On May 6, 2015, the New York Times published an op-ed column by Frank Bruni titled “Catholicism Undervalues Women,” and subtitled “No matter the pope’s words, his church remains a patriarchy.” By May 8, the paper had received enough letters to issue Catholic Women: A Progress Report. I did not hear about his article until last week, when Gloria Purvis spoke about it on EWTN News Nightly.
In my first post about Bruni’s op-ed column, I want to address Catholic women. In subsequent posts, I plan to raise substantive questions, add some flesh to the skeleton of Bruni’s opinion, review Bruni’s column paragraph by paragraph, and discuss his vocabulary (because the words we use and how we assign meaning matters).
A call to Catholic women
Frank Bruni’s opinion that Catholicism undervalues women is not only wrong, but also qualifies as intolerance, of both the Church and women. Catholic women must respond. But how? Where to begin? His opinion provides an abundance of choices, such as the following:
- How he incised the pope’s comments about equality from the Holy Father’s general audience topic of marriage and family.
- His reductionist view of the Church (what flowchart is he using?).
- His disregard of Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person, from which the equality of men and women is derived.
- His demand that the Church change its teachings (why did he mention mythology?).
- His misunderstanding of authentic freedom and his insistence that women must render defunct their reproductive systems in order to participate and succeed in society.
- His terminology: authority (and influence), Catholic, catholic, Church, dignity, equal, equality, feminist, love, man, woman, mother, father, sister, brother, mythology, patriarchy, power, priest, sacrifice, sexism, Sacred Tradition, tradition.
- And we can’t leave out irresponsible journalism.
Regardless of which aspects of the faith and womanhood Catholic women choose to redress, it is imperative that we respond through grace with humility, wisdom, and charity. We must overcome any temptation to return mockery for mockery. (I will pray and do my best to seek and cooperate with grace.) Jesus’ call on our lives is to love our enemies, and Bruni is no enemy. He is merely another lost sheep, longing for that which he does not comprehend.
Buni’s opinion is proof that the call for a New Evangelization is past due, and that laborers are needed in the vineyard.
Where Bruni is, so many others are, too
As practicing Catholics know, the lens through which Bruni looks is as narrow as a straw and the distance from which he gazes at the grandest of things — Catholicism and women —is far too great to draw any accurate conclusions. Bruni’s opinion exhibits a lack knowledge and understanding of his topic. Sadly, many people share Bruni’s opinion and also demand that the Church change its teachings. They come at the Church from a far off place, unwilling to get close, and don’t bother to dig up the roots and look at the whole of the plant.
God is truth and does not change
The influence of a secular worldview permeates Bruni’s thinking. If Catholicism is held to its own standards and fails, that is one thing (and someone could find examples and write about that, in fact, Bruni does have a book on the problems of sexual abuse in the church), but to hold Catholicism to the standards of other Christian denominations or to the modern day secular ideas and to demand that the church change to fit his worldview is unfair and unrealistic and qualifies as religious discrimination.
Church teaching is that God does not change. God is Truth, and Truth does not change. The teachings of Jesus do not change.
“For I, the Lord, do not change.” — Malachi 3:6
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”
— Hebrews 13:8
Why do Catholics ignore the teachings of the Church (and outsiders criticize)? Why do we ignore the message of the Gospel? Because the Gospel does not just ask, it demands that we change.
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. — Romans 12:2
A quick look at church patriarchy
The Catholic Church is a patriarchy in that God is our Father and Jesus Christ, son of God, is the head of the Church. Jesus Christ is the most unique man, however, in that as the Son of God, he is fully human and fully divine. That makes the Church patriarchy unlike any other. All men, male and female, are to submit to the head of the Church, be they priest, pope, bishop, monk, sister, or laywoman. (I haven’t seen Bruni’s flowchart of the Church, but my flowchart shows the Holy Spirit as the Director of Operations.)
Bruni poses questions in his column, but not for the sake of engaging in dialogue or coming to a new understanding. Let us pass on rhetoric, and embrace substantive questions, questions even faithful Catholics grapple with, for example:
- Why do we call God Father, when he is pure spirit and has no gender? Why don’t we refer to God as mother, as God is likened to a mother and having feminine qualities in several passages of scripture (read the Wisdom books)?
Answers are readily available for those open to a new or seeking to deepen their understanding. Following are two quick sources for a Catholic perspective on images of God and gender and inclusive language:
- Images of God: Reflections on Christian Anthropology, USCCB (1983)
- Bible Versions and Commentaries by Colin Donovan, STL, for EWTN
Where to begin (with our failures)
So where to begin? With prayer. With ourselves. With living the faith more deeply. With growing in knowledge of God, and thereby growing in knowledge of ourselves. And if we have questions, seek answers. Do not settle for a going through the motions faith.
Catholic women must seek the unchanging God through encounters with Christ by reception of the sacraments and through service to others.
At the end of Mass, the priest says “Go forth, the Mass has ended.” Attendance at Mass is not enough. Every Mass calls for our participation and ought to be a new encounter with Christ, through which we are transformed into his likeness. Our first witness as Catholic women ought to be our peace, joy, and hope. With Christ at the center of our lives, we will be able to speak the truth in love, and, more importantly, live love.
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. — Saint Peter, 1 Peter 3:15
That Bruni’s opinion was published in a paper like the New York Times is evidence that we the Church have failed to (1) communicate the teachings in a clear and understandable way and (2) practice the teachings faithfully, which Jesus summarizes as loving God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and loving your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34–40).
I have come to set a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing. — Jesus, Luke 12:49
The mission of the Church is no less than to proclaim and establish the Kingdom of God, here and now, in the hearts and minds of every believer (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 758–780).
The fire that Jesus calls for is not blazing in our hearts or in America, and it should be.
Given the magnitude of the faith and the Church, and the great magnitude of sin, this is no easy task—not the teaching, the understanding, or the practice — not for the teacher, and worse still for the student.
There is no reason to despair; rather we should hope, because greater than all these is the love and mercy of God. Jesus set himself as the head of the Church and promised his Holy Spirit would guide it and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).
Thanks be to God.
Prayer: Come Holy Spirit and enkindle in us the fire of your love, and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.
UPDATES — Laborers in the Vineyard
- See Sr Theresa Aletheia Noble’s articles “Calling God ‘Mother’ — Do You Preach a Sexist Jesus?,” published at patheos.com 6/3, and “Women’s Ordination and Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood,” published at patheos.com 5/21
- See Margaret Harper McCarthy’s article, published in L’Osservatore Romano 5/29, “Gender Equity or Suppression: Why we should resist eliminating any difference between male and female”
- See Cynthia Millen’s article, published at Catholic Stand 5/16, “Must I become a misogynist ‘man’ to be a ‘liberated’ woman?”