What is the sound of a woman leaving the Church?

A famous Zen koan asks: What is the sound of one hand clapping? A contemporary spiritual riddle might inquire: What is the sound of a woman leaving the Church?

Neither has an answer. There is only silence.

I re-entered Catholicism with some trepidation, overpowered by a longing I could not name.

Intellectually, I understood that what had exiled me in the 1980s had not changed. Popes come and go but misogyny remains entrenched.

I came back anyway, drawn by light through stained glass, by beautiful and inspiring music, by pews filled with goodhearted people who reflected our city neighbourhoods, not just in ethnicity and colour but in shades of gender, sexuality, physical abilities and gifts.

In the decades of my absence it seemed the church had gotten much right.

But not the whole gender equity thing.

On that the hierarchy remains frozen. Intransigent. Unyielding. Unhearing.

I entered in the autumn months, among displays of departed loved ones commemorated through the month of the dead. And I returned amid conversation which harkened some movement on the issue of women’s equal dignity and participation.

A deacon proposed reviving the dialogue around female deacons.

I attended a preliminary meeting but soon became uncomfortable with both the inadequacy and inequity.

Why such incremental change? Why not full and immediate recognition of women’s equality? Why do we continue to placate, to cater to embedded misogyny within a church to which we look for inspiration, enlightenment?

From that initial meeting sprang a coalition of women who asked these questions aloud.

At the time it felt liberating, exhilarating. A flurry of activities and meetings unfolded; plans were proposed and refined. Then COVID-19 hit and we retreated to our screens.

Over time and distance further shifts occurred.

A merger of parishes distinct in outlooks and practices, a new pastor charismatic and unyielding in his opposition to our goals.

Our group statements and announcements were censored, no longer welcome in the parish bulletin. We were encouraged not to be “disruptive” to parish unity.

And over time our voices muted, demands softened to polite entreaties. The focus became education, not action.

We sponsored presentations on the historical role of women in the church. This was more palatable, more easily digested by those uncomfortable with change.

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, pro-life announcements crept into our liturgies, enjoying full access to the bulletin.

Despite the overwhelming opposition to the Supreme Court ruling by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, despite its tragic and highly publicised impact on women’s lives, no one raised objections.

In the name of conciliation and non-offense, the women’s group softened its rhetoric.

Once again we discuss the possibility of female deacons. Someday. Somewhere down the historical road. Read more

  • Geraldine Gorman is a clinical professor at the College of Nursing, University of Illinois Chicago. She also practices as a hospice nurse with Unity Hospice. She lives on the North Side of Chicago and is the mother of three, grandmother of two.
Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , , , ,