Calling on All Catholic Women of the Global Majority!

Dear Catholic women of the global majority,

 The women at the recent Catholic women’s workshop led by Joanne Bray1 were of different class backgrounds, ages, sexual identities, races, and ethnicities. Some of us were mothers and grandmothers. Some of us were single, some married, some “living in sin.”2 We had also had diverse experiences of being Catholic females. Some of us had attended mass every week for many years, and some of us had never set foot in a church. Some of us had gone to Catholic school, and some of us hadn’t. Some of us had been baptized, and some of us hadn’t. Some of us had a family member who’d been abused by clergy. Some of us were from generations of practicing Catholics. A Catholic family member who had lovingly cared for us was for some of us our only link to Catholicism. Some of us were currently involved with the Church, and some of us weren’t. Some of us proudly identified as Catholics, some of us vehemently resisted and denied the identity, and some of us were indifferent or ambivalent. And yet we were all there together as Catholic women.

WEAVING A SISTERHOOD

I wondered how unity could possibly be achieved with such a scattered group. What common threads existed to weave a viable sisterhood? It was like holding a fistful of sand with nothing to keep it all together—or so I thought.

The first evening of the workshop, I looked around and all I could see was a sea of white faces. I couldn’t see women. I couldn’t see Catholics. My first thought was, “What am I doing here? I want to go home!” My fear was that these white women would not understand me. “What could we possibly have in common? I’m on my own,3 again.” But as we know in Co-Counseling, feelings are meant to be felt, not acted upon.

After talking about creating a sisterhood, Joanne did some demonstrations that left me speechless. As I listened to each woman, my heart started racing. “Hey! That’s my experience too!” I’m not talking about a few similarities or a bit of overlap. This white woman was having my session! How did she get into my head to know all my secrets!? One woman discharged about being labeled “selfish” if she thought about herself at all. Another woman worked on how “arrogant” she felt putting her thinking out. And a third woman discharged about stifling church practices that left no room to ask her own questions. They shared their pain, their confusion, and their outrage.

I noticed how close their experiences were to mine. And then the light bulb moment4: “Ah, it’s the oppression! As women and as Catholics, we all got hit with the same stuff.” It was clear that these (white) Catholic women understood me and I understood them more than I realized. We carried the same cross.5 We’d had such a shared experience under the sexism and male domination within the conditioning of the Catholic institution that we didn’t have to explain much to each other.

During Saturday morning’s class, Joanne counseled people from the “pulpit” up front and repeatedly pointed out how others shared our individual experiences. The women’s stories were powerful, and the directions Joanne gave were liberating and life giving. She was counseling the whole group through each female. With her help we discovered our sisterhood.

“AS A CATHOLIC WOMAN”

For years after I left the Church (in my early twenties), I thought that I could be free of the institution’s influence and oppressiveness. But I couldn’t. Avoiding an identity is not the same as being liberated from it. The scars (and the gifts) of being Catholic were still there. Throughout the weekend, Joanne coached us to add the phrase “as a Catholic woman” to whatever we were working on. Looking at invisibility, as a Catholic woman. Looking at feeling insignificant, as a Catholic woman. Looking at isolation, as a Catholic woman. Looking at sexism and male domination, as a Catholic woman. Adding that phrase opened up a portal to another whole set of experiences that I hadn’t really considered in my sessions before. It gave me access to another part of myself. Consider sessions on the following:

• One’s significance and sense of worth as a Catholic woman

• Leadership as a Catholic woman

• Reclaiming one’s voice as a Catholic woman

• Motherhood as a Catholic woman

• Looking at one’s body as a Catholic woman

• Looking at sex as a Catholic woman

• Being African heritage (or of another racial group) as a Catholic woman

• Being Native or Indigenous as a Catholic woman

• Being working class (or another class) as a Catholic woman

• Being Irish heritage (or of another ethnic group) as a Catholic woman

• Being LGBTQF6 as a Catholic woman

• Being allies to any of the above groups as a Catholic woman

Just add “as a Catholic woman,” and see where it takes you.

POWERFUL CATHOLIC WOMEN ROLE MODELS

What does it mean to be a Catholic woman? I’d always imagined a somber-looking woman, silent and humble, with her head bowed, tirelessly working behind the scenes. Early on we were taught that good Catholic girls were selfless—meaning without self. Powerful Catholic women role models? My mind was blank. Maybe Mother Teresa,7 but she was stereotyped as another sacrificing, suffering, silent servant.

Joanne contradicted the invisibility of strong Catholic women warriors in a letter to the workshop participants prior to the workshop. She wrote, “The power, intelligence, and creativity of Catholic women have been deliberately made invisible—invisible to us, and to our allies. Because of external and internalized oppression installed by sexism and male domination, we and our allies do not know the brilliance of who we are. This is the reason I want you to go searching for pictures of the Catholic females in your lives whom you have cherished and been inspired by: grandmothers, mothers, sisters; educators and leaders who are national, international; your neighbor who has organized the neighborhood around caring. I would like everyone to come with a picture, to create a visible contradiction.”

We had a space dedicated to the pictures we had brought. The front wall was plastered with numerous blown-up photos of proud, powerful Catholic women activists and warriors, along with a small blurb explaining who they were. They were some of the most brilliant minds on the planet. They were females I hadn’t heard of, and knowing they existed gave me strength and hope.

We watched a video of three Catholic women of enormous courage, integrity, and brilliance. They were proud to be Catholic and risked everything as they demanded radical equality for women in the Church, insisted that women be given prominent leadership roles, and argued that we cannot put limits on God or barriers between God and Her people. They were critical of the policies of Popes (John Paul and Francis) and demanded that women be allowed to serve in the ministry. They were confident, proud, without apology, and brilliant.

We saw them and thought, “Hey, I can do that!” or “I want to be like that!” Joanne reminded us that they had gotten hit with the same oppression and been as scared and insecure about their thinking as we were. That made their accomplishments seem all the more awesome. The message was, “If they can, why can’t I? So you feel small and stupid, so what? Go ahead and persist anyway. Just start by opening your mouth and saying one sentence.” There’s an Italian saying, “Go slow, and be whole, and go far.”

AN OPEN DOOR

I encourage all Catholic women of the global majority to join us. The door is open, and there’s a place here for you. If you have any connection at all to the Catholic Church, if you or your family or your nation has been affected by it somehow, this is a place to call home and find others who truly understand. Sure, there’ll be some variations of experience based on class, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, and so on, but there’s a common oppression (sexism and male domination), along with anti-Catholic oppression, that we all got hit with. Claim Catholic women as your sisters, because they get8 it! Not much explanation required. White Catholic women get it more than you realize.

Bo-Young Lim
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of Catholics


1 Joanne Bray is the International Liberation Reference Person for Catholics.
2 “Living in sin” means living with a sexual partner without being married.
3 “On my own” means completely alone.
4 “The light bulb moment” means the moment when I understood something.
5 “Carried the same cross” means carried the same burden.
6 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, or formerly one of these
7 Mother Teresa (1910–1997) was a Roman Catholic Religious Sister from Albania who spent most of her life serving very poor people in India.
8 “Get” means understand.


Last modified: 2017-12-06 21:30:01+00