Hate Mail and the Privilege of Having a Voice by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileThis past week I was honored to have the opportunity to talk with Tavis Smiley on PBS about the resignation of the Pope and the future of the Catholic Church.  Although some have argued that the pope stepping down means little if anything for Catholics, I think this acknowledgment that tradition can change is at least a step in the right direction.  While an end to sexism in the Church is still far off, in the spirit of a feminist ethic of risk, I think we must recognize this step and continue on in the struggle.

What a privilege it was and is to have a platform to share these thoughts.  As a feminist progressive Catholic I have repeatedly received friendly and not so friendly warnings about sharing my beliefs.  In an age characterized as “the New Inquisition,” the Vatican has worked hard to keep individuals like myself from challenging Church teaching.  Any mention of reproductive justice or women’s ordination can quickly lead to one’s livelihood being threatened and the very real possibility of excommunication – just ask Fr. Roy Bourgeois.  That said, we each still have the responsibility to retain our power, refuse to be silent, and use our voices to encourage and create change.   

Having been given the opportunity to discuss my feminist progressive beliefs about the Catholic Church on such a large platform was a gift.  I was overwhelmed by the many messages I received from persons who viewed the show.  I received emails and comments from those who shared similar thoughts:

INCREDIBLE !!!  I wasn’t strong enough to wait for the change (13 yrs. ago). May God continue to Gift you in fortitude.

Wow, I’ve been talking to folks around me about near spiritual matters. Have posted my own opinions on social media. This interview got to the heart of many issues that should be pushed to the fore, not just for the believers but for the society (American) as a whole. Your closing, “I appreciate your candor,” was welcome in the discussion. We need that in the discourse. I frequently do not know where the journey of your questioning will lead but I’m nearly always delighted and perplexed by where I end up. I just pray for coherency in my comments after watching an interview that stirs my thoughts.

I also received messages with questions about exploring issues in the Catholic tradition, messages that genuinely wished for a dialogue:

On watching your interview on Tavis Smiley the first question that came to mind is how does an announced Catholic, who presumably attends Sunday Mass, profess belief in “One, Holy,Catholic and Apostolic Church” in the morning and on leaving Mass publicly and proudly renounces those beliefs while championing her own version of what Catholics should believe and practice?

The doctrine of the Church cannot change. When Catholics pit themselves against the Church because they have bought into secular notions of what is right they are choosing against what God has ordained wether they know it or not.

And of course, I received messages from those who thought “hate mail” would be an appropriate response to me retaining the power of my voice:

Go to Cuba,Venezuela, Africa, China or North Korea to live your liberation theology. You can rise the rank of starvation in your workers paradises. Long live Stalin, Mao, et al. Your progressive liberal socialist agenda has never worked outside the university book store. It’s against churches official teaching. Join Obamas church for your beliefs don’t stain our church with your leftist ideologies.

I unfortunately wasted my time watching a bit of Tavis Smiley to see you, an individual who has the psychological need to remain a “member” of the Roman Catholic Church that you both obviously revile and simultaneously attempt to undermine with a ludicrous sense of personal omniscience.  It’s a combination of the idolatrous attempt at vicariously being part of the “power” of the Catholic Church through membership while wanting it no longer to be the Catholic Church at all but rather an advocate of only the whims, interests, inclinations, sins and peccadillos of Gina…It’s like the woman who hates her husband, but knows she wouldn’t be anything without his money, so she badmouths him all over town, hoping that he’ll hear about it and change to meet her special desires—even though almost everybody else in the town personally loves and admires the fellow.

I truly appreciate that we all have different ideas and concerns and I’m always open to respectful and serious dialogue.  Of course, some of these did not warrant a response, but I guess hate mail comes with the territory.

There is power in our voices when we use them in a respectful way.  Whether on a national platform or at your dinner table, we each have the ability to share our thoughts and ideas, to engage others, and to work towards the change we believe in.  Silencing has become the norm; there are forces all around us trying to quiet the calls for reform.  While it takes great strength and will cause many repercussions, speaking out and retaining the power of voice is what will lead to the transformation so many of us wish for.

Categories: Catholicism, Feminism, General, power, Reform

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. Bless your courage to speak. Speaking the truth to power is not without costs, but if no one did it well…the world could not change.


  2. Gina, thank you for being brave enough to speak out. We live in very divisive times. Feminist voices are being censored and repressed. I applaud you for standing strong and not letting yourself be silenced. We are the change.


  3. Firstly, congratulations on being invited to televise your views. Secondly, keep on keeping on. This is a time of seismic change for all religions, governments, corporations, communities and families. Let’s realise – and accept – that the leaders no longer have the answers. Their ideologies are based on remaining in power. Of course, you’ll be accused of being a ‘leftie/communist’ in the US, where the power bases reach very deep.

    What did Jesus do? Well, he spent time with a lot of women. He listened to them, and even apologised when rebuked by the Samaritan at the well, who could discern a much more inclusive God than he did at that very moment. We women have enormous spiritual gifts to offer our families, communities, corporations and churches, based on our innate compassion. So, please don’t give up! The tide is turning, but we’re having to change a system which has been in place for millennia, let’s recognise that!

    God bless and give you courage, Gina <3


  4. Gina, Have a look at the March editorial on the Mother Pelican blog. Luis is a Catholic. I am not a Catholic, so they can’t excommunicate me.


  5. You are in the mainstream, Gina, a headline in the New York Times this morning says, “U.S. CATHOLICS IN POLL SEE THE CHURCH OUT OF TOUCH.

    The article begins: “Roman Catholics in the United States say that their church and bishops are out of touch, and that the next pope should lead the church in a more modern direction on issues like birth control and ordaining women and married men as priests, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. […] Three-fourths of those polled said they thought it was a good idea for Benedict to resign. Most wanted the next pope to be ‘someone younger, with new ideas.’ A majority [of Catholics] said they wanted the next pope to make the church’s teachings more liberal.”

    Interesting that the “Out of Touch” headline is on the front page of the Times. dated today March 6, in the street version, but online the article is buried in the back pages (in the U.S. section).


  6. Gina, be strong! Your church needs more women like you.


  7. Thanks everyone for your wonderful comments. Talking about the power of voice and the ramifications, this morning another priest was excommunicated – Fr. Robert Marrone who teaches at John Carroll University, where I received my MA in Religious Studies. I am shocked and deeply saddened to hear this. His voice is so important and he has inspired so many: http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2013/03/bishop_richard_lennon_excommun.html#incart_m-rpt-2


  8. The next pople should be a nun.


  9. Gina, hang in there. Ignore the ignorant and their hate-full mail, and the patriarchy with its red dresses and lace accents.

    Although I’m (thankfully) no longer RC, I can still observe, and what I see is an out-of-touch bureaucracy with a vested interest in the status quo. Its members don’t like being challenged or confronted–witness not only their “excommunications” but their huffy response to SNAP’s “Dirty Dozen” list, which reminded me of nothing so much as Miss Piggy turning up her snout and sniffing an offended “HMMMPHH!” as she flounces off–when challenge, confrontation and some input from the real world are exactly what they need.

    In addition to hanging out with women, tax collectors and publicans, Jesus had a few choice words for the types you’re up against: “Pharisees,” “hypocrites” and “vipers” come readily to mind.

    Keep using that privileged and articulate voice.


  10. Just saw this news http://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/catholic-bishops-oppose-violence-against-women-act-because-of-lgbt-protections/#comments
    It does not make me hopeful about the way forward when it is from amongst men like these that a new pope will be chosen. The idea of a woman for pope makes more sense, and grows more urgent every day with news like this.


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