In honor of Pope Francis' NYC visit, I'd like to join the chorus of writers and thinkers commenting on his softer touch, his progressive agenda, his cute one-liners. I give him props for acknowledging climate change, for pushing Europe to solve the migrant crisis, for being adorable on twitter. But I'd also like to point out that, to be frank, he hasn't done SHIT to elevate women's position in the church.
I was raised Catholic. It wasn't an extremely devout household, but it was Catholic enough that I hoped to either die or get married young so that I wouldn't be tempted to sin (as I had the prescience to realize would like, totally happen if I made it to my college years unwed). It was in a CCD class (Catholic version of Sunday School) at age 11 that I was first introduced to the idea that women are 'complementary' but not equal to men. It was also the first time I felt the sting of the patriarchy, which sparked the fire of a feminist heart (see Vagilantes Issue 01).
This idea of women as "complementary" to men is not just the opinion of a misguided catechism teacher, it is deeply ingrained in Catholic doctrine. Women cannot receive the Holy Orders to become ordained priests. While women hold many of the non-ordained positions within the church, not to mention comprise the vast majority of congregants, they are barred from having any position of real power or even a voice in the bureaucracy of the Vatican. This is a big problem.
Pope Francis has expressed compassion toward women who have had abortions (as long as you confess and atone, of course). He has called off the witch hunt against the American nuns who fought for social justice, and he's streamlined the annulment process which can benefit victims of spousal abuse. These are all nice things to do and say, but they aren't really radical or progressive. I'm not deluded enough to expect the Vatican to start supporting the right to choose or encouraging the use of birth control (even though 98% of Catholic women reported using it in some form). I left the church because I realize that it is fundamentally incongruous with my personal beliefs. However, I don't think it's too much to ask that some of the most devout followers of the faith have a shot at obtaining power and respect within the church hierarchy. But, as Pope Francis stated this year, "“As far as women’s ordination is concerned, the Church has spoken and said, ‘No. That door is closed.” Its a callous and lazy conclusion from a man who has otherwise presented himself as a humanitarian and a thinker.
The best Catholic (and human being) I've ever known was my late Grandmother. This is a woman who walked to church to hear mass almost every morning. She was pregnant for almost her entire adulthood, and ended up raising nine children. She was also compassionate, generous, kind, humble, and embodied the "poverty of spirit" that is central to the best parts of Catholic teaching. She devoted her life, her soul, and her body to the faith, as many Catholic women do, yet she was a second-class citizen within the church.
New York Magazine published an excellent essay by Lisa Miller this week about this blind spot in the Pontiff's 'revolution'. "[Pope Francis] reflects the traditional Catholic view, always trotted out in defense of its entrenched sexism, that women are simply different from men, complementary but not any less valuable or special in the eyes of God. Follow this argument to its end and find that it’s women’s fertility, and their place at the center of the home, that accounts for their specialness — and perhaps also their unsuitability as church leaders."
In other words, its the same view expressed by that misguided Catechism teacher that pushed me out of the church to begin with.