My letter to Pope Francis
Dear Pope Francis,
I would not bother to write if I were not sure that you will listen. Thank you for this.
I was heartsick when I read the news that Pope Francis approved the excommunication of Fr. Greg Reynolds of Melbourne, Australia, for supporting women priests. It is a blow, Pope Francis, precisely because of your appealing character, but it confirms my suspicion that you have not transcended the conditioning of Catholic culture.
Amid raving reports of your truly wonderful shift in style and in aspects of church governance, it was shocking to learn that a priest was ex-communicated for supporting women priests. No priest or bishop who participated in clergy sex abuse has been excommunicated for it. We cannot escape the facts, Pope Francis—your hard line against women’s ordination, your acceptance of Pope Benedict’s harsh response to women religious leaders (LCWR), and your talk about women’s “special role” and a “theology of women.”
Despite your delightful personality, your modeling of humility, and your concern for poor people, which awe the world and give me joy, you appear to lack wise judgment regarding women. Pope Francis, you have convinced us that you are a listener. The way to learn about women is to put aside patriarchal judgment and listen to women. Intelligent and educated women in your church are trying to inform you and other clerics of women’s natural ability to command and govern as well as minister. Please hear us.
Women have served as more than mothers; they have exercised authority equal to men. They are eminent theologians, advisers to popes, empathic educators. Women run hospitals, universities, charitable organizations, and business enterprises to help poor and needy people. They work in the most desperate and dangerous circumstances, standing up to scoundrels.
Women’s “special role” includes ordination, leadership, and decision-making. If the Church had been governed by women as well as men, I do not doubt that clergy sex abuse would have been nipped in the bud. Ordained women would have kept clergy culture from becoming the festering sore that it is. Women can contribute what men cannot because they are nurturers and because they have been banned from the levers of power—they have not had the opportunity to be spoiled by career ladders.
Please consider the words of Fr. Roy Bourgeois:
As Catholics, we profess that God created men and women of equal worth and dignity. As priests, we profess that the call to the priesthood comes from God, only God. Who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is authentic, but God's call to women is not? The exclusion of women from the priesthood is a grave injustice against women, our Church and our loving God who calls both men and women to be priests. When there is an injustice, silence is the voice of complicity. My conscience compelled me to break my silence and address the sin of sexism in my Church.
I want to address the power of words and the effect of praying all one’s long life to a lord. “Father” and “Lord” are not the most harmful words referring to Divinity. The pronouns HeHimHis do the most damage by dripping into our minds without notice. Their steady, sly entry into our thoughts and imaginations, without our conscious awareness, plants the belief that male dominance is natural, normal, proper, and right. For this reason, male power is accepted, female power is not.
This account in my blog brought the first of some requests that I write to you:
He remembers the exact intersection where it happened. He can still see how everything looked around them when the other man in the car suggested he pray “Our Mother” instead of “Our Father.” Immediately he rejected it. It did not sit well with him because he had a long-standing and deep relationship with “Our Father.” But he kept coming back to the idea and could not dismiss it. With repeated returns to “Our Mother” he realized how obviously appropriate it was. He thought of his own mother now passed away, his Grandma, other mothering women, the nurturing that mothers do. Now he appreciates the gift given him when a fellow in the business world suggested that he relate to the Divine Mother. Now he can rest in Her heavenly arms.
I feel privileged that he shared this with me and allows me to share it with others who need liberation from patriarchal training. I’m afraid one person needing it is you, dear Pope Francis. You have said that women should play larger roles in the Church as long as they do not seek masculine ones. This exposes the familiar assumption that women belong in a place of subservience. To counter this conditioned attitude, I hope you can accept the authority of our heavenly Mother. We ask you, please, to beseech Mother God to grant you the vision of women having authority, of women legitimately in command.
Women who want to serve in the Church meet limitations on their leadership. Many leave and contribute in the secular world where their gifts are appreciated and allowed to reach fruition. Without these highly talented and accomplished women, the whole church is impoverished. Furthermore, the exclusively male image of Source/Creator contributes to systemic and casual acceptance of women as subordinate and submissive, which leads to violence against women.
It is impossible to deny the connection between worship of the male God image and worldwide abuse of females. Sexist God-talk trains people to imagine Supreme Power as male, and women as inferior to men. This mindset encourages husbands to bully their wives, men and adolescent boys to sexually assault women and girls without feeling guilty, and pimps to profit by selling females.
Dear Pope Francis, you have admitted that the Church has made mistakes. I hope you have not passed on to sainthood on the Other Side before you realize that the official Church made a colossal error in its treatment of women.
If you are interested, I would be happy to tell you about myself, but here I wanted to address my subject. Before sending this I asked for suggestions for revision from religious friends who shall remain anonymous because they fear punishment for supporting women priests and for endorsing prayer to Divine Presence that is not limited to a single gender. This is a sad comment on present governance in your Church.
Sincerely and in peace, Jeanette