28 replies

  1. Gina thanks for a heartfelt and intellectually stimulating explanation of what sometimes seems to those of us who have left an inexplicable decision to remain Christian while being feminist. Your essay shows that for some of you, feelings about “home” and some positive ethical traditions concerning justice and the poor “trump” feminist concerns about sexism within the traditions. I respect what you have said here, and would add that it echoes things Judith Plaskow says about her decision to stay in the Jewish tradition.

    That said, it is important to note that not all “families” have had positive experiences of Catholicism–some children were abused by priests, some women were told to go back to abusive husbands because divorce is a sin, and some women had children they could not afford or care for because they believed the church when it told them that birth control and abortion are sin.

    In my own family, one of my aunts was excommunicated by her priest when she confessed that as a mother of 4 she was using birth control on her doctor’s advice after her husband’s serious heart attack. As my uncle later told me, this “broke her heart.” My father’s sister was either excommunicated or told she would not be welcome in church because she and her husband did not contribute as “requested” of all parishoners by their priest to a church building fund.

    In my own case with the church of my family from age 10 to adulthood, which was Presbyterian, my sense of “belonging” was tempered by the fact that the “original” families in the church, including their daughters, felt superior to the new-comers in town, especially those who like my family, lived on “the wrong side” of the tracks (in less expensive new build tract homes) and went to the “other” school. I did feel I “belonged to God” but I never felt I really “belonged” in the church community.

    It all goes to show you how different our experiences are–even among white Christian women or white Catholic women.

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  2. On the question of whether or not you messed up in giving your daughter the impression that Jesus was a girl, I would say, no way. The church and her teacher messed up, not you. I would continue to tell her that God is our mother and father, that the Spirit is in girls and boys and in all living things, and that the spirit of Jesus is not male or female, therefore it is not wrong to think of Jesus as a girl some of the time. Our holy mother would not wish for anything less. You also might do an intenet search with her and find the Orthodox image of Mary sitting on the lap of her Mother Anna. Let me know if you want me to buy one for both of you in Crete.

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    • Carol, I cried when I read your comments here. First, thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am so sad to hear about the treatment of your family and wish I could say I have never witnessed or experiences something like this. But to be honest, my family was treated very poorly following my parents divorce and that was very damaging to me. At the same time, being in a community with my family is something I desperately need.

      I’ve mentioned the series Big Love before – it is a about a polygamous family and during the last season the 1st wife has a calling to the priesthood. She is going to leave her church and be baptized into a church where she can be ordained. At the last minute, she changed her mind because – in her words “if my family is not here, I am not here.” I cry as I type this – it so moved me because I totally understood it. That is exactly where I am. It is not that anything trumps my feminism, but rather that my feminism encourages me to stay and fight the good fight.

      Second, I am so touched by your willingness to send us a picture of Mary and her Mother Anna. I might totally take you up on that! I’m going to search for that image now. Thank you, Carol!

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      • It’s so heart wrenching to read about the choices we have to make. I do this work because I hope future generations of women and girls can exist in a world where we don’t have to choose between faith and family. I’m sorry that this is so hard for you. I’m sorry that it’s hard for your daughter. I am feeling for you both today. I hope that your journey brings you both grace. Blessed be.

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  3. Thanks Gina for this post, it resonates. Like Carol I grew up Presbyterian. But I happened to meet a Sister of Charity, when I was in my 30’s, who taught a course in world religions at St. John’s University and she took me into the Church via an openness to all paths that has stayed with me. It was she who chose, with my approval, the Buddhist holiday of the Enlightenment of the Buddha as the day I would become a Catholic, and she made that clear, during the ceremony, that we were celebrating both. Combine that with the fact that I respect Zen too much, am deeply fascinated by the Hymn to Demeter as a religious path, and am secretly married to the Tao Te Ching, so that I can no longer say I am Catholic. What my Sister of Charity friend bequeathed to me, like a mother, was that incredible openness to all world religions, because, though she loved her faith, that was her real commitment too.

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  4. I understand perfectly Gina! There is a lot of good in RC-ism, along with the frustrating, painful stuff. It’s the good things that make the tradition a part of my life – tho I exempt myself from suffering through some of the more troublesome ritual and have no hesitation in following my conscience before some hierarch’s opinion. That’s also a part of our Tradition, tho not often publicized! Remember desert mothers and fathers, and monasticism, before it became domesticated, and Vat. Council 2. Such is life, diamonds buried in the horse manure.

    I think Sarah is fortunate to be chosen by such a thoughtful and loving mom.

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  5. I completely understand where you are coming from when you say, “going to Catholic mass feels like going home.” I attended the Episcopal Church until I was 46 and I always chose those churches that we referred to as “high” churches. Those that included all the ceremony of old that I also experienced when visiting Catholic churches. It was why I kept going all those years. While I was never a Christian (could easily translate into my own beliefs), I was for the early part of my life a “wanna be” and loved the services so much that I did everything the Church required for baptism and confirmation … hoping perhaps for some divine intervention … but the “call” to something else was eventually heard. I know that if I stepped into that environment today I would still feel what I felt then. One day because of people like you, the Catholic Church will come into the present and relax those things that cause its members to leave..

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  6. Thanks, Gina. No easy answers here and you capture the dilemma well. I forwarded this to someone who asked me today about First Communion. I had written something for her about how we handled it but I sent yours on as another very useful view. Best, MEH

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  7. Julian of Norwich spoke of Jesus as Mother

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  8. I was a terrible Catholic. Much to my family’s disappointment I was not confirmed. As a Pagan, it has been hard to be so different from the rest of my tribe. The Irish are especially attatched to Catholocism, and my family is genuinely hurt that I left the church. It would have been so much easier to stay. In the end I’m happy with my choices. I also understand the desire to change the system from within. My husband works for a Sisters of Charity hospital. They do amazing work in our community. I wish that I felt like there was a place for my voice in the faith of my family. I spent too much of my childhood being silenced to have any illusions about that possibility. I gave a sermon this summer at my church about the divinity of Mary. My family came to hear me preach. I was terrified. After they left a friend approached to congratulate me and we had a chuckle about how uncomfortable they all looked. But it hurts to be the odd duck. It is sad that my grandmother is disappointed in me rather than being proud that I am strong. I don’t want my sons to think women are inferior. So I teach reproductive justice classes and I get my support from other women who fight this fight with me. But I will never have it from my Catholic family, and that is a shame. Blessed be.

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  9. As long as you don’t become a gun totin’ Republican carrying around anti-choice posters and picketing at local Ohio Universities alongside pro-life groups, you can do no wrong in my mind.

    We have to live our lives the way we see fit and live in accordance with what our souls dictate to us and more importantly in your case, what is BEST for your daughter!

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  10. Dear Gina, thank you for your post and taking the ‘risk’ of opening up this complex area. I don’t have children and have thought long and hard about the choices my sister and brothers take in raising their families in the cultures in which they live. There are so many questions and influences that are not life-enhancing and can create confusion and uncertainty. You are giving Sarah a home that is open to possibilities and perspectives other than those taught institutionally as well as welcoming the work for justice within the tradition. You are also giving her an experience of community and belonging that will shape her as it has shaped you. And you are giving her a place in which she can talk about what matters to her, knowing that she doesn’t have to ‘toe any line’ but can explore. These are beautiful things.
    May you find the resources you need in finding out how to talk with her as she grows, may you find the strength to hang on to the benefits while working against the rubbish and may you be blessed in following the intuitions that make you marvellous
    Peace to you
    Margaret

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  11. Thank you for sharing your stories. As you point out, a woman who identifies as a Catholic feminist tends to get it from both sides. I’m not sure which is harder to take: the traditional Catholics who wonder why I don’t go be a Protestant already, or the post-Christian/Catholic feminists who wonder why I haven’t progressed far enough in my feminism to throw off the shackles of the church.

    So, I am grateful for your voice. Thank you, and best wishes to you and your daughter.

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  12. Gina, you will hear no criticism from my corner. We don’t stop working because the businesses pay men more than women. We work and we keep on going. We don’t stop yearning for a religious connection because the perfect religion doesn’t exist. We find one that works for us, and we keep on going. I have no doubt at all that your daughter will grow to become a strong, independent woman, helping to form the next generation of religious observance. Because of you, she will have insights that most of us didn’t get until much later. My blessings to you.

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  13. As a lesbian, I regard the catholic church as a brutal enemy to women, the priesthood a menace to freedom loving women everywhere, but, the naive will continue to support the enemy, and be colonized and conned by it. And why is this? Because hetero women were raised in this environment— the gravitational pull of the oppressors just can’t be broken. And there are so many other churches where women are priests, but no, yet another generation of women will subject their lesbian daughters to this. Yikes, and I know there will be those will say, “Well wait a minute, how do you know the daughter is a lesbian?” And I will say, because I don’t use default to identify daughters as heterosexual…. Oh, I am glad the goddess made me a lesbian and free of all of this.

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  14. I’m beginning to think that the true feminist sounding neo-cons are alive and well and teaching at catholic colleges. We are truly in a conservative backward age yet again. The grandmas being more radical than the daughters… I thought Mary Daly laid all this to rest decades ago, but I guess not.

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    • Hello Turtle Woman.
      I am sorry that you find yourself content to use this site in such a negatively critical way. Your words and your tone are unhelpful and wounding. This site is open to different perspectives and to challenges from those perspectives – your insights are welcome but that you feel you can be personally critical concerns me. For very good reasons you have chosen a different life pattern and have found resources within it. In that you can rejoice and we can rejoice for and with you but it is not a reason for you to condemn others. Please consider the impact of your post. Thank you.

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  15. Yes, my catholic brother who married a protestant foreign woman says I should be ANGLICAN but (I agree with you) changes come from the inside. Pope François can be a feminist :) NEVER GIVE UP!

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