Why the World Needs a New Feminism More than Ever

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Anyone who watches the news is probably aware of the debate between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).  It’s been all over the news and is usually (and unfortunately) presented as a rift between the out-of-touch boys club that many consider the hierarchy of the Church to be and the women religious who are seen to be fighting the injustices of outdated and oppressive teachings.  I recently listened to an NPR interview of Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the LCWR.  For me, it was a heart-wrenching experience to hear her perspectives, because I could tell that, for her, they are heart-felt.

It can be all too easy for those of us who unwaveringly commit ourselves to following the Magisterium of the Church to dismiss such views  as rebellious and/or irrational.  I think this is a mistake.  First of all, such a dismissal does not adequately correspond to the dignity of the human person, which demands a respect that includes a willingness to listen and to try to understand why one believes what one does.  Secondly, it exacerbates a polarization in the Church which is undeniably hurtful to the Body of Christ.

On the other hand, listening with compassion and genuinely trying to understand a person’s perspective does not translate into a willingness to compromise the teachings of the Church.  The Church is not a democracy, and obedience to her teachings is essential to the life of the Church. At the same time, the Holy Spirit does guide her to positions that are rational.  They can, and should, be understood and explained.  Sometimes the full meaning of these teachings takes centuries to unfold; nonetheless, it is vital that we unfold them.

Both the Magisterium and the organization that represents many women religious in the United States have expressed views.  However, there is still something missing from the dialogue.  It’s time for the women of the Church, both lay and religious, who are loyal to her teaching authority to make their voices heard.

Our society, and the other members of the Body of Christ, need to hear the voices of the daughters of the Church.  From an outside perspective, it does appear that the teaching on the all-male priesthood, for example, is a matter of great injustice.  We shouldn’t gloss over that.  It’s especially important then that women, who seem to be victims of this perceived injustice, strive to understand and help articulate this teaching and how it is misunderstood.  The world and our Church need, more than ever, to hear our voices.

Kelly Shircliff Williams

Kelly Shircliff Williams

Kelly is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied Theology and Philosophy. She earned an M.T.S. from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family where her focus was the new feminism of Pope John Paul II. She's written, given talks, and taught a short course on the subject at Virginia Commonwealth University. Kelly is married to Dr. Stephen Williams, a research scientist at the University of Virginia. They live in Charlottesville, VA with their two dogs, Gibbs and McKinley.

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5 thoughts on “Why the World Needs a New Feminism More than Ever”

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    I disagree, at this point it doesn’t matter why they believe what they believe, all that matters is that they believe what they believe. They are in a similar situation to service members who are given all the opportunity in the world to know and learn about the consequences of illegal drug use. Unless they were slipped something, doesn’t matter why it happened. Obedience is obedience is obedience, especially when the law has been promulgated sufficiently. These nuns haven’t been slipped anything. They’ve been given full disclosure, the point is well past conversation, now there is either subordination or rebellion, conversion or digging in.

    Labeling something rebellious or irrational is not necessarily dismissive. For example, Martin Luther was rebellious through his heresy, he rejected the authority of the Church and her Bishops. While I don’t disagree that Catholic women have voices that need to be heard, describing how the Church isn’t anti-woman, the pro-woman line of thinking is not a line of thinking that these nuns haven’t heard.

    Furthermore, there is nothing objectively offensive to their dignity as human persons to call their school of thought irrational, or their actions rebellious. This is even more the case when these labels are accompanied by an explanation. After the explanation, it is on them to obey or rebel, dig in or submit. Listen with compassion? We’ve been listening to these rebellious nuns for decades, It seems the Church is now asking them to pause and listen themselves for a moment.

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    But I absolutely agree with your point that the secular world needs to hear Catholic women more than ever defending the truth of the love and honor the Church has for women.

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    Great post Kelly! This post reminded me of a lady friend of mine, St. Catherine of Siena. She was given a special project when she lived in the 1300s. She went to Avignon to bring the popes back to Rome.

    In this New Evangelization, we have so much work to do. What exciting times we have been chosen to evangelize! Our Faith has presented us with incredible examples of feminine heroines. Just yesterday, we celebrated the mother of St. Augustine and as history shows, we owe so much of his outstanding work to his conversion that was teared for by her. Ok, ladies, go get to work. We need more Augustine’s and LCWR’s to move back to Rome. No pressure, just get movin’.

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