By Aisha S. Taylor

Originally printed in the Fall 2005 issue of NewWomen, NewChurch

In the U.S., Catholics account for 23% of the U.S. population — 65 million out of 282 million people. Of those 65 million U.S. Catholics, 64.6 percent are White, 28.2 percent are Hispanic or Latino/a, 3.8 percent are African American or Black, 2.5 percent are Native American, and 0.8 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander, according to a 2003 poll by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

At WOC, we do not have specific figures, but we do know that our membership and leadership has been predominantly and disproportionately White for the last thirty years. This is a pattern in many progressive Catholic organizations, and many of us are recognizing this as a problem. We are using institutional resources to initiate plans of action that take racism seriously, not only within the Catholic Church, but within our organizations and our selves.

This work is not entirely new to WOC. We have generally had ending racism in our scope in the context of WOC’s mission to create a renewed priestly ministry. WOC members have occasionally brought up the issue of racism and WOC leadership has initiated different forms of work in racial and ethnic diversity throughout our 30 year herstory. However, WOC has not addressed racism in a sustained, systematic, and intentional way.

The tides are changing. At the Board of Directors meeting in November 2004, the Board decided to intentionally renew this work using the term “anti-oppression” to acknowledge that our society is a “kyriarchy,” a term coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza to describe the complex interweaving of multiple oppressions. At the same time, the Board decided to begin our anti-oppression work with a focus on dismantling racism within WOC’s structure due to our demographics and herstory.

Why do we need to do this anti-racism work? Some answers can be found in WOC Adviser, Carmen Lane’s article “Creating the Inclusive WOC,” printed in the Spring 2002 edition of NewWomen, NewChurch, “This (anti-oppression) work is not separate from our women’s ordination work. It is the work of ordination…If we are not family, sisters, we cannot be ordained.”

Another answer can be found in the presentation of former WOC Executive Director, Joy Barnes, at this summer’s Women’s Ordination Worldwide conference, “We need to be aware of racism in our struggle for women’s ordination. We know women are called to ordination, and this includes all types of women — women of every race, economic class, sexual orientation, and marital status. We need to evaluate in ourselves how to be more inclusive and work to dismantle the inherent racism and white privilege in our groups.”

WOC’s very mission compels us to do this work: to ordain women into a renewed priestly ministry. It means we cannot simply “add women and stir.” We cannot work for women to be ordained into the church as it is now. If we did, sexism, racism and many forms of oppression would continue to live out in the structures of the church. We must work to change the unjust and oppressive structures to reflect and embrace the diversity of our global and U.S. church.

In order to do this work in the church, we must examine and change our selves. As the People’s Institute, a well-known anti-racism training organization, says, “we cannot be a rose in a cess pool.” We must examine how dominant Catholic and U.S. culture have been replicated within WOC. If we do not deal with our own racism and white privilege, we cannot fulfill our mission.

How are we going to do it? This past year, I spent twelve days participating in training and team formation for Call to Action’s Anti-Racism Team as a representative of WOC. With the training complete, I have gained organizing and strategic planning skills to coordinate the efforts to lead WOC toward dismantling racism within our organization. The plan has been drafted, and the WOC Board will consider it soon. I am grateful to CTA for this partnership, and look forward to working together to move the church reform movement — indeed, our church — to become a place where the people of God can find fullness of life and liberation.

We would like to gain input from you, our membership and supporters, about your thoughts on anti-racism and anti-oppression work. We are also looking for members who are interested in helping implement anti-racism. Please contact us at the WOC office if you are interested or have comments.

We must do the work of diversity and inclusion; we simply have no other choice. Grounded in our faith and guided by Sophia, our intentional efforts to confront racism will enable us to authentically and effectively advocate for women’s ordination into a renewed priestly ministry.

Aisha S. Taylor is WOC’s Executive Director. Call 202 675-1006 or email [email protected] to send input or participate in WOC’s anti-racism efforts.