I, Louise Akers, am an educated white woman, a Sister of Charity, a World Citizen who lives an economically comfortable life in a world where at least two-thirds of the people are destitute. I live in an institutional Roman Catholic Church that is ruled by an exclusive male hierarchy that seems to have no limits in how they exercise their power and their belief system. Evidence of this can be seen by the many persons who have been punished and, in the extreme, been excommunicated for raising questions regarding the ‘status quo’ of tradition and doctrine. I am among these people. However, the election of Pope Francis demonstrates a new era as we observe and listen to a pope who is a liberation theologian!
I am also a woman whose life has been grounded in faith, the Christian faith, through the Roman Catholic expression. My faith was strongly influenced by Irish tradition along with an ecumenical upbringing and interfaith friendships at a very early age. My mother was a primary influence in my life. My father died when I was three.
I have come to realize the impact my childhood has had on my quest for a more just world and church. Our family was poor. However, instead of focusing on the hardships of poverty we, I, along with my sister and brother, grew up watching our mother help and empower the poor through public health nursing and her gracious response to those who came to our door seeking food and/or shelter. The widow’s mite was an alive and dynamic component of Mom’s life. She modeled for all who knew her, a faith-filled life and the desire for a more just and equitable world.
Another major influence in my life has been belonging to the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati: ministries that have focused on the poor – direct service, advocacy, education: (akers-vitae)
My intention here is to focus on the value of woman and advocate for women’s fuller participation and expanded roles within major institutions.
What about the institutions in our lives? Are women safe, recognized as equals, seen as competent at home, in the office, on the streets, within ministries? If you are a woman reading this, how do you feel valued and affirmed in your life? If you are a man reading this, how do you treat the women in your life? Do you affirm their presence? Their contributions? According to Jack Myers, author of “The Future of Men: Masculinity in the Twenty-first Century”: . . . a third of men call themselves feminists . . .Politics is capturing what is happening in every place in our society. This election is defined around the fundamental conflict not between men and women but between patriarchy and feminism. TIME, 11/14/2016
Finally, it’s our everyday relationships which indicate where we stand. Gender affects our relationships as do race and class. As the saying goes ~ they’re all of one piece.
Following are descriptions of Patriarchy – the underlying tradition which perpetuates the ongoing inequities both women and men experience. I believe it is essential that we know of and acknowledge this reality.
Feminist movements all over the world also have raised the most radical cultural critique of our way of living. They started naming the cause of women’s pain and struggle with the conceptual framework called “Patriarchy.” Patriarchy is an hierarchical system of domination where men with power rule all other beings in the cosmos with their ideological invention of sexism, racism, classism, cultural imperialism and androcentrism. This system of “domination-submission” has promoted war, injustice and ecological disaster in world history. (African & Asian Womanist Theologians)
Practically all of the institutions that are the pillars of civilization–and in which we will spend as much or more time than in the family–are founded on the myth of dominance. Church, school, university, courts, hospitals, corporations, governments–all of these are elaborate structures and rituals for acting out the myth of dominance . . . . Understanding how societies and institutions of domination function is the first step toward identifying the violence and pain of our own experience . . . then mourning and exorcising it. (Madonna Kohlbenschlag)
Recently, the Catholic Bishops of India have published an addition to their 2014 statement on the dignity of all women, with a focus on women in the church. They also address injustices toward women in family life, health care, and public policy. Entitled Gender Justice in Church and Society: Papers of the Second DVK National Seminar in Moral Theology. One of the contributors, Bishop Felix Toppo states “. . .the very structure of the Catholic Church, with men in all decision making roles, leads to wider discrimination and violence against women. One of the main reasons for inequality and discrimination is universal patriarchal culture.” (NCR, May 19-21, 2017)
The paradigmatic shift taking place holds hope for many. Yet, change obviously threatens the established hierarchical, patriarchal and exclusive operative systems. Signs abound that this shift is occurring. However, it will not happen unless and until we are part of a new consciousness and assist in establishing new relationships and structures. So be it!