Gloria Steinem, Reb Susan Talve, & Catholic Climate Activist on "The Church & Women"

Should "Outsiders" Criticize Subordination of Women in Catholic Theology & Practice? [Our initial essay on that issue, by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, is now available on our Home Page just to the right,  and at]

From Gloria Steinem:

    Arthur -- I think that as always, you make perfect sense, and of course, it's okay to both praise and criticize from outside a religion. You can't claim a truth that impacts the lives of others outside it without being subject to and heeding the voices of others.

It's especially interesting -- and a revelation to me -- that the Catholic position stems in part from early rabbinic misinterpretation.

I do think there are missing connections here that I would make.

First, the Catholic rejection of authority in women -- even over our own bodies -- is connected to and has the same motive as its rejection of love between two men or two women.

That's because Catholicism, like other patriarchal religions, opposes all forms of sexual expression that cannot end in conception, from birth control and abortion to sex and love between two men or two women. It's all about maximizing reproduction.

Of course, they are also being dishonest about the fact that the Vatican approved of and even regulated abortion until the mid 1800s. A female fetus could be aborted for a longer period than a male fetus -- which, being superior, they believed quickened earlier; thus women could tell the difference. (See John T. Noonan’s books, including A Church That Can And Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching (Notre Dame 2005)  -- and the magazine Conscience, published by Catholics for Free Choice).

The policy changed because Napoleon III wanted to grow a French population decimated by the Napoleonic wars, and in return, offered Pope Pius IX, a very unpopular Pope, support for the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility plus all the teaching positions in the French schools.

Second, I have always wanted to have a major public campaign naming all patriarchal religions that take away women's reproductive freedom, and accusing them of causing global warming.

Forcing women to have children they don't want continues to over-populate our Space Ship Earth

--  and this is the root cause of a continuous increase in global warming that is approaching a place of no return, and is already causing an unprecedented mass extinction of plants and animals.

Yet whenever and wherever women can control our own physical fate, reproduction gradually settles down to a little over replacement level. It is our natural health concern.

Some women may have six children and others none or one or two. But right now, too early marriage and the suppression of contraception, both traditional and modern, are so prevalent that pregnancy and birth have become the biggest cause of death among adolescent girls worldwide.

To me, this Pope is pretending -- perhaps even to himself -- to be against global warming while perpetuating its greatest cause. I don't think it's possible to praise his position on global warming without commenting on how he is sabotaging his supposed goal.

On a different but not-so-different front, I recommend Uncovered by Leah Lax -- an autobiography of a woman I came to know at Hedgebrook, a writing retreat for women. 

She joined a Hasidic Jewish community in Dallas, and after thirty obedient years and six children, realized she would die of another birth, got secret permission for an abortion -- and that single act of free will began to unravel her obedience as a "covered" woman. Her brave book speaks to all covered women, including Christians and Muslims.

           with friendship, Gloria


From Rabbi Susan Talve

[Rabbi Talve, spiritual leader of the Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, has been a crucial anti-racism leader in the white and Jewish communities there, long before the Ferguson crisis and during and since the upheaval there. She has been named a “Human Rights Hero” by T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. She also arranged with the approval of her congregation to use their building as the venue for the ordination of a number of devout and learned women as Roman Catholic priests, through the subversive involvement of a bishop who disagreed with the Church’s prohibition. She then faced and weathered intense criticism not only from the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis but also from the “official” Jewish leadership, which blamed her for anger from the Church that was disrupting local relationships between the Church and the organized Jewish world.]

Arthur -- The most compelling argument for me is your point that because of the public influence that the Pope and the Church have chosen to put forth to all creation they open themselves to this critique.  They do not just speak to and have influence over their own people, they  have chosen to impose their world view on all of us, a world view that causes suffering for poor women and the gay community.

 I also appreciate that you point out the inconsistent teaching on condemning the gross inequality that is causing worldwide poverty without seeing the connection to their own support for inequality and abuse through the subjugation of women.

I love your interpretation of the Garden of Eden. I wonder if there is a place in the teaching to leave room for it as an offering of one of many interpretations: an interpretation that will lead to healing and equality and justice without denying other interpretations and making room for other paths and other choices.

I don’t want to do to them what they do to me, deny to them what they deny to me. And I appreciate and admire so much of the space for others that Pope Francis is trying to make in so many other areas.

The thing that gets us into trouble is thinking we can “know” what we cannot really know: the sin of certainty.  Truth is, I would go to jail to defend a woman’s right to choose, but do I really know when life begins? Not really…I have my beliefs but I don’t know…

Living with this imperfection, with humility, outside the Garden, making room, doing the best I can, is the best I can do…  --  --  Susan


From Michelle Dugan

 Hello, Reb Arthur!  I know you through Interfaith Moral Action on Climate  and have followed your work online for several years now.

As a Roman Catholic and great fan of Pope Francis, I thank you for speaking out honestly about the problem posed by the Church's stance on women.  In so many ways, this problem hampers our common progress as human beings desiring the creation of the beloved community.

However, to communicate effectively with the Pope and others who support his vision of the family, you and all of us who desire change must first struggle to understand what in this conservative and patriarchal tradition might be worth understanding.

How can we extend the concept of family to include all types of families, rather than rejecting the notion of family as top priority?  Why is it that so many conservative forces feel threatened by change?

As much as I dislike the patriarchal tradition, I also reject the notion of "choice" in all areas.  There is a similarity between an insistence on absolute reproductive freedom and an insistence on the right to free consumption of the Earth's resources, and this is where the Pope is coming from.

He pictures families in the developing world whose greatest joy is in their children, and he wants them to have an abundance to support these children. We have to be careful to continue to find common ground on behalf of our suffering planet and the many poor and voiceless persons across the globe.

Again, I applaud your challenge to the patriarchal, hierarchical attitudes of the Catholic Church, and with you pray for the Spirit to touch Pope Francis and liberate him from the constraints of a tradition that works against our best hopes for a truly loving, peaceful, and just world.

Regards,  Michelle Dugan


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