Open Letter to the Pope and all the King’s Men by Natalie Weaver


Dear Sirs,

It breaks me down.  My anger, my revulsion, my powerlessness.   I have been searching for the way since I was a child old enough to remember my mind.  For a time, I thought Jesus was a white guy knocking on my door after having seen a religious pamphlet placed under our windshield wiper.  I’m not sure he has blond hair anymore, but I still feel him knocking.  I have been in love with him for as long as I have been a self, so much so that I baptized myself as a little girl.

Somewhere along the way, I figured my little, lonely way wasn’t good enough, and I wanted a church home.  I finished a doctoral dissertation trying to find some place I could hang my hat.  I picked the Roman Catholic Church, despite what I knew of it and what I had to defend about its patriarchy and history to family and friends.  I loved the conversation, the so-called “Catholic Intellectual Tradition.”  I always felt myself to be a covert, a conversa, a definitive outsider, and someone not to be trusted entirely as a cradle Catholic might be trusted, yet I tried to be family. I’ve been bringing up my kids in the Church, volunteering, working in Catholic education, paying the boys’ tuition.  I do work-arounds, making excuses for the exclusion of women, defying the Church’s stance on sexuality with a critical repertoire of cross-disciplinary scholarship.  Lord, I even had to help my Seventh-Day Adventist mom with a hostile annulment process that was dropped on her unsuspecting by a horrendously insensitive marriage tribunal.  It wounded us all. Yet, here I have sat, until this.

I do not believe you can or should put it back together again.  I would respect you more if you did not even try.  You see, I have been reading the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report with my own two eyes.  It reads worse than those Hollywood movies from the 80s, which I used to decry, that tried to shock by juxtaposing Catholic images/places/people/symbols with the devil-worshipping occult.  I would like you to know, I have been reading the report aloud to my kids.  I want them to understand the limits of your authority.  I want them to question what you say.  I don’t trust you, and I don’t want them to trust you either.  Earn respect or don’t expect it.  Warrant trust or trust you do not warrant it.

I have read many statements from various priests and bishops, responding to the “crisis.”  These all act as though some bad thing has occurred that they weren’t anticipating, such as a really nasty bridge-collapse or a virulent bird flu epidemic.  There is a much-protesting message of hierarchical disgust flying around.  To me it sounds, “Oh my, oh dear (picture a fan daintily waving in hands of the almost-fainting leadership), this is just awful! We’re going to get to the bottom of this.  And, by golly, those rotters who cast a bad light on Holy Mother Church!  They should be ashamed.  Oh goodness, huddle close, children.  We have to pray for those poor victims.  And, even more, we have to pray for the Church, the Light of the World” (by which it is unclear whether that means the 1.2 billion people who comprise the universal flock or the King’s Men, caught with their pants down.)  There is some accountability and also some measure of kicking around blame as well.  Some are calling for panels, study groups, more grand jury investigations, and resignations.  Some are calling out the highest ranks of leadership, even the Vicar of Jesus Christ himself, that is, the Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, the one, the only, the Servant of the servants of God.  I read the report implicating Pope Francis as well, much to my chagrin.

But, I tell you what… I don’t believe the righteous indignation in the priests’ and bishops’ responses or even in the pope’s sudden reticence.  As a grown-up #metoo-er, I see the light.  And, the light of the world is not to be found in the closeted shelter of conclaves, gentlemen’s clubs, and men’s locker rooms.  Don’t you see?  Don’t you get it yet?  Don’t you understand what the problem is?

I can’t believe you don’t get it yet.  You’re smart fellows.  You’re at the tops of the ladders.  You are educated, empowered, insured, fed, and housed. You know the problem is not really the suppressed homosexuality of a few gay priests or even a lot of gay priests.  You know the problem is not the pedophilia of some misguided souls.  You know the problem is not the challenge of celibacy and a supposed uncontrollable need for sex, which a married priesthood would solve.  The problem is not (Oh Lord, I’m even going to say this), merely the general exclusion of women from the priesthood.  You Holy Men in Power, you know what the problem is. It is your power, and you are never, ever going to relinquish it.  What is more, that power is deeply, perversely sexed and gendered.  You have ill-relationships to the body, informed by power and greed, and that distorts every potential for wholesome relationship between selves and among creatures. Could such a stronghold of power ever sincerely seek for faith to make the flock well, so well that we indeed would be well enough to go, whole, freely, in peace?

I do believe that I speak with a host of angels cheering me on when I dare say that Jesus of Nazareth, the man recorded in the gospels, did not envision any kind of Church that at any point in its historical timeline would search and destroy witches, endorse enslavement for monarchical gain, or cover up the modern-day holocaust of souls made possible by a persistent culture of sexual predation.  He was a servant, unto death itself.  He didn’t force a doctrine.  He didn’t even set up some doctrine. He forgave and set people free of the things that bound them, beseeching only two things: that they love God and one another.

Indeed, it is true that anywhere there are vulnerable people, there will be advantage-taken.  Parents to children; teachers to students; coaches to athletes.  It is not you alone, Catholic priests and bishops.  But, my God, you were called to better when you put on that cloth and allowed someone to call you, ”Father.”  When you asked for the confession from a bunch of eight-year-old kids and told the parents that the kids’ confessions are exclusively between themselves and the priest, you lost the privilege of screwing up that badly.

How could this happen, you ask, we ask? It is so entirely simple.  It is isn’t really screwing up, is it?  Part of the institution, part of the process itself, part of the structural norm is the huge, impenetrable imbalance of power that allows for insidious corruption.  The huge gulf, even after Vatican II, between the hierarchy and the rest of us, is the seedbed of fear, shame, voicelessness, and spiritual disparity that keeps sheep under the hierarchy.  It is that institutional power differential that keeps wives under thumbs, children stunned and silenced, black kids dodging police cars, and gays fearing for the next piece of legislation.  You cannot fix child abuse and its coverup without addressing the source of the problem.  You cannot fix the problem by an exercise of power but by power’s abdication.

What would you have me say to my children?  What responsible survivor of her own childhood trauma can be welcome in your home?  Am I too woman, too sinful, too much a mother, too sensitive to pray inside the halls and walls of kings in satin hats, dressing gowns, and fancy kicks (red or white)?  I was trapped in my psychology professor’s office once, and I have real trouble in my family.  I can’t pay all my bills, and I clean my own house.  I’m trying to love people, really hard, clumsily, but with all my might.  I am not sure which one of us is broken, but I know I have absolutely no confidence in your king’s men’s capacity for repair.  I do know, we’re all struggling, and y’all are still up there dodging bullets and calling shots.  Maybe I’m not your kind of Christian after all.

If you disagree, Servant of servants, give me a call.

P.S. This is a love letter, in case you missed it.

 

Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D.is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books includeMarriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013)Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014).  Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin.  Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology.  Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan.  For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.

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Categories: abuse, Abuse of Power, Belief, Breaking News, Catholic Church, Catholicism, Children, Christianity, Church Doctrine, Community, Consent, Faith, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, power, Power relations

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20 replies

  1. Natalie, what a powerful and gutsy post! Yes, you said it: But, my God, you were called to better when you put on that cloth and allowed someone to call you, ”Father.” When you asked for the confession from a bunch of eight-year-old kids and told the parents that the kids’ confessions are exclusively between themselves and the priest, you lost the privilege of screwing up that badly.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Couldn’t agree more. As a cradle Catholic I’ve had a difficult relationship with the institutions of the Church. After the most recent changes to the Liturgy I found the whole experience of going to Mass exhausting and oppressive, and on the principal that if it doesn’t give you life stop doing it, I stopped going. The child abuse issue, and the abuse of women in Ireland enraged me, and the lack of urgency in dealing with violence against women and girls compounded that rage, yet I hoped for change, instead denial and cover ups continued working against the teachings of Jesus and the learned teaching of the church. It’s a huge loss to me, and one I’ve grieved continuously, but I’m at peace with my decision. The only way to overcome this is to break down the institution and remove its power over us.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Aho! As a (former) Catholic in love with Jesus as well, your post makes me equal parts sad and angry. Well said. I recently had someone I respect tell me that Hitler was not a bad guy, but that power corrupts. Seriously, that is what he said. Horse poop. True power – the power to align yourself with Divine Will and follow your unique path Inspired (with Spirit) and With Love – Does. Not. Corrupt.

    It is time for a change. Truly.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Natalie, for voicing so powerfully what many of us are feeling.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Honestly, I just don’t get it. How is it that smart, powerful women are so complicit in preserving and bolstering the foul institutions that harm us all, prey on the weak, and encourage and enable hatred of the “other”? I have a VERY few Catholic (and conservative) women friends and they are exhausting themselves with tortured apologia. Truly, truly….I just don’t get it.

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  6. Thank you Natalie – Very well said …

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  7. Jesus of Nazareth, the human being we glimpse in the gospels, who said that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters we do to him, has suffered and continues to suffer infinitely more torture at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church and other churches than he did at the hands of a Roman governor. Thank you, Natalie, for your outraged love.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. A comprehensive and courageous write BUT I have never and still don’t understand how you and others remain attached to the Roman Catholic Church , its history, its power and its huge big-business structure .
    Unfortunately, it seems the only way to make change in this institution is to impact through the bottom line. Detaching from this church financially by all those in distress over it’s sanctioning of such inhuman and vile behaviors, may get their attention.

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  9. FOR SURE! What we’re looking at here is two thousand years of unchallenged, white, male power. Yes, the Roman Catholic Church sponsored a lot of great art and architecture, but does that make up for inquisitions, unholy wars, and genocides (like in South America)? Maybe Jan (above) is correct: maybe sanctioning inhuman and vile behaviors by detaching the church (and the cardinals) from their wealth is an answer.

    How many of us remember the 2008 film Doubt starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and others? The most telling scenes–telling about white male power–are the dinners the nuns and priests eat. The nuns are eating gristle and drinking water; the priests are eating fine roast beef and drinking fine wine.

    As it has operated for 2,000 years, the church has seemed to be totally unaware of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes–“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” Instead they worship–and inflict–torture. It seems to me that the Sermon on the Mount is the essence of Jesus’ teachings.

    Thanks for the post. Natalie, you’re a brave Catholic woman. Brava!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The other important fact that’s lost to patriarchy is that Jesus first revealed himself to the woman at the well. Women were a strong feature of the early community and this was lost when Constantine took it over and made it into something other than Jesus taught.

      The energy many put into staying within Christian institutions (and all traditions have a problem with child abuse) is because church is a community with emotional, spiritual and practical attachments. I stayed believing the only way change happens is from within, but I have limited energy and had to decide to stop hitting my head off a wall. My spiritual director is a Sacred Heart nun who listened to me without
      judgement or any attempt to pull me back into the fold. Her wisdom and understanding were fundamental to my decision and gave me the confidence to follow my heart. People are what keep us belonging; it’s not foolishness, it’s an expression of hope. For me hope in the institutions changing is no longer there; I respect those for whom hope still remains.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. You “spoke my mind” so well, Natalie. I cringe every time someone blames this atrocity on the offender’s sexuality instead of naming the root of power run amuck. A friend once remarked: “I wonder what Christianity would be like if Jesus hadn’t died so young? What if he had 30 instead of 3 years to teach and lead his disciples”. Would Catholics today be saying: “I follow the Pope” instead of declaring ourselves followers of Jesus? Would laws from the hierarchy be better known and practiced than the teaching of Jesus? Who knows? Those in power tend to kill prophets, past and present. But I think things got off track very early as patriarchy led to power and Constantine led to an organization established firmly in that power.
    That institution has been dying for quite a while. Small house churches have been organically forming. Reform comes not in Vatican Council 3, but in the yeast of the Gospel becoming leaven in the dough of our lives.

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  11. I hesitated to enter the conversation because I have developed a bias against any christian religion, as a result of my life experience ESPECIALLY one that privileges men over women and provides no powerful goddess image. Mary, may be the sorrowful mother BUT women need other female ‘divine’ images to flesh out the complexity of the women we are…Mary is a mother without power… what she does well is to endure -much like Celie in The Color Purple- but enduring suffering is not enough. Celie eventually took back her power, but Mary? Well, she mostly disappears….

    I am SO SICK of the destructive system of Patriarchy in any of its manifestations – one of which includes the catholic church. We wonder why we have Trump for a President when we choose Patriarchy over and over again…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you so much Natalie for your words to God and to the church blinded by its patriarchal power. Why do ANY women stay? I ask myself too, recognizing the power-hungry men and women I’ve observed over the years in my church and society. Yet, countless loving men and women in my birth and church families inducted me into the never-easy LOVE undergirding our faith tradition. When I was hurt, scared, and confused, my prayer life and key Catholic people repeatedly helped me recapture joy and soul-power. I see them as a communion of saints, living and dead. I’ve rejected “obligations” that seemed contradictory to LOVE, rolled my eyes at silly liturgical changes. Yet, since the 60s I’ve witnessed true change toward social justice, and been part of a family that, through love, walked proudly with our LBGTQ members and friends. We understood FEAR alone kept others from doing so. Jesus told us countless times Be Not Afraid. So I stay to speak truthfully with children to whom I teach Bible stories as folk/archetypal tales from ancient (anti-woman) times. Stories teach us how TO and NOT TO act. Jesus came to show us a startling new and radical way, promising divine forgiveness when we ask and walking with us through every inner pain and fear. Every level of “leadership” world wide is now stained by corruption. I stay to do my personal and collective part to bring change and healing. And I admire those who have said, ENOUGH. I count bold women priests among my closest friends. I promote interfaith community storytelling events. I appreciate the question. I stay saying “the serenity prayer” asking for help to change what I can, rather than walk away.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. yeah i am so glad that the baptist church kicked me out at 17 because i asked too many rude questions. praise be to the Mother and all her avatars who have become my true teachers!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The Abrahamic faiths tend to see woman as second class citizens, or inferiors/”helpmeets” to men. I am thankful I was not raised in any of them.

    Like

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