Radical cooties

Lisa Miller in the Washington Post takes a look at the Vatican’s way of using the epithet “radical feminist.”

Members of the Vatican hierarchy are using the word “feminist” and even “radical feminist” the way third-graders use the word “cooties.” In April, the Vatican accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 57,000 nuns nationwide, of allowing “radical feminist” ideas to flow unchecked in their communities. In 2008, after launching an investigation against American nuns (the results of which have not yet been released), Cardinal Franc Rode told a radio interviewer that the nuns are suspected of “certain irregularities,” a “secular mentality” and “perhaps also a certain feminist spirit.”

That second item is especially impressive – “irregularities” – meaning deviation from authoritarian “rules” laid down by an ecclesiastical heirarchy; a “secular mentality” – meaning thinking about human issues in human terms; “a certain feminist spirit” meaning thinking women are as capable of thinking about human issues as men are (and perhaps, when the men in question are Vatican clerics, quite a lot better). Granted, they’re the Vatican hierarchy, so they’re not going to think about things in reasoned, secular, egalitarian, rights-based, liberal terms…but it’s a little surprising that they don’t even disguise their adamant opposition to reason and secularism and equality and rights and liberalism.

Their casual use of these terms convinces me that the cardinals, in their vast experience, have never actually met a radical feminist theologian. Such creatures do exist, although American religious orders are hardly their breeding ground. What the Vatican hierarchy sees as a “radical feminist” is a woman who dares to believe that she’s equal to a man.

They start from a different place, so any feminism at all looks hair-raisingly radical.

Lisa Isherwood is a real-life radical feminist theologian. She is editor of the journal Feminist Theology and a professor at Winchester University in England. She believes that the men at the Vatican are using the term “radical feminist” as a right-wing scare tactic, for it evokes other enemies far more dangerous than nuns. Their thinking, she says, goes like this: “We hear the word radical Islam, and everyone panics, so let’s chuck that at them.”

They’ve been studying the Republican party in the US, haven’t they.


  1. ema says

    Where is Cardinal Dolan when you need him? Just have him bribe these uppity nuns out of the church and, voila!, “problem” solved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *