Converting to Catholicism as a Feminist

Converting to Catholicism as a Feminist October 23, 2019
Image Credit: Kristy Burmeister

I converted to Catholicism as a feminist. Some people were pretty shocked. It’s one thing to be raised within Catholicism, become a feminist, and then wrestle with how both can exist together. It’s a whole other thing to willfully convert to Catholicism as an adult and feminist woman.

I’ll be honest. It was a huge sticking point for me when I was considering conversion. That’s part of why it took me so many years to follow through.

Let me preface the rest of this post with a disclaimer: I do not want to be a priest. I don’t want any form of official authority. As an individual person—and not as a representative of all women—I’m most effective working outside formal channels. I realize it’s tempting to dismiss me as a power-hungry progressive woman. So, sure. Go ahead and do that, I guess. I’m soooooooo progressive I…

Wait for it…

Wait for it…

I’m so progressive, I joined the Catholic church.

It’s obviously the most progressive organization ever.

Although I don’t personally want any formal responsibility, I do support women having greater leadership roles within the Christian faith. There’s no reason women shouldn’t be voting in the Amazon Synod. There’s no reason women shouldn’t play a larger role as deacons within their communities.

Let’s go back to what I said earlier for a minute. I said I don’t want any responsibility. When you’re leading the way you’re supposed to lead, you don’t have power. You’re a servant. Servants don’t have power. They have responsibilities. Women taking on leadership roles isn’t a power grab. It’s a desire to use their gifts in the service of the church. That’s how all church leaders should see their roles.

We can’t sit here, spouting complementarian talking points about how men and women are of equal value, and then not value the voices of women by giving them a vote. Or devaluing women’s contributions to their communities by not embracing them as deacons. Paying lip service to women’s importance isn’t the same as treating women as important. Sexism, including attempts at benevolent sexism, are harmful to the entire church. We are all missing out when women are dismissed.

So, what am I doing in a church that doesn’t allow women to take on an equal amount of responsibility within the church?

I could throw a lot of answers at that. I could pretend blatant sexism within the church is OK because, hey, we all really love Mary, so how could the church have deeply entrenched issues with sexism? I could try justifying why this or that issue isn’t as bad as it seems, even though it is just to make myself more comfortable living with this cognitive dissonance.

Ultimately, the real answer to why I can be part of a Christian tradition that devalues women is the same answer to why I can be part of a Christian tradition that gets some other things wrong too.

Let’s get real. The Catholic church has gotten some things wrong in the past. We all know that. It’s not a stretch to acknowledge the Catholic church is getting some things wrong now too. One of those things is women being left out of any real decision-making processes.

Don’t come at me with, “Women are part of the decision-making process because the men who are voting get input from women.”

So, what, women in the US shouldn’t have gotten the right to vote because we have the opportunity to persuade our husbands to vote for the right candidate, with no power to do anything if he chooses to vote for a candidate who will do us harm? Come on. Having a vote matters.

Some Catholic beliefs and practices are unchangeable. To change those beliefs or practices would be to undermine the core of what it means to be Roman Catholic. Other teachings and practices are way more flexible (even if some people don’t want to admit it.)

To be clear, I didn’t convert to Catholicism expecting the church to bend to my personal will. I’m OK with teachings that are hard, but aren’t you know, obviously causing unnecessary harm. I don’t expect my faith to be easy.

I didn’t convert thinking I would see anything change. I don’t expect to see any significant changes within my lifetime.

I have faith that the Holy Spirit does work through this imperfect group of people, though. I have faith that the Holy Spirit will continue to influence the Catholic church, and one day sexism won’t be such a blinding force that gets in the way of doing God’s work. One day, the Holy Spirit will get through, not just on issues involving women in roles of leadership, but on any issue where the church is causing more harm than good.

I’m not here just to be a member of the Catholic Church of 2019. When I think of the universal church, I don’t just think of us being geographically or culturally universal. I think of the universal church that exists in the past, present, and future. When I speak the words of the Apostle’s Creed, I’m not just reciting those words with the Christians on Earth today. I’m speaking them in unison with Christians in the past and in the future.

I’m just as much a member of the future universal church as the church that existed at the beginning and the church as it exists now. I have faith that the church of the future will get all of this right.

I believe the Catholic church is on the right path, even if we aren’t all the way there yet. I want to walk that path with the past, present, and future church, along with the Holy Spirit, for the time I’m here.

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  • sancho

    Glad to see your new post Kristy. I think you make really good points. God bless you.

  • Thanks!

  • Ame

    Amen. – fellow Catholic feminist

  • Gary Johnson

    Very nice, well nice might not be the right word. Making sense of our spiritual lives is so messy. Fortunately your writing is not. Thanks.

  • If women get to vote in the synod, then so should I. After all, the Church is a democracy. Wait.

  • It’s totally messy, and I think that’s OK. If I think I’ve got everything figured out, I’m not doing it right because there’s no growing closer to God that way.

  • Tom O.

    I would advise you to be careful with your comments. When you say there is no reason for something not to be done, like having women deacons, you should consider that just because you can’t see or understand the reason, Doesn’t mean that a good reason doesn’t exist. Be careful not to put yourself as the final authority. That isn the pride that leads to heresy.

  • John Stevens

    You seem to be laboring under some mistaken beliefs. This:

    “One of those things is women being left out of any real decision-making processes.”

    and this:

    “Come on. Having a vote matters.”

    Implies you are thinking about the Church as a political party, or a government. Sure, there is politics in any group of two or more human beings, and the Church still governs with a bit of secular authority (in a very tiny place that has a permanent population of less than a 1,000 people), but the Church is God’s Assembly, not a government or political party, and in nearly every case we should not have a vote, nor would voting be a good thing.

    Let’s take your example of voting rights and having men vote to give the franchise to women in the US. Yes, that’s a good thing, but even so, you still don’t have a real vote on any real decisions. The USA is a Constitutional Republic, precisely because there is a nearly infinite amount of things we don’t get to vote on and more to the point, should not vote on.

    The Natural Law is not something you vote on, because it is not something you can change by voting. It is the truth you submit to. A big part of the Constitution recognizes this, and it is this fact that justified our Revolution, regardless of the votes of the rest of the United Kingdom.

    “To change those beliefs or practices would be to undermine the core of what it means to be Roman Catholic.”

    Actually, no. To change those beliefs would not not undermine Roman Catholicism. It would, in those who changed THEIR beliefs, move them farther away from the Truth. The Truth is not changed by voting, or my changing my beliefs, or even me and a big group of people changing my beliefs. In short: Roman Catholicism can’t be changed by voting, as the Church belongs to God and serves the Truth. We choose to follow the Truth (or not, of course), but in doing so, we recognize that Truth is eternal: not something that can be changed by man, and certainly not by voting.

    The primary purpose of voting in the Church is to choose between policies, all of which must be equally valid ways of living the Truth. If one or more choices are not valid ways of living the Truth, they should not even be put up for a vote. What we never vote on is “real decisions” precisely because those are made at a much higher level of authority than that of man.

    Deacons: Women are not valid matter for the sacrament of ordination. Nor is there any valid reason to ordain women. We can all serve, and should, without being ordained.

    If it helps: I’m not valid matter for the sacrament either. That’s not an injustice or something that “the Church got wrong”, it is simply the Truth. This path is closed to me, too, as God did not call me to it, nor did he make me for it.

    Everybody DOES have a voice: we can all pray, work to live holy lives, and serve our families in the domestic Church. Women, in this respect, have so much power that it is hard to express it. No mothers, no life.

  • sancho

    I think you should follow your own advice. There were deaconesses in the early Church. The arbitrer of heresy is the living magisterium, namely our pope along with his brother bishops. Also, the Pope has the final authority to decide whether a member or members of the clergy or laity are teaching heresy, not vice versa. He alone possesses the keys of the kingdom. To
    pretend otherwise (as some clergy and laity as well as lay media would have us believe) is the real pride that leads to heresy. It is disobedience which pretends faithfulness. Kristy follows the magisterium not the imagisterium. Thank God for Pope Francis.

  • Tom O.

    I have made no such proclamation. I have not labeled anything heresy, or condemned anyone. I am merely pointing out that making definitive statements like Kristy made is not wise. I used to do that myself, before realizing that because I don’t see the reason for something doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist.

  • Just because men and women are not equal does not require that one side be devalued.

  • Termagant

    Except that they are indeed equal in all ways but brute physical strength (which is of little importance in most situations), and one side is constantly devalued because the other side is fearful that acknowledging this equality somehow means an inversion of the status quo (it absolutely does not). In other words, men know that they have treated women poorly (to put it mildly) and are afraid that women will visit this same poor treatment upon them (we won’t).

  • Termagant

    Your words have a narcissistic and misogynistic tone. It is unwise to use that tone in a discussion such as the one in this comment thread.

  • Tom O.

    Why do you say that. There is a difference between saying “I don’t understand/see why this policy exists”, and saying “This policy is wrong/evil/stupid”. I’ve learned to say the former, as it doesn’t imply a judgment, where the later expresses a judgment.

  • Brute physical strength os whst it takes to live in a violent world.