Women’s Voices the Vatican couldn’t Silence

I was at the conference in Trinity College, entitled ‘Women the Vatican couldn’t Silence’, with Sr. Joan Chittister and Mary McAleese.

It was a really interesting two hours or more. I suppose I am fairly familiar with the views of Mary McAleese on matters of Church and Faith, having heard her many times, so I was more interested in what Joan Chittister would say. I know Joan, though not that well, and I have read a lot of her writing, and also the brilliant biography of her written by Tom Roberts.

A couple of her points stood out for me:

Regarding the ordination of women, she said that the justification for ordaining women does not have its origin in theology or scripture, but in something much more basic – our common humanity. Women should have full equality in all aspects of Church life simply because they are human, they are fully a part of our common humanity.

As regards the defective nature of Catholic sexual teaching, she said that it dated from long before Christ, back to the ancient rural communities, tilling the earth and growing their food. They sowed the seed in the earth, and it grew. So they presumed that human fertilization was similar, in that the woman’s body received the life-giving semen from the man, and it grew. The woman’s contribution was purely like the earth with the seed, it just provided the environment in which the seed could grow. That was the biology on which Thomas Aquinas worked to produce his teaching that women are secondary and of lesser importance. It is only in the last two hundred years that the ovum was discovered, and revealed the fact that the woman contributed equally to the life-giving process. So she concluded that the Church’s sexual teaching was not so much bad theology, but, first and foremost, bad biology.

Her other point that resonated strongly with me was about language, how the language of all our prayers and liturgical events is male. She considers this to be a major problem, and that the misogynistic attitudes prevalent in the Church will not be changed until the language is changed. So she urged all of us to do everything we can in any type of religious event in which we participate, to get rid of all traces of sexist language.

What stood out most from the contributions of Mary McAleese was also on the topic of Catholic sexual teaching. She read out for us the following quote from a document written by Pope John Paul ll on the topic of marriage and sexuality:

“It is the very nature of the act that the man plays the active role and takes the initiative while the woman is a comparatively passive partner whose function it is to accept and experience.

For the purpose of the sexual act it is enough for her to be passive and unresisting, so much so that it can even take place without her volition while she is in a state where she has no awareness at all of what is happening – for instance when she is asleep or unconscious.”

That caused a ripple of shock and disgust to go right through the audience, which consisted mostly of women.  It brought home to me again the mistake of canonizing John Paul. I read that now the Polish bishops are calling on Pope Francis to declare him a Doctor of the Church. That quote alone should well and truly disqualify him from such a title.

I was also interested to note that when both speakers were asked by the chair, Ursula Haligan, if Francis would bring about change, Joan answered that significant change had already happened. That is my opinion also.