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Conscience Magazine

Toxic Masquerade

November 16, 2017

As a long-time women’s ordination activist in the Roman Catholic church, I am delighted to see that Sheila Briggs and Miriam Duignan both address the dubious theory of complementarity in the “Separate and Unequal” issue of Conscience. I have always said this is “sexism masquerading as theology.”

Briggs is especially effective in demonstrating that the other hierarchies in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures have been superseded in modern times and modern theology—who now argues for the complementarity of slave and free or Jew and Greek? Yet gender hierarchy has been subsumed into a theology that, while it proclaims equality, barely masks subservience.

We Catholics may be more familiar with the biblical passages Briggs details than with the post-Enlightenment Protestants she summarizes—at least that was true for me, and I was grateful. As a historian of women in the United States, I only quibble with her use of “feminism” to describe Seneca Falls and WCTU activists. They certainly espoused gender equality—see the Women’s Bible by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, for example—but “feminism” is generally seen as a later ideological evolution—much like complementarity in Catholic circles.

Miriam Duignan has done more than her share of challenging the hierarchy’s current teaching, and “Good Girls Don’t” reflects that passion. I also have an example of Catholic schoolgirls protesting against a witness for women’s ordination—this time, with chants saying “we love our priests.” Duignan connects the absence of women who fully embrace their right to equality in church decision making with the deplorable practices of the hierarchy that “directly impact women’s lives and bodies.”

I’d make these articles another contribution to Catholics for Choice’s series of “Opposition Research” monographs examining the Catholic right.

President, Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference
Philadelphia, PA