I’ve been trying to picture the Catholic Church – the Mother Church
if you will – as a
matriarchy instead of a patriarchy, in which the first pope had been Christ’s
friend and apostle, Mary Magdalene
instead of Peter
, the wayward
apostle who thrice denied him.
commonly accepted among Biblical scholars that in Christianity’s earliest years, women were, in
fact, spiritual leaders. But in his 23rd
Gregory the Great
portrayed Mary as a repentant harlot. He may have
confused her with Mary of Bethany
– or as many biblical scholars believe, may have intended to suppress women’s
roles in the Church.
It’s also known that priests routinely married for the
Church’s first thousand years, until the Second
in 1139 forbade marriage in order to stop priests from
leaving their worldly holdings to their sons instead of the Church.
Especially in medieval times, Church hierarchy typically interpreted
Christ’s teachings in a way that ensured the subservience of religious and
secular women. Not until 1962 did the Church fully recognize twelfth century
writer, composer, and scientist Hildegard of Bingen
the same year that the Second Vatican
removed the word “obey” from the marriage vows.
In 2012, the Vatican sent a papal delegation to America to rebuke
American nuns for supporting a national health care system opposed by American
bishops – and scold them for focusing too much
on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex
So today, with Catholic hierarchy embroiled in international
child physical and sexual abuse scandals dating back centuries and leaving many
Catholics in spiritual limbo, I wonder how
different things might have been if women’s ministry in Catholic communities
had been equal to that of men – many of whom either abused children or abetted
If women had long ago been embraced not just as “altar servers”
but as priests, bishops, cardinals, and even popes, perhaps the faithful might have
better heeded Christ’s call to alleviate suffering among the poor and
oppressed, to care for children, minister to the sick, and fight for social and
economic justice. And perhaps Vermont might not now be investigating a child
physical and sexual abuse scandal of its own.