he tells a bizarre story about a “contemplative nun” who stated to him “oh, wouldn’t it be horrible if Jesus were a woman?” This statement revealed to him that relationships of love and attachment, as well as spousal relationships, are easier for women than men.

I guess I don’t understand how ordaining women would be a bad thing, based on his very own words. As I conclude this post, I leave you with a thought to ponder:

Imagine a Church that loved as a woman loves and nurtured as a woman nurtures.  Imagine a Church that can enter into a special relationship with God and provide special access to Jesus’ heart. What kind of Church would we have?

Michele Stopera Freyhauf is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University. She has a Master of Arts Degree from John Carroll University in Theology and Religious Studies, performed post-graduate work in History focusing on Gender, Religion, and Sexuality at the University of Akron, and is an Adjunct Instructor in the Religious Studies Department at Ursuline College. Her full bio is on the main contributor’s page or at http://durham.academia.edu/MSFreyhauf. Michele can be followed on twitter at @msfreyhauf

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Categories: Abuse of Power, Bible, Catholic Church, Catholicism, Christianity, Christology, Church Doctrine, Community, Embodiment, Feminism, Feminist Theology, Gender and Power, General, power, Scripture, Second Vatican Council, Textual Interpretation, Thealogy, Theology, U. S. Catholic Sisters, Vatican, Vowed Religious, Women and Ministry, Women in the Church, Women Religious, Women's Ordination

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25 replies

  1. Michele, thank you for this post. It leaves me outraged at the Catholic Church’s blatant misogyny and outright dismissal of women’s spiritual agency. My sympathy is with Catholic feminists who honor their faith, yet are trapped by this masculinist thinking that dismisses them.

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  2. Michele, too bad the old boy is unlikely to read your blog and if he does unlikely to take it to “heart” (if he has one–heehee).

    I was reviewing Heidi Goettner-Abendroth’s description of the spiritualities of matriarchal societies this a.m. I seemed relevant to what you were saying about what women could bring to the church.

    4) culture, spirituality: these societies tend to view Earth as a Great and Giving Mother. Most importantly and permeating everything, these societies honor principles of care, love, and generosity which they associate with motherhood, and believe both women and men can and should practice.

    Now if the old boy would just realize that men and women really aren’t so different after all, maybe he could cultivate a few of the virtues he seems to believe men are “essentially” lacking.

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  3. I’m so glad you wrote this. I have yet to get passed a 2,000 word, profanity riddled screed… but you have inspired me to try again!

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  4. Thanks for this post. When I read the article in question, I thought it sounded almost like a spoof such as you’d hear on Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show, the statements were that ludicrous.

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  5. The resurrection is the core belief of all Christian practice.

    The first people to whom Christ appeared immediately after his resurrection were three women, who accepted without question the reality of the miracle, unlike the men to whom he later appeared who questioned the truth of what he showed them.

    Christ’s simple instruction to the women was – ‘go tell the good news’. (ie teach the core belief of my truth)

    Any Church which prevents women obeying Christ’s own instruction denies his word and teaching.To deny women their rightful place in the priesthood to disobey Christ himself.

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  6. Thank you. Great post. Godde bless!

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  7. Michele, Majak, & Carol,

    Thank you all for this, well said!! I read his statement as well and find it strangely naive. The Church is still trying to ‘define’ women without the presence of real women and what we actually think. I just reel at how inept and weak are these statements that go round and round and look and become weaker and weaker. As we know, in persona Christi(acting in the person of Christ) that he mentions as another argument for male-only priesthood is another male-only construct and one that holds no viability theologically anymore if one knows the source.
    The Magisterium’s one-sided male-alone thinking is one-dimensional and shows their lack of knowledge about women and who we really are. We define ourselves, just as they do.

    Carol, you are spot on that women and men are not so different. If only men can know a ‘proper, objective’ call to vocation then what are we all doing in this Church? It is just another exclusivist, mysognist statement. Yes, where are the hearts of these men who, sadly have never known a woman as a woman, their lack of never having felt true human love and intimacy is sad. Christ was all heart, where are the hearts of these men? If they would take the time to know us, they’d be surprised at how similar we really are and how much we feel divine love and the spirit of God, Christ and Goddess — all of it. How can their hearts be opened to this revelation? How do we pry open their closed minds and expand their one-sided, exclusivism to be broader, to accept, to include, as Christ did the ‘little children’, the women, the cripple, the outcast, the sinner–all of them and all of us? Don’t they realize how this type of narrow, myoptic thinking hurts all of us?

    I cite Gaudium et Spes(Dec. 7, 1965) #29:

    ” Since all men [and women] possess a rational soul and are created in God’s likeness, since they have the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognition.

    True, all men [and women] are not alike from the point of view of varying physical power and the diversity of intellectual and moral resources. Nevertheless, with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent. For in truth it must still be regretted that fundamental personal rights are still not being universally honored. Such is the case of a woman who is denied the right to choose a husband freely, to embrace a state of life or to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognized for men.”

    “…to embrace a state of life…equal to those of men” — there it is in B/W. Evidently our friend, Wojciech, has not read or forgotten this statement. This is just another contradiction in the teachings like Galatians, or that we are all a baptised priesthood, that we are all equal Imago Dei, but…but…BUT, however, when it comes to genderization, women are not all equal, not an ‘ordained’ priestly people, are not of the same level of Imago Dei, so therefore, we cannot participate fully as clergy called by God to serve even when we know and feel that call, that ‘objective’ vocation, and yes, perhaps subjective as well because it must be both/and to be inclusive to a royal priesthood of true priestly people no matter how far we stand outside the inner circle of the circling male-only wagons at the Vatican. What comes to mind is Bernini’s colonnade encircling St. Peter’s Square, it is an open circle, welcoming to all as the arms of a mother embrace her children, all of them–maybe Fr. Wojciech just needs to look out the window onto that circle surrounding the square to know and understand who women are and that we are, after all, half of the Church with voices that speak and minds that think, just like them!

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  8. The Giertych fellow and his boss the pope are still stuck in the Dark Ages. They remind me of a physician in southern India whose book I once tried to edit. The physician said that men always marry women who are their intellectual inferiors. I guess the guys in the Vatican are intellectually superior to everyone else, or at least they think they are. Let me recommend a lovely little book by Carl McColman, Embracing Jesus and the Goddess: A Radical Call to Spiritual Sanity. My friend Carl found a beautiful consistency between the Christianity that Jesus actually taught (not Paul’s misogynistic variety) and what we who love the Goddess teach. http://www.amazon.com/Embracing-Jesus-Goddess-Radical-Spiritual/dp/1931412782/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1360249883&sr=1-1&keywords=Embracing+Jesus+and+the+Goddess

    Michele, wonderful, thought (and anger)-provoking post. Brava!

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    • Oh dear, Barbara! Just saw this. I hope that
      physician from southern India was not from Kerala–home of my ancestors. I know Kerala from my mother and from history to be a strong, matrilineal society, bravely Communist and highly literate–even if still (cash) poor. The women of Kerala are feisty and do not take kindly to men who try to bully them–even if they “give them a lot of face” publicly. That physician needs to have his head examined –and quick :-) Thanks for pointing me to Carl McColman’s book.

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  9. Great article. I’m a female priest in the Independent Catholic Church. We do exist … and there will be more and more of us. Antiquated posturing does not stop progress and it needs heretics to transform belief. We just have to love those poor silly blokes from the Vatican through it all … while rolling up our sleeves and getting on with the work behind the scenes…

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  10. “the mission of the woman in the church is to convince the male that power is not most important in the Church, not even sacramental power.”

    Sounds like he’s inviting Catholic women to keep on rocking the boat with their prophetic witness and incisive logic, just as you do in this post. Hmm, I’m not sure he thought that through . . .

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  11. Will need to read the whole statement I suppose but from this post it sounds… incoherent. The main purpose seems to be to preserve the priesthood not as an organization of witness to the love of God but as a bastion of male power. Using antiquated notions of essential qualities of gender is fairly pathetic I should think. I have certainly known male priests who wouldn’t recognize a hole in the roof unless the roof fell on them. And the idea of women’s mission to “convince the male…” all sounds too much like the advice I got as a teenager about a girl’s responsibility to keep a boy from “going too far.” What’s the man’s responsibility aside from the roof?

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  12. I am beginning to sound like a broken record but please some of you read the new eBook, “A Gender Neutral God/ess,” by J. J. McKenzie. It may enable many of you to look at Biblical texts through a new lens. And it contains material with which to argue against the positions taken by that priest written about above.

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  13. The bottom line, for me, is that this is simply more of the same old “power-over” nonsense the Roman hierarchy uses to try to shore up its threadbare claim to authority. I can’t decide whether to be angry–although I’m a lot angrier over the recent “apology” from the Irish government over its years of collusion with the church regarding the outright slavery of its “Magdalen Laundry” workers, who deserve reparations, not just words!–or to shake my head and take the whole statement as (Yes!) an attempt at a “Saturday Night Live” routine.

    I suppose anger is wasted emotion from someone who is now outside the crumbling structure of institutional Christianity. For my sisters who are still inside, or “on the border,” for whatever reasons, drive on, with all the passion you have left. I think it’s a losing battle against structures too firmly entrenched in the whole patriarchal setup to ever admit true change, but I honor those of you who have decided to continue to fight the fight.

    As to your final question about what kind of church it would be, Michele, it would, I think be far more truly Christlike than anything currently available…that’s what makes statements from the old guys in dresses so sad.

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  14. Michelle is absolutely right to critique Giertych for his many gaffes, which are unfortunately read as a legitimately ‘orthodox.’ As an Eastern Orthodox (yes, capitalized for a reason) theologian arguing for female priests from within my ecclesial tradition, there is nothing even remotely ‘orthodox’ about his line of thinking. This post leaves aside questions of difference, which Michelle very nicely begins to address, and just addresses the implications of stating that women cannot image Christ. I hope I am welcome to add it to the conversation.

    Is Jesus human, or male? Addressing Giertych, Part 1: http://deiprofundis.org/2013/feb/08/jesus-human-or-male-addressing-giertych-part-1

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  15. Great reading this. It makes me feel I am not the one who is delusional as I read the statements that keep coming out from the Bishops and the Vatican seriously agonizing about who is paying for contraception. Clearly they are dedicated to saving the souls of women–but not so much little children. They did not come out, crosiers swinging, when one pedophile after another was uncovered. No, they kept them handy to excommunicate one dissenting theologian/religious after another. Cardinal Mahony had no idea what to do because “nothing in his own background or education had prepared him” to deal with pedophile priests. But the Bishops feel totally confident they know all about how to regulate women’s reproductive health, and whether women are worthy enough to be priests. They weren’t concerned enough to act with urgency to save little children from predators but they are still pondering who exactly will be paying for the grave sin of contraception. The Bishops need a pill: the one called humility. http://freecatholic808.com/2013/02/04/gongs-and-cymbals/

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  16. Women know when they are called. I received my calling in fourth grade. No one can deny me that. I have thanked God everyday for it!

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  17. I have done the research and writing I have because ALL women, including strictly Goddess worshippers, atheists, and women who are outside traditional churches, are influenced by decisions about contraception or who is to be leaders of various influential groups, etc.

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  18. You are so very right. I am saddened when I think of all the lost wisdom, gifts and talents that have been missed because the Church sees women as inferior to men. I do not think the hierarchy will bend, and their fudel attitude will destroy the Church.

    I truly wonder about the wisdom of having the Roman Catholic Hierarchy recognize and include women’s ordination in the Catholic Church. We assume that acceptance of women priests will mean an acceptance of inclusiveness, equality, openness. Our homosexual brothers and sisters, our divorced believers, our contraceptive users and even our great sinners will be welcomed to the mass. I do not believe that will ever be the case with the feudal lords of the Catholic Church. I would sooner believe that any hint of acceptance of women’s ordination would merely be a trick to destroy the concept and sincerity of the faithful. I assume that recognition also means compliance with Catholic Church doctrines, codes, rules and regulations. What will RCWP do if the Catholic Church wishes to admit women to holy orders under the domination of Rome? I do not believe that RCWP would accept women’s ordination under those circumstances.

    It is my strong belief that RCWP and the Catholic faithful should break with Rome, creating our own Catholic Church at least here in America. When the Bishop excommunicated me and the other members of our little faith group, he said that the excommunication was for medicinal reasons only and that we remained Catholic; therefore, I am a Catholic shunned by the hierarchy of my faith institution but not by the people of the faith. After sixty-four years of being a faithful and devout Roman Catholic, I am now a faithful and devout RCWP Catholic. There is an opportunity here to fulfill the promises of Vatican II if we split with Rome. There is opportunity here to further God’s plan and spread his message in its purest form without discrimination and rejection of any of God’s people if we split with Rome.
    It took five hundred years for the hierarchy to exonerate Galileo. Do we think the equality of women within the Roman Catholic Church will happen any time soon? Frankly, by the time female priesthood is accepted, we will be two different churches anyway, unwilling to compromise our own beliefs for acceptance. We must form our own independent Catholic Church, offering inclusion and fellowship for all. We must push for the completion of Vatican II, and we must offer a place for disenfranchised priests. All of the priests and bishops silenced or dismissed by the Pope should be offered a place with us. We can grow.

    I must admit that I am not a very smart person, and I have no importance in and of myself. I am, however, a Catholic, and I want the Catholic Church to live and flourish, bringing salvation to the people of the world. Rome cannot reject sixty percent or more of its people and expect to remain viable as the church of Christ. I pray that when Jesus returns, there will be faith on the Earth. I believe it is the duty of RCWP and all of us who believe in Christ’s words and the wisdom of our own conscience to strike a blow for inclusion, acceptance, compassion and salvation of all people. Our job should be to assist and love, not judge and condemn.
    The creation of a Roman Catholic Inclusive Church is, I believe, the only way we can promote our core beliefs. I pray that God will guide the RCWP to its fullest potential.

    Nick Smith
    Full Circle Faith Community of Iowa City, Iowa
    Mary Kay Kusner, priest

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  19. Religion is the natural terrain of the woman and men should be excluded in order to counter balance the over powering effect of Patriarchy. A woman for Pope now will be one of the best things that could happen on the long road towards parity between female and male. “Our Mother which should be in heaven where are you? I am tired of watching Our Father in Heaven screwing Mother Earth.

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  20. Just a question for Priest Giertych: Priests and Popes know a lot more about God than any body else (especially as far as women are concerned), or so they say, even though they modestly remind you that God is inscrutable. What bothers me is that, in spite of his inscrutability, they always address HIM in the third person as HE, HIM and HIS. Why? Why not SHE, HER and HERS? or IT, IT and IT? or GOD, GOD and GOD? Or, even beter, just “THE INSCRUTABLE” Or any thing, just to get away from this suspicion that God is secretly( preferably?) a man. A man without genitals? Or if he is inscrutable, lets take a chance on it that he is most probably a man. Why?
    Why do priests and Popes wear dresses? To hide the fact that they have genitals? To try and make their sexuality inscrutable? To pretend that they are utterly devoid of testosterone? Like God, an old eunuch in drag? Deny their sexuality only to occassionaly? fall flat on their faces when they see a pretty little boy or a pretty little girl?
    Of alll the things that God gave man sex is the most imprtant. If it had not been for sex I would not be here fingering a keyboard. Sex works because God made it so. Sex works because it is physically irresistible. Sex is not evil; the Pope has made it so.
    Is all this masquerade just to keep women away from the altar? Why? For God’s sake why!?
    “Our Father that is in Heaven” Why not “Our Mother that is in Heaven”?
    I say : A woman for Pope NOW and while we are at it throw out all the cardinals as well. God! all that dried out old wood!

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    • Right on! Right on! At RCWP Full Circle Catholic Faith Community, we try our hardest to create an inclusive litergy for all the faithful. We use female and male language interchangably to speak of God.

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