(This is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to a Catholic priest to perhaps enable him to ‘walk a mile in my moccasins’, to begin to understand the myriad subtle and not-so-subtle ways women are oppressed in the Church.
Men find particular fulfilment in devotion to the Virgin John who, having immaculately begotten God’s only Daughter, is now a model of manly piety, docility, humility and obedience…
Just suppose, John, that you were to come knocking on the door of a church that I – heaven forbid – were running along Catholic lines. The only difference is that the gender roles are reversed. You ask what, as a man, you can expect in this church; where you fit in. These are fragments of my answer.
During our services you are to sit and silently, passively receive whatever a woman – elected by other women – chooses to teach you. What she says, as God’s mouthpiece, is couched in language that barely acknowledges the existence of a gender other than her own. The ritual and the liturgy explicitly and implicitly deny the existence of men, and refer to both human beings and God as female, as she/ woman/ daughter/ mother/ princess/ Goddess/ queen. .
As a man you may not proclaim the Gospel because only women have that right. You may act as lector for the lesser stories, though nearly all of them are about women, with men having only incidental and ancillary roles.
Violence against men by women is regularly implied and sanctioned by our teaching.
Only women are empowered to consecrate the bread and the wine; to administer the holy oils; to anoint the sick and the dying; to forgive sins; and to speak the sacramental words.
Men are expected to abide by the moral and sexual choices made by women on their behalf.
Our teachings define men by and large in terms of their sexuality, then demean them because of it.
Men find particular fulfilment in devotion to the Virgin John who, having immaculately begotten God’s only Daughter, is now a model of manly piety, docility, humility and obedience.
Much of the guilt, shame and fear implicit in our teachings is blamed on men, but may only remitted, absolved, redeemed by a woman.
Men’s roles include laundering the vestments, doing the flowers, the vacuuming and the washing up, and scraping wax off the carpet. In perpetuity.
What effect do you think exposure to such an experience, infinitely repeated, would have not just on your spirituality but on your very sense of personhood?
Can you see that the wrongness might all but cancel out the beauty? Can you see why the very act of going to Mass might, for women, feel like colluding in intolerable oppression and injustice?
When does respect become collusion?
In May, I’m doing a silent retreat at Bethany. You, I imagine, will be there most days to ‘preside’ at the Eucharist. In the lovely, intimate chapel, in the vulnerability and luminosity of retreat, both the wrongness and the beauty are intensified. The purpose of a retreat is to deepen our spirituality. Yet for women, who make up the majority of retreatants, this nourishing is only conditionally reflected in the Mass celebrated as a keystone of that experience. With one hand you as priest most truly and honourably speak of love, tenderness, mercy, justice and peace. With the other, you enact oppression, exclusion, violation, dominance and hierarchy, which are the roots of war.
Women are simultaneously given wings and put in chains.
March, Annie. As A March Hare: dances of personal and cultural transformation. Hobart: Walleah Press, 2011