Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Pull Together Now

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Pull Together Now

Article excerpt

The future of feminism in the church will depend on older and younger women working on the same team. But GenX women may not fit into "the way we've always done it."

It was a veritable who's who of Catholic feminist theology. Fifteen of the most trailblazing, forward-thinking women in the Catholic Church at the turn of the millennium. Many of them, my own personal heroines.

Alone, each of them already had helped to advance the debate about women in the church. Together, they were given the task of composing a document with words of wisdom and hope for the next generation.

The recognizable names included Elizabeth Johnson, Kathleen Norris, Joan Chittister, Lisa Sowle Cahill, Monika Hellwig, Sandra Schneiders, Diana Hayes, and Jeanette Rodriguez. All share the distinction of having delivered the annual Madeleva lecture at Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana--named for the college's former president. Over the past 16 years, the lectures have been published by Paulist Press and have sold more than 150,000 copies.

As part of the Jubilee Year celebration of the series, the previous Madeleva lecturers were invited back to collaborate on the "Charter for Women of Faith in the New Millennium." Sensing a good story, I traveled to South Bend, Indiana with anticipation and high hopes for this unprecedented gathering of feminine wisdom and power.

After two days of closed-door meetings, the lecturers presented a short but powerful statement christened "The Madeleva Manifesto." Proclaimed in both English and Spanish at a public gathering April 29, it received a standing ovation.

"The way things are now is not the design of God," the manifesto declared, urging women to "re-imagine what it means to be the whole body of Christ." Its tone and content was unabashedly feminist, in the tradition of the "gospel feminism" that Sandra Schneiders had so eloquently described in the previous evening's Madeleva lecture for 2000, "With Oil in Their Lamps: Faith, Feminism, and the Future."

"We deplore, and hold ourselves morally bound, to protest and resist, in church and society, all actions, customs, laws, and structures that treat women or men as less than fully human," the manifesto said. "We pledge ourselves to carry forth the heritage of biblical justice which mandates that all persons share in right relationship with each other, with the cosmos, and with the Creator."

Although there weren't too many of us in the audience, several sections of the document were addressed directly to younger women: "To the young women of the church, we say: carry forward the cause of gospel feminism. We will be with you along the way, sharing what we have learned about the freedom, joy, and power of contemplative intimacy with God. We ask you to join us in a commitment to far-reaching transformation of church and society in nonviolent ways."

The topic of younger women--more specifically, their absence at this event and in the movement--had been raised that afternoon, during an informal conversation session for attendees of the weekend's events. After discussion at our tables, the 60 or so women were joined by Sandra Schneiders for a Q&A. One of the first questions posed was "How can we engage younger women in the cause of feminism in the church?"

Schneiders admitted it wasn't easy, because younger women--and men--tended not to join the causes for which their elders had fought so dearly. …

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