Women’s Authority in the Church

The feminist challenge to the Catholic faith is based upon a deep misunderstanding. Feminists accuse Catholicism of being thoroughly patriarchal. They claim that women have been oppressed since the Church’s inception by a male power structure. In the Catholic Church, they charge, men and men alone are the rulers in a hierarchically-based system of pope, bishops, priests, and deacons.
 
 


This feminist ecclesiological perspective employs three false premises.
 
  1. It is commonly believed, even among those who are not feminist, that power and authority is something intrinsically tied solely to formal public office.
  2. In order for women to have religious power and authority they somehow must be identified with divinity. It seems that men have more status because God is called "Father" and not "Mother."
  3. It is believed, again even among those who are not feminist, that authentic authority is a legal-juridical category. Here authority is confused with power — essentially the power to set policies and order other people around.

 
Authority in the Catholic Church cannot be confused with raw juridical power. If ecclesial authority is the power to set policies and rule over others then it is true that women, generally, have had little of this power. But authority is not simply power. Authority, if it is authentic, is first based in the power to give life. The word "authority" comes from the Latin auctor which means the author, originator, source, maker of, or creator of something. Authority is essentially life-giving, thus, God possesses authority par excellence. Not only is authority the power to give life, but it is also the moral right of the life-giver to see that his created work is brought to its fulfillment.

The covenant between Christ and his Church, the means of this fulfillment, is intrinsically maritally ordered. This may sound strange to some, but Christ is not effecting salvation alone. It must be said that salvation in the world is effected by Christ in union with his Church. The foundation of feminine authority rests upon this principle. Christ is a bridegroom, and exists with his bride, the Church, according to the pattern of a one in flesh unity (Eph. 5:32). The sexual differentiation of authority is explicitly denoted by this marital covenant.

Though men and women are both necessary to bestow life, they do not give life in the same way. A most urgent theological task, given the feminist attack on the faith, is to articulate the nature of feminine authority in the Church, that is, the way that Catholic women give life. While their authority is not that of an ordained priest, it is nonetheless an authority equally constitutive of salvation in Christ.

The 1976 Vatican document Inter insigniores reiterated for several reasons that women cannot be ordained to the priesthood. First, there is the argument from tradition, namely, that Christ’s action in not calling women to be apostles is permanently indicative of the attitude of Christ toward ordaining women. The Church, if she is to remain true to her Lord, is not free to deviate from the norm Christ established. Second, the document points to the practice of the apostles and the early Church in not ordaining women. The next argument has to do with the person of Christ himself and the significance of masculine sexual symbolism in creating a "natural resemblance" between Christ and the eucharistic minister. As the document says, "Christ was and remains a man." Indeed, the male sex of Christ "cannot be disassociated from the economy of salvation." 

Most often overlooked is the argument in Inter insigniores that in the Old Testament the covenant of salvation took the "privileged form of a nuptial mystery." Many commentators, especially those in favor of women priests, tend to ignore this teaching of the document. Instead they focus on the argument from tradition and complain that it is not sufficiently compelling. However, the nuptial dimension of the covenant of salvation is not only enormously important in establishing why women cannot be priests, but it provides the basis of an authentic feminine ecclesial authority.

In an article published by Theological Studies (Fall 1994), Dennis Michael Ferrara stated that the primary argument of Inter insigniores was the argument from tradition: that the "teaching against the ordination of women is the constant and universal tradition of the Church." He thinks the Magisterium has offered little theological support for this position in a "factual tradition." This, of course, can be refuted. However, Ferrara makes a very important statement at the end of his article that the Church’s rationale for excluding women from the priesthood "will have to address the central theological issue: the alleged link between the sexual difference and the nature of the priesthood."

The primary life-giving act of Christ, the incarnate Lord, by which his authority is most definitively expressed is that he gave himself up on the Cross. Indeed as the letter to the Ephesians states, "He gave himself up for her" (5:25). He gave himself up for the Church "to make her holy, purifying her in the bath of water by the power of the word to present to himself a glorious church, holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort" (5: 26). Christ and the Church exist in a head-body relation. Christ is not head simply because of raw power, because he dominates, or suppresses, or restricts what he is related to. The word "head" in Greek (kephale) can be understood as "overlord" but it also means arché in the sense of being the source or beginning of something. There are numerous passages in scripture that speak of Christ as the source or vivifying principle of the Church.

Christ is head of the Church, because he is the source of her life. This is the essence of Christ’s authoritative headship. The head of the Church exists covenantally in union with the body. A differentiation and unity exists between head and body. The prime symbols of this reality are sexual. Indeed the sacrifice of Christ is the sacrifice of a masculine person. His sacrifice is his unique gift as such. The gift cannot exist apart from the concrete historical person who offers it. He offers it to another, different from himself. This is a covenantally-structured giving and receiving which can only be effectively communicated by symbols that honor its meaning, namely, the nuptial symbols of man and woman.

The nuptial structure of redemption wrought by Christ determines what authority is within the Catholic Church. Authority, because it is life-giving, is fundamentally service. Rooted in the marital structure of the New Covenant, authority entails responsibility for the faith. It is important to understand the nature of this responsibility. As we stated, male and female sexuality, from the very beginning, are the symbols of the covenant. The covenant is dependent upon these symbols and would have no concrete expression without them. From the very beginning of creation, man and woman are imbued with salvific meaning — they are sacramental signs. Responsibility for the faith is differentiated according to the sexual symbols of the covenant. The responsibility of ordained men, for instance, exists over and against the feminine Church whose femininity is expressed in the very lives of Christian women.

To the extent that this differentiated responsibility becomes blurred, Christianity itself, as rooted in the meaning of sexuality, ceases to be effectively communicated to the world. To undo the meaning of sexual symbols is to undo the Christian faith. This is why it is doctrinally and theologically wrong to refer to God as a female. The covenant itself exists according to differentiation. God as the creator of nature cannot be confused with his creation and neither can creation be confused with God. Yet God and the world exist in a covenantal relation. Sexual symbols reveal this truth. God is male toward his creation which in turn is feminine in relation to him. Male and female sexuality speak a truth about this transcendent relation. It is not an arbitrary choice of words or simply a matter of historical conditioning from a patriarchal culture that God is referred to with masculine pronouns and called "Father." Masculine symbols speak a truth about the way God gives life. Similarly, nature, or creation, is truly feminine. It is within the feminine essence of nature and the Church that female authority exists. Liturgically and sacramentally women speak the full voice of creation to God.

The feminization of God strikes a blow at the covenantal structure of the Judeo-Christian tradition and takes from women their authentic role. Feminists believe it is necessary to turn God into a woman seeking thereby to imbue women with power that they would not otherwise have. This mistake is based on a non-Christian understanding of reality and authority. Feminists do not understand, or at least do not accept, that authority is shared in a covenantal fashion. Their monistic view of reality collapses all existence into the singular, isolated entity, where everything must be the same, because everything must be made to seem equal. This feminist equalization means that all that exists, and in particular women, must be on the side of divinity in order to be real. If women are considered only on the side of nature they are left disempowered as if their own creative actions are insignificant.

St. Paul provides the formula for understanding this covenantal authority with the words: "In the Lord, woman is not independent of man nor man independent of woman. In the same way that woman was made from man, so man is born of woman; and all is from God" (I Cor. 11: 11-12). This statement is a key to understanding male and female authority. It is important to note that the passage indicates the dependency of men upon women for life. The passage accounts for the differentiation — simply between men and women — but between male and female authority.

Men are the images of the first Adam — who is the source of the woman. The first Adam is a prophecy of Christ who, in fulfillment of the first Adam, is the source and head of the Church. Women are not heads in this way. They do not stand sacramentally in the place of Christ, the New Adam, as males do, yet they are a true source of life! They are a true source of life that completes the true meaning of male authority, since male authority exists only within, and never apart from, the unity of the one flesh.

Christ is the initiating source of the Church as bridegroom to bride. The Church is the body of Christ, fulfilling him (Eph. 2:23) and completing him, and thus she is his covenantal partner in redemption. Male and female authority is a matter of being entrusted with a responsibility for redemption according to the marital order of this covenant. The sacramental priesthood represents Christ as source of the Church. But this male authority does not exhaust the essence of ecclesial authority. Christ is a man, but he is only fully male through the womanly essence of the Church. Women, and not men, are the effective expression of the Church’s feminine authority in the world.

Feminine responsibility for the faith cannot be taken over by a man if the covenantal truth about Christ and the Church is to be made real in the world. This is the truth spoken in the world and to the world in eucharistic worship. Only men can be priests if the truth about Christ’s sacrificial headship is to be authentically spoken. However, in eucharistic worship it is the woman, as the center of everything good about creation, who provides the necessary sacramental response by which the one flesh unity of Christ and the Church is historically made present. If the symbols of human sexuality by which the Church worships are altered, the religion itself collapses because its covenantal truth is not effectively communicated.

Authority is about giving life and it is differentiated between men and women. Some may still ask in exasperation, "Well, who do women get to boss around?" Posing the question this way is still to understand authority as the power to control, above and outside of a free covenantal order.

The prime example of feminine authority is Mary, the Mother of God. Her life-giving "yes" began a new creation and by it, she is rendered Queen of Heaven, Queen of Saints, Queen of Apostles. Feminine authority also can be seen residing in one like St. Monica, who exercised authority in calling her son, St. Augustine, to truth and holiness. It is found in early Church martyrs like Ss. Perpetua and Agatha who are actually the protagonists in a contest of wills against their oppressors.It is seen in the life of St. Margaret Clitherow, who, exemplifying the ecclesia magistra, preached the Catholic faith to her husband and defied civil authority by hiding priests in her own home.

It is found in the life of St. Teresa of Avila, who, as a sign of the teaching and nourishing Church, reformed a corrupted religious order. It is found in St. Catherine of Siena, who, as a true voice of the mater ecclesia, called an exiled pope to courage and guided his return to Rome. Feminine ecclesial authority is seen in the lives of Dorothy Day, Joan Andrews Bell, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It is seen in the countless lives of Christian women who speak and live their feminine responsibility for the faith and who thus call all people, including husbands, priests, and bishops, to live a deeper life in Christ.

There is a lot of work that still needs to be done on the subject of feminine authority. But at least we can begin by realizing that it is a reality in the Church that cannot be confused with the authority of the Catholic priesthood or male ecclesial authority in general. To do so is to kill any notion of an authentic feminine contribution to salvation. The feminists think authority is essentially quantitative power. However, even male authority is not this. As we see, Christ, the Lord, revealed the fullness of his authority in dying on the Cross.
 

Monica Migliorino Miller

By

Monica Migliorino Miller is the Director of Citizens for a Pro-life Society and Associate Professor of Theology at Madonna University in Michigan. She holds a degree in Theatre Arts from Southern Illinois University and graduate degrees in Theology from Loyola University and Marquette University. She is the author of several books including The Theology of the Passion of the Christ (Alba House) and, most recently, The Authority of Women in the Catholic Church (Emmaus Road).

  • reddog

    Women hold the ultimate power in the Church. It was women in the Church, who finally broke the silence about priestly child abuse. It is women who decide how much money the family will give to the Church. It is women who determine the level of Christianity in the home and participation in church functions.

    Women will decide if the Catholic Church continues as a vital part of the society in which they live. If many have already decided not to participate, it is because their wives and mothers thought it best.

  • Tony Esolen

    Reddog is, I believe, wrong on all counts. Show me a family wherein the woman takes the children to church and the father stays home, and I will show you a family whose children will (more often than not) stray from the faith. They will reject it as they grow older, just as they reject being taken care of by their mother. It will seem to them something babyish, something to outgrow. Show me a family wherein the father leads his children in prayer, and I will show you a family whose children, almost always, will persevere in the faith. This is an anthropological fact borne out by the experiences of such disparate groups as Orthodox Jews, faithful Muslims, the Amish, and so forth.

  • Ron Cowie

    This article speaks more about culture than it does about the true nature of God.

  • Darcy

    I think it is almost certainly true that children in families where the father is not religious are less likely to persevere in faith. However, what Tony Esolen appears to ignore in his blanket rejection of redddog’s points is that children generally will never even have any religion instilled in them, and therefore usually will have no chance to persevere in it, unless their mothers are religious. Also, fathers are far less likely to be religious at all unless their wives are as well. I don’t deny the importance of the father’s religious involvement for the children’s religious futures, but I also think that in general (obviously there are exceptions), if you show me a family where the mother is not religious, I will show you a family where no one is religious.

  • Micha Elyi

    The feminist challenge to the Catholic faith is based upon a deep misunderstanding.

    I disagree. The feminist challenge to Catholic Christian faith is based on a greed for more female power, the wish to “be like God,” the Original Sin.

  • John Jakubczyk

    I am rather surprised by some of the comments. Monica’s presentation is well constructed and holds together quite logically both internally and from without. The reflection of the entire cosmos is this “generation – reception” reality and it operates at so many levels as to boggle the mind. But the brilliant stroke in her essay was the notion that both in the spiritual and physical sense “life” having been infused by the “Head” is received by the “Body” which then completes the process in the creation of “new life.” There is this communion that is seen in the sacrament of marriage, in the liturgical life of the Church and in the entire relationship between God and humanity. As Monica states, “[Women] do not stand sacramentally in the place of Christ, the New Adam, as males do, yet they are a true source of life! They are a true source of life that completes the true meaning of male authority, since male authority exists only within, and never apart from, the unity of the one flesh.”

    So we see that once again it is not an “either/or” but a “both/and.”

    Paul speaks of it as a great mystery. too many people short change the great apostle and miss the power in of the Holy Spirit in these words. Men are called to service. Ultimately that is where one finds true power. And as the author explains, we are not to confuse the concept of power as the world defines it. Just as the world cannot understand the “peace” which “passeth all understanding,” so it cannot understand what Christ’s definition of real power and real authority truly mean. sad to say, too many churchmen do not understand the incredible gift in their hands. Instead the fear that comes from a lack of faith and sin freezes them such that we have suffered the many crises in our history. Still the examples of the saints then and now should give us reason to thank God for the opportunity to instill in our children an appreciation of this great and joyful mystery.

  • Ann

    >> I also think that in general (obviously there are exceptions), if you show me a family where the mother is not religious, I will show you a family where no one is religious.< < Agreed. A rather low percentage of Catholic men attends Mass regularly. I believe the figure is about 26%, as opposed to about 49% for Catholic women. Most Catholic fathers clearly don’t play much part in propagating the faith. The Church is a predominantly feminine institution.

  • Ann

    There’s a reason religion goes through the mother in Judaism.

  • Mother of two sons

    “This may sound strange to some, but Christ is not effecting salvation alone. It must be said that salvation in the world is effected by Christ in union with his Church. The foundation of feminine authority rests upon this principle.”

    I am having trouble with this thought…it sounds as if Christ’s crucifixion was not enough or unfinished unless played out in and through us, His body The Church…. Not possible unless one articulates that in God there is no Time, All is Present to GOD, and so in our experience of time we can, if we have the eyes to see,witness the salvation that manifests across the world through souls stepping into the personal authority of themselves in union with Christ….

    I believe that the author rightly states that the feminist mindset and the non-practicing mindset of many Catholic men are actually either seeking an authority that is not theirs or in the case of the men, not stepping into the authority that is theirs.

    When I was in the convent I noted in the large open conversations with women religious and the Bishops that the women who were seeking to be ordained priests were fighting over an authority that had nothing to do with saying Mass or hearing confessions…. It was a delusion and I believed then as a young religious and I believe to this day, it was not of God…like they claimed. Confusion of roles, gender and the like have led to a long period of tumultuous waves crashing against the sweet Heart of Christ and His body the Church, costing us dearly and mostly delaying the Graces and Blessings that pour like a waterfall once the obstructions to the river are addressed and removed….

    I believe that the spiritual deprivation that exists in our Church today is completely tied to the abandonment by these same women of their spiritually nurturing roles…. as well as to the abandonment by men of their responsibility/authority over the spiritual exercises and development of their own souls, so they have it to share with their wives and children.

    I know that we will see it come around in a more beautiful form, for those who hear answer His call during these days will be truly seeking Him and desirous of sharing His loving healing presence with all the souls they serve.

    We all have been given complete authority over ourselves, if we but exercise it; and some, not all, are given a highly accountable to God Himself authority to lead and guide souls.

  • Michael Healy, Jr.

    >> I also think that in general (obviously there are exceptions), if you show me a family where the mother is not religious, I will show you a family where no one is religious.< < Agreed. A rather low percentage of Catholic men attends Mass regularly. I believe the figure is about 26%, as opposed to about 49% for Catholic women. Most Catholic fathers clearly don’t play much part in propagating the faith. The Church is a predominantly feminine institution.

    This is merely a culturally conditioned phenomenon of the modern West. Let me put it this way: the Church today surrenders to feminism in every respect other than changing its doctrines and admitting them to the clergy, thus leaving no role for a man who is not a cleric, and then hypocritically turns around and asks where all the men have gone.

    If you want men to be more involved in the Church, then stop talking out of both sides of your mouth and show us what role a man can have in the Church today.

  • Darcy

    There have been imprudent capitulations to feminism on some points in the contemporary Church. However, while less participation by men in many aspects of the life of the Church is a problem we need to work to address, it is not exclusively a culturally conditioned aspect of our time and place. One can find similar phenomena lamented at various points in the history of the Church. Augustine, for example, wrote: “Oh you men, who all fear the burdens imposed by baptism. You are easily beaten by your women. Chaste and devoted to the faith, it is their presence in great numbers that causes the Church to grow.” (see Peter Brown, Body and Society, 342). It seems to me that, while admitting the negative effects of feminism, we should also recognize that there may be a difference in nature between men and women such that both have different most common weaknesses, and the most common weaknesses of women are ones less likely to express themselves in a lack of explicit participation in the life of the Church.

  • Lorraine Murray

    This was a difficult piece to understand, given its highly abstract language. However, it is important, methinks, to point out that there are many feminist theologians who see God as masculine, not feminine, but STILL want female “priestesses.” This is because they see everything in terms of legal rights –and do not understand that the Church is a mystical entity.

    Also, the most compelling argument to me about why women cannot become priests is that Christ chose twelve men. And even after one of them betrayed him and had to be replaced, the apostles themselves could have chosen Mary — but they continued the tradition.

  • Jason Negri

    It seems to me that, while admitting the negative effects of feminism, we should also recognize that there may be a difference in nature between men and women such that both have different most common weaknesses, and the most common weaknesses of women are ones less likely to express themselves in a lack of explicit participation in the life of the Church.

    Good point, Darcy. I believe these differences in nature – including differences in our inclinations – play a large role in men’s rejection of Christianity. I have said it before here on IC – I believe it is harder for men to submit to Christianity’s moral code. We are more inclined toward passions, both sexual and anger; it is our behavior, our aggression, our natures that usually most need to be subdued. And Christianity holds up as its icon a man whose meekness, humility and “defeat” were the attributes we are told are required for salvation. None of this is attractive to men. So if Church leaders want men to participate, they’d damn well better throw us a bone in terms of praxis: no more felt banners and mamby-pamby homilies. Masculinize our liturgies and challenge us. Minimize the wimpy songs and homilies whose only message boils down to something like “be nice to everyone and love yourself”.

    I really hope some priests and bishops read these pages and the comments here. You want to know what the sensus fidelium is? The comments sections of Inside Catholic are a good place to start.

  • Michael Healy, Jr.

    One can find similar phenomena lamented at various points in the history of the Church. Augustine, for example, wrote: “Oh you men, who all fear the burdens imposed by baptism. You are easily beaten by your women. Chaste and devoted to the faith, it is their presence in great numbers that causes the Church to grow.” (see Peter Brown, Body and Society, 342).

    It’s hard to argue with Augustine, of course, but could you cite the passage in his writings where he says this, and not just Peter Brown’s book?

    But you have not addressed my main point: It is hypocritical to bemoan the absence of male participation in the Church while at the same time ensuring that non-clerical men “get the message” that there is nothing for them to do because others are doing it anyway.

    What role, if any, does a man who is not a cleric have in the Church?

  • Brian Saint-Paul

    One can find similar phenomena lamented at various points in the history of the Church. Augustine, for example, wrote: “Oh you men, who all fear the burdens imposed by baptism. You are easily beaten by your women. Chaste and devoted to the faith, it is their presence in great numbers that causes the Church to grow.” (see Peter Brown, Body and Society, 342).

    It’s hard to argue with Augustine, of course, but could you cite the passage in his writings where he says this, and not just Peter Brown’s book?

    Hi Michael,

    Don’t mean to butt in, but the passage comes from Augustine’s second letter to Firmus (CSEL 8smilies/cool.gif. Hope that helps.

    This is a good discussion!

  • Nick Palmer

    I heard the findings of a study a few years ago about the relationship between parents’ religiosity and their children’s. I’m afraid that I remember neither the authors nor the exact numbers, but approximations will do. Something like 85 percent of children raised in families where both parents are regular churchgoers become regular churchgoers themselves. The number falls to the range of 60-to-70 percent where the FATHER is a regular churchgoer and the mother is not. It falls well BELOW 50 percent where the mother is a regular attendee and the father is not.

    Food for thought…

  • Christine

    Thank you for such a great article. It has taken me a day to digest even part of what is being said. This is definitely something that you can read several times and get something new out of it.

    As usual, Mother of Two Sons, you gave me a great insight on the daily application of such deep philosophical thought. Thank you.

    Jason Negri, maybe you should think about joining the Traditional Choir at your parish. I know that, even though the choir at my parish is comprised of 60% women and 40% men, nobody could call the music of Mozart, Bach and Rutter effeminate. The music is beautiful and masculine and the words that you sing (scripture) truly reveal to me the one of the many aspects of God’s masculine and fatherly traits. I never get tired of Mozart’s Ave Verum or Rutter’s requiem, and I think if you give it a try, you will absolutely love the spiritual doors this aspect of service will open for you.

    Finally, I think that women who fight for the “rights” of women to take clerical roles in the Church should be prayed for. It seems to me that they don’t understand the wonderful role that we fill in society and the church. As I have become more comfortable with myself, my femininity and its innate power and God given grace, I disagree more and more with women becoming priests. I pray for their peace and happiness, because following Christ’s way leads to peace and happiness.

    Thanks again for such great writing, it made my morning.

  • Michael Healy, Jr.

    I heard the findings of a study a few years ago about the relationship between parents’ religiosity and their children’s. I’m afraid that I remember neither the authors nor the exact numbers, but approximations will do. Something like 85 percent of children raised in families where both parents are regular churchgoers become regular churchgoers themselves. The number falls to the range of 60-to-70 percent where the FATHER is a regular churchgoer and the mother is not. It falls well BELOW 50 percent where the mother is a regular attendee and the father is not.

    Food for thought…

    I remember reading that, too. It highlights the fact that, regardless of what people may say, the father’s role in handing on the faith is more crucial than the mother’s.

    But does anyone have thoughts about what I still consider my main point? What role, if any, does a man who is not a cleric have in the Church?

  • Christine

    Michael,

    At my parish the men are very active. These are some of the roles they perform:

    Knights of Columbus – service
    Altar Servers (weekdays)
    Choir (of course)
    Ushers
    Boy Scouts (proper development of boys)
    Lectors
    Catechetical teachers (CCD)
    Boy’s Club
    HOPE (our parish local charity)
    LifeTeen leadership
    Project Gracias (our international fundraising and outreach)

    I know of men in all of these organizations and in our parish, they are in leadership positions in all of them.

    I hope this helps.

  • Rich

    Having worked in the Church now for 20 years, I can guarantee that the posts here on Inside Catholic do not at ALL reflect the sensus fidelium.

    Just my opinion. As one who encounters lots of Catholics.

    Also, the term “faggoty” is actualy very derisive and on a par with a certain “n” word that is used to speak poorly of some of God’s children. I would hope not to see that again here at IC.

    Finally, to the topic: Women, and I mean fully educated, part-of-society women, are a very new thing to our world. It hasn’t even been 100 years since women were allowed to vote in this country. The fact that women are NOT part of the magisterium will become a greater and greater issue as years go by.

    I do appreciate all the flowery language and can even see some mystical meaning in what the author is saying, there is still the reality that many women, who rightly represent the sensus fidelium, will not find these words convincing.

    Change is never easy. Thankfully, there are more women in college right now than there are men.

    The world, and the Church, will be very different in 2 or 3 hundred years. Sadly, I wont be around to see it, but I am heartened that I see the seeds growing now.

  • Administrator

    Also, the term “faggoty” is actualy very derisive and on a par with a certain “n” word that is used to speak poorly of some of God’s children.

    Yes, let’s please avoid that term, folks. I missed that one.

  • Jason Negri

    …with an emphasis on “fidelium”. And by referring priests & bishops to IC, I mean ALL the comments, including yours, Rich. The level of substantive dialogue I see on these pages usually goes beyond the superficial name-calling I have seen on other sites. Many people actually DO engage each other here and different sides are forced to do a better job articulating their positions, which I think is good for us all.

    Someone once said that the Catholic Church is the traditional institution par excellence; that as one of its roles is safeguarding the deposit of faith, so there is a natural (and good) resistance to change. When it’s your responsibility to be the arbiter of truth, you embrace change slowly and cautiously. So in this light, with most of the IC crowd appreciating those traditions and starting off from that point of view (hence the “faithful” in “sense of the faithful”), I still see the discussions here as being fruitful and more open to change, progress and new ideas than other sites who adhere to tradition out of a reaction against change. You may disagree because you’re more of a progressive, but I stand by what I said.

    As for my hyperbolic use of the word “faggoty”, it was chosen because nothing else expresses as well the sentiment I was trying to evoke – the excesses of feminine emotionalism, petulance and lack of grit associated with the old stereotype of the flamboyant, lisping homosexual that MOST men find so repulsive. I don’t equate it with the “n” word, and I certainly don’t see homosexuals this way. Sorry if I offended.

  • Ann

    I don’t understand how women get blamed for men not going to Mass. This seems to be a constant theme here on IC.

    What should we do at Mass? Beat drums? Run around with guns? How can we make it masculine enough for the manly men out there? Can we put a screen with a sports game on it up in the corner?

    Let’s face it, many men are LAZY. I see men at Mass barely saying the prayers. If they cracked open a hymnal, pigs would fly.

    Let’s stop blaming the “evil” feminists and the priests. And then if they have the nerve to be an EM, or a reader or an altar girl, then get denigrated AGAIN on here in the comments section.

    If mothers didn’t make sure that the children received their sacraments, sign them up for Religious Ed, and take them to Mass (hopefully with the father), the population of the American church would shrink to approaching ZERO in one generation.

  • Christine

    I want to make clear two things:

    First, sorry Administrator for me using the descriptive word faggot, in my response to someone else who used the word to describe the liturgy – Mr. Negri – I still hope that you try choir.

    Second, my comments regarding the roles men assume in my parish through the organizations and positions I posted were of a positive nature. I want to be clear that I support men in these positions and have nothing to say but great things about my parish and the great work of the men in my parish. It is not perfect, but it is a great place for everybody. My prayer is that more men see these men and take part as well.

  • Rich

    Someone once said that the Catholic Church is the traditional institution par excellence; that as one of its roles is safeguarding the deposit of faith, so there is a natural (and good) resistance to change. When it’s your responsibility to be the arbiter of truth, you embrace change slowly and cautiously. So in this light, with most of the IC crowd appreciating those traditions and starting off from that point of view (hence the “faithful” in “sense of the faithful”), I still see the discussions here as being fruitful and more open to change, progress and new ideas than other sites who adhere to tradition out of a reaction against change. You may disagree because you’re more of a progressive, but I stand by what I said.

    In the sense that there are other websites out there that are FAR more scrupulous in their reading of doctrine or even rubric then, yes, I do agree that there are some good conversations here.

    I, too, value an institution that is slow to change, and I value the wisdom therein. Thankfully, change does occur and from where I stand it is not all bad.

    Peace.

  • Administrator

    First, sorry Administrator for me using the descriptive word faggot, in my response to someone else who used the word to describe the liturgy

    Oops! I missed the original usage as well. It has been a long week.

  • Christine

    I’ll try not to make you work so hard. I don’t know what happened to my hand. I thought I hadn’t put the word in the apology. Ugh [smiley=shock]

  • Jason Negri

    I don’t understand how women get blamed for men not going to Mass. This seems to be a constant theme here on IC.

    What should we do at Mass? Beat drums? Run around with guns? How can we make it masculine enough for the manly men out there? Can we put a screen with a sports game on it up in the corner?

    Let’s face it, many men are LAZY. I see men at Mass barely saying the prayers. If they cracked open a hymnal, pigs would fly.

    Let’s stop blaming the “evil” feminists and the priests. And then if they have the nerve to be an EM, or a reader or an altar girl, then get denigrated AGAIN on here in the comments section.

    If mothers didn’t make sure that the children received their sacraments, sign them up for Religious Ed, and take them to Mass (hopefully with the father), the population of the American church would shrink to approaching ZERO in one generation.

    Ann, I think you’re right about most of this. I certainly don’t blame women for men not going to church. But consider: when was the last time you heard the priest specifically point this out and challenge the men in the congregation to really participate and take The Faith seriously? When have you heard the priest tell the men that their salvation and the salvation of their children demands his full attention? When did you hear the priest talk and act as if the Faith were something worth dying for? I’ve almost never heard it. THAT might have a chance of inspiring men to “man up” and be the protectors and example-setters we’re supposed to be.

    So yes, I partially blame the priests and the feminists inasmuch as they created and perpetuate a church culture that is uninspiring to men. We don’t need a big screen TV or beer (well, at least, not in church); we need a challenge.

  • Ender

    But does anyone have thoughts about what I still consider my main point? What role, if any, does a man who is not a cleric have in the Church?

    Men can obviously fill the roles women fill, however I don’t think their attitude toward the Church is shaped so much by what positions they get to hold as by their impression of the nature of Catholicism itself. That is, if they perceive the Church to be little more than a giant service organization with a theology no deeper than Rodney King’s “Why can’t we all just get along?” then it shouldn’t be surprising that a lot of men are not attracted to it. It is, unfortunately, understandable why they would have this perception.

  • John Whitman

    This article is solid theology as it speaks to the Church triumphant. But we are a pilgrim church. Women who work for the church, namely paid employees, are at the whim of most pastors and/or deacons at the parish in which they work. In our Church militant, authority is power … and many women have been damaged by the men who confuse their authority with power.

  • Kate

    Well, this is another discussion on the topic of feminization of the Church that I believe has a simple solution. Leave Catholic Church membership and practice exclusively to men. It’s as simple as that. My experience and perspective is similar to that of Ann’s in this discussion. I am a married mother of two sons. My participation in the faith is participation in religious education (I serve as a special education aide for my autistic son) and Mass attendance with my children and husband. I go for their sakes. I used to be a reader and parish staff member responsible for adult faith formation. I lost my job when the new pastor wanted his own people. We since moved and belong to another parish, one where Jason Negri might really appreciate the pastor’s homilies and words specifically directed to men. And he does it without alienating women or at least me. Otherwise, I just realized that with issues like this dominating the Church, I just don’t really fit in anymore. I go along to get along. But the Church hasn’t made a personal positive difference in my life without burdening me further and I have given up on expecting anything in return. As I wrote in a similar discussion started by one of Anthony Esolen’s articles, I give up.

  • Michael Healy, Jr.

    Well, this is another discussion on the topic of feminization of the Church that I believe has a simple solution. Leave Catholic Church membership and practice exclusively to men… Otherwise, I just realized that with issues like this dominating the Church, I just don’t really fit in anymore. I go along to get along. But the Church hasn’t made a personal positive difference in my life without burdening me further and I have given up on expecting anything in return. As I wrote in a similar discussion started by one of Anthony Esolen’s articles, I give up.

    Ah, but precisely the point I was trying to make was that some people leave me with the impression that (aside from the clergy), Church membership should be left to women.

    Let’s keep this in mind, then: the best of intentions can have unintended consequences. You and I, in different ways, seem to be reacting to the unintended and unforeseen consequences of the actions of others.

    Aside from that, what is it you have given up on? The politicized form of Church activism that was dominant in the late twentieth century? Or the life of holiness? I, for one, would not want anyone, yourself included, to give up on the life of holiness. Remember, with God all things are possible.

  • Doug Moore

    A very difficult area to fully convey. As the father and husband, it is my responsibility to lead by example and go to Mass. My wife leads the way in other important areas of our Catholic life, also by example. “Bossing around” is no part of this.
    Thank you for your well written article.

  • Lucien

    One wonders about utilizing Ephesians 5 to speak about feminine-Church authority, since the Christ/Church-Bridegroom/Bride sign is combined with the overtly authoritarian Head/Body sign.

  • RA

    Our Roman Catholic Church is well balanced for both men and women and does not need to change in any way. All we need to do is look at the episcopalians and see what a hundred years of change has wrought, actively homosexual bishops, radical feminist priestesses, and advocacy of abortion. We’d best not go in for any change lest we end up worshiping someone other than the one true God.

  • kim

    I enjoyed this article for its focus on the bridal paradigm of the church. In my experience, many cradle Catholics have missed this understanding of the church; i.e. Christ the bridegroom and the church his beautiful bride. I believe that the practical implementation of the church reflects this mystical understanding. The strength of Christian women comes from their life giving nature, from the saints to the stay-at-home mom.

    As for church attendance– doesn’t the lack reflect the loss of that nuptial relationship with Jesus. People are in need of a lover; a relationship with Christ! The church will continue as long as we create opportunities for our children to fall in love with our Lord. This can be done through adoration, worship, ect…..we need more opportunities like this for our youth.

  • Kamilla

    Thank you so much for this article. It expresses clearly and argues well for the ideas I lack the training and skill to express. For some time now, I have thought about this idea of authority in connection with the aims of religious feminism. It seems to me, the religious feminists have a very thin concept of authority which reduces it to title and power. However, I’ve been privileged to get to know families which operate along what might be called frankly patriarchal lines and which I’d call simply biblical – where the wives and mothers have enormous authority. But it is not the authority of raw power, it is the authority of godly influence.

    My primary complaint about the article is that I believe Prof. Miller is entirely too charitable in her assessment of religious feminists. In my experience among them and having been one of them (in the Evanglical world), it is not a question of misunderstanding. It is one of frank rebellion, of refusal to submit, of re-defining terms and making theology the handmaiden of philosophy. In other words, they don’t misunderstand, they deliberately misconstrue in order to justify their rebellion.

    Kamilla

  • Mark

    Tertullian said: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”

    While it’s true that if many men “cracked open a hymnal, pigs would fly” it should not be forgotten that the vast majority of early church martyrs, including most of the first 30 popes, were men.

    From a selfish perspective, I’ve noticed that the more feminized the parish, the shorter the confessional line. However, if hand-holding was a sacrament, these parishes would be saint producing machines.

  • Kate

    Well, this is another discussion on the topic of feminization of the Church that I believe has a simple solution. Leave Catholic Church membership and practice exclusively to men… Otherwise, I just realized that with issues like this dominating the Church, I just don’t really fit in anymore. I go along to get along. But the Church hasn’t made a personal positive difference in my life without burdening me further and I have given up on expecting anything in return. As I wrote in a similar discussion started by one of Anthony Esolen’s articles, I give up.

    Ah, but precisely the point I was trying to make was that some people leave me with the impression that (aside from the clergy), Church membership should be left to women.

    Let’s keep this in mind, then: the best of intentions can have unintended consequences. You and I, in different ways, seem to be reacting to the unintended and unforeseen consequences of the actions of others.

    Aside from that, what is it you have given up on? The politicized form of Church activism that was dominant in the late twentieth century? Or the life of holiness? I, for one, would not want anyone, yourself included, to give up on the life of holiness. Remember, with God all things are possible.

    Thanks, Michael, for helping me make my point when talking about unintended and unforeseen consequences. You’ve also encouraged me. I’ve given up on the politicized, “agenda-ized” rubbish that passes for discussion in the Church these days. I’ve given up on telling priests and bishops what’s really going on in my life and spiritual journey because their comments and homilies and pronouncements are so smugly pious and authoritative, that even when they’re right, I can’t stand how they present it and clearly they have no concept of what my daily life is like. Lest you all think I’m a “dissenter” with an axe to grind, let me tell you that I am pro-life and live with what that really means day after day with the children in my life, my spouse and I practice Natural Family Planning, and like Rich above, understand and respect that the Church takes time to change and move wither the Spirit will. But I am struck by the number of new, young priests who act as if they are the most educated members of the parish, who act as if their celibacy gives them the corner on understanding sacrifice and who act as if we are children who just need a firm hand, is all. If we are the Church, we need to work together in mutual love and respect. So, I have given up on any visible role in the Church other than religious ed for children and Mass attender. Give up on the life of holiness? Absolutely not. God hasn’t let me or given up on me. That’s for sure. Thanks again, Michael, for your words.

  • Michael Healy, Jr.

    Well, this is another discussion on the topic of feminization of the Church that I believe has a simple solution. Leave Catholic Church membership and practice exclusively to men… Otherwise, I just realized that with issues like this dominating the Church, I just don’t really fit in anymore. I go along to get along. But the Church hasn’t made a personal positive difference in my life without burdening me further and I have given up on expecting anything in return. As I wrote in a similar discussion started by one of Anthony Esolen’s articles, I give up.

    Ah, but precisely the point I was trying to make was that some people leave me with the impression that (aside from the clergy), Church membership should be left to women.

    Let’s keep this in mind, then: the best of intentions can have unintended consequences. You and I, in different ways, seem to be reacting to the unintended and unforeseen consequences of the actions of others.

    Aside from that, what is it you have given up on? The politicized form of Church activism that was dominant in the late twentieth century? Or the life of holiness? I, for one, would not want anyone, yourself included, to give up on the life of holiness. Remember, with God all things are possible.

    Thanks, Michael, for helping me make my point when talking about unintended and unforeseen consequences. You’ve also encouraged me. I’ve given up on the politicized, “agenda-ized” rubbish that passes for discussion in the Church these days. I’ve given up on telling priests and bishops what’s really going on in my life and spiritual journey because their comments and homilies and pronouncements are so smugly pious and authoritative, that even when they’re right, I can’t stand how they present it and clearly they have no concept of what my daily life is like. Lest you all think I’m a “dissenter” with an axe to grind, let me tell you that I am pro-life and live with what that really means day after day with the children in my life, my spouse and I practice Natural Family Planning, and like Rich above, understand and respect that the Church takes time to change and move wither the Spirit will. But I am struck by the number of new, young priests who act as if they are the most educated members of the parish, who act as if their celibacy gives them the corner on understanding sacrifice and who act as if we are children who just need a firm hand, is all. If we are the Church, we need to work together in mutual love and respect. So, I have given up on any visible role in the Church other than religious ed for children and Mass attender. Give up on the life of holiness? Absolutely not. God hasn’t let me or given up on me. That’s for sure. Thanks again, Michael, for your words.

    Wonerful! I’m glad to see I had a positive voice in the discussion!

  • Chrissy G

    Two thoughts:

    It seems to me that one of the major differences between the male and female authority in the Church is that, besides female authority being less formalized it is also somehow more collective. That is, as male authority takes its cue from Jesus, an individual, and the apostles, a small group of individuals, female authority is based on the Church as a whole. So while individual women sometimes stand out on behalf of that authority (such as St Catherine of Siena), more often it is the whole community of women that exercise this role. That diffuse nature of female authority may make it harder for the feminists to identify.

    The question about the role of lay men seems to stem from the idea that the Church is feminine in relation to God. How do they express their membership in the Bride of Christ in keeping with their masculine nature?
    On the practical level, I think that things like lectoring, altar serving, Catholic mens’ organizations such as the Knights of Colombus, and singing traditional music with strong tenor/baritone/bass lines can help. But in general/theologically, how is that supposed to work?

  • Jason Negri

    The question about the role of lay men seems to stem from the idea that the Church is feminine in relation to God. How do they express their membership in the Bride of Christ in keeping with their masculine nature?

    Chrissy, I think this is an excellent question and deserves an article and thread all its own.

  • John Jakubczyk

    Sometimes in the give and take of these discussions, the essential question is avoided. For what reason do we attend and celebrate the Mass. The answer – mentioned in one of the posts – is holiness. That is, to have and encounter with the Living God -Jesus Christ, should be our reason for living.

    So to those good souls who have been beaten up by church politics and personalities, my advice is to go back to the root reason for mass. Focus on the love of God and remember that we are all instruments of the Father’s love. And His love is expressed in all the ways mentioned by those herein. Thus we need to pray for one another so that God may have willing vessels to pour out His love in a thirsty world. Finally realize that any suffering that occurs can have a redemptive and purifying effect for all concerned.

    As for us men, we need to invite our fellow men to join us in real worship of the one real example of true manhood – Jesus Chrsit.

  • Dakar

    You do a good job arguing that women have no real power in the Catholic Church simply because their women. And that under the Catholic system women have no real authority of their own at all.

    Instead they just have the ‘honor’ of completing male power and representing/embodying Creation while men represent and embody the power and glory of God.

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