Holy Father, Holy Mothers


There are many reasons Western women are having a harder time belonging to the Catholic church under this hierarchy than ever. One is motherhood:

The Catholic Church is so busy absorbing the shock of the Holy Father’s decision to quit, it is missing the point. Holy mothers are quitting too.

I’m a Catholic. Was a Catholic. Am a sort of Catholic. Am hardly a Catholic? Is there a word for what I am anymore? I’d like to be a better Catholic but it is just not cutting it for me. And why is that? Because the Catholic Church has nothing to say to an educated woman with socially liberal views – nothing, except “Please give us your children.”

I have so far – given them my children. Two of them – the boys, have taken their First Communion in red ties and polyester sashes, in part to keep my elderly and very Catholic parents happy. Now the Church wants my daughter. She is seven, and somehow, I am more reluctant to put her through the whole fandango of instruction.

The wonderful blogger Judith O’Reilly unpacks her new reservations further here.

I think of three generations of mothers in my family. My Irish grandmother – the seventh of thirteen kids – wearing her veil to mass and rattling through the Rosary like a freight train of higher consciousness; my mother, devoutly bringing her children up in the Church, but finding it over the years less and less accessible. “Is it a sin that I just don’t like this Pope?” she asked me a while back. Then my sister who began to bring up her kids as devout Catholics in the 1990s and then lost heart after the revelations of the epidemic of child-rape, the treatment of women, and the constant condemnation of gay marriage. My niece and nephew were just baffled that their priest would be so harsh about their uncle Andrew, whose wedding was the first either had attended. My niece – now as brilliant a teen girl as you can imagine – memorized the vows and was a ring-bearer. My sister could not explain or defend. To hear the shameless protectors of child-rapists mount a campaign against her own brother’s chance to love and be loved was too much. They have all drifted away.

Without women, the Church will die. One of the more obviously radical things Jesus does in the Gospels is to treat women as complete equals. Yet the Church that was constructed after Him was based on male supremacy and eventually male segregation in the priesthood – forbidding by celibacy even the influence of wives and daughters. Of course this creates a circular, hermetically sealed worldview. But I’ll tell you this: if women had been priests or priests had ever had kids, the child-rape scandal would have been stopped in its tracks. The criminals would have been busted, not protected.

If the hierarchy still refuses to get this, if it does not shift on women and married priests, it will, in the West, lose the mothers. And once you lose them, the church is all but over. They are, in so many ways, the church. Two women – my grandmother and my mother – taught me to love my faith, cherish it, protect it. They both gave me life, but they also gave me faith. For so long they have been taken for granted – and even, as with the American nuns, persecuted and investigated for doing God’s work.

When the church gives holy mothers the same respect it gives one Holy Father, it will begin to regain its moral authority. It will begin to turn back towards the one so many seem to have forgotten: Jesus.

(Painting: study of a woman’s head by Leonardo Da Vinci, c. 1490.)