Honoring St. Mary of Magdala by Gina Messina

Gina Messina-Dysert profileWhile I am joining the conversation a bit late, I find it necessary to comment on the significance of the “upgrading” of the celebration of  St. Mary of Magdala to a feast – on par with the male apostles.  While such a day that honors her is quite overdue, I am grateful to Pope Francis for acknowledging this incredible woman and her leadership in the Christian movement.

As we know from the Gospels, it was Mary Magdalene who stood at the foot of the cross with Mary the mother of Jesus, during his crucifixion.  When the male apostles ran in fear – and rightfully so – Mary of Magdala stood with Jesus refusing to disavow him and was a face of love for him to see during his darkest moment.

It was Mary of Magdala who was the first witness of Christ’s resurrection.  The very first Easter began with her and she was commissioned by Jesus to go and share the good news – to tell the other apostles – and that is why she is known as the apostle to the apostles. Continue reading “Honoring St. Mary of Magdala by Gina Messina”

Nobody’s Disciple by Maeve Rhuad aka the Celtic Magdalen via Elizabeth Cunningham

Elizabeth Cunningham headshot jpegSince beginning her posts for FAR four years ago, Elizabeth has featured an excerpt from my chronicles each July in honor of my feast day on the 22nd.  At least I thought it was my Feast day. It has been brought to our attention that Pope Francis only recently elevated the 22nd to the status of a Feast. Before that, it was merely a Memorial of me as a saint, whether optional or obligatory I am not sure.  The only thing more elevated than a Feast day is a Solemnity.  (Needless to say my mother-in-law, aka the Blessed Virgin Mary, has one of those.)

You may not know me as Maeve, the Celtic Magdalen. Mary Magdalen, who she was (or is) should or could have been is a highly charged subject. Not very much is known about me, really, which is why  legends, novels, and films abound. I’m a storied woman, to borrow Natalie Weaver’s term. There are fourteen references to me in the Gospels. I am associated with the non-canonical Gospel of Mary (I believe the credit for that should go to Mary of Bethany whom many people conflate with me). Pope Gregory is largely responsible for my lugubrious image as a penitent prostitute. Continue reading “Nobody’s Disciple by Maeve Rhuad aka the Celtic Magdalen via Elizabeth Cunningham”

Moving Away from Normative Maternal Roles in the Catholic Church by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

FreyhaufEarlier this week, social media was all abuzz about the Pope’s investigation into restoring women to the diaconate. In the complete transcript of the Pope’s comments,  the traditional notion of women’s maternal role in the church is mentioned in relation to the Church.  Certainly this is nothing new.  Here the Pope describes important “maternal” work such as working with the marginalized, catechesis, and caring for the sick – once again, nothing new.

However, in the next sentence, a very subtle shift is seen when it comes to normative gender roles:

…. there are men who do the same [work as consecrated women], and it is good…..and this is important.

What does this mean – a change in language?  a laying of groundwork? or nothing at all?


It is no secret that cultural constructs of women as maternal and how a mother is defined as or even does has radically changed in today’s society; but, the Church continues to remain steadfast in normative roles between the priesthood and the “motherhood” of the Church (and therefore “motherhood” in general).

Continue reading “Moving Away from Normative Maternal Roles in the Catholic Church by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

The Pope Punts and Catholics Vote with Their Feet by Carol P. Christ

Reading the receCarol Molivos by Andrea Sarris 1ntly released papal letter “The Joy of Love,” I was surprised to see that it opens a “new” discussion of marriage and the family with a very old patriarchal trope from Psalm 128:

Blessed is every one who fears the Lord,

who walks in his ways!

You shall eat the fruit of the labour of your hands;

you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine

within your house . . . (see ch. 1, pp. 7-8)

Notwithstanding the “inclusive language” translating the male generic in Hebrew as “one,” there is no way around the fact that this psalm is addressed by a male God to men. It compares women to property owned and tended by men. Nor does it provide any opening to consider the blessings of same sex marriage. Continue reading “The Pope Punts and Catholics Vote with Their Feet by Carol P. Christ”

Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love” Falls Short by Gina Messina

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIt seems that Pope Francis has finally read Margaret Farley’s Just Love; and while he is taking steps in a positive direction, he still needs to spend time processing Farley’s words. With his new statement, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Francis has called for us to begin to change our attitudes towards “the other” but is still unwilling to change the man made rules of the Vatican.  He refuses to acknowledge that LGBTQ relationships are in fact just and maintains the idea of complementarity rejecting women’s roles and capabilities outside of the home. Continue reading “Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love” Falls Short by Gina Messina”

Pope Francis, Complementarity, and US Politics by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileA theology of complementarity, referred to by Pope Francis as an “anthropological fact,” has had  a strong influence on American politics.  According to the Vatican teaching, women and men have distinct but complementary roles, meaning that women’s value is found in the home as wife and mother and men are responsible for providing for the family.  Such a teaching is highly problematic in that it demeans women’s value and places women on the underside of dualism.

As a woman with an ongoing struggle with infertility, I find it troubling that my church sees my value as less because my womb is barren. Likewise, do women have less value if they choose a career over motherhood?  What if they choose not to marry?  There are also clear implications for single parents, LGBTQ parents, and so on.  In addition, societal norms make clear that women’s work in the home is not valued as the work of men in society.  Likewise, it is damaging to men in that it refuses to acknowledge the critical role men play in the household, in the lives of their children, and their responsibilities to be partners and co-parents.

The idea of complementarity upheld by Pope Francis greatly contributes to economic injustice for women.  The Vatican’s refusal to value women’s roles outside the home influences US social policy on women’s issues. The continued struggle to close the pay gap, implement paid parental leave, and create viable options for childcare and early childhood education are directly connected to complementarity. If women are supposed to remain in the home and be wives and mothers, then there is no need to address any of these issues. How can we possibly have women in leadership roles if they are supposed to be at home cooking dinner and caring for children? And so, when women do pursue careers the social attitude is that women do not belong. Such an idea is even more problematic for women of color who suffer a lower pay rate – $.64 on the dollar for African American women and $.54 for Latina women. Furthermore, many have have been forced to work outside of the home as a result of economic and racial injustice.  In this secular nation, Christian values dominate our political debates and perpetuate the idea that women are subordinate to men. And to be frank, these are community issues that impact men as well as women; yet they have been deemed women’s issues as a result of the manifestation of theological teachings.

As republicans focus on defunding Planned Parenthood, ending marriage equality, protecting religious freedom, and claiming issues like parental leave are not federal issues, women continue to be relegated to second class status. In a time of turmoil and multiple threats to the progression of our nation, there is greater concern for regulating women’s bodies than guns.

Pope Francis has been praised for his commitment to the poor; yet he has been unable to make the connection between poverty and the women’s issues that exist as a result of complementarity.   Likewise, the Church’s stance on reproductive justice continues to perpetuate the very issues that the pope seeks to address.  As Sr. Joan Chittister points out:

I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

No doubt, his lack of relationships with women is a major contributing factor to his ignorance when it comes to such issues – by the way, which could be easily fixed by embracing women’s ordination. And so, as Pope Francis has become an international figure deemed a savior to the people, these disconnects fuel ongoing US political debates that keep women in a marginalized position and continue a cycle of poverty and oppression.

Pope Francis has called for a “Year of Mercy” in which he has stated that if a woman confesses having an abortion, she will be forgiven.  Many have praised the pope for taking such a step towards healing; yet, I can’t help but think, “how judgmental and irresponsible.”  Without knowing a woman’s circumstance, her decision making process, her doctor’s concerns, etc., why should one be told to repent? To deny women the right to reproductive justice is to deny women the ability to make decisions about their physical, emotional, and financial health – and we see this play out in the US as a result of the influence of complementarity in our political system. So, in this “Year of Mercy,” I wonder will the Vatican confess its sins against women, LGBTQ persons, and others it has marginalized?

comingspring 2016Portions of this article are excerpts from If Jesus Ran for President coming from the Far Press in Spring, 2016.

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She writes for The Huffington Post, has authored multiple publications and is the co-editor of the highly acclaimed Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay. Messina-Dysert is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina-Dysert is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @FemTheologian, Facebook, and her website ginamessinadysert.com.

Women Missing from the Pope’s Address to US Bishops by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profilePope Francis offered many words of wisdom and discussed key issues in his address to US Bishops in Washington DC.  He acknowledged the sex abuse scandal as a crime and called for bishops to be healers.  He asked that bishops move beyond their own perspectives and be open to dialogue.  And his personal call to act as pastors to immigrants in the US is one that we should all adhere to.  However, I must ask, what about the women?

Noticeably absent from Pope Francis’ address are the many issues that are directly connected poverty and keep women suppressed in the Catholic Church. While he has addressed particular women’s issues on certain occasions, the pope’s comments have been brief and not followed with action. In addition, they do not honor the ongoing struggles women endure as a result of institutional violence that stems from Vatican teaching.

Refusing women’s ordination, denying reproductive rights, and maintaining a theology of complementarity, calling it an “anthropological fact,” continues a culture that perpetuates gender based violence; one that does not offer pastoral care. Continue reading “Women Missing from the Pope’s Address to US Bishops by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Dying For the Triune God by Esther Nelson

esther-nelsonLast week, the Catholic Studies Chair in the public university where I teach sponsored an event that brought Monsignor Kevin Irwin from The Catholic University of America; School of Theology and Religious Studies, Washington DC, into our midst.  His hour-long talk was titled, “Pope Francis’ Teaching on the Environment.”

The monsignor couched his talk in the Latin American proverb, “We drink water from our own wells.”  In other words, our life experiences (to a large extent) give us a prism through which we see the world.  We construct a “reality” from that view–a view that in turn shapes us.  Pope Francis, according to the monsignor, was shaped by the huge unemployment rate and resultant poverty that happened (and is still ongoing) in his native country–Argentina.  In addition, he saw first hand how large corporations had taken over the country, laying claim to resources not belonging to them.  Furthermore, environmental destruction has taken a heavy toll on the Amazon in Brazil–an area “beloved” to the current Pope.  These are some of the waters from the well which Pope Francis has drunk, shaping his worldview. Continue reading “Dying For the Triune God by Esther Nelson”

Francis: My Holy Conundrum by Linda Pinto

Linda PintoChicago enjoys a long history of women whose voices echo a call for dignity and equality.

Jane Addams was a pioneer American-settlement social worker, public philosopher, sociologist, author, and leader in women’s suffrage movement. In an era when presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson identified themselves as social activists, Addams outshined them as one of the most prominent reformers of the Progressive Era.

Ida Bell Wells was an African-American journalist and newspaper editor, a sociologist, and an early leader in the women’s as well as civil rights movement. Notably and disturbingly, she courageously documented lynching in the United States, showing that it was often used as a way to control or punish blacks who competed with whites.

Frances Xavier Cabrini was an Italian nun, who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, serving the Italian immigrant population in Chicago. Despite the lack of support by bishops and clergy alike, her groundbreaking outreach to the poor and marginalized, earned her the privilege of being the first naturalized citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

More contemporary Chicago feminist prophets include Tina Fey, Jennifer Hudson and Chaka Kahn. And, I would be remiss not to invoke the names of the Holy Trinity of contemporary Chicago women saints….Hillary Clinton, Michele Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

So, now we focus on Francis, who I call my Holy Conundrum.

His words are, indeed, impressive….listen to what he says…..

The best wines come from every person who risks everything on love.

Things have a price and can be for sale, but people have a dignity which is priceless.

Let the church always be a place of mercy and hope where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.

It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons working to make sure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare.


Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change. We want change in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our everyday reality. We want a change which can affect the entire world, since global interdependence calls for global answers to local problems. The globalization of hope, a hope which springs up from peoples and takes root among the poor, must replace the globalization of exclusion and indifference!

Makes one wonder….

Does Francis truly intend to inspire the church to become the open window of John XXIII, letting in the fresh air of the Spirit or does he represent an institutional dose of air freshener; hoping we would smell the roses rather than the stench of a clerical system which, at best isolates women and at worst, renders them invisible? Continue reading “Francis: My Holy Conundrum by Linda Pinto”

The Francis Blindspot by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileThe day Pope Francis was elected is a memorable one for many Catholics, myself included.  Watching our new pope walk out on to the balcony of the Vatican and bow to the crowd left me in tears.  It seemed in Pope Francis we would have a leader who recognized the full humanity of every person in the community; and in asking the people for their blessing, he acknowledged the role we all play in the ministry of Jesus.

Named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, boasting an astronomical approval rating of 90% among American Catholics, and more than 12 million Twitter followers, Francis has taken the papacy to a new level. People around the world continue to be mesmerized by his acts of kindness and mercy.  His commitment to social justice for the poor, simplistic living, welcoming message to persons of all faiths, and proclamation “Who am I to judge?” is refreshing to say the least.  Nonetheless, this does not mean Pope Francis does not have blind spots, nor that we do not have a responsibility to remind him of them. Continue reading “The Francis Blindspot by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Hidden Seeds in Laudato Si by Peg Conway

Peg Conway headshot2

The opening two paragraphs of the recent environment encyclical just might be saying even more than the pope intended. Beginning with a quote from the famous Canticle of the Creatures by St. Francis of Assisi, Laudato Si refers to “our sister, Mother Earth,” and compares the earth to “a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us”. Sister and mother are seen here as two separate images. But some translations of the Canticle read “Sister Mother Earth” without commas, consistent with the style of the rest of that text, which names Brother Sun and Sister Moon, etc.

Does a little punctuation difference matter? I think it does.

The single term Sister Mother Earth suggests a seamless linkage between all female bodies, whether our sisters, our mothers, our planet. We are brothers and sisters to one another as Christians (and members of the human family), every person has a biological mother, and the earth sustains us all. “Sister Mother Earth” means there are no distinctions among the three; they are one body. This interpretation lends even greater impact to the second paragraph, where the pope speaks of “this sister who now cries out to us” because of abusive treatment:

Continue reading “Hidden Seeds in Laudato Si by Peg Conway”

If You Don’t Believe Women Are Fully Human, Can You Be a Great Pope? by Carol P. Christ

In recent weeks I have felt compelled to respond to a series of “Great Pope” photos and stories praising Pope Francis for his stands on poverty and climate change appearing on my facebook page. In every case I added something like: “Let’s not go overboard about a pope who does not believe women are fully human.”

I am referring of course to Pope Francis’s reiteration of the Church’s prohibition of women in the priesthood. But just as important–and perhaps more important–is the role the Roman Catholic Church has played and continues to play to prevent women from having access to contraception and abortion.

Control over our own bodies is a fundamental right that undergirds every struggle for women’s equality and liberation. But the pope does not want women to have the right to use contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies, nor does he want us to have the right to abortion if contraception is unavailable or fails—not even in cases of rape or incest. Continue reading “If You Don’t Believe Women Are Fully Human, Can You Be a Great Pope? by Carol P. Christ”

Pope Francis is Paving the Way to FutureChurch by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileThe enthusiasm we have seen for Pope Francis over the last year is exceptional.  Polls show that among American Catholics he has a 90% approval rating.  He has garnered more than 12 million Twitter followers and even broke a Rolling Stones (yes, the rock band!) record by drawing more than three million people to an event in Rio de Janeiro.  Our new pope is a media icon and “The Francis Effect” is commanding the attention of not only Catholics, but the global community.  According to John Allen Jr., it is “take-it-to-the-bank fact” that politicians and celebrities would do just about anything to garner the pope’s poll numbers. There is good reason for this unprecedented attention; in Pope Francis we see the example of Jesus.

Our new pope is connecting with the greater community on the deepest level because he has a sincere commitment to serving the needs of the people rather than the politics of the Vatican. With his first papal act, Francis bowed to a cheering crowd and asked for the people to bless him.   In doing so, he acknowledged the full humanity of every person as well as the necessity of community.  His immediate rejection of the glamour of the papacy and ongoing efforts to walk with the disenfranchised has commanded the world’s attention. Pope Francis’ humility and commitment to social justice is Jesus-like. His willingness to engage the community, not to mention pose for a selfie here and there, demonstrates a ministry focused on the people. Continue reading “Pope Francis is Paving the Way to FutureChurch by Gina Messina-Dysert”

5 Examples of Religion as the Next Feminist Frontier by Meagen Farrell

meagenfarrellIn February 2014, headlines incorrectly stated that Gloria Steinem said religion is the biggest problem facing women today. Wrong.

In her interview by Jennifer Aniston at the first Makers Conference, Steinem said that not talking about religion is one of the biggest problems facing feminism today. That’s a big difference. At first she said the biggest problems are “anti-feminism” and “pay inequality,” but those issues are already on the table. She believes the feminist establishment isn’t talking about religion enough.

I agree and have agreed for a long time. Like many in this community, I have spent many years talking about feminism and religion, and it’s about time the Big Names noticed it is an important conversation. I hope they realize quickly that it’s already been going on for over a century!

Continue reading “5 Examples of Religion as the Next Feminist Frontier by Meagen Farrell”

Women for a Franciscan World 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.”Women: Architects and Engineers of a Franciscan World

This New Year’s Eve I find myself attending Mass at St. Austin’s Church in Austin, Texas. A long way from Hawaii and en route to Argentina which gave us Pope Francis. This Mass is also a celebration of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

This crossing of many currents is perhaps as eloquent a statement as any on where women have traditionally found themselves in the church—up on a pedestal or totally in service to others. Both exalted and silenced. Tradition has not served women in the church as well as women have themselves served the church and the community through many ministries. The male leaders of the church have been happy to raise their eyes heavenward and sing the praises of Mary and the many female saints while consigning the women around them to positions of pure service, if not servitude. Continue reading “Women for a Franciscan World by Dawn Morais Webster”

Three Wishes for the New Year: Peace, Kindness, and Dialogue in the Catholic Church by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Freyhauf, Feminism, Religion, Durham, Old Testament, Blogger, Bible, Gender, Violence, Ursuline, John Carroll While I sit and write this post, Christmas celebrations are concluded and I prepare, with the rest of the world, to embark on a new year; a year with my idealistic hopes and want for a better future for humanity.  So for New Year’s I am taking out my golden lamp and making three big wishes:  peace, kindness, and dialogue in the Catholic Church.


“True peace is not a balancing of opposing forces. It’s not a lovely façade which conceals conflicts and divisions…. peace calls for daily commitment.” – Pope Francis

Peace transcends governments and countries.  Peace should be a daily commitment that each one of us lives every day and practiced in each of our relationships. Looking forward to a new year, I hope to put this into practice and  we will see a shift in politics and attitudes that reflect an ideal of peace and reconciliation – not just nationally, but communally. 

With peace also comes reconciliation.  Fighting takes too much energy.   Making a point to reconcile with that relative or friend that you had a falling out with is a goal that has the potential to bear fruit and be restorative.


Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain

With peace and reconciliation comes kindness.  This wish is a large request and one that the Pope calls us to embrace.    A kindness is required that reaches the poor and oppressed, that reaches non-Catholics including atheists, and, that touches every race, class, and orientation. We do not have the right to judge – a sentiment that the Pope continues to reiterate.

According to Julia Baird, “even scientists are now touting the physical and psychological benefits of kindness, compassion, and selflessness.  Multiple studies now show: a single act of kindness can trigger dozens more … and repetitive acts of kindness can make people happier, and less depressed.” This is not a new revelation, but a reminder of the benefits of kindness – a reminder we need to carry into the New Year.

We should, however, remember help the homeless, the children, and the oppressed. This group of people is often ignored the news media, but lack of attention to a problem does not diminish it.  According to the Pope, scandals are the news of today, but the children without food are not news worthy.  According to Pope Francis, we should not “interfere in the lives of others” in a way that is malicious, like gossiping or being boastful.  This behavior brings hurt, bitterness and envy.  Kindness is necessary for a better future for all of humanity.

Dialogue with the Catholic Church

“Fifty years ago, Vatican II spoke of communications.  Let us listen to, dialogue with, and bring Christ all those we encounter in life.” – Pope Francis

Let us not focus on rituals and rules in the Church; rather, we need to focus on the people of the Church.  People,


after all, make up the Church – not brick and mortar.  Because of this, we need to focus on dialogue – a dialogue with each other, regardless of belief or life choices.  This dialogue should be rooted in a positive attitude and carried out with love and humility.  It should include a focus that reaches out to facilitate peace.  This dialogue should also include the discussion of women’s roles in the Church.  There are so many things to discuss.  The Church is a human church.  With the invitation to dialogue and re-address so many of the untouched or misinterpreted teachings of Vatican II, might we move forward and rebuild this Catholic Church on the shoulders of one who served the poor, loved everyone, and gave of himself?

What are your wishes for the new year?  I would love to hear from you.

From my family to yours, may you have a peace-filled, prosperous, and delightful 2014.

Michele Stopera Freyhauf:  Doctoral Student in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and a Member of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University as well as an Instructor at John Carroll University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Adjunct Professor in Religious Studies at Ursuline College and the University of Mount Union. Michele has an M. A. in Theology and Religious Studies from John Carroll University,  and did post-graduate work at the University of Akron in the area of History of Religion, Women, and Sexuality.  She is also a Member-at-Large on the Student Advisory Board for the Society of Biblical Literature and the student representative on the Board for Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society (EGLBS).  Michele is a feminist scholar, activist, and author of several articles including “Hagia Sophia: Political and Religious Symbolism in Stones and Spolia”  and lectured during the Commission for the Status of Women at the United Nations (2013). Michele can be followed on Twitter @msfreyhauf  and @biblicalfem.  Her website can be accessed here and is visible on other social media sites like LinkedIn and Google+

Blessed is the Womb By Dawn DiPrince

Dawn, jpgAs a Catholic, a feminist, and the grown-up version of my third grade self who dreamed of being a priest (and eventually Pope), I am simultaneously elated and deflated by the promise of Pope Francis. His bold criticisms of capitalism and inequality are breathtaking. 

Yet, much like the eager waiting that marks the season of Advent, I (naively) hold my breath awaiting the papal inclusion of women on the altar — not merely as servants — but as leaders and interpreters of scripture.

Whenever women’s ordination is raised, the Church trots out the dusty and inadequate argument that men are priests because Jesus was a man. This seemingly irrefutable based-on-biology conclusion is really a simple argument based on a difference of body parts. This ideal — something I’ve labeled the St. Peter Principle — suggests that our penislessness means that women (by natural law, of course) are to be denied priesthood. Continue reading “Blessed is the Womb By Dawn DiPrince”

Beyond Hemlines: What a Pope Can Teach Us About Modesty by Deborah Farmer Kris

DeborahPhotoPope Francis’ obvious decency appeals to me as a human.  His discourse and homilies appeal to me as a Christian.

But his humble actions appeal to me as a Mormon woman who is weary of witnessing, over and over, how we culturally misuse the term “modesty” and reduce it to base rules governing the attire of (primarily) teenage girls.

Pope Francis gives me hope for the future of our modesty discourse because in five months, he has somehow managed to make humility and  modesty cool again.

First, let’s look at modesty as discussed in the Catholic Catechism:

  • Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It guides how one looks at others (author note: not how others look at you) and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies. Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person. Continue reading “Beyond Hemlines: What a Pope Can Teach Us About Modesty by Deborah Farmer Kris”

The Philadelphia Ordinations and Pope Francis in Rio by Alla Renée Bozarth

Alla Renée Bozarth, Philadelphia 11, Philadelphia ordinations

On July 29, 2013,  I read the feminist theologian Mary Hunt’s fine account of Pope Francis’ visit to Brazil, with commentary on his informal conversation with press people on the way back to Rome.

When asked for a statement about the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church, a question which indirectly refers to women in the priesthood and episcopacy, he reiterated the position that the door to the ordination of women is closed. In response, I was inspired to write in the way that most intensely felt responses come out~ as a poem.

As I wrote, I couldn’t help but hear an older poem, “Water Women,” in the background. Perhaps the fact that Pope Francis had been to Rio, the Spanish word translated into English as river, inspired this association. Perhaps it was reinforced because Mary Hunt, whose article had moved me, was the co-founder and co-director of the organization WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual). I wrote the poem “Water Women” a few years after the historical Philadelphia Ordinations, in which eleven women put a significant crack in the stained glass ceiling barrier in the Episcopal Church by being ordained to the priesthood on July 29, 1974. That fait accompli event opened the doors to the ordination of women into all three Holy Orders. The Roman Catholic Women’s Ordination Conference began later that same summer. I wrote “Water Women” in response to a question asked of me and others in a small group of Roman Catholic and Episcopal feminists during a press conference, just as I wrote “Pope Francis in Rio” on the 39th anniversary of the Philadelphia Ordinations because of a press conference, this time with Pope Francis during his flight back to Rome.

Continue reading “The Philadelphia Ordinations and Pope Francis in Rio by Alla Renée Bozarth”

Who is the Church? by Linn Marie Tonstad

Linn Marie TonstadThe headlines blared, “Who am I to judge?” News outlet after news outlet led with the pope’s conciliatory stance toward gays, expressed during an interview aboard the pope-plane as he returned from Brazil. Among the several headers from Fox News (I encourage not clicking!), we find discussions of the pope’s “reaching out” to gays and even one that combines this development with his “urging” of a “greater role” for women. The New York Times story introduced the pope’s comments as follows: “For generations, homosexuality has largely been a taboo topic for the Vatican, ignored altogether or treated as ‘an intrinsic moral evil,’ in the words of the previous pope.” Ignoring the astonishing comment that this has been the case “for generations,” as though homosexuality has historically been the kind of issue for the church it has become in the wake of radical queer movements – see Mark Jordan’s several books on this for the most helpful treatments – the story went on to say that the pope’s comments “resonated throughout the church.” Although the NYT article did a better job than some contextualizing and nuancing the pope’s comments, they were still termed “revolutionary” in an assessment better suited to an opinion page than to a news report. Better-informed commentators, such as James Martin, offered a measured response. Martin said that although the pope’s remarks didn’t really signal a significant change in policy, “in the church, style often proves substantial,” implying that the “pastoral” tone might have effects in the implementation of policy. More significantly, Martin praised the pope’s adherence to Jesus’ injunction not to judge as an instance, first and foremost, of the pope’s commitment to mercy as the hallmark of his pontificate.

My Facebook feed, predictably, lit up with links to and discussions of these comments. While most were thrilled, a few posts noted that, even if Pope Francis is in fact (which is not proven) walking back Benedict XVI’s language of “intrinsically disordered,” the church’s policy has not and will not change in any significant way. What was missing in all but a few instances was attention to the pope’s comments in the same interview on women, and the deep theological problems with the assumptions contained in those comments. And while I, as a queer theologian, would never wish to downplay the struggles of LGBTQI people in the Roman Catholic church, there are rather more women than queers in that church (as elsewhere!). What’s more, it is arguable that it is the sexism and heterosexism of what Marcella Althaus-Reid memorably termed “T-Theology” that underlies condemnation of homosexuality in Roman Catholic theology. Continue reading “Who is the Church? by Linn Marie Tonstad”

The Catholic Church: Love Story or Scold Story? 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.”

 “We, the women and men of the church, we are in the middle of a love story: each of us is a link in this chain of love. And if we do not understand this, we have understood nothing of what the Church is.”   Pope Francis

Welcome words of love and acceptance.

Not so the words and actions of Cardinal Tim Dolan who shut of the doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the faces of LGBT Catholics and their supporters on Sunday, May 5.

Leading a silent—but eloquent—protest in New York in response to the  Cardinal’s recent likening of LGBT Catholics to “dirty hands” that needed to be washed clean, Joseph Amodeo describes what happened when the group tried to quietly enter the Cathedral with symbolically charcoal-blackened palms:

We were greeted by four police cars, a captain, and eight uniformed officers. We were informed by the NYPD’s LGBT liaison that the Archdiocese was prohibiting us from entering the Cathedral, because of our dirty hands. When we tried to enter the Cathedral, security advised us that we could not enter. The representative for the Cathedral said that we could only enter the church if we washed our hands. I truly believe that Christ would have welcomed and embraced us. Instead, we stood vigil in front of the Cathedral for an hour. The Archdiocese’s response further reinforces the feeling of spiritual homelessness that many LGBT Catholics and their friends feel. Continue reading “The Catholic Church: Love Story or Scold Story? by Dawn Morais Webster”

What About Contraception in Pope Francis’s Promise to the Poor? by Dawn DiPrince

Pope Francis, at nearly every opportunity – including the choice of his name, has symbolically expressed a commitment to the poor. In just a little over a month, he has declined the customary gold papal cross, the ermine-trimmed red velvet cape, and the showy red loafers worn by his predecessor. He has refused the palatial papal penthouse apartment and is currently living in a two-room suite among the Vatican’s cardinals.

In additional to a more austere lifestyle, Pope Francis has spoken out about the world’s poor. His namesake is St. Francis of Assisi, who famously worked for the poor and for peace. The Pope claims he was inspired to take the name Francis when remembering a friend’s urging to “not forget the poor.” More to the point, Pope Francis has stated that he wants “a Church which is poor and for the poor!” Continue reading “What About Contraception in Pope Francis’s Promise to the Poor? by Dawn DiPrince”

I Dream of Pope Francis by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIt was just last week that I received an email from Pope Francis.  He wrote me having seen my interview with Tavis Smiley and said he sympathized with my appeal for a Church that serves the needs of the people.  Pope Francis requested that I come to the Vatican to meet with him to discuss the papacy and his efforts to redirect the Church’s attention.  Of course, I immediately accepted and began to create my agenda for our meeting: women’s ordination, same-sex marriage, reproductive justice, and…my alarm went off.  It was just a dream. Sigh…

Totally disappointed at the realization of its ridiculousness, I wondered why Pope Francis had invaded my dreams.  Could it have been prophetic as my good friend and colleague (jokingly) suggested?  Or perhaps I’m narcissistic enough to fantasize that I have such wisdom to share.   Either way, no other pope has ever occupied my thoughts in such a way. Continue reading “I Dream of Pope Francis by Gina Messina-Dysert”

The Roman Catholic Theology of Womanhood by Ivy Helman

The Vatican has creIvy Helmanated an entire theology of womanhood without the input of a single woman!  Searching the Vatican archives reveals a wide range of documents pertaining to women, some of which mention women tersely only in their capacity as workers needing protection (Rerum novarum, 1891) and others are fully dedicated to describing the status, role and mission of women in the family, society and the world (Mulieris dignitatem, 1988).  Within the documents, as time passes, women become their own category of theological importance.  This is due to the influence of feminism on the status and roles of women across the globe.  Yet, there is vehement anti-feminism in the documents as well.

I searched the documents myself, curious as to what the Vatican had to say about womanhood and wrote a book on the topic published by Orbis in Febrary 2012 entitled, Women and the Vatican: An Explanation of Official Documents.  I would like to lay out that theology now.  Continue reading “The Roman Catholic Theology of Womanhood by Ivy Helman”

Pope Francis: A Fisherman for Our Times? 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.”

 A thoughtful non-Catholic friend, Mei Li, in largely Muslim Malaysia, wondered aloud in a Facebook chat after the election of Pope Francis: “How many people get to start anew like this?   A new name, a new life, a new kingdom here on earth. He could be what keeps thousands, maybe millions of people from getting AIDS. Even if my vote does not count, so to speak, I have to care what he teaches.”

Yes, believers or not, we all have to care.  The skeptics were right.  Picking a Pope from the ranks of the nuns was expecting the current crop of cardinals to cast their net further than they could. But Pope Francis may yet prove to be a fisherman who casts a different kind of net.

Countries of the South, where Catholics still fill the churches, rejoice at the selection of a Pope with whom they might claim a closer kinship. It is unclear whether he can ensure the success of a soccer team, or even whether his election proves that God is an Argentine.  But the fact that even the weary are tuning in is a good sign. Continue reading “Pope Francis: A Fisherman for Our Times? by Dawn Morais Webster”

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