…Women priests that is.
By now it’s not news to anyone about the Vatican’s decision last month to place womenpriests in a latae sententiae excommunication, but the event has sparked a lot of good discussion around the blogosphere. And then there’s the not-so-good discussion that I found on Feministing. The post itself doesn’t say much, just a quick blurb about what the Vatican did, the WOC response, and the insightful editorial, “Snap!”
The discussion that follows in the thread, though, is astounding. It quickly breaks down into the perennial bourgeois-militant feminist argument that women shouldn’t be involved in the Church at all because the men are sexist and God isn’t real anyway; and some intelligent counter-arguments.
Frankly, I’ve gotten sick of having this argument. Ever since high school, when I committed myself to leftist politics and direct action, this topic has been hot on my heels. You can’t spin in those circles and not encounter the atheist-feminist-revolutionaries that will take any opportunity to take a shot at religion. I remember at 14 my anarchist friend Zach berating me for being involved in something as stupid as Catholicism. Now, as an adult, and a professional community organizer, it’s not much easier to avoid having these discussions.
It’s not that I disagree with everything they say. The Church hierarchy oftentimes is chauvinistic, bigoted and spiritually stifling. But the one thing I’ve never been terribly good at is explaining what the Church has given me, in my experience. The fact of the matter is, I wouldn’t be a leftist if it weren’t for my Catholic upbringing. Jesus was all about “troubling the waters” and upsetting the religious-political hierarchy of his time, and that’s all the preaching I’m going to do.
It’s this experience of belonging and not belonging (both in my Catholic and political circles) that led me to pursue a de facto Black Studies minor in college. When I read Nella Larsen’s Quicksand I knew…knew something of what the mixed-race protagonist was going through as she moved from the American South to Harlem to Sweden to Harlem and finally back to the South, searching for herself and a place where she could be at home. This was the experience of the entire Black American community (and to an extent still is) since the abandonment of the Reconstruction in 1876. How do you take up arms to defeat Fascism abroad and still fight the unspoken Fascism at home? How do you be both American and not American, African and not African? This was an experience I knew. I know it now, in my gut. Without the Church, there’s a big emptiness inside me. Without all of those silly rituals: Sit, stand, kneel, sit, stand, I’m lost—even if the Pope pisses me off to no end.
So, back to those bourgeois-militant feminists, and that Black Modern experience. I see the “just give up on the Church” approach being similar to (and as misguided as) the American Colonization Society‘s solution to the “Negro Question.” As more and more black Americans obtained their freedom during the days of slavery, “benevolent” white folks, such as President Monroe, had a solution to all the tensions that this situation was causing in American society: Let’s send the blacks back to Africa! And they did, by the thousands. In honor of his contribution to their liberty, the new colony of Liberia named their capital of Monrovia after the good President.
The problem was, these black folks weren’t really African. They were by birth, culture, language, and all other measures American. Their home was in America. White Americans just found it easier to make the “Negro Problem” go away (“Back” to Africa) rather than face it.
I hope it’s clear by now that there is a similar problem with telling womenpriests to “just leave” the Catholic Church. We, all of us progressive Catholics, know the pain of spiritual homesickness. The Church is our dysfunctional family, and our parishes are our broken homes. We know that there are tremendous problems, but it is our Christian ministry to reach out to the spiritually sick, and pray for Jesus’ healing touch. We know we can’t just send the problem away, and we have decided instead to face it head-on.
As I said before, this is a visceral experience for me. I love the Church and my home in it. I love the Catholic Mass. I love the rites and rituals, and the Church is where I draw my strength from so that I can go out and fight for social justice on a daily basis. And, as we moved from John Paul to Benedict, I felt more and more like a Catholic-not-a-Catholic. But I couldn’t just walk away.
So as I work with my sisters and brothers in Call to Action and try to make the Church a better place for its children, I pray that all of you feminists and anarchists and leftists and revolutionaries, whether you be spiritual or atheist or religious or whatever, see this as part of our common mission. We progressive Catholics, like you, are trying to make this world a better place to be human. You don’t have to come to Church with me, but you can’t keep me out of Church either. So let’s make a deal. I’ll support you if you support me, and together we can make this world free.
Bill Przylucki is a community organizer in Westside Los Angeles. He is a former Jesuit Volunteer and a graduate of Boston College. He believes that you gotta pray like only God can do it, and act like only you can do it.