The pope & the ritually unclean

Women religious are the best thing the Catholic Church has going for it—their effective ministry in schools, hospitals, inner-city and third-world neighborhoods, parishes, colleges, and spiritual centers stands in obvious contrast to the botched management of the sex abuse crisis by male clerics.

A National Catholic Reporter editorial asks readers to Speak up for our women religious as they are being harassed in two separate Vatican investigations, 1) the Leadership Conference of Women Religious on doctrine, and 2) women religious communities on how they live.

What’s eating the Vatican? It must be that women religious avoid mindless conformity to its directives, that they think for themselves. It wants control. The Vatican is “assessing” three areas of “doctrinal concern” in the Leadership Conference: 1) ordination of women, 2) homosexuality, and 3) the primacy of the Catholic faith.

The last doctrine Pope Benedict XVI reasserted just a few weeks ago, saying that other Christian churches are defective or not true churches (Never mind the world's other great spiritual ways!). In plain terms, it means that the Catholic Church controls the way to heaven (Let’s not forget that then he, as its leader, has the keys to the kingdom).

It's laughable, or it would be if the institution didn’t have so much control over millions who have to accept or at least live with its ludicrous claims unless they want to risk careers and/or their accustomed spiritual practice.

NCR comments that, while the Vatican repeats pretty statements about the dignity of women and gender equality, it insists that celibate men—whose culture at best excludes women, at worst shuns them—these men are the only ones qualified to make major decisions for women. “The hypocrisy is embarrassingly evident.”

Meanwhile, the Church as a whole evolves in understanding. My friend Marilyn sent this item from the St. Martin Parish church bulletin on July 18:
Today's Gospel clearly is about hospitality -- but whose? At one level, the hospitality is clearly that of Martha, who accepts Jesus into her home. But it's also the hospitality of Jesus, who says it's proper to talk to women about the things of God -- quit worrying about artificial ritual impurities.
“Ritual impurities” is a reminder that the Church used to consider women ritually unclean during menstruation—one of the reasons it used to marshal against the ordination of women. The priest who put this in the bulletin as well as other Catholics with integrity find thoughtful ways to proceed for now, but how much more damage can this pope do to the crippled institution?

Marilyn emailed this follow-up:
Remember, Jeanette, that after we had a child we had to be cleansed. When my children were baptized in the 60s, I had to undergo this cleansing. To remove the stain of childbearing!!! Men were not to have intercourse with an unclean woman so this was necessary—and it was done immediately after the child was baptized.
Right. Church history brings up the embarrassing fact of manic obsession with sex, menstrual blood, and the “revolting conditions” of the womb, as “St.” Jerome, a Church “Father,” termed childbirth. The history is entertaining reading. To be fair, Christianity inherited the prejudice against women from Judaism and Greco-Roman culture.

According to gospel stories, Jesus of Nazareth violated the taboo by teaching women, treating them like human beings, and even touching them when they were ritually unclean (the hemorrhaging woman and Jairus’ daughter). We can’t rely on gospel stories for factual accuracy in their details, but we can be sure they would not depict Jesus breaching ritual taboos if he had not done so. The man was a rebel.

You can easily find more Church history on this subject, by googling, using some phrases in this post.


Br. Pax said…
Wow! What a powerful statement "these men are the only ones qualified to make major decisions for women." Thanks for this fantastic post!
Florian said…
"What’s eating the Vatican? It must be that women religious avoid mindless conformity to its directives, that they think for themselves. It wants control."

This is another example of Jeanette jumping to a conclusion about what church leadership "must be" thinking, without actually asking them.

Surely, Jeanette, you can imagine other reasons why the Vatican wants to investigate women religious.

So let me explain what's really eating the Vatican.

That the Catholic hierarchs are control freaks or are trying to oppress women in the church are at best a minor issues here. What really concerns the Vatican is the radical hostility to orthodoxy and church authority in, not only monasteries and convents, but in so many Catholic institutions in developed countries. It just so happens that the problem is a lot worse in communities of women religious than in male communities.

It is not so much that the Vatican is worried about a loss of control as it is worried about women religious being totally out of control, with emphasis on the word total. Not only are the women religious not going to mindlessly conform to every Vatican directive, but they are hardly willing to admit that the hierarchy should have any control over them at all. Not only do some women religious want to change church attitudes towards women leadership, some, like Jeanette, want to be able to discard any church teaching whenever they want. From advocating for abortion, lesbiansism, paganism, and witchcraft, to wholesale rejection of church teaching and even apostasy, there seems to be no position that is too radical for too many of today's leaders of women religious.

There is a reason why the church needs to have enough control over the communities of women religious. It is not that the church feels that these women need males that are controlling them, or that they need to be controlled by anyone. If these women want to start a community of Protestant women religious, i.e. one that is not in union with the church hierarchy, they are completely free to do so. But if they are going to call themselves Catholic, that does put them ultimately under the control of the Catholic hierarchy (that's what the word "Catholic" means). The hierarchy not only has a right but a duty to ensure that institutions that call themselves catholic are indeed sufficiently catholic.

There still are many young Catholic women who want to go into religious life, and who don't want to be in a community with radical, liberal, and heretical nuns. The Catholic church owes it to them to ensure that communities of CATHOLIC women religious are sufficiently Catholic so that women still have a place to go in order to live an AUTHENTIC and CATHOLIC consecrated life.

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