USCC Watch: Women’s Work Is Never Done

The bishops’ Committee on Women in Society and in the Church met in Washington, March 26, to continue its work on “women’s concerns.” “We’ll devote most of our time to advancing some sections of the fourth draft of the pastoral letter on the concerns of women,” Rochester’s Bishop Matthew Clark notes in his diocesan newspaper column, “While the draft did not pass, the bishops wanted very much to keep working on some of the issues it addressed. It is with these issues that we’ll be engaged,” he added.

This may come as an unwelcome surprise to anyone who thought that the women’s committee was created by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCS) expressly to write a pastoral letter “women’s concerns”; that the effort failed; and that the Committee, with its supporting “secretariat” at the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC), would be dissolved. However, only the separate ad hoc writing committee went out of business at the last bishops’ meeting. The only change in the Committee on Women is that Bishop Clark completed his three-year term as chairman and was replaced by Bishop John Snyder of Saint Augustine.

The Committee takes as its “concerns” a list of 25 recommendations from the final revision of the women’s pastoral, issued last December as an Ad Hoc Committee report to the bishops’ Executive Committee. The document concludes, “To implement these initiatives we propose that each diocese consider establishing a commission on women in church and society or some comparable body or council that will promote the just and equal treatment of women and men on a continuing basis. To facilitate this process, we further call upon the NCCB Committee on Women to assist dioceses in carrying out these recommendations and in developing new initiatives as new needs arise.”

Thus, the establishment of “women’s commissions” in all dioceses heads the Committee on Women’s list of priorities. Bishops Joseph Imeschand Clark remain as members, along with Archbishops Thomas Murphy (Seattle) and John Roach (Saint Paul/Minneapolis), Bishops David Fellhaur (Victoria, Texas), Ricardo Ramirez (Las Cruces), and Joseph Francis, SVD (auxiliary, Newark). (Archbishop Roach participated with Cardinal Bernardin and Youngstown Bishop James Malone in a plan to deflect the bishops’ discussion and vote on the pastoral and instead to direct all drafts of the pastoral to the Committee on Women.) Dolores Leckey heads the committee’s secretariat at the USCC, as well as the secretariats on Laity; Youth; and Marriage and Family. The USCC’s statement on domestic violence issued last September was a joint effort of the women’s committee and the Committee on Marriage and Family chaired by Cardinal Bernardin. (His committee is now writing a pastoral on the family; see the April “USCC Watch.)

The committee on women sponsored a National Workshop for Diocesan Women’s Commissions in Jacksonville, Florida, in February 1992. Sister Sharon Euart, S.M., gave an address on the theological and canonical “underpinnings” for establishing these commissions. Sister Sharon is a canon lawyer who, when appointed Associate General Secretary, became the first woman to be an official member of the NCCB. She emphasized that the diocesan women’s commissions will be a consultative structure for dialogue which belong to and express the nature of the Church itself as an assembly of believers. Other workshops to establish these women’s commissions are being held around the country.

To help establish women’s commissions, Mrs. Leckey’s office produced a handbook, Commissions on Women: Why, What, How—”a practical, hands-on resource that covers such topics as how to get started, how commissions fit into the diocesan structure, what commissions do, and how to build bridges to other women’s groups.”

Leckey’s office also oversees a variety of resource materials to promote the “concerns of women.” Notable are videos such as Listening to the Voices of Women, based on the 1990 NCCS/USCC Women’s Symposium, where Bishop Clark detailed his “conversion” to feminism and called for “discussion” of women’s ordination and contraception, as well as the election of bishops by the people.

Windows to Understanding (originally called Together Weaving the Future) covers three topics, “Women and Work: The Struggle for Balance,” “Women and Mentoring: Midwives of the Self,” and “Women and Spirituality: Made in the Image of God.” The videos, among other objectives, focus on “the need for women to be ‘able to name God from their own experience’… in various forms of prayer.”

In November 1991, the NCCB Committee on Communications allotted $105,000 to produce a one-hour network television special on “Women in the Church.” A preliminary study last May revealed plans to begin with a discussion of women’s ordination featuring Bishop Kenneth Untener, who has openly advocated ordination of women, and Ruth Fitzpatrick of the Women’s Ordination Conference. Archbishop Rembert Weakland would be interviewed in the segment on Family Issues because of his “liberal pronouncements on some of the more controversial issues within the Catholic Church. When many bishops felt that it was their duty to speak out on abortion, Weakland decided to listen.” Mother Jones would be among the historical figures spotlighted on the segment on “Social Action and Human Rights.”

Overall interviews to be woven throughout the hour-long program would include Dolores Leckey and her close associate, Annette Kane, executive director of the National Council of Catholic Women; Ruth Wallace, whose study “New Parish Ministers” found that 85 percent of parish ministers are women; Diana Hayes, “a leading expert in liberation theology and issues involving women and black Catholics” from Georgetown University; and Sister Mary Luke Tobin, the Sister of Loretto from Denver famous for her seamlessly leftist views. The proposal suggests, as “voices to run throughout the documentary,” Bishops Imesch, Clark, and Archbishop Murphy.

The cover of this “research report” prepared by IMPACT Video and Film Production Company of Silver Spring, Maryland, bears the following endorsement from Margaret R. Miles of Harvard Divinity School: “When women’s historical and contemporary experience is taken as the focus of study, not only do new stories come to light… but our understanding of societies changes; a whole new picture of these societies emerges.”

Apparently the bishops’ Committee on Women in Society and in the Church remains determined to project “a whole new picture” of the Catholic Woman, clad only in a very expensive “Paradigm Shift.”

  • Helen Hull Hitchcock

    Helen Hull Hitchcock is founding director of Women for Faith & Family and editor of its quarterly journal, Voices. She is also editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, a monthly publication of Adoremus - Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, of which she is a co-founder. She is married to James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University. The Hitchcocks have four daughters and six grandchildren, and live in St. Louis.

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