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Catholic Women and the Policy

At my Catholic women leaders’ workshop in January 2006, I had some insights into the relationship between Catholic internalized oppression and the Fourth Draft Women’s Policy Statement. I made headway in thinking about it myself and inviting other Catholics to do so as well.

The issue for me, and for the Catholic women I have spoken to, is that we have not put our minds into the process. We have not found a way to systematically claim women’s liberation for our own, which I think is going to be central for Catholic women’s work. We seem to feel the draft policy was written for other women. Perhaps other women feel this way, too. The document itself is so anti-pattern, and our internalized oppression tells us never to think about the document. Certainly the pain of facing the reality of sexism in our lives is difficult for all women. But I think it sits on Catholic women in a particular way.

I will try and give you a picture of what this is like for me personally. I had read the draft policy statement several times before this workshop. (I know this because my copy is all marked up!) But each time I read it, I could not even remember marking it. I realized, with prompting from Joanne Bray and Diane Balser, that it made no sense to lead a women’s workshop disconnected from the policy.

For this workshop, I decided to go after the policy systematically with a group of women and with discharge. The workshop leadership team was made up of the organizer and her main support person, and me and my main support person. This group determined to read the policy statement three times before the workshop, and then meet and discharge about it. It was good to be in a safe group of other Catholic women and do this. We came clean with each other about how absolutely not connected we feel with the policy. It was useful to see it was not just me. I was able to step outside of the disconnectedness (both as counselor and client) and see how irrational the distress is and how vital it is that Catholic women connect with women’s liberation and in particular with the continuing work of drafting this important policy statement.

With this perspective, I was able to ask myself: “So which words or sentences ring true with me as a Catholic woman?” There are several whole sections and several additional sentences throughout the policy that sound “Catholic.” The two sections that almost in their entirety are most clear to me, and which I used extensively at the workshop, are “Internalization of oppression” in the broader section “Mechanisms of Sexist Oppression,” and “Giving up acting like victims” in the section entitled “Liberating All People and All Women.”

I e-mailed the workshop attendees ahead of time and asked that before the workshop they read the policy statement and discharge. I included the policy statement in the workshop booklet and encouraged women to read it in session during the workshop. I read certain sections out loud during the workshop, discharged myself with the group, and had minis. It was amazing! I came away with a big insight:

We know that a core hurt or conditioning that Catholics get is that of mindlessly following authority. In an attempt not to give into that conditioning, many Catholics are reactive in any situation that even remotely looks like “authority.” Many Catholic RCers are reactive against guidelines, directions, leadership, and policy statements. Of course we have learned in RC that if we don’t discharge the early conditioning, we will be reactive and just get stuck in the “flip side” of the pattern, which is equally as rigid as the original version, although it “feels” different.

I told the women that we can celebrate our resistance to mindlessly following authority. It’s good that we refuse to do whatever we are told without thinking flexibly and making it our own. However, I see many Catholic RCers end up with a reactive rigidity, which, even worse, is mostly rigidly “secret,” as well. The first thing we have to do is “come clean” about this rebel pattern. There were eighteen experienced Catholic leaders at this workshop, and I think I can say with accuracy that we all share this struggle with “secret rebel” patterns.

For example, the first class I always give is on deciding not to feel bad about ourselves. If anyone in this group of experienced Co-Counselors had honestly and completely given this direction a chance, no one said so. Joanne has seen some of the work I’ve done personally on integrating the direction for myself as a Catholic. I’ve written about this on the list: I finally accepted it when I heard it in my mind from Mary (Jesus’ mother) and not from Tim. This was after a year of deciding repeatedly that it made sense in spite of my own, very private, rebellion against it: no one knew I was working on it—not a single one of my counselors.

So my insight was that I needed to communicate to these wonderful Catholic women that it is not in our interest to stay in this rigid pattern of rejecting or rebelling against authority, and not in our interest to do it privately. By the end of the workshop I was applying this same concept to the women’s policy statement. If the policy does not feel like it’s ours, it’s because our minds are not in there. And it is up to us to decide to put our minds there, for our own re-emergence.

I could see that neither part of the pattern, the being reactive or the secrecy, benefit us in any human way, and they serve to keep us remarkably isolated. Many Catholics seem to float through Co-Counseling like ghosts. (This may be truer of white Catholics.) I see this more clearly the more I try to lead them. I know I have done this myself.

By the final class of the workshop, which was on racism, I was able to see that the policy statement contained rational guidelines for just about everything we tackled at the workshop. I am now able to read it in an entirely different way. Because of the piece of work I was able to do in connection with the workshop, I now find the policy not terrifying, but interesting to read.

My challenge to myself and other Catholic women is to begin to read the women’s policy and truly think about it; to find the places where it rings true; to find the places where it does not; and to determine to discharge about it so that we can contribute to its ongoing development.

Christine A. Marie

Juneau, Alaska, USA

From the RC e-mail discussion
list for leaders of women

Last modified: 2018-01-04 17:18:35+00