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Box of Books for Francis?

Pope Francis has suggested that "we" need a deeper "theology of women," (itself a problematic phrase, emblematic of the usual us-them in which women are "them.") But he seems like a genuinely nice guy who's sincere about wanting to explore new territory. So, here's my idea...

Of course there are any number of books that could help Francis begin to sort out his ideas in this regard. Let's send him a starter set. 

What are, say, 10 books that could help Francis in his revision of the Church with regard to women?


1. as any good feminist knows, a "theology of women," if it's adequate, is simultaneously a theology of men--men are damaged by patriarchy and sexism, too. So suggestions need not be books specifically about women or even by women, but should contribute importantly to Francis' task. 

2. They need to be available in paperback. I'll spring for them and ship them, but I'm a theologian, not a venture capitalist--I can't sink my life savings (if I had any,) into this. But 10 books to send to Francis to help him think these things through? Sure. (Or perhaps Commonweal would like to underwrite? Or help underwrite? Just asking...) 

3. Books can be singly authored or edited collections. For example, someone might recommend Catherine Mowry LaCugna's Freeing Theology. The Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective, or some such collection that covers a lot of ground in one volume and features some of the giants of feminist theology. 

4. Francis said that the Church needs a more adequate theology of women, so we can safely assume that apologetics for the status quo aren't what he's looking for. Let's aim for faithful engagements with the tradition that break new ground. For example...

My vote is for Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza's But She Said, in which she takes feminist biblical hermeneutics for a spin, resulting in chapters that are scholarly and reflective. It's a classic, both challenging and exhilarating. I hope it'll encourage Francis to read the Bible in new ways. (Of course, like many of you, I can think of dozens of books that'd be great. But this is a good, basic place to start--reading scripture.) 


1. Make your suggetions here, with a brief explanation why you suggest the book you name. One book at a time, please.

2. If you like someone's suggestion, second it. Lets play Facebook--write, e.g., "Schussler Fiorenza: Like." Also like Facebook, one cannot "unlike." Just vote for what's good, and we can trust that the dotCommonweal community will sort wheat from chaff. 

3. In, say, 2 weeks time, I'll add up the results. If there's a hopeless deadlock, I'll turn to some other voting methodology for the final list. I'll order them and ship them with a letter of good wishes, explaining the origin of the list, and that it's intended to be representative, not determinative of the possibilities for his project, and reflects the discernment of a community, not any individual.

4. I have no actual clue who to send them to. Perhaps the papal secretary? Is there anyone out there who knows how to actually get them to the Pope? Please let me know, either here or off-line.

Ready? Go!


Commenting Guidelines

Good idea.  I think just mailing the books to Francis with a cover letter should be enough.  He's received personal letters from people and called them on the phone.  Maybe you'll get a phone call from the Pope!

My suggestion on this feast of Doctor Therese of Lisieux?  Her Letters:

(There are two volumes, but you said one book only, so I'm suggesting the first volume.  He's probably read them both, since he's a devotee.)

Why that book?  It shows how human Therese and her sisters were.  They were real people, just like Jorge Bergoglio.  


How about anything by Mary Hunt and her and her partner's WATER (Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual). While one may not agree with all her points of view, she is scholarly, well grounded, often humorous, and very human... give her a try, Pope Francis!

Send Pope Francis a copy of David Bakan's perceptive book about stereotypically masculine and feminine orientations: THE DUALITY OF HUMAN EXISTENCE: AN ESSAY ON PSYCHOLOGY AND RELIGION (Chicago: Rand McNally,1966).

David Bakan of the University of Chicago was Jewish.

Bakan identifies the stereotypically masculine orientation with agency.

He identifies the stereotypically feminine orientation with communion.

But the duality of these two tendencies in human existence requires each of us to work out a balance of the two within ourselves and our lives.

In other words, if we are exclusively oriented to agency, to the exclusion of communion, then we are out of balance.

Conversely, if we are exclusively oriented to communion, to the exclusion of agency, then we are out of balance.

In her research, Vicki S. Helgeson of Carnegie Mellon University has further explored Bakan's ideas about masculine and feminine orientations. She weaves reports of her own research into her 700-page textbook THE PSYCHOLOGY OF GENDER, 3rd edition (2009).

I imagine that you could buy a copy of Bakan's book from a used-book dealer on the Internet.

"Women and the Word:  The Gender of God in the New Testament and the Spirituality of Women (Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality)" by  NT scholar Sandra M. Schneiders  ....

I think it would be instructive for any man, including the Pope, to read Nuala O'Faolain, Elizabeth Strout, or Alice McDermott. If it has to have religious overtones, I'd suggest Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale." Yeah, it's dated, but there's a woman writing about living in a male-dominated hierarchy where the only value a woman has is reproductive.

He did promise in the interview that Grant blogged on that he wanted the next interview to be on women.

Great idea. I have no particular suggestion for a book, because I don't read much academic heology, being more familiar with what I would call "kitchen" theology (aka - common sense theology) written by everyday types whose language is understandable to those of us who don't have degrees in theology!  I am familiar with most of the names mentioned, but I generally have read summaries of their work rather than the original scholarship.   But I would be happy to help pay postage (email me!) 

Someone mentioned St. Therese of Lisieux - I believe that Francis is already a fan of her writings, and mentioned this in one of his recent interviews.  A question - is Francis fluent in English? If not, should the books be only those that are available in Spanish or Italian or whatever other languages he speaks and reads fluently?

Some have mentioned that a theology of women should not be - that we are human beings just like men. But it is useful to have someone again point out that so much of what the church teaches reflects the views of patriarchy, rather than those of all humanity.  Francis is off to a great start - now if he can just get past his madonna complex (shared by his predecessors) and see women as more than "just" childbearers and mothers some real progress might be possible.  Hopefully you all can find some books to make him think and push him past the patriarchal church's attachment to mommy.

How about some books in Spanish or Italian?

To give him an example of an actual womann's mind in action, Flannery O'Connor's The Complete Short Stories would be a good start.  While telling her stories she *shows* how one highly perceptive woman observes the world..

Even though she has a bit on motherhood, a bit of Julian is always a good thing:

Could we send him articles too?  So much has been written recently that's not in book form ...

"Why Not? Scripture, History & Women's Ordination"  by Robert Egan SJ ...





I didn't find the phrase "we" to be problematical at all. Instead I saw the connation as "we, the entire people of God." 

For one practical suggestion worth implementing, I'd suggest "Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future" by Phyllis Zagano, Gary Macy, and William T. Ditewig

Something on the possibility of women Cardinals and greater female input into synods (eg the recent one on Sacred Scripture) would also suggest positive changes well within the purview of the Holy Father to make.

God Bless

Yes, I second the motion with Flannery O'Connor, particularly her letters, which don't pull punches.

I can't help noticing that over half the suggestions on this thread are coming from men, men who want to tell another man what to read so he can understand women better. Not that I'm a rank sexist or anything ...


The pope mentioned in the interview with Scalfari how close Paul is to his soul.  A quick and easy gift for women (and men) would be to restore to the epistles the greetings to and from women that do not appear in the new sacramentary.

(The efforts to erase women from the early church never cease.)

Two books that Francis has probably read give examples of that:

The Bone Gatherers: The Lost Worlds of Early Christian Women  by Nicola Denzey.  (There are men who still insist that the role of the women translators who worked with Jerome was minimal/negligible.)


Women Officeholders in Early Christianity: Epigraphical and Literary Studies by  Ute Eisen. 

What Gerelyn wrote. 

And once and for all can we dispel the lies about Paul. He clearly writes that women are teachers and prophets. The contradiction in the same epistles are obvious interpolations.

Much as I like Julian and Theres, I think Francis is  already familiar with their views.  If we want him to see women's roles in the church in a new and more just way, we have to suggest works that reflect that.

"A Just and True Love: Feminism at the Frontiers of Theological Ethics:  Essays in Honor of Margaret Farley"

On that "we" in the English translation of the Pope's interview in the section on women:  The Italian does not use this pronoun. In one place it says "E necessario"--It's necessary; in another place it says "Bisogna," which has the same meaning.  If people want to counterpose the "we" to "women," blame it, not on Pope Francis, but on the English translation.  In my translation, given on another thread initiated by Lisa, I deliberately avoided using "we" precisely to prevent this misunderstanding.

Thanks, JK, for clarifying that point on translation.  It does make a big difference 

Not one book but selected articles of social anthropologist Mary Douglas would be enlightening,  e.g., "The Bog Irish." and others comparing the worldviews of European and African women.

I would avoid the abstracts (the handmaid's tale is a good suggestion) and theological tomes. I do recommend my own brother's book The Book of the Poor by Kenan Heise, in which part one is simply poor people talking to him, and the second part some of the institutions, groups, and public & umbrella organizations which are trying to make a difference. I did send him a copy, but doubt that he got it because it is in English.

A book that would support Francis' whole approach to the future of the church would be Bernard Prusak's The Church Unfinished . And if he should find himself trying to work out a handy approach to J.P. II's  legacy on the question of women's ordination, he might find Francis A. Sullivan's little book Creative Fidelity: Weighing and Interpreting Documents of the Magisterium very handy.

The late Fr. Louis Bouyer's "Woman In the Church" and "The Seat Of Wisdom" are classics well worth rediscovering.

All this time and nobody's mentioned Elizabeth Johnson's She Who Is? I know it's available in Spanish and I'm pretty sure it's available in Italian too. 

Also, I second Farley's Just Love. 

Not by a Catholic, but in many ways very Catholic, and one of the most important books to me personally, is Dorothee Soelle's The Strength of the Weak: Towards a Christian Feminist Identity. I have a feeling Francis would vibe with it.

I would like Francesco to learn more about Hildegard of Bingens.  Here's a place to start:

I hope that Francis gets representative contemporary works from across ethnic and geographical lines, not just American and European women.

I'm not recommending anything because I think this should be the purview of the women here.  It's their chance to put the best female feet forward.


I second the preceding recommendation.

Anything  by Kathleen Norris.

"Like".  I second the Elizabeth Johnson suggestion.

I nominate Michelle Gonzalez's Created In God's Image: An Introduction To Feminist Theological Anthropology and Anne Clifford's Introducing Feminist Theology, both published by Orbis Books.

I also second Elizabeth Johnson. I also recommend Edith Stein's "Woman" (Collected Works vol.2). And also Sr Joan Chittester. As already noted in previous comments, i'm much aware this is the American-European white female group. Authors from all continents needed.

The book I suggest is:  "Taking up the Cross" New Testament Interpretations through Latina and Feminist Eyes.  by Barbara E. Reid, O.P.


Thanks for the blurb on the David Baken book. I'll read it. Agency-Communion looks like an interesting filter to look at the Sacraments and the Bible.

Abe Books on the web sells scholarly and other hard to get books at deep discounts. No shipping fees. Abe is an independent filling in the gap left by the closing of so many retal independents.

Schussler Fiorenza: Like.


This is an excellent project. Obviously many of the commenters have done some srious thinking, guided by some excellent books. It would be good for Francis to hear from the commenters here.

Genesis I.

Written That You May Believe,   Sandra Schneiders

No particular order:



The Glass Menagerie.

To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Age of Innocence.

Jane Eyre.

The Merchant of Venice.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Absalom, Absalom.

A Town Like Alice.



This may not be in Italian or Spanish yet, but it stands out as a book directed at non-specialists which resists dumbing down without sacrificing lucidity.  Its arguments hew closely to evidence from Scripture and from official Church documents.  The author has paid her dues in the trenches of adult religious education for many years, making accessible to ordinary Christians the insights that a study of literary forms can provide in reading the Bible.  In this book she questions the ostensible immutability of Church teachings on a number of subjects, including ordination of women and moral aspects of differences in sexual orientation.  She also deals with some discrepancies between what is taught and what is done as regards, for instance, treatment of the non-ordained employed by Church organizations. The book is Why the Catholic Church Must Change: A Necessary Conversation, by Margaret Nutting Ralph.

(@ Jim McCrea: Taking seriously that first guideline about what "any good feminist knows," I can't agree with you that making suggestions here is exclusively women's work...)

Meant to mention that Ralph's book is only available in hardcover (and Kindle) so far.  But it actually doesn't weigh any more than a typical trade softcover, so maybe it could still be considered despite guideline #2.

Suggest God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage (2012), V. Gene Robinson

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Free Amazons of Darkover books.

I second Kathleen Norris; more specifically, The Cloister Walk. I will send a Spanish/Italian version--if there is one!!

I vote Alice von Hildebrand's The Privilege of Being a Woman.  Does a good, pithy little job critiquing destructive secular versions of feminism, while highlighting the beauty of the Christian treatment of women.  Also, it's short and cheap.

I would suggest "The Theology of the Body" by Pope John Paul II, 1997, which is about a theology of humanity, both men and women, and where he can find jewels like this one:

"Corporality and sexuality are not completely identified.  Although the human body, in its normal constitution, bears within it the signs of sex and is, by it's nature, male or female, the fact, however, that man is a "body" belongs to the structure of the personal subject more deeply than the fact that he is in his somatic constitution also male or female.  Therefore, the meaning of original solitude, which can be referred simply to "man," is substantially prior to the meaning of original unity.  The latter, in fact, is based on masculinity and femininity, as if on two different "incarnations," that is, on two ways of "being a body" of tha same human being, created "in the image of God"  (Genesis 1:27).  — John Paul II, The Original Unity of Man and Woman, General Audience, 7 November 1979

I am sure he will get the point that we are human first , and only then male or female, and some male and female roles are different, but in God's mission what matters is that we are baptized persons, not baptized males versus baptized females.

In Christ,




I will chip in for shipping and handling. if I come across any good read I'll advise. God bless us all!!