Fox News, Women Priests, Black Smoke, and the Whole Self

Recently, my friend Jenny published an article at Relevant about women in ministry, in response to a recent report that women are leaving the church at twice the rate that men are. This paragraph particularly resonated with me:

“It’s not so much that women feel the Church doesn’t value the contributions they do make; it’s that they don’t see opportunities or don’t feel the freedom to bring their whole selves to the table.”

This pretty much sums up my whole experience within the Catholic Church. I always felt drawn to the Church, loved it, even, but continuously felt as if I just couldn’t quite fit. Even at age ten, the arguments against women’s ordination made no sense to me, and they make just as little sense now. I believe what kind of family planning a couple decides to use is none of the Church’s business. And as a bisexual woman, I believe that God would have blessed my love just as much if I’d fallen in love with a woman as I feel God has blessed my love (and me) when I married my husband. When it comes to issues of sex and gender in the Catholic Church, most of my writing and exploration has followed the consistent theme of never being able to feel completely whole in the roles assigned to me by my church.

Pink smoke would look so much less ominous.

I normally wouldn’t have watched the coverage of the Vatican conclave (we don’t have a TV), but Fox News happened to be playing it while I waited in the lobby to get my car worked on today, so I saw the black smoke rise. A priest gave commentary to a correspondent about how the conclave hadn’t been able to come to a clear agreement on the Papal successor, and the correspondent asked, “Well, isn’t it especially hard when you exclude half of the population?”

I’d brought work with me, and so I’d been trying not to get too distracted by the news. But this made me put my book down. Was Fox News asking about women’s ordination?

Indeed they were. The priest responded by talking out of both sides of his mouth. First, he said that he thinks it would be wonderful if there were more women involved in positions of power within the Church, and that he would love it if women took a more active role in choosing the next Pope. As if the lack of women at the conclave is because, you know, those women just don’t get involved.  What he failed to explain, for those watching who may not have been familiar with Catholicism, is that only Cardinals are allowed at that conclave. And only priests can advance to the position of Cardinal. And only men can be priests. Which means that if we want more women involved in that level of decision making, we need to a) ordain women or b) open the power structure up to include the laity. But he didn’t suggest either of those things outright — my suspicion is because, to do so, he’d have to admit that the problem doesn’t lay with “uninvolved” women, but with a Church that systematically shuts them out.

After that, he gave the usual excuses about the male apostles, and he offered a delightful twist (they always do!) about how, “Men and women were just designed by God to play different roles. I don’t consider it unfair that I don’t get to give birth!”

The Fox News correspondent didn’t seem convinced; and I felt grateful for women like Janice Sevre-Duszynska, who I know are the reason mainstream news sources are talking about these issues. The Vatican may be able to shut us out, but it can’t shut us up!

In the meantime, I’m attending a United Church of Christ church, where I can bring more of my whole self to the table than I can in my native tradition. It still doesn’t satisfy all of me. I miss Holy Water, Catholic hymns, and the ritual of the Eucharist. But the pastors at this church know I come from a Catholic tradition, know that I still have ties to the church, and everyone is OK with that. They know more about my “whole self” than I’ve ever shared with a Catholic priest.

A few weeks ago, one of the pastors asked me whether I was going to write about the resignation of Pope Benedict for this blog. I said I didn’t have much to say about it. I still don’t have a lot to say — the Papacy feels so distant from my day-to-day spirituality, from who I am as a Christian or even a Catholic. And while I wait with a certain level of semi-detached interest, I’ll really start paying attention when, as folk musician Dierdre Flint says, “they declare Pope Catherine.”