Women, The Church, and The Scandal

Peggy Noonan has published a rhetorically powerful piece on the scandal in the Wall Street Journal. The end suggests that if there were women involved in the higher levels of the Vatican, the situation wouldn't be as dire as it has become. Women, she thinks, would have advocated for protecting the victims rather than protecting the institution.In a recent Newsweek article, Lisa Miller tries to make the same point, although in a more nuanced and qualified manner.I am leery of this line of argument, because it is a mirror image of the gender essentialism that has often been used to keep women OUT of certain roles in church and society.I think we need a diversity of voices, a diversity of experiences, the breadth of wisdom in the body of Christ to solve the problem. But tokenism isn't the answer.I don't think it's a good idea to suggest that all women are going to respond in lockstep on any particular question. The reason it's not a good idea is that it's demonstrably false. There are women --e.g., Sr. Sara Butler--who vigorously support the Church's teaching on the all-male priesthood. She's now, incidentally, a member of the International Theological Commission. And there are and were women who have the same sense of institutional loyalty as Cardinal Law defends in Noonan's article. Mary Ann Glendon was a vigorous defender of the Legionaries of Christ's founder, Maciel, against what turned out to be truthful allegations of abuse.So, more women should be more involved in deliberative decision-making processes because women have the background, talents, and commitment to contribute--and because it's arbitrary to exclude them. They are as talented as men. But they (we) also disagree among ourselves as much as men do. And that means that it is always possible for any group of men to find a woman who thinks just like they do.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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