May 28, 2010.
“May I speak with her, please?”
“This is she.”
“I am the Archbishop.”
“Yes, I know who you are. We have met several times.”
“But not recently, I think.”
“I think not.” I feel on guard but interested.
“I was talking recently with your pastor and your name came up.”
“He thinks you have your finger on the pulse of disaffected women in the church, and that you can articulate that, if needed.”
“That is flattering. I think well of him too.”
“So let me start with a hand of friendship, please? I do understand your disaffection with the church, your feeling that your past work and talents are not appreciated. That is a sad failing throughout the church. I am sorry for that.”
“And what work and talents are you referring to then?” I asked.
“Your 20 plus years of preparation in Catholic institutions to serve the church, your 35 adult years as a volunteer, a lector, Eucharistic minister, serving on boards and committees, a teacher and a principal. Your ongoing daily prayers and concerns for the church today, even through your anger. That you haven’t really left the church. You and many other women of today share this discontent, am I not right?”
The Archbishop’s voice and temper were even, unaccusing. Since I seldom attended Mass anymore and never donated funds to Catholic endeavors, this whole conversation was something of a surprise to me. No one has ever contacted me from The Church to wonder where I was, or how I was doing, in any sense of the word, let alone spiritually. He was being nice. I was having trouble just “feeling nice” at my end. I wondered what he wanted from me? Fill in for some ailing principal? Forgive and forget everything and start donating again?
“If I may, I wish to invite you to a panel discussion, regarding the educated and disaffected women of the church, of what can be done to call them back. Would you be willing to come to a work session two weeks from now? Give it some thought before then? If you will, I will have sent to you a list of discussion questions, so that you can think them through before then. Would that be acceptable?”
“Yes, I would be happy to do that, for you, and for women. But you know, I did this before, when the Bishop’s Pastoral on Women was be vetted, in about 1986. I wrote up a response then and sent it in, and never heard another word. The Bishops just dropped the whole topic. I don’t think the response will have changed much over the years. Instead there is greater frustration and less hope for even qualified women to hold the respect of the hierarchy. The Pope himself has closed the door on discussion even.” I stopped.
“Are you doing this of your own initiative, or do you have direction or approval from the national bishops, or from Rome?” I asked.
“The thinking of bishops is changing, slowly, as they recognize that the Spirit works from the bottom up as often as from the top down. I have the authority to look into this myself, and some fellow bishops are doing something similar in their areas.”
“All right then, you can count on me.”
He confirmed my address and said good-bye.
Such a conversation makes my heart leap with joy, like Pentecost, “burning within me.”
Too bad it is all imaginary.
Who besides me would be on the panel of local disaffected but educated Catholic women?
Cathy Colby, Jan Miller, Carolyn Ullman, some nuns.
What would the questions be?
1. Please share a summary of your experience in the church. Formal education, spiritual formation, work in the church or volunteer positions.
2. Tell briefly the turning point, where commitment and obedience lost out to frustration, anger, etc.
3. What still attracts you to the church, that you do not cut it off entirely?
4. What sustains you spiritually now?
5. What insights have you had into the church and the situation of women in the church today?
6. What is your vision for the future?
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