Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Holy Father, Holy Mother

The Catholic Church is so busy absorbing the shock of the Holy Father’s decision to quit, it is missing the point. Holy mothers are quitting too.

I’m a Catholic. Was a Catholic. Am a sort of Catholic. Am hardly a Catholic? Is there a word for what I am anymore? I’d like to be a better Catholic but it is just not cutting it for me. And why is that? Because the Catholic Church has nothing to say to an educated woman with socially liberal views – nothing, except “Please give us your children.”

I have so far – given them my children. Two of them – the boys, have taken their First Communion in red ties and polyester sashes, in part to keep my elderly and very Catholic parents happy. Now the Church wants my daughter. She is seven, and somehow, I am more reluctant to put her through the whole fandango of instruction. Why is that? Perhaps because I have to take instruction too, and it is dull, the church is drafty and I am busy? More likely, there is the small matter of “the future” because my daughter may well have children herself. Boys are boys. The chances are they probably won’t marry Catholics. They probably won’t have Catholic children. But my daughter might. Am I just perpetuating the cycle for the sake of it, because I was brought up on tales of Catholic martyrs crushed and racked, hung and quartered? On stories of priestholes and secret masses and “No Catholics here”? Because we were taught we were different, knew better, lived better, because we were “other”. Because I was educated by nuns who wore hearts spiked with nails, and because a perspex crucifix still hangs on my wall adorned with a silver, drooping Christ?

But in reality what does the Church offer me in return for the children it claims – the children we agreed to raise as Catholic when my Protestant husband and I went for marriage preparation with our then priest Father Kit Cunningham (Father Kit whose paedophiliac behaviour in Tanzania in the 1960s was the subject of a documentary not so long ago.)

I disagree with the Church’s prejudices against homosexuality. I regard as laughable – and tragic - its position on contraception, and as a woman who believes in equality in all things, I struggle to keep faith with a faith which reserves not just the top job but its priesthood for men. Because there is one thing we already know for certain sure about the next pope – black or white, traditionalist or liberal, Italian or not so Italian – the next pope is an old man. Money on it. So I am telling my daughter she can do anything, all things, that she can be anything – anything that is,except a Catholic priest.

Moreover, the next leader of the Catholic Church and its 1.2billion congregation, will not only be another old man just like the last old man, he will of course never have married and never have had children, with all that means in terms of life and love and humanity. Children mean everything. We mothers know that and not because we were taught it in a seminary.

Arrogance and insularity fed the church’s position on child abuse, the delays, the obfuscation, the reluctance to blame their own, punish their own, make some kind of recompense. Make no mistake, the scandal of child abuse in the Catholic Church puts the anachronisms, the illogicalities, and the stuff they get plain wrong into the shade. In a letter sent some months after news broke of Father Kit, I warned the head of his Rosminian order, Father David Myers, that if the Catholic Church lost the mothers “the game is up and you lose everything.” He reassured me as a mother that is to say "our hope for the future and...the ones who provide the next generation with a wonderful vision of the gospel of love."

The Catholic Church - Christianity itself - makes much of fishermen and of shepherds when fishermen and shepherds are far removed from this high-tech modern life. Then there is the ultimate mother - Mary, but this particular and almost faithless Catholic mother takes small comfort in the example of the innocent speak-no-evil virgin with her hands clasped and stars around her head, her naked foot upon the serpent, appearing then disappearing in her now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t kind of way. The priesthood was for men, motherhood for women, well motherhood carries responsibilities - not least to ourselves.

My message to the old Pope: Live long and prosper.

My message to the new Pope: Allow women to be priests, allow priests to marry, change your position on homosexuality and contraception, maybe then we can talk. You’ve got my number and I’ve certainly got yours.


Mimi said...

This puts into words exactly how I feel, and is almost word for word a conversation I had tonight with my daughter (now almost 21, how did that happen?).
Then my brother rang from the UK, wondering how I feel about the Pope resigning (apparently I said to him last year that i thought he should resign); how I feel is that it's irrelevant to me, the new guy will not be much different, the old laws stay in place.
I too did the 1st communion thing, for the same reasons as you, but by the time Confirmation came around I couldn't bring myself near the instruction classes, and so my children have remained unconfirmed. i feel sad about that, and wonder what will it take for the Church to wake up, to won up, to come up?

san said...

I think you may be waiting a very long time. Excellent and thoughtful post, Judith.

Potty Mummy said...

Wonderful post - have used it as blog-fodder (and linked to yours). I hope that's OK. Potty Mummy.

doglover said...

Wouldn't it be good if someone from Africa was elected; then something might be done about the scandal of forbidding Catholics to use condoms. 22 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are living with Aids/HIV; that's 2/3rds of the sufferers in the world.

Terrible as child molestation by Catholic priest is, that seems an even greater evil.

wife in the north said...

re Mimi: I bugged your house.
I am saddened by how cold I am left by the news, it doesn't seem to have any relevance for me.
re Sandy: thanks for that
re Potty Mummy:I like being fodder. "Fodder for the Gods" sounds like an organic food delivery service.
re doglover: I think we'll find the African candidates are among the most traditional. (Hope I am wrong.)

Iota said...

I take your point about homosexuality, contraception, and the non-ordination of women, but it was the polyester sashes that really made me balk.

Danica Surette said...

I am a french acadian who was brought up in the catholic church. I chose to leave as my soul was not "Being fed". I am a happy "woman of faith" and attend wesleyan and/or baptist churches and Bible studies, but do not fall under a catagory.

Yank in the West said...

I understand the disparate pulls. I have seen the 'good-old-boy" network in play, trying to destroy a friend. The priest who instructed my then agnostic (now Catholic) wife and married us had been confirmed(?) as a pedophile/pederast.

Yet as a whole the Church points to something bigger than any of this. To lose the Church for me would be to lose access to what it points to, to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Yes, it is populated by lying, scheming, hypocritical sinners, of which I am one. Can't deny it. Did for a lot of years. Now, I focus on Jesus. Not them, but Jesus. Relations with Jesus, as i encounter him in everyone I meet.

Z said...

I'm not a Catholic but went to a Catholic school. Even as a child, I and my non-Catholic friends were uncomfortable about the trail of small children being claimed at such a young age for their First Communion. It was indoctrination and we felt they were too young to know what they were doing.

merry weather said...

Hear, hear! Excellent post.

Send it directly to the dinosaurs in the Vatican please.

MadMaxII said...

Just read your article in The Times. I'm male, 67, catholic (sort of). I agree with everything you said.

TomG said...

Hi Judith

Good article (Sunday Times)

Why not just ditch dead religion and all its bells and smells. As you have recognised it is of little / no value. Instead why not try to find a real personal faith. Start by reading Mark's gospel and ask God to show you the truth about Jesus. Then why not try an Alpha course.

It is worth a try!

Anonymous said...

The Episcopalian Church in the US fits your description of the Church you want and as the CofE is rapidly heading in the same direction, why not join it? The Church is just not going to 'get with the programme', live with it. Perhaps your daughter could become an Orthodox priest or a Buddhist Monk or an Islamic Imam or an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi? No, she couldn't.

Anonymous said...

If you want to know how traditional, orthodox Catholics manage to cling to their beliefs (and many, many of us do) then this link might be useful to you.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, forgot link:

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Jan 17th, 2013

The new Pope will be the “game changer” because he will walk on the scene when all seems hopeless, when people will be crying out, “Where is God in all this darkness?” The lights will dim and then go out but only so my action will be clearly seen by all.

There he will be, the pope of the third millennium. He will carry a new light, a light that he already possesses as a treasure kept in the greatest hiddeness. He will arise by the most surprising way. Again, so there will be no mistake, this pope will not be chosen by men but by the clearest and most visible signs from heaven. All will see that the Father has brought this about. Once he assumes the papal throne, my plan will begin to unfold, step by step. Little by little, the powers of darkness will be rolled back. Then, when Satan can no longer accept his defeats he will make the great mistake. Just as he erred in nailing me to the cross, so he will bring about this pope’s death, a true martyrdom, that will shake heaven and earth (as did my death). At that point, the true reign of my mother as the Woman Clothed With the Sun will begin. Hers will not be an immediate victory. However, all of her children will take heart and know that the victory will be theirs as they take up the sword of the Spirit.

Anonymous said...

I notice that you left abortion out of your list of demands. It is a key element of the sterile sexuality that you champion.

It is very tempting to say to people who make demands like yours to leave the Church and become an Episcopalian, or whatever. But that would be wrong. Mother Church never abandons her children. We must pray that you receive the grace to see the beauty of the Church's teachings about sex, and to receive her message of what true love is.

Phadreus said...

His greatest failing, based on the goals he set for himself, was his utter failure to re-evangelize Europe. Instead, his own parish in Germany has seen the greatest number leave the Church and it the Catholic Church has lost Ireland...Ireland, which is synonymous with Catholicism. Primarily Benedict and JPII before him chose to willful ignore the child abuse running rampant in their organization, protect those who committed it and in some cases, reward the perpetrators with comfortable retirements. But also because both chose to deal with the modern world by wrapping themselves in antiquity.

Sixty-seven of the current 118 Cardinals were appointed by Benedict. It would be foolish to think he will not be playing king maker and the next Pope will just be an extension of the fundamentalism of JPII and Benedict, and we'll just see a doubling down on the same conservative approach to a increasingly secular world.

Anonymous said...

Do you believe in Catholic Doctrine? Do you believe that the Pope is the voice of God on Earth?
Do you believe that the communion wafer becomes the actual body of Christ?

If you really believe this stuff, it seems you have to accept the Pope's decrees, whether they mesh with your "educated", "liberal" conclusions or not.

If you don't believe it, why give legitimacy to false claims to truth? And why put your family through this misery?

-Neighborhood Atheist

Anonymous said...

'Mother church' is a myth. As a lesbian recovered catholic, I can see from this side, all the mind control and cult behaviors that keep people enslaved. I think all organized religions are designed to subjugate women.

One of the reasons why people stay enslaved is because they fear the reaction of their parents and significant people in their lives. They also fear some sort of punishment or thunder strike from realizing and speaking the truth. That is not a good reason to do anything, is it?

Come to terms with the dysfunction and lies and peer pressure, and step out into the free world. And, if you're afraid of looking into yourself and finding that the idea of god needs a little tweaking, go right ahead.

There is much satisfaction in being comfortable in agnosticism or atheism. Then you can think and make decisions for yourself and not as a reaction to any form of fake power.

I will not support in any way, shape, or form the whited sepulcher of organized religion. It is unnecessary and does more harm than good. But the church in the vatican is the most criminal and should be left in the dust.

Anonymous said...

Forget about that "permissive sixties" justification for pedo priests. There's nothing terribly new about this. My father suffered abuse at an RC boarding school at the hands of the monks in the 1930s, and the shadow that cast over his marriage in 1948 and his resulting family continued beyond his death in 1992.

Anonymous said...

Funny you should talked about Catholics being "enslaved." The issues of truth and freedom cannot be divorced. Freedom is found in truth.
See http://www.ewtn.com/library/theology/truefree.htm

Why do you suppose Flannery O'Connor (the greatest woman writer America has ever produced),G.E.M. Ambscome and Edith Stein (the two greatest women philosophers), and Sigrid Undset (nobel prize winning novelist) allowed themselves to be "enslaved" by the Catholic Church? What do you suppose led Simone Weil, one the greatest female French intellectuals of the 20th Century, to conclude that the Catholic Church is the one true church of God?

Seething Mom said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes. You have spoken eloquently for so many mothers, myself included.
I was born Catholic, educated in Catholic schools, married in the Catholic Church, baptized 3 children in the Church, and continued to repeat the cycle (with less and less devotion as I grew older and wiser) until one day my youngest and only daughter stood before me as I did the dishes and adamantly refused to be confirmed. When I asked her why, her response was she had no desire to be confirmed in a church that detests her gay brother.
I could not argue. I realized I had been going through the motions of being a Catholic mother for far too long. My daughter's words gave me the final impetus I needed to walk away from the Church for good. I knew in my heart that any changes I desired to see would never come in my lifetime or my children's lifetime. And I have yet to look back.
Thank you for speaking for me and so many others with this post.

Anonymous said...

Judith, thanks for this heartfelt and insightful post. Like most, I share your desires for a more liberal church, free from the insularity and arrogance that has given is Mahoney, Maciel, and molestation ring known as the Philadelphia archdiocese. But I have come to belive that sociologically, institutionally, such concession cannot happen without a dramatic schism, and that it is next to impossible that the traditionalist who occupy the hierarchy would ever let this happen over the next two generations. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla put it best in regards to contraception in 1966 (Papal Commission on Population Growth and Birth Control): "“If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930 (when the encyclical Casti connubii was promulgated), in 1951 (Pius XlI’s address to the midwives), and in 1958 (the address delivered before the Society of Hematologists in the year the pope died). It should likewise have to be admitted that for half a century the Spirit failed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error. This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. The fact can neither be denied nor ignored that these same acts would now be declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants, which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved”

Elizabeth said...

Dear Judith,

As a fellow mother of boys, I can't imagine the trauma that you went through, having such a close brush with the horror of clerical abuse. I think your bitterness in your situation is understandable, and I can't presume to tell you how to feel about the Church. I just wanted to say that I don't agree that She "has nothing to say to an educated woman with socially liberal views."

I started to consider coming into the Church (my husband's Catholic) a couple of years ago but there seemed to be way too many political obstacles. I was surprised to discover a wealth of resources for convincing a modern liberal woman of the truth of Church teachings. My conception of feminism was challenged by the Feminists for Life. I was fascinated by the blog Conversion Diary, written by a pro-choice atheist who ended up an orthodox Catholic. I read an incredible book called "Women, Sex and the Church," edited by Erika Bachiochi, a former anti-Catholic feminist, which defends Catholic teaching from a post-feminist standpoint, where she argues that "authentic social justice cannot be separated from Catholic teaching on sex and marriage." These are just a few examples of incredible women who are engaging with these issues on an intellectually satisfying level and without denying modern reality.

I truly hope that someday you will come to know Mary, Queen of the Universe, as more than a demure girl in a sentimental picture. Cultivating a relationship with her (which seemed so weird to me when I was a Protestant) has been a hugely powerful thing in my life. And I hope against hope that you perceive that the Church really does want to give you and your children tremendous gifts through the Sacraments. Hope that doesn't come across as totally sanctimonious! I wish you all the best.

Unknown said...

But she could become an episcopal priest, and in her lifetime I'm betting, will be able to become a Catholic one. The Holy Spirit is working, just not focusing on the top lvl of management, as it were. Don't leave your church. Stay and fight for it. All of you unhappy Catholics (says the Episcopalian) stay and fight. Peter's boat is worth more than the tramp steamer it's been turned into.

Anonymous said...

Seething Mom, where in the world did you and your daughter get the idea that the Church "hates" homosexuals? Can you articulate the Church's understanding of sexuality and marriage? (I bet you can't.) Are you familiar with the Theology of the Body? If so, where, precisely, is it wrong?

When purported anger is based on such false notions it comes across nothing more than self-centered, self-righteous indignation.

angie said...

it's very hard to give any credence to anonymous comments, especially snarky ones.

Seething Mom said...

Hi Anonymous,
In regards to your post that started with the question:
"Seething Mom, where in the world did you and your daughter get the idea that the Church "hates" homosexuals? ..."
I suppose I'd start with Cardinal Ratzinger's 1986 letter to the Bishops of the Church, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, in which he stated that "although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." Using the phrases "intrinsic moral evil" and "objective disorder" when talking about my gay child does not give me the impression the Church loves my son.
I make no apologies for feeling less than warm and fuzzy about the Catholic Church and I stand by what I said. And as far as my daughter is concerned, she came home in tears on more than a few occasions after discussions on homosexuality in her theology classes in her Catholic High School.

Anonymous said...

Good Lord, woman. It would take me way too long to answer each and every one of your points in this article. You are so absolutely arrogant in your dismissal of what the Church stands for. You mock the martyrs but you seem to be one yourself. Complaining ad nauseum about the Church and putting your children "through it" to please your parents. Why don't you grow up, make decisions for yourself and leave the Church if you dislike it so much??? You stick around like its the law, but the door swings both ways. Feel free to leave anytime you like.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and your dig at old people isn't very encouraging. Talking about that "old man" will be replaced by another "old man". Shame on you. My guess is you don't pay attention to the Gospel or the Homily when you attend mass. If you are waiting for the Church to change for you, you will have to wait a very long time, because its not gonna happen. You talk about your daughters future, well what do you think Jesus and the Church focus on? Eternal life. It doesn't get any more about the future than that.

Anonymous said...

Wife in the North -
Don't worry too much about your children (not that you can help it!) If you truly believe the Catholic Church is a monster that you were forced to sacrifice your children - to as you described in your post, your children will see that and will certainly have left before they have children of their own. It doesn't matter whether they are sons or daughters - my siblings all married non-Catholics and are all raising their children Catholic, my brothers as well as my sister. And if you don't really believe it is a beast devouring your children, they'll see that too.

But give some thought to the comments. If you really don't believe in the idea that the body matters you may have fundamental disagreements with the Catholic Church that are just going to leave you angry. The Catholic Church does believe that we're not spirits caught in a random meat puppet - that our bodies matter. We are born men and women - we are not the same and don't need to be. As one of the posters above suggested, the Episcopal Church might be where you will better find Christ.


Lepanto said...

Your support for homosexuals fits strangely with your fear of predatory priests who are almost exclusively homosexual. See this link re. 2 notorious homosexual bishops who covered up the crimes of their fellow 'gays' in the Catholic homosexual mafia.

Lepanto said...

"If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you."
The world hates the Pope but it applauds you. You had better be right and the Church wrong or you are in BIG spiritual trouble.

wife in the north said...

re danica:I am glad you found something that worked for u.
re yank in the west:"...points to something bigger" I like what you say, to concentrate on the essential truth.
re Z:there is something to be said though for having them "in the club" and leaving it to them as to whether to opt out, much tougher never to have been in it at all if ever they did decide it was for them.
re merry weather:might u feel the same? u can share my carrier pigeon.

wife in the north said...

re MadMaxII: i think this is a coming issue and if the Church doesn't meet it square on, women will fall away(indeed they already are.)
re TomG: think u need a lot more faith than I have right now for an Alpha course. re Mark's Gospel which I already know quite well, I have just read Colm Toibin's Testament of Mary talking of silent/silenced women.
re anonymous:"live with it" yes I know the issue is Can I?
re web links etc: will have a trawl through thanku
re anon: "Mother Church never abandons her children". I hope u r right.There is another issue though does she listen to those children?
re Phadreus: interesting stat re Germany I didnt know that

wife in the north said...

re neighborhood atheist: u use the word "truth" and i suppose that is what i am looking for
re anon (lesbian recovered catholic": it is cold out in the free world.
re anon and ur dad: I am so very sorry to hear that
re anon (recommendations on writers): that is an extremely good idea, i am going to have a read through
re seething mom: thanku so much for that. it is hard isn't it both personally and in terms of our responsibilities to our children. what shall we do that is right? how do we know?we can only do what we think is best.

wife in the north said...

re anon (re Karol):sometimes u have to say you got it wrong or even it seemed right then, but it's wrong now. Don't see how a schism will happen though u may well be right.
re Elizabeth: I will follow through on ur refs. what u say doesnt seem at all sanctimonious, just heartfelt and sensible.
re tracey henley:"stay and fight for it"? It's a big fight.
re anon: I don't knock the martyrs. I grew up on them. and re the church not changing, u r probably right and what a shame that is.
re Lepanto: ur commment made me smile. I may well be in big trouble, but it's too late now.

Brooke said...

I'm not Catholic but I share your pain and frustration as a woman of faith also subject to an all male priesthood and hierarchy. Thank you for your eloquent post. Yours is not the only church hemorrhaging its women.

Isobel said...

Wonderful post.

www.retiredandcrazy.com said...

Judith we can only pray that they will learn to pray to God to change their selfish, criminal and debauched ways!

I wonder, is this what the Pope emeritus is doing right now?

Anonymous said...


I'm here because I recently had the pleasure of finishing reading your moving and funny book "A Year of Doing Good".

Inspirational. There is much for me to reflect on in this book, and in the re-telling of your experiences. How can I more effectively translate my thoughts and feelings into action?

At the same time, there is much to recognise from my own life, for example bringing light into others' life through simply smiling and greeting people we don't know yet. There is no such thing as a stranger, just friends we have not met yet.

Life-long experience.

Why is sharing so painful? I cry as I type these words.

One thing in particular brought me on-line: 28th February, you write "In any event, someone should tell these religions what they have in common: it would save us a lot of trouble".

This is so painful to me.

Please read:

Why so painful to me? 28th February is my mother's birthday. She's recently been told she is likely to have pancreatic cancer, and needs to have a major operation.

Please pray for her.

- v4169sgr

annie said...

The church can do whatever it likes to try and pretty up centuries of misogyny, but I knew when I was 11 years old that I was done being a Catholic.

Oh, I tried to stay with it for a long while after that. First because my parents forced me and later because I still felt connected to the beauty and ritual. But the birth of my daughter made me realize that I couldn't allow her to be taught that she was second best, dirty and sinful in a way that her male peers would never be categorized or taught to internalize. I was her mother and it was my job to protect her from that as I wasn't.

Anonymous said...

It took me a good many years of being a 'good catholic' but at this point in my life I see all Religions as expressions of foremost solely human desires.
It is a bit of a chicken or egg issue - does the religion set the societal moral restrictions or are these things the result of genuine intersocietal interaction?
I fully agree with what Judith so eloquently summarizes and I actually think this has enough potency to deeply alter catholic religion as we know it. As humans we certainly seem to have a very deep desire to ponder spiritual questions and form communities to give these thoughts structure and shape. The fact that Judith and many care and passionately express alternatives will ensure that those very reasonable alternatives to include a more desirable spirituality in ones lives will prosper.
A new church will come of it - honestly even without formal structure allready a majority of catholics are well on the path towards that modern interpretation of oue faith.

Anonymous said...

While one might agree with your sentiments, there are a few things you are getting wrong.

1. That the only part of the Catholic Church that matters is in the West.

2. That a decline of the Catholic Church in the West will lead to the death of the Catholic Church globally.

I live in Africa, I see things differently. The Church runs thousands of schools. There's a thin young girl somewhere in Mushin, Lagos who hasn't eaten for 24 hours - she will be fed by the Church.

Many Western Catholics are too self-absorbed. Try and see the Church beyond your locality. It will help you understand it better.

doglover said...

My goodness, Anonymous, you really understand it all, don't you. And you really know how to guide us away from the things we are getting wrong.

Anonymous said...

I chose my Pope in the Guardian today, just for fun really. Kroll or Tagle.

I am an Irish former Catholic. I have traveled the world for 30 years and decided on "none of the above", more out of weariness with those whose moral certainties make them a menace to people who are different, which is, in total, the rest of humanity.

I no longer believe and can't even fake it. I look back with feelings of having been fast forwarded from the middle ages. I have not lost my faith in and respect for some whose faith, humility and doubt I admire, or my affection for cultural resonances (being summoned by bells and all that). The golden rule will do for me. It would be a high bar for the church and many of its adherents.

Looking at the reaction to this thoughtful post I see the kind of reactions I gladly turned my back on. Travel is a very good antidote. I would rather be an exile than part of a community so convinced of its own righteousness.

Ernesto said...

Hear, hear! Excellent post.

Send it directly to the dinosaurs in the Vatican please.IN The World all WE NEED IS LOVE!!!!!