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ROBERTA K. TILLINGHAST, PRESIDENT
Houston* Galveston • San Antonio* Corpus Christt
Popes views trouble
by Lynn Jansen
The Catholic Church today reminds me
of the United States in the early 60's.
We deserved to have a blood bath from
the blacks, but we were lucky. We got the
1964 Civil Rights Act instead.
Today, the Church deserves for all the
women to just walk out because of the
discrimination within the Church. But,
luckily for the Church, that isn't happening.
Changes will come. Women will become priests—mainly because few young
men are entering the seminary these days.
This discrimination was strongly reinforced by the recent visit of Pope John
Paul II. He reiterated his opposition, as
head of the Church, to women in the
priesthood, birth control, abortion,
homosexuality and marriage for priests.
The sectarian press billed the papal
visit "the media event of the century"
and claimed that it caused an unprecedented renewal in spirituality.
American Catholics, no matter what their
politics within the Church, were almost
universally moved-some to euphoria,
others to anger and hurt.
Catholic feminists locally, as well as
Catholics nationally, anticipated that his
visit would be coupled with pronouncements (see box next j>age) that would have
immense repercussions for the American
Church and generate renewed dialogues.
Sadly, they were correct.
There are not a great many people in
the Church who call themselves Catholic
feminists. In Houston, the local chapter
of St. Joan's International Alliance has
52 members. It is open to people of both
sexes and any denomination who espouse
equality in Church, state and society.
What was this feminist community's
reaction to the Pope's visit, or more to
the point, to his pronouncements? Our
dominant feelings were anger, pain and
Anger. To be a member of a religious
community that forbids its leaders to
marry women; that refuses to ordain
women or even let young girls serve as
altar "boys" (though they clean the
altar); that denies its women religious
the same status and privileges as men;
that holds virginity as the one option for
the unmarried—only upon marriage to
expect women to breed indiscriminately—
you feel anger. Plenty of it.
Pain. It is painful to want to serve the
faith you cherish, and to be told that this
desire is sacreligious. It is painful to love
children but be told that you are sinful
if you choose not to have any (or any
more). It is painful to be both proud and
ashamed of your Church; to both love
and hate it. It is painful to witness the
contradiction between the Pope's stand
on furthering human rights among
nations and his hypocritical refusal to.
grant rights to the women of his own
faith. It is painful to see so many other
Catholics, especially the women, cheer
the Pope's reactionary messages. As St.
Joan's program co-chair Beverly Hebert
said, "this forces you to face the reality
of how small a group of Catholics holds
opinions similar to yours." It is painful
to see that this charming, charismatic,
obviously intelligent and sincere man
really believes that he is helping the
Church by denying full participation to
half its members.
Then why the hope? One St. Joan's
member, Jackie Devlin, said "I am
hopeful because the Pope put his pronouncements on topics such as birth control, women's ordination, priestly celibacy and homosexuality in the context
of continuing Church traditions. What
the Church has established as tradition,"
reasoned Devlin, "it can un-establish."
She also feels that the very restric-
tiveness of what he said has stung more
Catholics' consciences to work for
equality in their Church. "There are,"
she said, "people who believe completely
in the justice of the cause of women and
also love the Church despite their very
real grievances. This gives me hope that
the Church can and will catch up to these
people-if you will, catch up to Christ."
"Participation in the Church long ago,
for me, became a matter of living with
compromises," noted Anne Phyler, a St.
Joan's member. "You cherish what is
true for you and eschew what you know
to be wrong for you."
Phyler pointed out that as late as the
1920's the Vatican silenced a priest
(withdrew approval of his views and refused him the right to promulgate them)
for his belief that the Church should
require premarital counseling before an
engaged couple could wed in the Church.
Today such counseling (called Pre-Cana)
is required before marriage.
As Sr. Grace Martel, M.M., also a St.
Joan's member, said from the vantage
point of her nearly 80 years, "A knowledge of the history of the Church is a
great comfort. It shows that eventually
the Church does move forward, if ever
so slowly and cautiously."
Houston members of St. Joan's held a
prayer vigil composed by liturgy chairperson Sheila Doran-Benyon. It was a
forceful, positive statement in response
to the discriminatory statements by the
Pope. "Women are no longer pleading for
ordination to minister," stressed Doran-
Benyon. "We are declaring that we are
priests and ministers by dint of our desire
to serve and by our actual service to the
The theme of the candlelight service
was "Stones for Bread: We women ask
the Church for bread; the Church continues to give us stones." About 25 members and friends met on the steps of the
Chancery (Administration) Building of
the Houston-Galveston Diocese.
Suffragette songs such as Judy Collins'
version of "Bread and Roses" as well as
non-sexist liturgical hymns were used
along with prayers of affirmation and
Bible readings. It was a statement of
continuing love for and loyalty to the
Church, after love and loyalty to ourselves, our cause and our conscience.
After the para-liturgy, daughters of the
members took the stones which had been
distributed in lieu of Communion Bread
and placed them in the shape of the
female logo in front of the Chancery's
The chapter is also sending, collectively and individually, letters of support