2000 years

‘I will put enmity between you and the woman…’ 3:15

No, that’s not a quote from Joseph Ratzinger at 3.15 this morning.

It’s a quote from the Bible, a compilation of hearsay, rumour, innuendo, misogyny, fairytale, legend, biography, social history and advice written by various men over a period of a few hundred years.

The Bible has largely been the same since it was agreed upon as a fundamental part of the Christian Church, over 2000 years ago.

The world, however, has not.

None of this is news; none of it is even that outrageous. The quote above, put into the context of a 2000-year-old society, could even be considered enlightened, in that it doesn’t place the blame on women for the enmity.

What is outrageous is the reliance of the Catholic Church under Ratzinger on the ancient tradition of misogyny within its teachings.

Ratzinger – I know he’s the Pope, but part of my problem with the Church is the edification of its officers through mystical titles, robes and glittery accessories – has, during his tenure, taken the Church back many years. And it was already quite a bit behind.

The latest release from the Church, including the ‘sin’ of ordaining women priests in a list which mostly focussed on the ‘grave’ sin of child abuse, is almost mind bogglingly stupid, ignorant, and short-sighted.

I’ve been putting off writing this post since I first read of this last week, as I was afraid I’d merely spew expletives.

Contrary to some reports, the news from the Vatican did not precisely equate women priests and those who ordain them, with paedophiles.

They made the unfortunate mistake of including the new rules on ordaining women priests in the same document as the new rules on paedophilia. At least, that’s their line on it.

It shows just how clueless the Church is when it comes to the gravity of paedophilia. It’s like including late payment of your TV licence in the same legal provision as murder. Even if you believe they didn’t mean it that way, it shows an astonishing lack of political nous, something that would be surprising, given its proud history as an Italian city state and how it got there.

But that’s optics. It’s well documented that the Church has no clue how to tackle paedophilia, and for a long time, didn’t really care. I will give Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and some of his colleagues the benefit of assuming that now, they do care.

The part of this that really and truly astonishes and angers me is how the Church, after 2000 years of progress in almost every other sphere of society, can still believe that women have no place in its structure.

My relationship with the Church was a big part of my childhood and it was exemplified almost 100% by nuns, teachers (all female), priests’ housekeepers, my granny and all the other old ladies who went to mass and kept the place going.
Women who cooked and cleaned for the Church and its many tentacles, who grew and arranged flowers for the Church, who sang at Church, who did readings at Mass, who visited the poor and the sick for the Church’s charities and who arranged fundraisers and trips to Lourdes and the ‘tea and sandwiches’ part of the funeral. In the midst of this a priest wandered in, had his dress put on him by some overawed kids who spent an hour handing him things, ate and drank what he was given by the women, and went for a pint.

I am not saying all priests are lazy or that all priests or bad; I am not even saying all priests are like this. But every support service that I can remember ever seeing in the Church was carried out by women.

When I visited the Vatican a number of years ago on a trip to Rome, I became incandescent with rage and had to leave St Peter’s Basilica. I’ve written about this before, and I won’t go into it in detail again.

But as we wandered around between statues of ‘holy’ men, crypts (of men) with nuns beating their heads off the ground and wailing in front of them, pictures of men and astonishing wealth, held by men, we walked past nuns cleaning, and of course ended up in the gift shop. Where, if we’d bought anything, we’d have been served by nuns.

It was the biggest and wealthiest clubhouse I had ever seen and they did not want me in the club.

I have been raised to expect that I am equal to anybody. I know that I am equal to anybody. And yet, there is no chance that I or any other woman, can ever be in a position to change the Church. Because change has to happen on the inside, and we are not on the inside.

We are tolerated as tea makers and cleaners and mothers (to a point – only in marriage and only if we eschew contraception and impure thoughts and enjoying any sexual contact not designed for procreation). We are tolerated as ‘handmaidens’.

Now, when the Church is in the throes of the biggest crisis since the Reformation, when it is desperately seeking vocations and forgiveness from the thousands, possibly millions, it has wronged, in one foul publication, it shuts out the 50 per cent of the population that has not been proven, over 2000 years of administration, to be completely misguided and wrong about how we do things.

I am not religious. But I feel some of the disappointment and shame that the Church’s female adherents must be feeling now. There is a movement for women priests, and it is quietly supported by quite a few male priests.

It’s time for them to raise their voices. Schism is an old-fashioned word, but it looks to me like the concept has never been more inviting.



  1. Reading your description of the work of women to support the Church in Ireland rekindled so many memories of my own childhood. My own grandmother sang in the choir, visited the sick, arranged flowers and held the 'stations' in her house. She also had the priest over for Sunday dinner at least once a month. This same priest charged for his attendance (one of four priests) at her funeral mass. Truly unbelievable. I think you summed up the Church's entire problem at the very start of that post. The World has moved on. They have not. Hence they are being left behind by the majority of people.

  2. Excellent post! I'm not exactly a fan of the Catholic Church, and am often willing to jump on any critical bandwagon, but even this expression of ignorance caught me by surprise. I also wouldn't consider myself to be an ardent feminist, but this just makes my blood boil! Kudos for finding an expletive-free way to highlight the archaic notions of this Old Boys' Club!

  3. Nothing about the Church surprises me anymore. The comments on the ordination of women were the latest in a long line of misogynistic and frankly unethical pronouncements from the Vatican. The whole edifice is an anachronism that has failed manifestly to keep pace with the world. What does surprise me however is the attention and reverence it still commands in our country and around the world. We condemn the bishops for their silence and sometimes active opposition during the abuse investigations, and yet this heavy tanker carries on traveling forward with few real casualties to show for it.

  4. I don't think you are wrong; in fact I agree with most of what you say, yet I am still uneasy about it. I am religious, and a practising Catholic. Though I believe it is the implicit default position in most Catholics, I will say it in case there is any ambiguity: I obviously abhor all that's gone on in the Church over generations. However, I still think the answer is not to walk away. For whatever reasons people say they are not religious, don't believe in God, etc, and a lot of people have left the Church because they are disgusted by what has only recently come to light. However, if people had real faith in the first place (and seriously I ain't no bible-basher), they would not drop their beliefs so easily, and if they never had faith, then why do they feel entitled to pontificate about an organisation and belief structure with which they never identified? I feel it is outrageous that more than 75% of people can have no place in the Church "management", not 50% as you say, since it excludes married men also. (Of course the ultimate hypocrisy is that a married Anglican minister converting to Catholicism may retain his wife and practise as a priest, but that's another point altogether). Change within the Church as an organisation is further stymied as the Pope is chosen by like-minded cardinals, who in turn appoints the next generation of cardinals, thus making real change mournfully slow. Change must come from within as you say, but can only come from within if the laity is willing to get involved, since the avenues for core change are as good as shut. It is grassroots change which will lead to change. Ultimately, as priest numbers decline, a change will be forced and ministries will be extended, but only if lay people are willing and able. Admitting something is wrong and using that as a reason to leave claiming it can't be fixed is a delusional argument favoured by those who never wished to have any meaningful role in the first instance.

  5. @James – I agree that fixing something from the inside is the way to go. But face it, women are not and never have been "on the inside". I think now is the time for Catholic women worldwide to form a real movement and demand a hearing from the men who make the decisions. Because I am not a believer I don't think it's my place to do something like this – I don't realy self-identify as Catholic any more. But I am angry as hell about it for all the women I know who are, and I think they need to harness their collective power. @woodpigeon – I agree.@Mór Rigan and Siobhan – thanks ladies!

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