Testimony to the Synod on the Laity 1987
Women for Faith and Family Testimony
to the Bishops of the Church for the
Synod on the Laity - 1987
Testimony Based on Letters Received by Women for Faith & Family from October, 1984 to July, 1987
To the Bishops of the Church For the Synod on the Laity:
Concerns expressed in letters
II. Effects of Feminism
Recommendations, Part II, III:
Testimony Based on Letters Received by Women for Faith & Family from October, 1984 to July, 1987
Since October, 1984, when the circulation of the Affirmation for Catholic Women began, several thousand letters from women have been received by Women for Faith and Family. A very high percentage of these letters include personal testimony about the meaning of the Catholic faith in their lives, about the current atmosphere of confusion within the Church, and how this affects them as individuals, and how it affects their families.
These letters reflect the women's varied experience and reveal that 1) they have an overwhelming desire to affirm Catholic teaching (nearly all letter writers have signed the Affirmation and have helped to gather signatures to the statement in one way or another); 2) that they recognize that the Church, far from being "oppressive", is, in fact, their source of strength to meet the challenges each encounters in her daily life; 3) that they enthusiastically support His Holiness, John Paul II, and the many courageous and faithful priests and bishops; 4) that they greatly desire increased personal holiness; and 5) that they recognize their important responsibility as Christians and as women to witness to their faith to their families and to the world.
The letter writers represent a very broad spectrum of states of life, age, socio-economic background, intellectual and educational levels and political persuasions. Letters come from Religious women (many from troubled Orders) and lay women; single women, married women, women who are divorced or widowed; childless women and women with children young or grown; from women who are in business or the professions, teachers, writers, lawyers, physicians, office workers, retired women; from women who work at home; from those whose political views range from "ultra-left" to "ultra right"; and from women in all parts of the United States and from many other countries as well.
The common bond uniting all these women is, of course, their Catholic faith and their recognition of the critical importance of this faith in their lives. All the women who have signed the Affirmation for Catholic Women from the 29-year-old waitress with three small children, to the elderly impoverished widow, to Mother Teresa of Calcutta understand the current necessity for Catholic women to communicate their fidelity to the Church and her teachings to Catholic leaders and policy-makers, and to society as a whole.
By signing the Affirmation, more than 50,000 Catholic women (as of July, 1999) have proven false the claim of a minority of women still claiming to be Catholic, but who reject not only the Church's constant teaching on many crucial matters but also her authority to teach, to represent the collective view of Catholic women. Affirmation signers recognize that this false claim can be maintained only so long as they, themselves, remain silent.
They also realize that the unchallenged claims of contemporary "feminists", whether inside or outside the Church, have had a devastating effect on society by viewing human life and human sexuality as commodities to be used or abused and controlled according to a disordered notion of human freedom and "self-fulfillment"; and that "women's liberation" and related ideologies which demand the total restructuring of society (including the Church) to conform to their notion of the meaning of human life and human freedom are actually harmful to women rather than liberating, and are destructive of families.
Such attitudes, in fact, deliberately erode the integrity of the family, which is the basic unit of society and is the corporeal image or manifestation of the unity which exists in the Godhead and of the covenantal relationship between God and His people of Christ and the Church.
The family, as the fundamental source and the nurturing ground of all moral and ethical principles and of spiritual and religious attitudes, informs all social actions and influences every aspect of human life. Thus it is the family which actually and most essentially forms and sustains the social order. Because of this, it is vital to the interest of a just society that the integrity and health of families be actively protected. The family literally bears within it the continuum of human civilization and the future of the human race; therefore, disintegration of families inevitably leads to the disintegration of the social order which fails to provide them with the cultural support that helps to nourish them.
It is not surprising, then, that a majority of the letters express deep concern about contemporary issues within the Church and in society which challenge Church teachings, Church authority, and the Judeo-Christian principles which have provided the basis for our society. The letters reveal that ordinary women are conscious of the effect on families of widespread religious confusion and social disorientation. They realize that they as women, mothers, and teachers are perhaps more centrally responsible for the moral and religious formation of children (hence, for the future of the Church and of humanity) than any other segment of society.
A predominant concern of letter writers is the education of children in all its aspects, especially in the crucial areas of catechetics and "family life" or "sex-education". They write of their experiences with their own children and their parish schools, and reveal grave concern that children are not receiving adequate moral and religious instruction; and, furthermore that these programs (and those who administer them) are often perceived to actually undermine both Church teachings and the parents' primary role as educators of their children.
A frequent complaint about catechetical programs is that they are deficient or defective in presenting the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church; and that they downplay or even omit central Catholic doctrines, such as the Incarnation and Virgin Birth of Christ, the Resurrection, salvation, heaven, hell, &c. The presentations of ethical and moral issues, such as the proper role of Christians in social structures, sexual morality, etc., often omit the Church's teachings, emphasizing the "right" of "individual conscience" over legitimate Church authority; and substitute for Church teaching and explanations for them the views of the textbook authors, theologians, "experts" and individual teachers.
Concern about sex education is very widespread. Chief among the complaints expressed in the letters is 1) that most of the widely used textbooks are seriously defective, presenting "too much too soon", and inadequately presenting and explaining the Church's teaching on marriage, divorce, contraception, homosexuality, abortion, etc.; 2) that lip service only is given to the parents' right to instruct their children. Organized consultations which may be held before a "sex-ed" program is initiated in the parish school are frequently criticized as being manipulated in such a way as to exclude parents who disagree with the program being promoted. It is not uncommon for a parent who objects to a child's participation in a particular classroom sex-education program to be publicly ridiculed, and the child forced to sit in the hall during the objectionable instruction.
Several parents who have communicated with us have moved to another parish to avoid a situation which they perceive to be dangerous to the well-being of their children. Others feel helpless to do anything about the situation, having unsuccessfully appealed to their pastor, their bishop or diocesan school officials. They are also inclined to be silent, not only because they want to avoid humiliation, but because they fear reprisals against their children by resentful teachers or school officials, and because their children might suffer embarrassment. Still other parents have chosen to send their children to public schools, apparently hoping to avoid formal religious instruction altogether rather than to risk misinformation; and many are now "home-schooling" their children for the same reason.
The many letters received on this subject indicate that parents recognize the strong influence of Catholic schools and teachers over their children, which many now find to be predominantly negative. They can no longer count on the larger society to support their heritage of Judeo-Christian principles; furthermore, they fear that the Catholic school may further erode, rather than reinforce, these principles or may, in fact, encourage children to reject legitimate parental and Church authority in all matters dealing with religious convictions and moral attitudes.
1) Re-emphasize the educational principles enunciated in the documents of Vatican II and Familiaris Consortio regarding the rights and responsibilities of parents as primary educators of their children.
2) Review catechetical and sex-education texts and programs in current use. Bishops should exercise great caution before giving Imprimaturs to these programs. Rather than depending for approval solely on local bishops, all texts and programs might be made subject to approval by a central commission of the Holy See.
3) Set up a channel of communication between a bishop and his people which would assure parents of sound advice and support for their legitimate concern about religious and moral education of their children.
4) Publish a universal catechism (including moral education) with approval from the Holy See, and require all textbooks and programs to conform to its norms.
The letters reveal that many women feel isolated, marginalized, alienated and 'oppressed' not by the Church, but by many in leadership roles in the Church, especially women. People tell us repeatedly, "I thought I was the only one", and express a great sense of encouragement at learning that they may not be in the minority after all. They regard feminism as a particular threat to the Church and to their families, and resent the stereotyping of believing Catholic women as ignorant "victims of the patriarchy", unable to think clearly or critically about Church or social issues. (It is surely worth noting that the Pro-life movement in the United States has been predominantly a movement of Catholic women.)
The majority of faithful Catholics women and men may not always be able to articulate clearly their concerns; nevertheless, they understand quite well the hostility to the Church and its Tradition expressed by feminists of both sexes, and they often experience directly, through their families, the deleterious effects of the dominance of feminist (and other `liberationist') views among religious professionals, views which directly contradict Church teachings.
There is also widespread concern that many pastors and some bishops are unresponsive to the legitimate questioning of policies and practices of Church officials, especially in education, liturgy and in para-parochial activities such as RENEW, the DeSales program, etc. (Whatever the intention of these "small-group" or "base community" activities, in practice they are frequently a vehicle for promoting particular, uniformly "leftist" political points of view and social policies which may be in contradiction to Church teaching. In addition, their effect on parishes is more often divisive than unitize.)
Many believe that the priests and bishops listen only to the feminists and "liberals" on their staffs, and that they too easily succumb to pressure from the religious professionals and to the fear of bad publicity in making decisions affecting their parishes or dioceses. People want bishops and priests to show courage and wisdom in defense of the Faith in all matters; not just on the comparatively "safe" issue of abortion. The sense of mistrust of and betrayal by Church officials is increasing. Some people find themselves in the apparently paradoxical position of affirming Church authority, while criticizing an individual priest or bishop who seems to accommodate dissent from Church teachings.
With respect to the Sacraments of the Church, the chief concern expressed in the letters is the effort of feminists to undermine the structure of the Church by promoting the false idea that the ordained priesthood should be available to any baptized person, male or female.
They correctly see the relevance of seemingly peripheral issues, such as altar girls and "inclusive" language, to the questioning of the restriction of the ordained priesthood to men, and perceive the efforts to promote altar girls and the elimination of so-called "sexist language" from the liturgy as the unvarnished stratagems of feminists symbolically crucial to their goal of ordination of women.
In general, objections to women as lectors and eucharistic ministers seem to arise from a perception that many of the individual women who hold these offices are making a "feminist" statement, rather than from the categorical objection to women performing these roles per se.
There is also a justifiable concern that traditional roles of women in the Church, such as altar work and volunteer religious instruction of children or other services traditionally performed by women, are now viewed with contempt by the women who demand "leadership" (power) roles in the Church rather than service to the Church. The discontinuation of para-liturgical devotions in most American parishes, and the neglect of Mary in official worship has reinforced this attitude of devaluation of "woman's work".
We are convinced, from evidence in the letters, that some clear statement on the subject of the Sacrament of Ordination, and the distinction between the "priesthood of all believers" and the ordained priesthood, is now absolutely necessary. We have reports that many practicing Catholics "accept all Church teachings" except the exclusion of women from the priesthood. They have been convinced that this exclusion has no theological basis, and is the direct result of oppressive attitudes towards women by an all-male hierarchy; and that "justice" demands that women be treated "equally." (It is also quite clear that `equality' is confused with `identicality' in this, as in other areas.) This false notion is common, and the confusion will continue to grow until the Church speaks authoritatively and definitively on these matters.
There is an enormous need for teaching of Catholic doctrine from the pulpits. Catholic apologetics has rarely been in a state of such decay; and lay people often find themselves ill-equipped to defend Church teaching. The lack of teaching leaves people vulnerable to influences either within or outside the Church, and from either the "left" or the "right" which are positively dangerous. This leaves Catholic parents without adequate help in instructing their children in the Faith. Almost as injurious and demoralizing as actual false teaching is no teaching at all. The Catholic laity and especially young people come to the Church seeking Truth: the Truth which only the Catholic Church teaches in all its fullness.
The letters reveal areas where the need for an expanded effort to explain Church teachings is greatest. We would categorize these areas as follows:
1. Sexual identity, its meaning and implications
a. implication for roles for men and women in the Church and in society.
b. connection with the Sacraments: especially Marriage, Ordination.
2. Marriage, Family
a. relationship between man and woman
b. establishment of families
c. role of the family in society, Church
a. as co-operation with God's creative Act
b. role of human technology (genetic manipulation, "in-vitro" fertilization, contraception)
c. as destructive of God's creative Act (abortion, euthanasia)
l. The relationship between Persons of the Trinity
2. The relationship between Christ and His disciples
3. The relationship between Christ and The Church
4. Necessity of sacrifice, redemption
5. The role of Mary in salvation history
l. Nature of the Church
2. Establishment of the Church (by Divine Authority)
3. Authority in the Church
4. Relationship between ordained priesthood and "priesthood of all believers" (confusion about roles of the laity.)
a. too many "ministries" leads to over professionalization and to clericalization of the laity
b. value of role and mission of laity in the world of daily life
c. the meaning of `service' to the Church
a. address actual abuses (Examples related in letters: woman homilists, inappropriate use of eucharistic ministers; "manuscript" canons, unauthorized "readings"; women dressed in albs carrying hosts to altar of repose; neglect of first confession; consecration of unauthorized elements; use of altar girls -- among others.)
b. foster restoration of "vertical" dimension of worship, recovery of the "sacred" (Problems related in letters: concentration solely on community aspect of the "people of God"; Tabernacles removed to obscure places away from central focus of Church; lack of reverence for the Sacrament; inadequate instruction about the meaning of symbols; rubrics involving sacramentals - -signing of Cross, kneeling, genuflection -- neglected; use of inappropriate, theologically defective music, dance, drama; distortion of "kiss of peace", especially in school liturgies; inadequate time for meditation, prayer, reflection during Mass.)
a. restore devotional aspect of communal worship
b. re-establish Benediction, Rosary, holy hours, etc., as usual to the ordinary life of the parishes
l. Provide explicit authoritative teaching on the nature of the Church, the nature of Christ, the nature of the ordained priesthood and the relationship between the clergy and the laity.
2. Emphasize the eschatological message of the Church: the necessity for salvation, conversion, personal holiness.
3. Re-emphasize teachings of Vatican II regarding the liturgy.
4. Provide universal liturgical guidelines for bishops, parish priests and "lay ministers", and require conformity to these guidelines.
5. Encourage revival of para-liturgical devotions, use of sacramentals, use of traditional music at Masses celebrated in a Church, renewed reverence for the Sacrament.
6. Exercise extreme caution on the matter of amending liturgical texts to eliminate "sexist" language. It is not correct to assume that "Catholic Women" (in any collective sense) prefer "non-sexist" language as defined by feminists, or feel "excluded" when inclusive pronouns and collective nouns such as "men", "brethren" and "mankind" are used. Very many women, however, perceive that the apparent concession to feminist demands by some bishops in this or other matters can only be destructive, damaging and divisive, even if its intent may have been chivalrous on the part of the bishop(s).
Even if it is not the message intended, when representatives of the hierarchy seem to hear and respond only to the complaints of feminist women, signals are given that only these women and their ideological views are worthy of consideration. This causes deep distress among the majority of faithful Catholics - women and men - whose desire to cooperate with bishops and whose need for support from the officials and leaders of the Church is exceeded only by their love for the Church and their willingness to fulfill their proper mission in the Church and in the world.
7. In the matter of including girls as altar servers, careful consideration should be given to the symbolic message which would be conveyed by any change in the present rules. Inevitably this would be regarded by many as the first step in the process of radically changing the structure of the Church by admitting women to the ordained priesthood. Such an action, if it were taken at the present time of confusion and conflict in the Church, could only give false hope to feminists and other liberationists that it will be only a matter of time before their goals will be accomplished. A change in the present rules regarding altar servers can only exacerbate, not alleviate, the current divisions in the Church. Because this issue is so highly charged, we are convinced that it would be a very grave mistake to change the rules or to suggest that because the illicit practice may be in place in some parishes that it should be permitted.
The overwhelming evidence of the thousands of letters received by Women for Faith & Family during the past 3 years is that the real issues of concern to most Catholic women have not been represented by the self-appointed spokesmen for "women in the Church."
Much of the current conflict within the Church and in society has been generated by distorted notions of humanity promoted by ideological feminism, as well as other ideologies inimical to Christianity. Because much of this conflict and confusion has been focused on the role of women in society and the Church, the Affirmation for Catholic Women was intended as a means for providing a voice for women who are not feminist ideologues, therefore, whose experience and knowledge of life is much broader than could be represented by any minority "interest group".
We hope that the evident willingness of the faithful daughters of the Church to speak out on issues involving our Faith and our families, and to act on their convictions, may be helpful in promoting a restoration of Christian moral order to the society in which we live, and, because of women's role in the moral and religious formation of our children, may beneficially affect the future of the Church.
It would be a great mistake, however, to omit addressing the men who make up the other half of the human race and without whom families cannot be established. Men have been victims, often enough with their own complicity, of the same disordered attitudes towards human life and the relationship of human beings with each other and with God as those which have afflicted women. Their disordered attitudes affect human society, the Faith and their families, at least as much as do women's. Men's ideas and attitudes have, in fact, inspired much of the "sexual revolution" and alien ideologies (including feminism itself) which have harmed both the Church and our culture.
Both as an example of the letters we receive, and as an insightful commentary on the negative effect of contemporary attitudes on men and women and their families, we include the text of a letter received on August 24, 1987, written by a Los Angeles woman:
I am of the generation of women who greatly erred and affronted God. Indeed, it has only been in the last year or so that I have returned to the Church, although I find myself in "duplicity" over my marriage (to a divorced non-custodial father) via her teachings and the Scriptures. (Thus, I pray our marriage will one day be blessed by God, but in the meantime I cannot receive the Sacraments.)
Many of us did not intend to hurt Our Lord, yet, this does not lessen the wounds. Personally, I was raised in a good Catholic home by devout parents. Still, in my early 20's I became confused about "love" and did not sufficiently rely on God's power but my own to "help" the person I loved, my now-husband.
After 10 years of marriage and two children, I still love my husband deeply but I have a different perspective on what occurred and feel that it is important to share that with you.
The emergence of feminism had far greater reflection and impact on our relationship with God than the issue of sexuality. Indeed as "equality of the sexes" was advocated, the tumultuous 60's effectively destroyed that bond with our Creator for both men and women.
Why? Certain persuasive women rose and cried out, "If men can do it, why can't we?" And, yet, who raised their voices to respond, "Who said men can do it?' Are they not subject to God's Word as we are? If they choose to exercise their free will against Him, they will be judged accordingly. But let us not fall into that trap."
If such a challenge was present, it was overwhelmed by the stomping of women's feet to attain what they perceived to be their rightful and equal, albeit earth-bound, power.
So here we are, entrapped by our pride, devoid of humility, nearly overwhelmed by the consequences of our fruitless race against men.
Gratefully, with God's love and assistance, nothing is hopeless. However, while it is imperative that women regain the true order of their lives, and we support each other in that effort, concurrently we must minister to menour sons, brothers, uncles, fathers.
This has been sadly and grossly neglected. For generations women and women have falsely dressed [men's] lust as "natural humanism", their greed as "ambition", their lies as "corporate tact", and so forth.
What true benefits did men reap from the sexual revolution?
God did not choose for Mary to be a single mother; He knew that Joseph would do His will by becoming a chaste spouse to Mary. So does He expect anything less than that kind of submission from all men?
We must have pity on the men who do not foresee the brevity of their lives, and urge them back to God.
When we address ourselves to family, God's love compels us to include all mankind; spirituality is not the exclusive characteristic of women, nor was it intended to be
I pray that we can be united in this endeavor!
It is the hope of Women for Faith and Family that the bishops who will participate in the Synod on the Laity will find useful and encouraging the summary contained in these few pages of the testimony of many thousands of faithful Catholic women who have signed the Affirmation for Catholic Women and/or who have written letters expressing their heartfelt concern with issues involving the faith and the family.
We truly believe that all our bishops need the help and support of all faithful Catholics women and mentor their difficult task of leading the Church during these times of confusion and change in the world. We pledge to you our solidarity with you and with the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, in promoting and proclaiming and truth embodied for all times and ages in the Mystical Body of Christ, our Holy Mother, the Church. We stand ready to assist you by our words and actions, with our prayers and our devotion, in your effort to guide the future of the Church towards the realization of its Mission of the conversion and salvation of all mankind.
May we ever serve you, serve the Church and serve God, following the example of fidelity, courage, unselfish love, true devotion and sacrifice set for all Christians by Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother, Mary.
"Even so, Come, Lord Jesus."
Respectfully and prayerfully submitted
by Women for Faith & Family
September 4, 1987
St. Louis, Missouri, USA