A few days ago a website with the title “New eMANgelization” published an interview with Cardinal Burke that touched on what they call a “man-crisis” in the Church. After reading a number of summaries and critiques of the interview, I couldn’t get some of its themes out of my head and decided to read the whole thing for myself.
This was a mistake, as it’s not really an “interview” so much as two men who already agree on everything having a lopsided conversation. In trying to identify +Burke’s worldview, so much was taken for granted in their discussion that I find myself missing some key points. I doubt +Burke would have said some of what he said – or at least in the way he said it – had he been interviewed on 60 Minutes. Perhaps that makes his statements more revelatory, if less clear.
Here are six things that bubbled up for me while reading his statements
What does he mean by radical feminism?
This was the big piece of the puzzle that I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around. I think the closest he comes to an answer is when he mentions “the dark confusion of gender theory”. So it sounds like the problem is that he believes in natural gender roles and characteristics, and things that radical feminism denies those things.
This is important because he ascribes problems with the liturgy and the family to said feminism. Without knowing exactly what he’s talking about, it’s hard to understand how he is making these connections, particularly in regard to the liturgy.
“Feminized liturgy” is a meaningless term.
At one point +Burke laments that there are too many women involved in the liturgy, but other than that he never makes clear what about the new liturgy has become “feminized”. He critiques (rightly, I will grant him) some liturgical trends that make the priest the star of the show, and then explains that “men don’t like that”. Two things are possible here.
+Burke has a list of things he has determined “men don’t like” which includes corny masses and doing things with women. When those things are present in the mass, it repels men, and therefore the mass is feminized.
+Burke has a list of things that he doesn’t like about the mass, and because they are “bad” it must follow that “real men” don’t like them and therefore the mass is feminized.
One way or another “feminine”=all the bad things.
Maleness is normative in his ideology.
When women start to infiltrate ministry, the entire endeavor is compromised. But if men continued to dominate ministry, that would not be problematic. Can you imagine if I complained to him about how there were too many men on the altar and it had become to “masculinized”? I doubt he would ascribe any validity to his argument turned on its head. I’d be dismissed as a radical feminist and shown the door.
Men’s fear of women is not my problem.
OK, today it is my problem because I am thinking about it and it causes me angst, but otherwise I refuse to take responsibility for it. Boys don’t want to play with girls? Men don’t want to marry women who want equal rights? I got real problems, I do not have time for men who are scared of being around the ladies.
The notion of vocation is oddly absent.
It is likely that +Burke is of the mindset that “vocation” refers to being called to the priesthood and vowed religious life, but I still found it peculiar that in a discussion of participation in ministry vocation did not come up.
Disclosure: My fixation on this comes from my personal history: participation in the liturgy is one of the first things I ever recall feeling “called to”. My young soul had a vocation to be an altar server, but I wasn’t allowed to because I was a girl. This was a formative experience for me.
In my mind, if a person is truly called to participate in the liturgy, they will do so despite a dislike of the pastor or a frustration with the “sloppy” celebration. But +Burke lists such obstacles as perfectly valid reasons for people not to become involved. It is not that men have to suck it up and get involved, but that the Church needs to change to suit them. (Again, imagine if someone made the same argument but replaced ‘men’ with ‘women’.)
Female does not always equal feminine.
+Burke’s persistent implication that the presence of females makes something feminine seems to be the biggest cause of confusion among readers in my peer group. To return to the question of what feminine means, does it mean here Stereotypically Feminine?
Put it this way: If you put me in charge of a church and I ran it without much self-reflection and simply according to the inclinations of my personality, it would be stereotypically masculine: centralized power, brusque leadership, lack of adornment. It would likely also feature some of the things that +Burke insists men respond to such as “rigor and precision and excellence” (why he thinks women don’t respond to such things is a mystery). But because I am a woman, would the environment be ‘feminine’? Or is my example inappropriate because a. women shouldn’t lead and b. I am a disgusting freak of nature for not being more nurturing?
After reading the whole interview, highlighter in hand, it was obvious that this was conversational rambling rather than a well-organized treatise. I still think it is worthy of critique, because it reveals one ideology that is present in the Church. We are in danger when we allow ourselves to be blind to ideology – any ideology, including our own – and let our framework for how the world should work steer us without knowing that’s what we are doing.
I believe that our Catholic faith is more than an ideology, and calls us to more than silly simplistic claims about boys and girls. The reality of human complexity and the mystery of the divine will are always ready to smash our frameworks and call us into something more, if we are not afraid.
Image: By Geerlingguy at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0, GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Claire Bangasser says
Godde bless you for this, Margaret!
Margaret Felice says
Thank you my friend! Have a blessed day.
Thank you for that article. I am in the position of being a somewhat young woman, young enough to have been an altar server. The longer I am involved in catholic pastoral work, the more I become aware of the pervading gender issues. Sometimes they feel overwhelming, because they are just everywhere, often hard to spot. And then they take on these weird forms (I’m not sure whether they have become more open and frequent or if I am more sensitive to it), that leave me speechless. Thank you for finding words when I couldn’t – torn between fury and helplessness.
Margaret Felice says
I sometimes wonder if the times I am disrespected if it is as much about my youth as it is about my gender – perhaps you have noticed the same thing? One way or another it is deeply frustrating. Blessings on your ministry!
I do know the comparison, I have male colleagues (non-priests) who are my age. Most of it is about gender. To be precise: I have effectively the same training as any priest here in Germany. I studied theology, I trained with the diocese. I am their equal in all but ordination. Trust me, most of it is about gender.
Jennifer Lester says
Thank you for this -sort of!
Wow, this is scary. I’m trying to feel compassion toward him, but the frustration and outrage really get in the way.
There’s so much fear behind this ideology, not just fear of losing power, but fear of being wrong.
When I see this sort of frantic, defensive need to condemn and rail against “the other,” whether it’s women, or those who think there’s actually nothing wrong with the Vatican II Mass, or think meditation and contemplation are good forms of prayer, it’s really that fear of being wrong that seems to motivate it.
Margaret Felice says
You know, I almost titled this post “Cardinal Burke’s fear”. I agree 100% that fear is a big driver behind his worldview. I also suspect that isolation has allowed some of the crazier parts of his ideology to snowball – when was the last time he sat down for a chat with someone like you or me?
Jennifer Lester says
How about never? Never was probably good for him.
Of course one problem up that high in the Church is, too many lawyers and not enough pastors. And I firmly believe the church would be well served by married clergy.
I really keep wondering what makes us so scary?
twitter: LisasLeben says
It’s hard for me to comment on this as a “non-Roman Catholic” because I so want to respect how you practice your faith. But honestly, people like Burke make me glad I’m not Roman Catholic. My denomination is far from perfect, and I’ve encountered some sexism as a woman in ministry, but at least my denomination as a whole respects my gifts and calling. I pray for my Roman Catholic sisters (and brothers too) who are fighting the good fight to have women respected and valued in the Church, and for those who have given up the fight and have left. Thank God for Pope Francis. Even though he is not going to change doctrine, at least he seems to be weeding out Burke and others who are desperately out of touch. Prayers are with you…
I believe +Burke’s comments demonstrate precisely why the church needs to smash the old boys network/human kingdom that exists at the highest echelons of The Vatican. The Vatican has become a human kingdom that serves only itself, as a sort of royal court. I love the Catholic faith, I do. I was raised in it, it’s really the only framework I know and I continue to return to it, despite how deeply hurt, betrayed and enraged I feel by The Vatican’s betrayal of the Church, by which I mean it’s people.
Thank you for this. I found my way here thanks to Clare Bangasser.
This is why we need to get coffee: so I can hear you say these things in person. Great work.
Luis Gutierrez says
After 2000 years of patriarchal masculinization, let us pray that the process od church feminization continues. I am trying to summarize my understanding of the issue here:
Ordination of Women in the Sacramental Churches
A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. In the sacramental churches, the main obstacle to the ordination of women is the idea that the masculinity of Jesus requires the priest to resemble him as a male. But this is a fallacy which is rooted in the patriarchal norm of the father as head of the family and not on divine revelation. “This is my body.” What matters for the sacramental economy, and for the priest to be a visible sign of the acting presence of Christ, is not that Jesus is male but that in him the eternal Word assumed human nature in a human body, and “became flesh.” Therefore, the necessary and sufficient condition for outward resemblance is the human body, whether male or female. The advent of women priests and bishops is also required to make the church hierarchy a complete image of Jesus Christ as a divine person who abides in the Trinity.
Carole Mertz says
Margaret, I appreciate your opening this discussion. However, I feel your attempt at interpreting the Cardinal’s treatise, or whatever it was, lacks a basic understanding. It’s not a question of what we individuals, whether male or female, want within the Church, it is rather what the Church calls us to do. In the doctrine of my own church, ordination is based specifically on the calling of men, and not women, to serve as pastors. This does not mean there are no ways women can serve. But just as we don’t regard mothering as a lesser role women play in society, so also, we do not place serving pastors on a higher level and of greater importance, than women’s service, much as we respect pastors and the work they do. It’s both / and, not either / or. The types of service are different; the quality of service, as always, depends upon the heart. My Church’s doctrine is soundly based on the fundamental Biblical teaching. Women’s roles in service are not seen as lesser.
There’s much moaning in conservative Catholic circles that Pope Francis is a loose cannon, or at least too naive when speaking to the press, and he says things that gets misinterpreted. But my goodness! Cardinal Burke either has no idea how he’s coming across, or else he doesn’t care at _all_. Neither is an acceptable option for someone in his position.
Stephen Owades says
One small typo: “So it sounds like the problem is that he believes in natural gender roles and characteristics, and things that radical feminism denies those things” should be “… thinks that radical feminism.”
I know, I’m an obsessive pedant….