US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Do priests "get" women?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

An insightful (if devastating) commentary on the remarks of the new secretary for the Congregation for Religious, Joseph Tobin, about women religious by Eugene Cullen Kennedy at NCR. Tobin's appointment was greeted with some relief by U.S. women religious because he might offer a more sympathetic ear in Rome, especially as the visitation of U.S. women religious continues.

Kennedy, a psychologist and former priest, however, notes that Tobin still reflects a clerical culture that is incapable of dealing with women as equals:

"The voice of the cleric is heard in the land as [Tobin] explains the origins of his fresh approach. 'I've worked all my life with women religious ...' They taught him as a kid, he continues, and his mother's family was close to the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters. 'I've preached women's retreats and listened a lot to them over the years.' No doubt the archbishop-to-be cannot hear what we can overhear, a classic cleric's viewpoint on why he understands women in general and women religious in particular. Why, he had them in school and he's preached to them and listened a lot to them. Would it be more reassuring if he told us that he once loved a woman or that he knows the depths of a real relationship with a woman who was not looking down at him at his school desk or up to him in a pulpit?"

Kennedy is a little more complimentary to Tobin than that, but his point that a life in an almost exclusively male environment, and 12 years in the sheltered and distilled clerical culture of the Vatican, is not the best environment to experience women as professional equals, much less superiors. To be a priest who reports to a woman in a professional capacity is a rarity indeed.

Though I have no doubt Tobin intends to be encouraging, I can see how some might hear his comments as partronizing, though one hopes Tobin gets the benefit of the doubt, and U.S. women religious thus far seem hopeful.