Faith and Reason: Why do as the Roman men do?: We start a new series this week, asking how far feminism and Catholicism are compatible with each other. The first writer is Katy Brown, a freelance Catholic journalist.
Contraception must be the main point of contention for all Catholic women - a bigger one, I'm sure, than women priests - and one which has always reminded me that the rules are written by men. Of course we realise that a dedicated adherence to charts and an uninhibited approach to our own bodies can do the trick (90-odd per cent of the time); we know our mothers managed it; we gather our fathers went along with it: but somehow it seems a little ridiculous to be cast into a state of sin if we decide to set the thermometer aside. I jest, but perhaps those men who make the rules might try testing their intimate fluids on a daily basis for a few months; I have a faint suspicion that they might think again about imposing 'natural' contraception.
Women in the 1990s with all the added expectations that the past few decades have brought to them - of combining motherhood with career and successful relationships - want and deserve to feel in control. The bottom line of contraception is that if it fails, regardless of who was taking responsibility for it, a woman has to cope with a little bit more than earning a fatter pay packet. Call me a fair-weather Catholic if you like, but I truly believe that God won't judge me for choosing when to have my children, and if He has more sympathy with the priest commenting on the catechism on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, then I am certainly walking the wrong path. This man made the analogy of a club with rules: if you didn't like them, you need not and, more importantly, could not belong to the club. Frankly I'm happy to stand outside the clubhouse and watch, for though the Catholic church has all my emotional and spiritual fidelity, I don't want to stand next to members like that.
As a single mother, not by choice but through circumstance, I am in grave danger of the strict rule-abiders considering me an adulteress if I ever remarry. Of course there is always the option of putting my case before the marriage tribunal and obtaining a convenient annulment of my marriage, a la Princess Caroline, but with two fairly clued-up children carrying the name, the genes and the love of their father, my husband at the time of their conception and birth, I would find it difficult to explain that ours was never a true marriage. And if a second marriage happened I should be in further danger of being considered in a state of sin, even evil, if I decided to have no more children. And all because men with no families, no spouses, no sexual encounters, have written that it is so.
What is written down seems certainly to be etched in stone, never to be reconsidered by hardline Catholic rulemakers, for surely this is the fundamental reason given for rejecting the idea of Christ choosing his Apostles only from men, along with the 'constant practice' through history of the Church doing the same, and because the teaching authority has 'consistently held' that there should be an exclusion of women from the priesthood, that the Pope Says No.
It seems increasingly obvious that the concepts of reasoned change, of positive progress, of social consideration, simply do not come into the strict Catholic mind. Do any of his advisers point out to the Pope that, just because it has always been, does not mean it should always be? Does he still believe that Jewish women (and Judaism is where Catholicism was born, so presumably Catholic women too) are unclean when they are menstruating; does he really think of women as merely man's 'helpers', for in Genesis that is the very reason for our creation; is 'a woman's wantonness' still something to be wary of, because in Ecclesiasticus it is written that 'like a thirsty traveller she will open her mouth and drink any water she comes across; she will sit down in front of every tent-peg and open her quiver to every arrow'? The Pope may not know much about women, but he surely cannot read this without questioning.
There are always arguments that Jesus showed remarkable understanding of women, for instance in forgiving the prostitute. My fair-weather and ever-hopeful translation of this is that he not so much forgave the woman but sympathised with her, and forgave her clients, for, without the demands of men, she might have found easier employment.
But rather than dismissing the Church as guilty of blatant misogyny, as many of my friends do, I am convinced that everything we see not happening is due to a sort of feckless patriarchy, an entrenchment, a refusal to step out and speak out.
Of course I know that there are women readers at Mass, women ministers of communion (though I still see people deliberately joining the much longer queue leading to the priest), women involved in the highest echelons of training priests, women writing learned pieces in the Catholic press. But I also know that women still clean the churches after their daytime jobs and when the children are in bed; in Italy very recently I witnessed flocks of nuns fluttering round priests and ministering to their every need; and we still have to endure the reading from Paul to the Ephesians, in which he says that 'wives should be subject to their husbands', whereas men simply have to love their wives as they love themselves.
I am aware that just as Rome was not built in a day, nor can Rome be swiftly demolished just because we don't like what it decrees. I am also conscious that kicking against the traces of Catholicism's boundaries is not exactly evidence of my humility or obedience. But as a potential adulteress and already a sinner, I feel I have to little to lose in pointing out to the men who make the decisions in our Church that the law of God which they lay down for us has absolutely nothing to do with the spirit of God as most women understand it.
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