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A blog supporting a New Feminism is a welcome idea. Good for Caroline Farrow

Catholic Women Rising is a novel way of expressing the Church’s goodness

By on Tuesday, 26 March 2013

St. Hildegard of BIngen is depicted on a gilded altarpiece inside the Rochuskapelle, a pilgrim church in Bingen am Rhein, Germany (Photo: CNS)

St. Hildegard of BIngen is depicted on a gilded altarpiece inside the Rochuskapelle, a pilgrim church in Bingen am Rhein, Germany (Photo: CNS)

Following the election of Pope Francis an excellent initiative has sprung up: a new blog called Catholic Women Rising. I don’t see these two events as coincidental. We have a new Pope and thus a fresh and distinctive way of expressing the ancient pontifical role; this in turn will give impetus to other novel ways of articulating the truth, beauty and goodness of God in his Church.

Caroline Farrow of Catholic Voices began this blog “as a place where faithful, practising women may register their support for Catholic doctrine regarding women, in particular issues relating to sex, contraception, abortion, marriage and the male priesthood”. She goes on to emphasise that the blog is “for women who accept that the teaching of the Catholic Church was revealed to us by Jesus Christ and handed down by the apostles, expressed in sacred Scripture and tradition and is therefore not able to be modified or deleted. This is a place where women can joyfully testify to the freedom from oppression that accompanies an authentic, God-given expression of sexuality and chastity.”

Caroline asks those who agree with this initiative to register their support in the comment box under the statement, “I am a faithful practising Roman Catholic woman who attends Mass at least once a week and who believes in and practises the Church’s teachings, specifically pertaining to matters on sexuality, contraception, abortion, marriage and the ordination of women. I believe that the Roman Catholic Church is sympathetic to and representative of the needs and concerns of women and their children, wherever they may be in the world. I would like to offer our new Pope Francis my prayers and support and thank him for his continued protection and support of mothers and their unborn children. I fully endorse Church doctrine in relation to women’s issues.”

So far the blog has received 95 comments of endorsement (including a supportive husband) and none of dissent. This is because Farrow wisely suggests that those who do not assent to the blog’s statement – and there will always be Catholic women who don’t – should raise their concerns elsewhere, rather than start arguments on this website. She believes her blog could be a great opportunity to promote a “New Feminism” as she describes it. This has prompted a (somewhat) critical question from the comment box: “Is there a need for a “New Feminism?” I see where this question is coming from: to use the word “feminism” at all might be thought of as playing into the ideological hands of those feminists who are hostile to the Church’s teaching about the “genius of women”, as John Paul II described it. Personally I think the phrase worth using for the simple reason that the Church has always displayed its own genius in taking up the words and concepts of the world and transforming them into their supernatural counterparts. Why not explain to women who are confused about their role and who view the sexes in term of a battle for their own “rights” against male “patriarchy” and “oppression”, that the Church has always supported their intrinsic dignity as women, complementary to men and in no way inferior to them?

Farrow writes that women “run schools, abbeys, charities, and Church departments all round the globe”. She adds a useful list of the women working in Vatican departments – though I am sure this august institution could always employ more of them – and reminds us that John Paul II included Ss Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (the former Edith Stein) as new patrons for Europe, while Pope Benedict VXI made Hildegard of Bingen a Doctor of the Church. As Hildegard was in danger for a time of being taken over by the old feminists for their own purposes I am very glad that Benedict has thus rescued her from their herbarium.

While on this question of women and their authentic place in the Church, I note that Pope Francis has again introduced his own papal style, this time in his mode of greeting. Twice in the last week during official functions he has given women a formal and respectful peck on the cheek – something I don’t ever recall seeing a Pope do before now; once to the very elderly mother of a Latin American dignitary who was presenting her to him (and which struck me as a beautifully human and endearing moment), and once to the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Apart from being a traditional, natural and gracious greeting, I think this last gesture was a significant act of charity on the part of the Holy Father, for the president has been his implacable enemy in many areas of the Church’s moral teaching back home. Indeed, an Argentinian friend who has relatives in Buenos Aires tells me that Kirchner has avoided going to Mass in the cathedral there so that she wouldn’t have to encounter the former cardinal archbishop Bergoglio; echoes here of Henry II and Thomas à Becket.

If it were not Monday in Holy Week we would be celebrating today the feast of the Annunciation. The Preface for this Mass tells us that “the Virgin Mary heard with faith that the Christ was to be born among men and for men’s sake by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit. Lovingly she bore him in her immaculate womb, that the promises to the children of Israel might come about and the hope of nations be accomplished beyond all telling.”

A Church that thus celebrates the Mother of God will always cherish and champion the dignity of women: good for Caroline Farrow’s new blog.

  • Jonathan West

    So far the blog has received 95 comments of endorsement (including a supportive husband) and none of dissent. This is because Farrow wisely suggests that those who do not assent to the blog’s statement – and there will always be Catholic women who don’t – should raise their concerns elsewhere, rather than start arguments on this website.

    More likely, she deletes any comments which dissent.

  • Caroline Farrow

    Gosh, thank you so much Francis. God Bless

  • Caroline Farrow

    Hi Jonathan, no I don’t delete comments which dissent. I only have one so far which is in my pending tray and which I am planning to address in a post.

  • solly gratia

    Jonathan, wouldn’t it have been more polite to ASK if Caroline deleted any comments, rather than start with the ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ meant to cast her already in a bad light before proving anything has been done in this way?

  • Mark

    As a married man, I applaud anyone who recognizes the obvious fact that men and women are both biologically and spiritually different. Anyone who lives with a member of the opposite gender knows this. American style feminism was wrongly based on cognitive behavioral theories that suggest gender is culture based rather than biology based. This false premise has done the world much harm in taking away the freedom of both genders to be their true selves, complement one another, and be happy.

  • http://jessicahof.wordpress.com/ JessicaHof

    Although not (yet) a Catholic, I think this is a great idea – and I think those accusing Caroline of things might present some evidence, or remember they are only showing their mean natures.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    That’s our Jonathan, true to form as always …

    /facepalm/

  • http://towertales.tumblr.com/ Londonistar

    Yes indeed. Well done Caroline. Authentic feminism! Nice website :-)

  • LocutusOP

    Good news indeed.

    I really hope it starts a trend.

  • LocutusOP

    Well done to you also, Mrs Francis.

    I like how you manage to write on just about anything and especially how you often write about stuff not making the news.

  • Enid Ecumaniac

    We at the St. Martin Luther Institute of Advanced Ecumenical Heresy perked up our ears when we saw the word “feminism” I can tell you! Deirdre had to be restrained from excitement.

    The current patriarchal, male-dominated, men-only priesthood, you know, the one with no wymmin, is an affront to loud Australian harridans everywhere like our heroine Germaine Greer. She got it right when she called Mother Teresa “evil”. What we need is an all-inclusive, non-racist, non-sexist, non-ageist non-patriarchist equal opportunities Papacy offered as a matter of course to all long-term unemployed which incorporates the wisdom of Mother Earth, Gaia and all other feminine deities such as the Aztec moon goddess Coyolxauhqui, about whom we read in Demonopedia that “The pregnancy of Coatlicue, the maternal Earth deity, made her other children embarrassed, including her oldest daughter Coyolxauhqui”.

    The only “embarrassment” about pregnancy is the fact that it may involve a man sometimes. We at the Institute are working on this.

    What, Mary the Mother of God? There IS a place for Our Lady but she’s better not get uppity with us or she’ll soon be out on her ear I can tell you.

  • Nesbyth

    I second that on all points.

  • Kevin

    “the Church has always displayed its own genius in taking up the words and concepts of the world and transforming them into their supernatural counterparts”

    I enjoyed this article but I would not agree that the above is universally true. The Church’s adoption of the language of “human rights”, for example, is philosophically unsound.

    Secularists claim that human rights have an objective existence, which is simply not true. They further claim that their existence precludes the need to refer to an “imaginary” deity to assert the importance of man. The falseness of this proposition follows from the non-existence of human rights.

    The political failure of the concept of “human rights” – which are nothing more than man-made laws – is palpable. The Church should stick to the condemnation of sin.

  • scary goat

    Good grief! And I used to think at least you were one of the more polite dissenters around here!

  • scary goat

    Yes, I remember having an argument similar to this with my atheist mother. She was claiming that we have certain “natural” rights. I pointed out that in the atheist worldview, surely we have no rights at all. We just exist and it’s the law of the jungle. We live, we suffer, we die, so what? The only “rights” we have are God-given.

  • scary goat

    Hahahaha….so I guess you won’t be signing up for the “real-women’s” website, huh, Enid? I bet +Dierdre is miffed about this!

  • kentgeordie

    But please can we get the vocab right? Nouns have gender, people have sex.

  • Jonathan West

    No, the only rights we have are human-given.

  • Jonathan West

    Would you be up for a debate on the issues on your blog with a non-female non-Catholic?

  • http://europa-antiqua-arca.blogspot.com/ arcadius

    So then humans can take them back?

  • Pope Zicola

    Women were at the birth, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ.

    What more do we need as women in the Roman Catholic Church?

  • James M

    Well said. Christians have no rights before God. To quote the Canon of the Mass: “do not give us what we truly deserve…” – IOW, Hell. This rubbish about rights breeds egotism and a sense of entitlement – not thanksgiving, humility, and love. And it forgets that all is of grace. This rights talk is pagan in origin – and has not been purified of its misleading associations.

  • James M

    He is – he’s worth reading [previous comment was ambiguous].

  • scary goat

    If that happens, can I join in? And maybe Ben Carter, Jabba and a few others.

  • Jonathan West

    The more the merrier.

  • Rosemary

    Yes, we are biologically somewhat different, but spiritually? Is your soul masculine and mine feminine? I think not. We are more alike than we care to admit.

  • Rosemary

    Got it, Enid! Love the humor!

  • Rosemary

    Don’t bother with accepting any comments, even good ones. In a blog you say what you say, and if someone does not like it, so what? When I read comments, I find that they badly distort what the blog says. If someone wants to comment, they can get their own blog.

  • Jonathan West

    In practice yes. If you have what you believe to be God-given rights, they will do you very little good if the humans around you refuse to respect those rights.

  • http://europa-antiqua-arca.blogspot.com/ arcadius

    So in what sense are your rights actually rights at all? If you believe that they apply only “at Her Majesty’s pleasure” as it were, then that sounds like something rather different from what is usually understood by the phrase “human rights.” The whole idea of something being a right is that it is always wrong, although possible, for it to be denied. Of course “in practice” rights may not be respected, but they still exist. Either due to the natural dignity of the human race, or because God has granted them. But saying that rights are something granted by the benevolence of the strong to the weak is not consistent with the usual meaning of the word.

  • Caroline Farrow

    I would Jonathan but on a different forum. This is about witnessing not arguing.

  • Jonathan West

    So who are you witnessing to?

  • http://cumlazaro.blogspot.com/ Lazarus

    Indeed, an excellent initiative. Well done Caroline and all those who are supporting it.

  • http://cumlazaro.blogspot.com/ Lazarus

    Well, clearly you’ve either read it or have at least heard about it…

    Consider yourself witnessed!

  • Jonathan West

    You can believe if you want that you have rights are God-given, but the respect for and enforcement of those rights is in the hands of people.

    I think that we need to be careful not to fall into the is/ought logical fallacy here. It is a practical fact that all rights are dependent on the willingness of others to respect them, and we know of places in the world where what we regard as rights are denied to people.

    As to the existence of rights, they only exist in as far as there is a widespread consensus about them. For example, the right to marry has long been regarded as a universal right, except that we are beginning to notice that it has not been as universally applied as we thought, and that the right has heretofore been denied to gays. The consensus on that matter is now changing.

  • Jonathan West

    By the way, does that mean that if dissenting comments are received they will be deleted?

  • Caroline Farrow

    No, dissenting comments are helpful. They help with apologetics.

  • Tiny

    We express our spirituality differently. For my husband it is a quieter strength and a much more personal relationship with God. I am more expressive with my faith and more visual. I will talk about God to other people more, like ‘God has been trying to teach me a lesson this week’ and I wear a cross and a St. Christopher medal. He doesn’t wear a cross or talk about God to people he doesn’t feel are receptive to faith and therefore some of our liberal former friends saw it as I was the Christian one and pressing my views on him, when we are both strong in Christ. He is a much more of a still waters run deep person. whereas anything that is in my head, usually comes out of my mouth. Its the same with faith. I am more willing to verbally express it, whereas it is just simply at the core of his being. At a youth conference I went to as a teen a speaker commented that God made men and women so different that it is amazing that he intended us to live together. And by his grace we do and forge families based on him. It is the differences that I enjoy. That is the amazing thing about the Catholic Church is that there are so many means and ways to pray and to practice our faith as men and women.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Ladydragon791 Amber Adkins

    THIS ARTICLE IS VERY INSIGHTFUL AS TO THE “ROLE” OF WOMEN- I DO NOT HAVE A BETTER WORD RIGHT NOW… I AM NOT CATHOLIC, BUT I LOVE THIS MAN WHOM IS NOW KNOWN AS POPE FRANCIS- GOD BLESS HIM AND HIS FOLLOWERS, AND EVERY OTHER PERSON IN THE WORLD- I AM HUMBLED BY HIS ACTIONS

  • Jonathan West

    Really. I notice my comment was deleted.

  • Jonathan West

    Actually, no, on a refresh, it came up that it is still awaiting moderation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Ladydragon791 Amber Adkins

    I BELIEVE SHE IS WITNESSING TO ALL, BUT THAT BLOG IS FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE THE SAME VIEWS…. MAYBE??

  • Jonathan West

    It seems that dissenting comments or even requests for clarification don’t get published there. I’ve made two comments, perfectly polite, neither has been published though other comments have since been published. The first was as follows.

    Is the existence of these women in influential positions actually evidence that the church listens to women, or merely an indication that the church is prepared to promote women who are prepared not to rock the boat? In other words, is their presence is senior positions actually evidence that they can influence the church?

    Who is intended to listen to these women? Is it the male church hierarchy, or is it women amongst the church laity who are to be influenced into accepting the status quo as defined by the hierarchy? if the latter, then can the senior women reasonably be described as having any influence on the church?

    if you think that the women are influencing the church hierarchy, then I would be interested to learn of an example or two of the effects of such influence by any of the women you have named.

    The second was as follows.

    You listed 10 women. There are upwards of 100 cardinals (all men) and something of the order of 3,000 bishops (also all men). I think also that in the senior Catholic laity the men also vastly outnumber the women. So 10 prominent women aren’t going to make all that much difference.

    It seems to me that in giving a list of prominent women you are trying to suggest that women really are listened to. but this is a bit spoiled when you say “It may be that the Church is not listening or appointing certain women to dicasteries, Pontifical Councils or influential positions, not because of the sex of these women, but simply because their voice is one of dissent.”

    Well of course it is! If you have a large group who have historically found it difficult bordering on impossible to have their unique perspective heard at the highest levels of the church, then their voice is inevitably going predominantly to be one of dissent against the orthodoxies which have until now been developed without their input.

    If the church only appoints those women who faithfully adhere to the male-defined orthodoxies, I wonder whether you, being part of a group which upholds those male-defined orthodoxies and supports the church’s policy in its appointment of women, can reasonably hold any claim on the word “feminism”, even if you attach the adjective “New ” or “Catholic” to it.

    I would be interested in an answer.

  • Jonathan West

    I think that Caroline might publish my comments on her blog which asked for for information and clarification about some of her points.

  • Jonathan West

    According to Catholic teaching, not unless they are married!

  • James H

    It’s lucky I wasn’t drinking anything when I read that!

  • James H

    This seems to be catching on, happily. I’ve recently been told about another blog, with the same new-feminist focus, drawing on Hildegardian spirituality: http://thehildegardgroup.wordpress.com/

    Have a look, ladies.

  • Deacon Nick

    And whilst we are at it, it is sexuality, as appropriate, not just sex. I applaud Caroline’s intentions and wish her success with her blog.

  • James H

    Our souls are most definitely gendered. Jesus Himself said that after the resurrection, there will still be men and women.

  • GrahamCombs

    It seems to me a mistake to speak of a “new feminisim.” Why? As with communism and socialism and other isms of the last century the negative associations far out weigh the positives. Here in the US we just marked the fortieth year of Roe v. Wade. Over fifty million lost lives so far and with no real end in sight. Feminism brought us that. Feminism also brought us family instability and the myth of “having it all.” And as has become unrefutable, feminism was never really about equal opportunity for women. Because they now have it in the US and yet we read this week of a millionaire Facebook executive “relaunching feminism.” With what goal? When rights movements become power movements there is never enough power to satisfy. And there is no end of the corruption of the heart and soul. The Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen made two interventions at Vatican II, one regarding the global south and another women in the Church. And as he made clear in a retreat talk we would be seeing soon the consequences of the politicization of theology, and in fact of everything. I wish Catholic Women Rising every success. But to remember many faithful Catholics are in no mood for the tired rhetoric of empowerment — which is only power politics in sheep’s clothing. And as far a grievance collecting, well perhaps the Catholic Herald should interview those men in America and Britain whose vocations were discouraged and extinguished by this politicization of everything. I am no more interested in a new feminism than I am in a new socialism or new communism or new spirit of Vatican II. We’ve had all the meetings and reports, now it’s time to get back to work.