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Auntie Seraphic & Vocations Victim Part 2

Saturday, August 10, 2013
I don't usually post replies to my replies, but this touches on a subject that I bet is near to many of your hearts: Catholic women in ministry. There are many unmarried Catholic women doing jobs that nuns, brothers or only priests used to do, many earning a salary that barely keeps a roof over their heads and food in the larder. I remember my own official ministry placements (mostly unpaid as  it was part of my M.Div. study) with feelings ranging from joy to abject horror.

Dear Auntie Seraphic

Thank you for this very extensive and helpful reply! I appreciate it a lot. I too (as a theology student myself, missionary and parish worker) have spent a lot of time around priests and seminarians, so I am learning some of the confidence you describe. 

It is very affirming to hear that it's OK to treat priests as people -- ie. respectfully but still expressing one's own opinion and not having to feel like they always know more than you (I think they usually do -- just not necessarily about my own life/personal experience). 

Others who have not had the same experience however, continually tell me to "be more respectful" (ie. shut up). And sometimes I feel like I don't know where the line is anymore. 

I will share your comments with some very dear friends. We all experience it a lot and aren't sure what to do. 

Feel free to use any of this (without names of course! :-) for your blog if you think other readers would find it helpful. At least here in the USA it is a very common situation for those of us who are practicing Catholics/work in the Church/volunteer/go to retreats etc. 

Thank you for everything!  

God bless,
Vocations Victim

Dear Vocations Victim,

I'm sorry to read that you are being told, in so many words, to shut up , especially if you are in your mid-20s.  I wonder if anyone told St. Catherine of Siena, who wasn't even a nun and yet told the pope what to do, to shut up. I hope not, but I bet she probably was. Many people feel intimidated by young women speaking their minds. 

(And not so young, too. I just found a "thank goodness Jesus isn't as judgmental as you" comment on the internet version of the Catholic newspaper I write for--signed with a pseudonym, of course. Did I care? Yeah, for half a second.)

Anyway, don't shut up. You are a Daughter of God. The best way to respect a priest is to treat him like an intelligent human being who can handle truthful, reasonable adult conversations, and maybe make sure you aren't exposing any cleavage or too much leg when he's around. (I throw that in because sometimes I discover a priest across from me at a dinner party and I am, like, "Oooh. Could I borrow a lacy hanky to stuff in my dress?")

Grace and peace,

Now that I think about it, I don't know what "missionary" or "parish worker" means in VV's context. But I do know that it can be a very tough situation when your faith is also your job. 

One of my most horrible memories of parish work is standing next to the priest and the seminarian after Mass to shake hands with the People of God, and the People of God, terribly embarrassed, mostly avoided me. I was hurt  and envious of the seminarian, whom they embraced and patted and made much of, even though he was politically and socially to the right of Generalissimo Franco and possibly drank the blood of slaughtered liberation theologians.

But I now think, of course they did. The People of God dread the imposition of "lady priests" (to quote a man who ordered me away from his hospital bed), and I looked suspiciously like a "lady priest." I honestly believe the People of God draw the line at lady priests. They want real priests, young priests, even (or especially) priests like Semininarianissimo Franco.

Every time a soi-disant "womanpriest" gets ordained, life gets worse for ordinary Catholic women in the ministry trenches. I heard so much moaning about clericalism in my pre-Trid days, but thinking that only clerics are first class Catholics, and therefore women are doomed to the second class, is a pernicious form of clericalism. It just isn't true. What is true, however, is that many priests are scared of women, not so much now because they are afraid of women tempting them into sexual sin (as some women have always tried to do), but because they are afraid of women--or laypeople in general--taking over and bossing them around.  

This can leave the young woman doing what used to be nun-work or even priest-work (like chaplaincy) in the difficult position of having to prove all the time that she does not secretly harbour a desire to be a priest, or in some cases, e.g. she reports to an older woman, to pretend that she does. And of course she does not get all the perks and shortcuts that the priest's collar or the nun's habit brings when dealing with people. Collars and habits make all but the most militantly progressive churchgoing layfolk smile. 

Personally, I could not hack an official church-approved ministry career, unless the new archbishop of Edinburgh wrote to me asking that I become the Official Auntie to Singles in the diocese. That would be extremely awesome, and I would do my job rather like how I did my college chaplaincy internship: basically I hung out with Catholic undergrads and a Muslim undergrad, drank tea, listened to their problems and gossip and talked about their theological interests. I think my boss (female) wanted me to be more pro-active, whatever that means, but I know the undergrads just liked having me around to talk to.  I would turn my office into a sitting-room: an overstuffed Victorian one with comfy battered couches.

However, I know some of you girls are indeed in church careers, so please feel free to chime in about how to be you and how to be taken seriously in your ministries without frightening Father Sensitive or being ground down by Father Snarly and Wannabe Womanpriest Wanda.