Is Catholic Feminist An Oxymoron?

Source: Huffington Post

By Celia Wexler

Catholic feminist, journalist, former public interest lobbyist

Writing a book is a bit like having a baby. It’s an enterprise that is best not done alone. It takes a long time and much preparation. And it promises something good after months of waiting.

Of course, there are profound differences. Baby-making is more fun than book writing. On the other hand, while a book likely has a far longer gestation period, at least you can count on a specific publication date. Yes, some mothers do give birth via appointment, but most of us just hope our due dates prove to be accurate.

My book – Catholic Women Confront Their Church: Stories of Hurt and Hope – has a September 30 publication date. The pre-publicationreviews have been very positive. And just this week, Publishers Weekly ran a profile of me and the book!

I decided to write this book because I had come to a crossroads in my own life. I did not know whether I could continue to be a practicing Catholic and a feminist. In so many ways, I felt the church’s misogyny flew in the face of the values I espoused — the equality of women, and their right to think and act independently. These were the values I tried to instill in my daughter.

This book became my quest for answers. I sought out exceptional Catholic women who shared my progressive politics, hoping that understanding their lives and struggles would shed some light on my own.

I began my research a few weeks before Pope Benedict XVI surprised the world and upended a 600-year tradition by resigning from the papacy. This turned out to be fortuitous. The ascendancy of Pope Francis has put the spotlight on Catholicism, and also opened up the possibility for more change in the church.

But as Pope Francis began making headlines, I initially wondered whether the book would be irrelevant by the time it came out. The new pope seemed so radically different from Benedict, in both outlook and values, I wondered whether the problem of sexism in the church might be solved by the time I had finished.

But while Francis has changed the church’s tone, and promises to consider a few reforms, such as the ordination of women to the deaconate, he’s certainly not going to get any awards for his emphatic feminism.

Francis, a 78-year-old cleric from Latin America, still clings to a culture that has a hard time figuring women out. It’s clear he’s most comfortable with an image of women as primarily mothers, willing to concede them a space for a career or leadership, provided they prioritize their role as nurturers.

Granted, the Pope has conceded some value to feminism. In his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, the Pope wrote, “If certain forms of feminism have arisen which we must consider inadequate, we must nonetheless see in the women’s movement the working of the Spirit for a clearer recognition of the dignity and rights of women.”

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