Catholic and Feminist: The Surprising History of the American Catholic Feminist Movement. By Mary J. Henold. University of North Carolina Press. 291 pages. $32.
The following is from a book review by Anne Barbeau Gardiner, a Contributing Editor of the New Oxford Review, is Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York. She has published on Dryden, Milton, and Swift, as well as on Catholics of the seventeenth century.
… When Catholic feminists speak of their commitment to the Church, they equivocate; it turns out they mean the “people,” not the “institution.” Indeed, Catholic feminists constantly reduce the Magisterium to an “institution.” They have their own understanding of Catholicism and see themselves as free to choose what to “believe” and what to “abandon.” This is not cafeteria Catholicism, but something different, for they are guided in their choices by a primary loyalty to feminism. Donna Quinn, one of the leading feminist nuns in the 1970s, represents many of them when she declares, “This is my church, this is my tradition. I love this church. I want to change it.” Then she adds, “I have never rejected anything in the feminist movement…. I love the word ‘feminism,’ I have put that first.” Yes, first. This is the idol to which Catholic feminists have been willing to sacrifice the Church.
At the 1975 Detroit Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), the “pivotal event” of the Catholic feminist movement in the 1970s, theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza spoke of our Church needing “a radical conversion.” Feminists like her choose to remain Catholic as a means to an end. Their strategy is called defecting in place, but it may more fittingly be called apostatizing in place.
Throughout Catholic and Feminist: The Surprising History of the American Catholic Feminist Movement, Henold reveals how Catholic feminists have taken a utilitarian approach to religion, using the Church’s sacred language, symbols, and traditions as a “means of understanding and structuring their feminism.” Yes, a means to an end. To begin with, they wanted women priests, Henold says, because they needed …
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