A Woman Leads: Church and Politics 2016 by Dawn Morais Webster

Dawn Morais Webster, the Pope off to his summer palace, Castel Gandolfo. He tells the world he will now become just a “humble pilgrim.”There is no shortage of men in power. No shortage of men who are ready to issue warnings and threaten punishment for straying from the party line. No shortage of men ready to hold forth in front of cameras. And yet, and yet….It took a woman with a lot of guts, a lawyer, and a person of faith to champion healthcare for all. It took a woman to criss-cross the country, standing in solidarity with those in need, ministering to those with “broken hearts” who stand on the margins.

There was no shortage of men with institutional power and access to the pulpit, but it took a woman to speak publicly about supporting the President as he worked in the face of Republican obstructionism to make the Affordable Healthcare Act a reality for millions who had no coverage. And once again in this the craziest of elections, it has taken a woman to stand with other faith leaders to call for a Moral Agenda.

Leadership_Header_Groundswell_BF copy

Clockwise from top left: Rev. Dr. William Barber II, Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Sr. Simone Campbell, and Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon. Pix: Groundswell

While the bishops remain silent and M.I.A., it is Sr. Simone Campbell who has stepped up once again to  be the Catholic voice of conscience for the nation. She has joined Rev. Dr. William Barber II, Rev. Dr. James Forbes and Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon to:

declare that the deepest public concerns of our nation and faith traditions are how our society treats the poor, those on the margins, the least of these, women, children, workers, immigrants and the sick; equality and representation under the law; and the desire for peace, love and harmony within and among nations.

Together, we lift up and defend the most sacred moral principles of our faith and constitutional values, which are: the economic liberation of all people; ensuring every child receives access to quality education; healthcare access for all; criminal justice reform; and ensuring historically marginalized communities have equal protection under the law.

Was no Catholic bishop interested in lending his voice to this call?

The Catholic bishops’ guide to “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” reads like a missive from another planet. Top of the list of what should guide our consciences is still management of the woman’s womb.

In the challenge to “advance a moral agenda” by the four faith leaders, there is a strong, clear call for social justice in all its multi-faceted complexity.  By contrast, the bishops’ document offers more of the disconnected bureaucratese lay Catholics have grown weary of hearing.  It’s not that the bishops don’t talk about refugees or the need for peace or economic justice. They do. But there is no mistaking their top priorities or how they intend to steer voters.

Their tepid little election guide opens with these top three concerns:

-The ongoing destruction of over one million innocent human lives each year to abortion.

-Physician-assisted suicide

-The re-definition of marriage

And the bishops’ election guide closes by telling Catholics to “ask candidates how they intend to help the nation pursue these important goals:

-Address the preeminent requirement to protect the weakest in our midst–innocent unborn children–by restricting and bringing to an end the destruction of unborn children through abortion…..

-Protect the fundamental understanding of marriage as the lifelong and faithful union of one man and one woman….promote the complementarity of the sexes and reject false “gender” ideologies….”

The bishops apparently did not hear what everyone else did in recent weeks: the sound of integrity and principle being flushed down the toilet as one GOP leader after another pledged loyalty to their racist, misogynist, xenophobic nominee and the party. Many of those ‘leaders” are proudly Catholic. The bishops, by their silence, stand with them.

Most Catholics, I would guess, stand with Sr. Simone Campbell. Fallen away Catholics certainly do and they are the second largest, and possibly the largest “denomination” in the US. Their numbers keep growing as the bishops once again mistakenly take the people in the pews to be deaf, blind and incapable of being guided by their own conscience. If there were lessons in the dereliction of duty relating to the sex abuse crisis and the lives that were ruined by the absence of principled leadership, they appear to be lessons not entirely embraced by the bishops who still operate in their own insulated orbit of diminishing power and influence.

If you would like to add your name to the Groundswell campaign:  https://action.groundswell-mvmt.org/petitions/will-you-advance-a-moral-agenda


Dawn Morais Webster was born in Kerala. She is the mother of two young adults, and wife of a man with Quaker and Episcopalian roots. She was raised Catholic in largely Muslim, cosmopolitan Malaysia and had her schooling with Franciscan nuns who remain an inspiration. Her blog at http://freecatholic808 is a small voice–but she believes she is part of a much larger community of faith-filled dissenters. Hawaii has been her home for more than a decade. The islands’ mindfulness of its past and the wisdom of those who have gone before, as well as its attention to place and people, help the soul to sing.

13 thoughts on “A Woman Leads: Church and Politics 2016 by Dawn Morais Webster”

    1. Yes–The women are leading the church, Carol. The men just seem to need more studies by the Vatican before they can recognize what is before them. The leadership of people like Sr. Simone keeps me Catholic–and hopeful. Dawn


  1. A report released last year by the Pew Forum found that the total number of Catholics in the United States has dropped by 3 million since 2007. There are so many issues people have with the church. And as long as the Church refuses to ordain women, I think that number will continue to increase dramatically.

    I am now a Taoist. I follow the way of nature, that is, the way nature does things, and I love it. Like nature, Tao is often referred to as the Great Mother. The primary text for learning the philosophy of Taoism is called the Tao Te Ching. The Taoist author, Kari Hohne, says, simply and wonderfully:

    “Taoism evolved as a study of natural processes, and how human beings can return to a more natural way of being in the world. One blends into the seamless unity of life, without losing the sense of self.”


  2. To paraphrase old-time comedian Henny Youngman, “Take the Catholic bishops…please.” What good are these old men in skirts? What good do they do?


    1. Love it! But the bishops still wield too much power and control too much money. They are shameless. So, I keep at them in hopes of whittling away at both, and creating space for other more authentic voices–like so many great women religious. Thanks for reading, Barbara. aloha, Dawn


  3. On being guided by one’s own conscience, ironically that’s something that should always be encouraged, because the more you use it the better your understanding of compassion becomes, as well as the process of good decision making.


  4. In my faith tradition, the leaders opted to stay silent during the health care debate because the people who benefit the most from the broken system (doctors, big pharma, insurance company) were the biggest contributors to their religious, tax-deductible institutions. They kept quiet and remained on the fence until it was clear who the ‘winner’ would be in the debate, THEN they jumped on the bandwagon.
    When it comes to politics and organized religion, follow the money. It explains a lot of their behavior.


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