A Recipe for Reform? Power to the Pastry Chef! Can a Kolachky Crisis Teach the Church How Great a Contribution Women Make?

By Arbogast, Celeste | U.S. Catholic, July 2002 | Go to article overview

A Recipe for Reform? Power to the Pastry Chef! Can a Kolachky Crisis Teach the Church How Great a Contribution Women Make?


Arbogast, Celeste, U.S. Catholic


Being a woman in the Catholic Church can be an exercise in frustration. In fact, one could argue that the role of women in the church hasn't expanded, in any real sense, for 30 years. God is spoken of--almost always--in male terms. Nearly all decision-making power rests in the hands of men.

As a laywoman, I am allowed to give Communion at Mass, an opportunity afforded my mother after Vatican II. But at least once each time I serve as a eucharistic minister, I find myself standing frozen with the Host in my fingers as my fellow parishioners bypass me to take Communion from the priest. My mind races as I stand there. "Is my skirt too short? Are my heels too high? The Body of Christ," I think. "Can't give it away."

Most likely, some view my presence as a threat to the primacy of the male clergy. Too many laypeople still regard priests as better than the rest of us, treating them to a veneration that borders on idolatry. In such a culture of priest-worship, it should come as no surprise that over the years parents have eagerly given Catholic priests unsupervised, sometimes tragic access to their children.

Some priests buy into the adulation and lead their flocks more like despots than good shepherds. Is it any wonder the unscrupulous among them have felt entitled to take whatever they wanted, even the innocence of a child?

As an American woman in her 30s, I have always felt equal to men in the workplace and at home. Only at church do I feel an injustice and powerlessness that I encounter in no other area of my life. Only at church am I marginalized. It's simple: Priests are men. Therefore, men run things in the church.

When an associate pastor spoke vehemently one Sunday several years ago, in a sort of "my church, love it or leave it" homily, about why women could never be priests in the Catholic Church, I could only sit and seethe.

"Go ahead," I thought, "tell my daughters one more time why they're not good enough." Later I told them, "He's mistaken. Sexism is a sin, just like racism. I think by the time you're grown-ups, women will be priests. That's what I'm praying for."

My prayers have not yet been answered. But recently, in a group of elderly church ladies from St. Stephen's Church in Streator, Illinois, near Chicago, I saw a sign. The women, like their mothers before them, have for years contributed to the church budget through bake sales of their ethnic pastries. How lucrative can a few bake sales be? According to a story in the Chicago Tribune about their "Slovak Bakers" group, an estimated $50,000 a year in a parish that yearly brings in less than half a million dollars in donations.

Angered that their beloved, aging pastor is being replaced by an associate pastor whom some parishioners accuse of being an "arrogant egomaniac," the Bakers have gone on strike. Others in the parish have followed suit, withholding weekly contributions and tuition to the church school in protest. The weekly collection has reportedly dwindled to half its former size.

Nonetheless, the complaints of the members of St. Stephen's parish about the new priest, who they say is also forcing out two prominent nuns of the parish, have so far met with a predictable admonition from the bishop's office: "Obey your priest."

But these women, and the parishioners who support them, are flatly refusing to shut up and cooperate in the face of what they perceive as a grave injustice. …

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