“Searching for Mary” is a multi-voice blog for women, who are practicing Catholics yet feel excluded by the Church. Many Catholic women have acknowledged a calling of faith, but cannot serve as priests and Church leaders. So, instead, these same women have heeded an alternative calling — one of social justice. Many Catholic Women have dedicated their lives to social justice work, something they consider as “faith in action.” These women are political operatives, health workers, teachers, elected officials, non-profit directors, counselors, etc. They have enacted their faith into roles outside of the Church, not merely as servants, but as activists of the Spirit.
I used to served on the Board of Directors for a local Catholic Charities. Our motto underscored this idea of social justice: We don’t help people because they are Catholic; we help people because we are Catholic. I have a friend who is a State Senator, and she often states that she has come to political service because of growing up in a Catholic faith steeped in social justice.
For overtly political reasons, however, the U.S. Bishops and the Vatican have decided to crack down on women and their social justice work. The U.S. Bishops in coordination with the Republican party have launched an assault against the Affordable Care Act — derisively known as Obamacare — in the name of religious freedom. Provisions of the Act ensure that insurance companies pay for women’s contraception. Thus, the U.S. Church, instead of supporting an initiative that would bring healthcare to the poor, they would rather fight the Act because it gives women access to reproductive healthcare.
In another startling display of patriarchal allegiance, the Vatican has decided to scold and punish the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), a leading organization that represents most female religious orders. The Vatican assigned an Archbishop to get these religious women back in line. The nuns were told to spend less time on social justice issues and more time speaking out against abortion and gay marriage.
In similar fashion, the U.S. Bishops have launched an investigation against the Girl Scouts because of some “possibly problematic” programs, materials and relationships. Closer to my home, previously awarded funds have been denied to an immigrant aid organization because they are part of an immigrant rights coalition that also includes an LGBT advocacy group. So,the Church has denied assistance to the poor and in need because an aid group has a relationship with a group who has a relationship with a group that supports gay rights.
It is even more stunning to juxtapose these papal crackdowns on women and social justice with the systemic cover up and complicity of priests sexually assaulting children.
The Vatican and the U.S. Bishops suggest that we have lost our faith. I argue the opposite is true. Many, many practicing Catholics — including women — enact Catholic teachings in the world through social justice acts in service to God and in the sharing of the Holy Spirit.
This blog is designed as a space to explore the roles of social justice and spiritual activism within the current Catholic climate and to reconnect the feminine with the Catholic Church.
I have been asked many times: Why do you persist? Why don’t you just leave the Church? My first answer is that: Being Catholic isn’t what I am; being Catholic is who I am.
Even with that in mind, I question how my regular Church attendance may make me complicit in patriarchal positions that are antithetical to human dignity. At least for now, I see my regular Catholic practice as act of resistance for those who wished that people like me would slink away quietly. (Pope Benedict has noted he would rather have a smaller Church than a Church filled with people who disagree with him.)