Popular Posts

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Blaming The Women

Blaming The Women
First, some housekeeping: the blog postings may be a bit lighter this week, and a bit less frequent. We're getting ready to start school next week; ordinarily we'd be starting this week, but I made the "executive decision" to hold off until next week to get my plans in order and to get through one more week of triple-digit temps before attempting to resume our school schedule. (Not like we won't be doing our school work in triple-digit temps anyway; at this rate, I'd be pleasantly surprised if we hit the lower nineties by Thanksgiving.) Your patience is, as always, appreciated.

I've got two seemingly unrelated items to share. The first is out of Phoenix:

Girls no longer will be allowed as altar servers during Mass at the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, SS. Simon and Jude.

The Rev. John Lankeit, rector of the cathedral, said he made the decision in hopes of promoting the priesthood for males and other religious vocations, such as becoming a nun, for females.

Made up primarily of fifth- through eighth-graders the altar-server corps in American churches has included girls since 1983 in many places. Girls and boys regularly serve together at churches throughout the Phoenix Catholic Diocese. [...]

At SS. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, the girls will be offered the role of sacristan, the person who prepares the church and the altar area before Mass.

And the second is a piece about modesty from the RenewAmerica site:

'This post consists of excerpts from a letter I wrote to the pastor of a Catholic parish about a certain incident that occurred at his church. I have omitted all references as to the church's location. The church is semi-circular in design, and we were sitting in the last pew near the center isle, which afforded us a clear view of almost the entire congregation. I started my letter with a compliment as to how nice the newly-remodeled church looked. I then ask the pastor to please consider the following hypothetical situation.

'A priest enters the confessional for the usual Saturday morning or afternoon confession time. During this time a young man enters the confessional. 'Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.' From the sound of the voice on the other side of the screen, the priest surmises that the person is a teenager or young adult. The confession continues: 'It was a week since my last confession. I'm guilty of many lustful thoughts, and I looked at some very immodestly dressed women more times than I should have.' [...]

'The priest: 'Why did you continue to look at them? Why didn't you go someplace else, away from them?' [...]

'No, Father,' said the young man, 'I was at your noon Mass last Sunday, and two scantily-dressed girls were sitting in the pew right in front of me, along with their parents. I couldn't move because my parents were on either side of me.'

'While I said that the above story was hypothetical, in reality it is not. The Mass in question took place this past July at a prominent Catholic parish in a town my wife and I were visiting. It was the main Mass of the day and the church was quite full.

'The young man in the confessional could have been any one of the many young men in the church. The two 'scantily clad' girls were real and were sitting about six pews in front of us with their parents.

'From the area where we were sitting, we observed, in addition to the two girls mentioned above, approximately a dozen very immodestly dressed women, with the majority of these being young girls in their teens and early twenties. Bare backs and shoulders, low-cut tops, strapless sun suits, short shorts, mini-skirts and tight-fitting tops were plainly visible.

Now, what could these two pieces possibly have in common?

Before I answer that question, let me say the following, for the record: First, I am not opposed to any priest or bishop deciding to return to the age-old practice of permitting only male altar servers; while I know many fine young ladies who volunteer their service in this way, I agree that there are laudable goals in regard to encouraging priestly vocations that can be addressed by returning to the traditional practice of male-only altar servers. Second, I agree that both modesty in dress and the issue of dressing appropriately for Mass are real problems; I've written about both before, and continue to agree that there are actual concerns for pastors and others related to both matters.

A third thing also needs to be said: the reason for including the story out of Phoenix with the second piece is not because of the story itself, but because of the jubilant reaction to the story which I've seen in some corners of the internet. I don't want to cite any specific comments because I'm not out to start a blog/FB/etc. war, but there have been more than a few of which the tone has been something like "It's about time they kicked those blankety-blank girls off of the altar--they've ruined everything."

And that brings me to my point.

When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, the first thing he did was run off and leave Eve alone to deal with the serpent (which, according to Dr. Scott Hahn, was a fearsome dragon-like beast, not merely a little garter snake). The second thing he did was let Eve convince him to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. And the third thing he did, when God asked him about it, was to point the finger of blame at the woman who was of his own flesh and say, "Hey, it was her fault! She made me do it."

Given how longstanding a tradition it is, then, for men to tend to blame women for things that go wrong, it shouldn't be surprising to encounter that attitude in regard to such things as female altar servers, immodestly dressed churchgoers, and (if we may be honest) tons of other church-related issues, from issues dealing with women who have the audacity to show up with the noisy, wiggly products of their fertility in tow (and who, gasp, sometimes even nurse them while still on church property!) to women who sing at you to women who get up and do some of the readings to women who respond when Father asks people to help out as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. All of this, if you have a certain male mindset, is the fault of the women. It is not the fault of men who gave permission (however it was granted) for female altar servers; it is not the fault of men who let their daughters out their front doors dressed for Mass as if they hoped to solicit in the parking lot afterward (if, indeed, things are really that bad; I've never encountered anything quite so horrible as the writer of the second piece describes, but then, I'm female, and tend to see in unfortunately-revealing clothing nothing but a fashion mistake that the woman will hopefully correct when she becomes aware of the problem); it is the fault of women for having children and expecting those children to attend Mass--or for not arranging for babysitting etc. so the children don't have to bother anyone until they're old enough to be altar servers; it is the fault of women that women tend to outnumber male singers in the average parish choir by a ratio of at least three or four to one; it is the fault of women that women also outnumber the men who are willing to lector at Mass; and it is clearly the fault of women that male priests ask for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and that, once again, far more women than men show up in response.


I have admitted before to being a bit of a feminist, but only in a completely Christian, women of Proverbs 31 kind of way. I'm fine with the all-male priesthood and with the idea that some of us find our fulfillment in totally traditional roles; but I'm also opposed to the notion that women are a sort of inferior reflection of God who can't possibly be intelligent or capable, or that men would never be bothered or tempted or otherwise harmed if women weren't around. That's pretty much the extent of my "feminism," which actual feminists would dismiss out of hand; but it's enough to get me condemned by some of the male Catholic contingent bent on promoting the idea that what's wrong with the post-Vatican II Church is that there are just too many damned (maybe literally) women running around trying to run things. Even if that were true--and I'm not saying it is--who would be at fault for it?

The kind of man who likes to blame the women is the kind of man who thinks that the world would be perfect if men would go back to being in charge in the way he imagines they were in 1940 or 1950. He never seems to stop to reflect on the reality that if women have, indeed, taken over since then, it has to be the fault of the men who gave up their pristine and perfect authority over them--either that, or that authority was never what the gentlemen imagine it was in the first place.