CathBlog - Whose radical is right?


In a recent interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Sr Joan Chittister used the term “radical patriarchy” to describe the Vatican system which pronounced judgement on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in her country.

The problem is not radical feminism, it's radical patriarchy.  That's where exclusion is built right into the DNA.  Women are nowhere on any of these commissions.

She chose this term as a counterpoint to the term used in the Vatican judgement about the Sisters, “radical feminism.” In doing so, she highlighted how far apart are the different perceptions held by the two  parties about some significant issues affecting the global Church today.

Then, in the second reading for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary time we were introduced to another form of radicality, namely “radical strength”. 

Paul is describing how he feels when his integrity is attacked. One senses that this is how the Vatican and the Sisters are feeling at present --- and each sees the problem as emanating from the other. Paul on the other hand provides us with one of the most precious learnings in all of Scripture. It is in Paul’s weakness, when his own resources and efforts have failed him, that Christ comes to effect the changes that are needed.

In our contemporary Church and culture, we do not associate strength with weakness as does this Scriptural revelation. In the Gospel reading for the same Sunday, we hear the story of Jesus who was not recognised among his own citizens (“a prophet never lacks honour except in his own town.....”). Further we hear that Jesus could not work his power there because there was no Faith to be found among that people. What lessons are we to learn from these readings with respect to the Vatican and LCWR?

Firstly, the Vatican and LCWR need to admit their weaknesses, and be humble enough to allow the spirit of Christ to work through them to  effect a better outcome than what we have at present.

Secondly, the Vatican which represents the equivalent of the “establishment” in Jesus’s day, needs to heed the reminder in the Gospel passage that they are required to be open to how God is at work in the LCWR, and not to offer precast judgements based on phrases like “radical feminism”.

Thirdly, LCWR need to reflect on the fact that “the Word was made failure and died among us”, is an invitation to Hope, not despair or counter-attack. The hope is that in apparent failure we find Christ and the way forward.

Fourthly, the Church needs to discern carefully who are the real prophets among us. The Gospel tells us it is usually the insignificant, the maligned, and not those who are in high places or positions of power.

It is possible to see in the current dispute between the Vatican and LCWR, just another “spat”, just another example of what Paul and Jesus encountered as they went about their ministry. However, the dispute has the potential, because of the accessibility of information to the whole world, to become a pivotal point in the future of how we see ourselves as Church.

The current dispute is not a good model for being Church. Using power to preserve unity did not serve the establishment well in the days of Jesus, and will not be truly effective today.  It must seem attractive to LCWR to “shake the dust from your sandals”, as Jesus advised when the disciples met with a lack of hospitality to their efforts.

The Gospel challenge is to call forth faith in humble and self-sacrificing ways. Counter-attack is not the model for a future Church.

Oh for a leadership that could cut across the trajectories we see emerging in this dispute!  The Gospel suggests that the parties in this dispute can provide such leadership, but that it will take some form of radical change for that to happen. But is either willing to pay the price??

Radical strength requires radical weakness.

Garry Everett is deputy chair of Mercy Partners in Queensland and a former Deputy Director of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission and previous chair of the Brisbane Archdiocesan Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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