The president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Sister Pat Farrell, was interviewed on Fresh Air the other day. It was pretty interesting. She had kind of a religious voice and way of speaking – very even and gentle – maybe because it’s her nature but (it seems to me) more likely because she was trained to. She never sounded angry. That was a little bit frustrating, in a way – I’m used to secular people, who do sometimes sound irritated or angry. The unchanging mildness of her tone sounded a little alien and pious.
But some of the content of what she said was pretty frank. That was especially the case when Terry Gross asked her about the way the church treats child-raping priests compared with the way it treats the Leadership Conference of Women Religious – protective lenience on the one hand versus harsh public scolding and interference on the other. Farrell said it was totally unacceptable.
She didn’t sound the least bit overawed by the Vatican. She wasn’t as compliant as I’d expected. She basically said they don’t know what they’re talking about, and they shouldn’t be excluding women from leadership roles and then bossing them around. She clearly thought the stuff about “radical feminism” was absurd.
Sincerely, what I hear in the phrasing … is fear — a fear of women’s positions in the church. Now, that’s just my interpretation. I have no idea what was in the mind of the congregation, of the doctrine of the faith, when they wrote that. But women theologians around the world have been seriously looking at the question of: How have the church’s interpretations of how we talk about God, interpret Scripture, organize life in the church — how have they been tainted by a culture that minimizes the value and the place of women?
Shall we make a list?