By Theresa Yugar
In the Roman Catholic Church, it was a kairos moment pertaining to a critique of an illogical, dysfunctional church, and gender-justice for Catholic women in a global world. From July 9th through the 11th, a group of twenty-one Catholic feminists representing diverse ages, cultures, ethnic backgrounds that included academicians and practitioners, women religious, and administrators gathered together in Baltimore, Maryland, to discuss three major themes relating to the future of Catholic feminism. They were, “the church and social justice,” “feminist education and theology,” and “feminist ministry and church justice.” The event was timely in light of multiple challenges that Catholic women are experiencing in relationship to the institutional church. Among these challenges, the most immanent ones are the churches investigation of American nuns, reprimands of women theologians, and the churches’ financial efforts to ban reproductive rights for women. The overriding theme was to discuss alternative ways of being Catholic feminists. Initial presentations by Mary Hunt, Nancy Sylvester, and Marianne Duddy-Burke, reflected on a historic Catholic landscape that framed our discussions of shifting paradigms for understanding church in light of feminist Catholic theological perspective. They provided a backdrop for the three-day conference entitled “Catholic Feminist Movement Building.” Participants discussed and were invited to re-imagine a church where feminist efforts could work for global justice. Key terms that weaved our discussion together were integration, transformation, collaboration, interdependence, allies, and “the moveable middle.” Participants overwhelmingly were in agreement that the work of Catholic feminists is to address the needs of a global world, “beyond difference,” and inclusive of interdependence while critiquing the churches complicity in not living the gospel message. Hunt proposed that the movement not situate its history in light of Vatican II, nor the hierarchical church, but rather in light of “women’s struggles in the church.” Ruether declared that it is necessary to critique the church though not focus our energies on changing the church. Questions raised then became:
•How can we create a structure to support women in their respective ministries or theological education?
•What distinguishes feminist action?
•How do we move from our individual spheres into a global movement?
•How does the movement ensure a larger movement of the people of God?
•What is the role of marginal communities?
•What feminist principles could help in enabling a shift in paradigms that meet the varied needs of a global world?
•How do we use resources efficiently?
•Is there any place for feminism in the Roman Catholic Church?
•Can we be feminists in the church?
In light of the collaborative efforts and dialogue among Catholic women present it was obvious that “to be a Catholic feminist” takes on different ministries, shapes, and forms. Nationwide, Catholic feminist are called to continue the work of raising consciousness on varied and multiple layers of oppression in a male-centered church particularly as it relates to the role of women.
Strategies for Actualizing a feminist Catholic vision:
Attendees were invited to think of their dreams for a renewed church above and beyond the limitations of financial support. Also, individuals were encouraged to not limit our ministries based on the idea that we do not have money readily accessible to us.
DREAM: To be feminist is to reach out globally. Make it real. The history of all catholic women’s groups.
– The importance of networking and ally-building if the Catholic feminist movement is to continue to thrive and be effective.
– Minimizing cultural isolation, analysis and prayer.
– Beyond and dissolving barriers: AQ: what do you mean here?
– It’s about relationships. We cannot network effectively if we do not take the energy and time to nurture relationships outside of our comfort-zones. Networking takes energy and time.
– Break down barriers between diverse ethnic background and links us in a social justice agenda that integrates consciousness-raising, commitment to social justice [women’s] issues through activism: teaching, praxis and service.
– Relationships need to emerge organically. Must respond to the needs of small faith based communities.
– To establish an on-going Catholic think-tank for feminist theologians to gather each year to critique and respond to pressing situations of women in the church. It would be a feminist educational Movement. They would educate activists, grassroots and parish ministries on the ground. Interupt, educate and re-educate.
– To establish a global Catholic feminist Center. This center would bridge Catholic feminist activism efforts on a micro and macro level. It would link communities through video-blogs, [tweeting], on-line resources and provide that include education and small faith based communities.
– Translate social justice and politics to people in the middle
– New models: sister cities that would support groups on a local, national and global level
– Platform, Knowing our message, be proactive with regards to legal, media and people. Think outside of the box. Use media to our advantage. Concerted effort to broaden input of what the message is.
– Women Church [Liturgy], Community, and Ideology
– The importance of house churches and small faith based communities.
– Intersection of liturgy, communities and ideologies
– Inter-parish tweeting
– Structural networks, parishes K-1
– Women Church is broadened to men
Theresa Yugar is a longtime WOC member and former Board Member. She is currently a PhD. Candidate at Claremont School of Religion in Claremont, CA.