Essays

Five Ways to Advocate for a Female Voice in the Catholic Church

By Monica Arsenault

Being a woman in a male-dominated religion is really hard. Fortunately, there are a lot of incredible Catholic women trying to incite change in the Church and providing resources for women who are trying to do the same or are ashamed of their own “contrary” viewpoints.

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church does not advertise these women, organizations, and resources as legitimate sources, and, in some cases, actively attempts to suppress or discredit them — even going so far as to excommunicate specific women or entire groups from the Catholic Church.

I’m here to educate you on these issues, organizations, and people to show you how you can be in control of your own faith by choosing who and what to support. You can control how you receive information, even from the Catholic Church.

1. Familiarize Yourself with Strong Female Saints

I have to put in a disclaimer here that I firmly believe every female Saint is incredibly strong because it takes courage to have such a strong connection to your faith as a woman in a male-dominant culture. However, the way the Catholic Church paints the stories of some female saints is absolutely pushing an agenda. And, frankly, the number of female saints who were raped and murdered and used by the Church as examples of chastity and forgiveness (instead of condemning their attacker) is appalling to me.

I prefer to champion Saints like Saint Joan of Arc who convinced a King to let her wear men’s clothing and lead the French to victory, believing that God had her back the whole time. This is not to discredit the other female saints I mentioned before, but we need to reframe the narrative. Young women should not be taught in religion class that being raped is okay as long as you forgive them. Find female saints who empower you and what you stand for and spread their message. Here’s a comprehensive list of female saints to get you started.

2. Educate Your Communities on Female Theologians

So many people choose to view the Vatican as the definitive voice on Catholic teaching, but there is an ongoing global discussion among progressive and conservative theologians. Unfortunately for women and the Catholic Church as a whole, the Church often only promotes male viewpoints, which leads to theologians like Rosemary Radford Reuther writing an entire book on the patriarchy inherent in Catholicism (It’s a great book — Catholic does not Equal the Vatican).

There are very few female Catholic Theologians. Here is a list of every Catholic theologian from the 1900s onward. I counted eight women on this list, and Rosemary Radford Reuther didn’t even make it on here. Study these women, learn about their lives, and educate others on their viewpoints and literature. Use their arguments to back up your views and Catholic teachings that you agree with. Reading and sharing theological arguments formed by women will be an incredibly effective way to crusade for a woman’s voice in the Church.

3. Support Roman Catholic Womenpriests

Roman Catholic Womenpriests is an organization that is proving first hand that women can and should be priests. In 2002, seven women were ordained to be priests at the Danube river and in 2003, two Womenpriests were ordained to be Womenbishops by canonical male Bishops.

The organization has grown in the past 18 years and Womenpriests & Womenbishops are now ministering in 34 States in the USA as well as in Canada, Europe, South and Central America, South Africa, Philippines, and Taiwan. If you can find a community of Roman Catholic Womenpriests in your area, you should attend their services and invite others you know to do the same.

The first step to enact real change is to ensure these groups can stay operational and that begins with our support. When we physically show what kind of change we want in the Catholic Church by showing up for mass and talking about it publicly, then the Church will shift with the wants and needs of the general population.

4. Join Organizations for Women, Run by Women

There are many Catholic groups for women that are run by women. First there is the National Council of Catholic Women. I have mixed feelings about this organization because it was founded by Catholic Bishops and can sometimes feel like an organization to make Catholic women happy about their involvement in the Church without giving them more responsibility. It is a really good way to see a strong community of many Catholic women coming together, they just aren’t as progressive as some other groups.

Catholic Women Speak is a group focused on bringing about more inclusion of women’s voices in the Catholic Church. They are primarily based in the UK but they have a Facebook group that anyone can join where you can share opinions and questions that are affecting you in your community.

There are so many female-focused Catholic groups, but I will leave you with one more before you go on to Google the rest. One of my favorite groups is FemCatholic. They have a blog where they touch on different topics and issues that affect Catholic women. As far as being progressive vs. conservative, I think it’s pretty middle ground. It gives a really good insight into different perspectives and has a really active Facebook group where people post articles and discuss issues daily.

Some other notable/favorite organizations in the Catholic Church:

  • Young Feminist Network: Catholic Roots & Wings — a Facebook group with a young community of very progressive Catholics sharing articles, opinions, and thoughtful discussion.
  • Catholics for Choice — Catholics who believe a Catholic woman has the same right to control when and how she gets pregnant as every other woman and educates them on their options.
  • The Catholic Woman —personal letters, films, and interviews about Catholic women. This focuses a lot on women’s mental health and the negative effects of purity culture, something rarely discussed in the Catholic Church, but it also features stories from Catholic women at different places with their faith journey from different viewpoints.

5. Become a Strong Female Voice in the Catholic Church

Probably the most important thing you can do is be the change you want to see in your Church. After you’ve familiarized yourself with these issues and people, go and talk about them to your communities, all of your communities. Don’t be afraid to share a controversial viewpoint because nothing is going to change if we continue to sit still and do nothing.

Figure out how you are sharing the message of a female voice in the Church or are talking about issues you care about. For me, I’m writing these blogs and I’m making my web series Nun Habits. It’s gotten a lot of both positive and negative attention, but the important thing is that I get to have conversations with people about why women need a voice in the Catholic Church. Don’t be afraid to be that voice, empower yourself and others to incite change.

Monica Arsenault is a Brooklyn-based director and producer whose work addresses issues at the intersection of womanhood, sexuality, and faith. You can find the original copy of this work, and more of her writing at Monicaarsenault.com

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