What Does Exclusivism Feel Like? Part II by Janice Poss

This is part two of a post started yesterday. At the end of it I asked why a woman cannot be a follower of St. Ignatius and a Jesuit.

The days of separating religious communities because rape is a possibility should be behind us–as we all know separating the sexes does not prevent rape anyway.  Let’s get real, if I can understand the Ignatian exercises, use them in discernment, prayer, and reflection, understand the concepts and gain the graces, through doing them in a similar fashion as male Jesuits, what’s the big mystery, what’s keeping me out of the Jesuits–except that that it is a male club that is exclusive.  Exclusion of any kind is oppressive, whether it is for racist, sexist, or other reasons.

Communities based on separation and exclusion because of sexual temptation ignore the simple fact that all people need to be responsible for their own actions.  Male religious in exclusivist communities are like the Iowa  dentist who fired his assistant because she was “too” good looking.  He said could not control his own urges, his own temptations.  An all-male court was unanimous in upholding his right to fire his assistant of more than 10 years. Is not an all male court a biased court? The woman in question certainly did not get a decision rendered by her peers!

That such a trial could even take place is an aberration of colossal proportions and reeks of the male, misogynist, supremacist backlash that is going in society right now in America and everywhere.  This backlash is once again putting the burden of sexual urges that men cannot control on the “evil” Eve.  Let’s not call a male-not-wanting-to-be-responsible “innocent.”  Let’s name his lack-of-taking-responsibility-for-himself.

The press reported that the dentist’s wife told her husband to fire his assistant.  If the dentist took responsibility for his own thoughts and urges and controlled them, this situation would not have arisen in the first place.  How can we in education and ministry work with women and men to stop the unjust treatment of women in situations like this one?

Let’s return to philosophy, and flip it on its ear.  If male philosophers are operating from a hierarchal postion, “but[if] it is no longer assumed that the agent of knowledge occupies a distinctive position in the hierarchy of beings which constitutes the universe,”* then let’s try for a moment to think what it means when no hierarchy exists in philosophical discussions.  What if no one has the upper hand and all share equally in the discussion? How do we erase gender and other privileges? How can we arrive at the answers that will change the system?  How do we persuade those who are so invested and entrenched in the current system  that it seems to impossible to persuade them to change?

Let’s take Buber’s I-Thou, I-It paradigm one step further. What about  I-Thou, Thou-I or I-It, It-I.  Is not a relationship a process of  give and take, back and forth?  The dance between the self and other includes coming together and yet remaining unique, while at the same time being forever changed in the encounter.  If we are doing our job in philosophy, then we need to break the hermeneutic circle and open it beyond the confines of an ever-repeating circle that goes nowhere, but keeps doubling back on itself, never evolving, never progressing, never open to learning anything more.

Katy Perry’s song “Wide Awake” suggests that closed circles can be broken. Perry punches out Prince Charming and flattens a myth to the ground. She refuses to play the role of a fragile princess.  She has awakened from the dream that has been told to so many little girls:  that a girl is like Cinderella awaiting Prince Charming to rescue her from her fear of being alone.  Perry tells every girl that she is already awake, no longer half asleep in the dreamlike state of delusional romance.   She is her own person and can find her own way, knowing that a real Other will either be there or not, and either way, she is OK.

*Seán Hand, The Lévinas Reader, Blackwell Publishing, Maiden, MA 1989, p.60

Janice Poss is a Ph.D. student at Claremont Graduate University in Religion and Women’s Studies, holds MA.Th. from Loyola Marymount University and BA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and sits on the parish council at her church.  Her whose interests are in theological, philosophical and spiritual aspects of religion as they are expressed aesthetically in the visual arts.

Categories: Abuse of Power, Academy, General, Herstory, Women in the Church

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4 replies

    by Fr. John Padberg S.J.
    In 1554, Juana d’Austria, a princess of the Spanish branch of the house of Hapsburg, became a Jesuit. The story is not very well known.

    Previously, in 1545, Pope Paul III had directed Ignatius to accept Isabel Roser and three companions as members of something like a women’s branch of the Society of Jesus, but that experiment did not last.

    Then, almost 10 years later, enter Juana. Born in 1535, at 17 she had married the heir to the Portuguese throne. However, her husband died two years later and Juana returned to Spain.

    Young, beautiful and aware of her position and power, she was also endowed with a talent for ruling. While her brother, Philip II of Spain, was in England as husband of Mary Tudor, he made Juana Spain’s regent.

    But Juana had an additional ambition, to become a Jesuit. Telling none of her family, she informed a Spanish grandee and early Jesuit, Francis Borgia, that she wanted to join the Society.

    The idea was heaped with danger. Her father, the Emperor Charles V, and her brother, Phillip, would be furious at her and the Jesuits. Such a decision could wreck future dynastic marriage plans for Juana.

    The Society, still new and in some parts of Spain strongly opposed, could not afford to alienate Juana; It depended on her good favour for its continued existence in Spain.

    So perilous was the project that surviving Jesuit correspondence does not use her real name but the pseudonyms Mateo Sanchez or Montoya. In a quandary, Ignatius appointed a committee to advise him. It recommended that Juana enter the society as a permanent scholastic, truly a Jesuit but still in formation. Otherwise, with solemn vows, she would in canon and civil law be ‘dead’: dispossessed of everything and incapable of marrying again. But with the terminable vows of Jesuit scholastics, she could separate from the Society if necessary.

    When Juana pronounced her three religious vows as a Jesuit, absolute secrecy was enjoined on everyone. She could make no obvious change in her manner of life. For her, poverty meant living a rather austere life in her already simple court. Chastity meant refusing offers of marriage. And obedience? Well, her letters show her sometimes trying to give orders to Ignatius and Borgia.

    The secret was so well-kept that no-one ever suspected it. As far as is known today, she lived the rest of her rather short life (she died in 1573) as the only woman Jesuit. – Fr. John Padberg S.J.

    ANNALS Australia, August 1999.



    • Carol, Thank you for putting this story out there as it needs to be told. I was aware of the attempts
      by women during Ignatius’ time that somehow did not sustain themselves, but there is not much information out there.
      As always secrecy and deception are at foot when it comes to stories like these, about brave women who have followed their calls to what and who they discern deeply to be and desire as Ignatius wanted for his followers, yet as usual the imbalance of true desires seems to have been reserved for men. Empowerment comes when we do the digging required to expose truths about women and who they were despite obvious norms that held most in check.


  2. “what’s the big mystery, what’s keeping me out of the Jesuits–except that that it is a male club that is exclusive. Exclusion of any kind is oppressive, whether it is for racist, sexist, or other reasons.” Good questions for our new Jesuit Pope. He can be done with the last systemic vestige of apartheid in the Catholic church just as he is tamping down the gaudy opulence of the papacy. http://freecatholic808.com/2013/04/01/passover-seder-to-easter-letting-go-of-odious-orthodoxy/


    • Exclusion IS EXCLUSION no matter who or what system perpetrates it! Yes, perhaps Francis I will be the one to bring an end to this in some way in the Vatican hierarchy with his experience, exposure to a more diverse part of our Church and his own multi-cultural Latin/Hispanic background . Thanks, Dawn


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