Dearest Pope Francis . . . Snap Out of It!

Dearest Pope Francis . . . Snap Out of It! December 9, 2014

I love you dearly, Holy Father. But there’s no denying you’re overdue for an earful—a come-to-Nonna meeting, with all due respect—from some ladies of a certain age and station, for whom I dare to speak.

Don’t get me wrong. My beef is not with your theology. You probably don’t get to read the Sunday Los Angeles Times, so you may have missed an op-ed piece calling you on the carpet for being a traitor to feminist hopes. One of the co-authors is a kind of TV theologian called Candida Moss who is very popular with some people here and very not popular with others. The LA Times piece takes you to task for coming out in favor of complementarity, which the writers have decided is a Bad Thing. (Ironically, Professor Moss’s co-author on this and other critiques of complementarity is a male theology professor, Joel Baden. Dr. Moss has tweeted her irritation that people don’t notice she has a co-author, and blame her for everything they don’t like. Which, I guess, means she’s in favor of complementarity of blame.) Moss and Baden have defined complementarity in such a twisted and unCatholic way that it would indeed be a Bad Thing if you were in favor of it:

The religious teaching of complementarity holds that men and women have very different roles in life and in marriage, with men outranking women in most areas.

That’s nonsense, of course. I know you don’t believe that or teach it—just as I know you also don’t believe, when you say that women have a God-given place at the heart of a home, that women should be kept barefoot and pregnant. (Except in the good Calah Alexander sense.) I don’t believe, though I used to, and passionately, that the Church is a big old meanie because no women are admitted to Holy Orders. And I’m a woman who’s worked with and for women, so I’m under no illusions that a matriarchal Church would be a squishy colorful handwoven advance on what we have now. People sometimes hear only the sound of their personal axes grinding, though—you sure know that, I bet!—so I won’t spend time fisking the good professors. (You can go here or here for giggles should you have the time.)

No, but Moss and Baden (Baden and Moss? or is that patriarchal?) did raise an issue that I have to admit has been thorny for me—your habit of using figures of speech stereotyping old or childless women when you want to talk about who the Church and the followers of Jesus shouldn’t be, or treating women as sweet little side dishes. The Times op-ed alludes to two instances: comparing Europe to an elderly, haggard grandmother, and referring to women theologians as “strawberries on a cake.” Too late for presstime, I’m sure to the professors’ chagrin, you just unloaded another one, warning the Church not to end up (horrors!) a spinster:

“When the church doesn’t do this, when the church stops with itself, closes in on itself — even if it is well organized, has a perfect organizational chart with everything in place, everything tidy, but it lacks joy, lacks celebrations, lacks peace — it becomes a mistrusting, anxious, sad church, a church that is more like an old maid than a mother.”

Like I said, I love you dearly. So I—a haggard grandmother, a spiritual spinster, never alas a strawberry on anyone’s cake—have been willing to cut you a lot of slack. Even when you told jokes about mothers-in-law (I’m one of those, too) being worse than the Devil. He doesn’t really mean it that way, I tell people. (If you had a pence for every time you’ve been the subject of that phrase, think how much bling Peter would have to give away!) He’s trying to shake people out of complacency, to jolt them into new vitality, to juice things up. He doesn’t mean literal childlessness or age, but a refusal to engage in the new life of the Gospel! Pay attention–when he says this stuff, he’s talking to men, who can be the worst old maids evah! Or even, oh, he’s a Latin-Italian man of a certain age; it’s cultural, like your grandpa.

But hey. Enough. Basta. When you use this kind of casually demeaning language about women, you dismiss the generations of faithful, dynamic, ageless women of faith who were never mothers or nuns yet never ceased embodying a vital and fruitful Church. You wound those who cannot become pregnant or who exhaust themselves mothering many, in obedience to the Gospel of Life. You forget the plentiful biblical evidence that God uses elderly, barren, dried-up old broads—not to mention one very very special spinster—to bring his love to miraculous birth. You risk alienating the global force of grandmothers, we who are praying this Church into the future as we have always done, despite what men fear.

Even worse, I think, you make it less possible to argue that Moss and Baden are wrong about you and complementarity and feminine genius and the Church. So please, respectfully, Holy Father, examine the conscience of your idioms. If not because I ask, then because surely your Mamma Maria, whom you honor so beautifully, would want you to. The next time you visit the icon of the Salus Populi Romani at Santa Maria Maggiore, I would hate for her to have her do this:

Your obedient daughter,


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