Today’s feminist writers insist the Catholic Church is drowning in sexual abuse accusations because the patriarchal institution enslaves women. They’re wrong; the faith frees women. My Catholic faith doesn’t make me a victim, but a woman confident of her intrinsic worth.
Yes, the Church crisis challenges my faith as a millennial. It’s in my face, as Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, announces a Sept. 14 penitential Mass at his church – my parish. He appears more than 200 times in the Pennsylvania grand jury report that accused clergy of abusing more than 1,000 children. The report follows charges against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, which later sparked an archbishop’s call for Pope Francis’ resignation.
While the documented exploitation spanned decades, it cries for a response now. The demonic stories included boys groomed for abuse and even a girl’s abortion after rape. Catholics and non-Catholics alike can and should express fury and demand answers. But some feminist commentators say they already have the answer: the Church must abandon its teaching.
In Salon and on Twitter, politics writer Amanda Marcotte called for uprooting the Church’s “patriarchal ideology” on Aug. 16. Her terms included welcoming women into the priesthood and striking “prohibitions on premarital sex, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, transgender identities” and “gender ideology.”
Feminist author and columnist Jill Filipovic agreed. She urged the “abuse, and the system that covered it up” was a “direct outcome of the church's patriarchal structure” for CNN on Aug. 29. She wasn’t shocked by abuse in a “noxious institution” where women’s bodies are merely “vessels for male prerogatives.”
She’s right. If this is what the Church stands for, it should end. The Church hasn’t always treated women well. It stands to benefit from more women, higher up. But she’s also wrong. The Church stresses its teaching on sexuality ensures women aren’t reduced to “vessels.” To blame the scandal on the patriarchy is to remove culpability from where it belongs: evil human beings who performed evil acts.
For proof of Church misogyny, Filipovic pointed to her experience – how her grandparents were treated differently. And so I feel justified in sharing my own.
From a young age, my faith taught me each woman – just as each man – possesses intrinsic dignity and worth. Where Genesis reads “God created man in his own image” in the Bible, it’s both “male and female he created them.”
The greatest non-divine human being who has lived and who will ever live is a woman. We revere Mary for agreeing to birth Baby Jesus, yes, but we also love her as our mother. She wasn’t submissive either. She didn’t accept no as an answer when, at a wedding feast, Jesus reminded her it wasn’t yet time to perform miracles. That same day, he turned water into wine.
While my friends watched Disney princess damsels in distress after school, I read of the saints. The Church championed strong women long before it was popular: I learned my feminism from St. Joan of Arc, who led the French army into battle in the 1400s. I found it in St. Catherine of Siena, who instructed a pope in the 1300s, and in St. Agnes, who died a martyr around 300 A.D. rather than marry.
In keeping with Catholic tradition in Judaism, I met the Old Testament heroines. Judith saved the Israelites by decapitating the enemy general. Queen Esther risked her life to request the king protect her people.
That’s my feminism.
For writers who practice Catholicism, these stories may sound familiar. But Filipovic and Marcotte, admittedly, do not. Instead they attack what they do not know: a culture and way of life different from their own.
But here’s how Catholic women are responding. Nearly 45,000 who feel “angry, betrayed and disillusioned” signed a letter to Pope Francis “to pose questions.” Their efforts suggest the reported abuse represents an atrocious misuse of authority, rather than a sin committed by the entire Church and all who adhere to it.
Filipovic and others charge conservative Catholics speaking against the horrors with wielding abuse as a weapon against a more progressive pontiff. That’s like claiming #MeToo sprung up from a hatred of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as a liberal, Jewish man. Instead, we’re doing what Catholicism encourages us to do: protect society’s most vulnerable.
Protecting the Church means calling for accountability and transparency, instead of deserting it, insisting it abandon its principles, or remaining silent. That’s because our faith doesn’t subjugate us, but teaches us that we have every right to stand up and fight – fight like a woman.
–Katie Yoder is the associate culture editor and the Joe and Betty Anderlik fellow at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie on Twitter: @k_yoder.