Our Father

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“Women are naturally unfit for political office. Both the Natural order and facts show us that political being par excellence is male; the Scripture shows us that woman has always been the helper of man who thinks and does, but nothing more”Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now known as Pope Francis)

One of the first posts I noticed on Facebook about the election of Pope Francis was a picture postcard with Cardinal Bergoglio’s face with the quote above and the caption, “Misogyny, much?”

As a spiritual agnostic, Pope Francis’ election amid the finance and sexual scandals whirling like vultures around the Vatican triggered a bout of familial nostalgia, and an understanding of the bottled up feelings I’ve had about the Catholic Church in general since first watching Mea Maxima Culpa on HBO a month ago.

There are many Catholics out there looking at the election of the new Pope with some well-deserved skepticism. And even more out there who are excited about the possibility of a new Pope coming into power. As one raised “almost” Catholic, I am in the realm of No Person’s Land, siding ever more with my atheist friends and family.

Raised in a Catholic culture, there are rituals and rites — sacraments — that mark your birth, the fullness of your childhood, and the onslaught of your puberty — baptism, communion, confirmation. For girls especially these sacraments, usually cloaked in white for all three rituals and inclusive of the sacrament next in line — marriage — had its message for us. Knees shut tight. Thus the war between young Fe and the Church began.

The dividing line was first drawn by my father who, having no sons, hedged his bets on raising my sister and me to be critical thinkers, dreamers and women who pay our own way. He never told us we had to get married. Just get on with your life in the world. It was around my confirmation at 12 that I got a whiff of my father’s true feelings about the Church and its priests. He didn’t trust them. He stopped going to Mass. When I was old enough, his insinuations about priest’s sexual habits were funny jokes told with a point. A seed was planted.

Catholicism was already fighting a losing battle with me while attending Catholic grammar school in Watsonville. As a good girl student verbally abused by nuns on a daily basis, I started growing an agnostic’s skin at an early age. That skin grew to a thick hide, out of survival. Looking back at those years, I realize how much distance I had to place between my religion and my body for the very survival of my self-esteem. That it was not a ‘normal’ childhood. That it was a constant daily struggle against psychological abuse for not being perfect in the eyes of the Church’s clerics. I followed my father’s fire against the Church with my own form of battle. I started touching myself.

Since then, especially in light of the explosion of not-so-secret sexual scandals plaguing the Catholic Church over the last three decades, I’ve realized how angry I was over the guilt and shame I had built up about the uncleanliness of my body and soul, that I could not allow myself a chance to breathe it in and vent it. It was lying there, like a damp blanket drying in the Sun, waiting to be picked up and used. There was something not right about a system that made you feel so wrong about the body you shared with Mother Mary. But the system was too big. And no one would listen.

Nothing bad really ever happened to me except being lied to about my body — that it was unclean and not to be appreciated. I was never abused physically by priests and nuns, and certainly not to the extent of those poor boys accosted by the priest in Mea Maxima Culpa. But along with the denial of my body, there was damage of another sort. The kind of damage caused by no expectation on a broad social level, which is a mercurial demon to wrestle with all on its own. Especially when coping with the paradox of promise here on Earth, raised by your family to expect EVERYTHING, especially no matter who you are.

That demon was abetted by the tired whipping posts of female physical and social perfection (your classic bride in white) that already plagues our culture in everything we see, touch and buy.

There is so much stimulus in our atmosphere trying to eat away at our wholeness that it’s a miracle we are still coherent. The Church has played as large a part in that as Madison Avenue. But we’re here, standing. Half of this modern world is populated with people who have vulvas and uteri, breasts and buttocks. Giving birth to more of us sons and daughters. Or not.

Looking up at the balcony of the palatial Vatican, our petition to the new Pope is not a request. It is now a demand.

“Our Father, who art on the throne of power, it doesn’t matter who you are. I have taken leave from the flock so as to never betray my spirit or my body. They are mine. They are holy. And I think for myself, thank you very much. Now and forever.”

Fe Bongolan

About Fe Bongolan

Planet Waves writer Fe Bongolan lives in Oakland, California. Her column "Fe-911," has been featured on Planet Waves since 2008. As an actor and dramaturge, Fe is a core member of Cultural Odyssey's "The Medea Project -- Theater for Incarcerated Women," producing work that empowers the voices of all women in trouble, from ex-offenders, women with HIV-AIDS, to young girls and women at risk. A Planet Waves fan from almost the beginning of Eric's astrology career, Fe is a public sector employee who describes herself as a "mystical public servant." When it comes to art, culture and politics, she loves reading between the lines.
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26 Responses to Our Father

  1. susyc says:

    I saw a hilarious quote somewhere that we almost had a Pope Scola–what with the Cardinals jumping the gun on their expectations a bit. Someone said that just smacked too much of product placement. And now I see that it was true according to Reuters.


  2. Fe Bongolan Fe Bongolan says:

    While on a family holiday in the Ilocos Islands, it was my Aunt Rosario, my mom’s sister who represented my mom’s generation in the islands since my mom had passed.

    Rosario has always been outspoken, and climbing into the eighties in her ever-present high heels, she hadn’t stopped that. Not for anybody. She was our tour guide.

    We were driving south to Candon City where she recalled studying in high school. She was 15 miles from home, so she rented a room in an apartment that she shared with another girl. She got home after class one night and heard the sounds of sex coming from her roomate’s room.

    Suddenly there was the sound of something large falling down, and a scream from inside. Two voices called from inside “fetch the doctor!” “Get some help!” Rosario did not dare open the door.

    It was the middle of the night, but Rosario went out and fetched the doctor, who arrived 30 minutes later. They both opened the door and found the parish priest in flagrante delicto with my aunt’s roomate. I think they were doing “round the world” and got stuck while in the anal phase.

    Imagine being told this by your octogenarian aunt. Even my ears were burning!

  3. Fe Bongolan Fe Bongolan says:

    Some leaders are elected to slow things down. Let’s hope this priest can speed things up.

    Gotta go to the gym. Will post the story by Auntie Rosario later today!

  4. Thank you Fe for having such a bountiful table of sharing! And yes, I agree wholeheartedly that we must remain strong and vigilant. The new Pope, while bringing a breath of fresh air to this stuffy, moldy, corrupt organization still has his roots in traditional and conservative soil when it comes to patriarchal values and that fact cannot be ignored. Let us hope that his willingness to re-direct the church’s focus towards economic inequality and the needs of “the poor” will at the least help raise the status of women and girls economically enough so that thru education and opportunities, they may be able to make other choices for themselves reproductively speaking as many in the western RC community do now. Yes, the church has a lot to answer for and a long ways to go, but at long last we are seeing SOME movement in a positive direction and that is worth a small celebration….at least a raised glass of wine with a heartfelt toast at this fine table!

  5. Lizzy Lizzy says:

    Yes – it’s early days, dear Paola, who knows how things will work out. But the election of these two people is in itself so significant, so unlike what has gone before. hey – I was born in ’61 too! Let’s hope it’s a good year for us…

  6. paola paola says:

    Hi Lizzy,
    yes, I want to be a little scaramantic so I am not *too* enthusiast for the election of Grasso and Boldrini.
    I’ve read somewhere that Boldrini’s first address to the Parliament (15 minutes, 22 applauses) was the best one ever pronounced in that chamber. And yes, it was good and felt so ‘clean’.
    She was born in 1961, like Obama … and me (;-) proud of my generation at last?!)

  7. DivaCarla DivaCarla says:

    PS. The Feminine core field that Green Star GAzer shares, reminds of Elisa Novick’s post about the sound of the earth resonating. That’s what it is, and the womb sound of the feminine core (of people of any body variety) is the turning point.

    Fe, I guess you are going to save Aunt Rosario’s story for the family?

    Which I had time to hang out with you all today. Merc is direct, and I am slingshotting forward myself!

  8. Lizzy Lizzy says:

    It’s still the Catholic Church, The Vatican – but this new Pope’s message is a welcome change. And after too many years of being governed by apathetic, self-interested, and at worst, corrupt politicians, Italy seems to be finally coming up with something different. On the same day that Pope Francis gave his first address, putting an emphasis on social justice, Laura Boldrini was elected as the new leader of Italy’s Lower House, a woman and former spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In her inaugural speech, Boldrini said that “this chamber will have to listen to the social suffering of an entire generation”. (Don’t know about you, Paola, but am thrilled and surprised this is happening). I suppose I’m addicted to happy endings, but I’m really hoping for the best. Thanks for inviting us to your kitchen table, Fe!


  9. pam says:

    Accompany. beome part of the weave

  10. pam says:

    (and if you are vulnerable you look for allies, or wait your fighting chance, or build muscle of all sorts until you are bigger than your circumstances or have the power to say NO! or the skill to play (accompany?) with whatever elements wherever you are)

  11. Fe Bongolan Fe Bongolan says:

    Perhaps one of the best things about this thread is the open kitchen table discussion. Please carry on.

  12. DivaCarla DivaCarla says:

    “Nothing bad really ever happened to me except being lied to about my body — that it was unclean and not to be appreciated”

    Fe, that is really bad. Just saying. I’ve ranted on other posts about my 50 year struggle to reclaim myself from their rules (bible belt protestant, not catholic). I was not rebellious till now. YOu saved yourself and made “nothing really bad”. Touching yourself was the most powerful and saving thing you could have done! Hi five!

    Green star gazer, I love this! And it will take a lot of us together living from our swirling Feminine core to make this repulsion of toxic Patriarchy work. And it will be a service to each being on the planet!

    THIS is how the Feminine can reclaim Her power…she reconnects with her own core which is not fixed or stationary but is in constant movement and flux…she lets the rotating core of her own Being-ness create a field of energy so powerful that the toxic pulse of the Patriarchy simply can no longer have influence.

  13. miaferoleto says:

    Dear Fe,

    Great article. I attended Catholic school as well and have my share of stories. I know now of multiple priests and one monsignor, a close family friend, where abuse was happening and settlements were made.

    I am delighted to say that I received an “F” in conduct in the 7th grade because I would not accept the program on a number of levels. Mr. T. use to say to me, “Feroleto, if you were a boy…” and I would respond, “But I’m not.” Drove him crazy.

    In the late 1980’s friends and I (one a psychiatrist and one a psychologist married to each other and both Jewish) went to see the off-Broadway play “Catholic School Girls.” My friends could not believe the antics that were basically all true. The irony is the throwing of erasers and the nuns peaking through the window hiding behind statues of the Virgin Mary to see if we were behaving ourselves when they left the class is comic. We now know what was really happening.

    I hate plaid uniforms and oxfords to this day.

  14. Brendan Brendan says:

    Fe, and everyone, thank you for your thoughts and observations. There is always much food for thought here.

    I haven’t been all that fired up about this entire papal succession. The church has shown its’ inertia very well the last few years, what with retrenching on so many social issues, the pedophilia scandals, the list is long.

    I’m a former Catholic, baptized, first communion, but nothing beyond that. My family fell out with the church about my eleventh year: that was the year my very Catholic grandmother passed away, and neither of my parents had the heart or will to keep going to what was her faith and church. My father admitted some years later he went only because he thought it might do we kids some good; my mother rarely went, as she was an unconverted Protestant with little actual personal conviction of faith.

    My parents had a nice visit from the parish priest and a nun after our absence was noted: my folks held firm, and they went away, convinced, I’m sure, that we were all going to hell. My great grandfather had been a pillar of the church in the 20’s and 30’s, and he had raised huge sums to build the local parish church back then. To lose our family from the parish was a big deal, at least to them, but not us. It was the early 70’s if my memories are correct, and we just went our merry secular way after that.

    I don’t think any of my family felt any guilt about leaving the church whatsoever, not for any of the CCD teachings or sermons. They just didn’t register at all. My other grandmother, she of the maternal lineage, had enough guilt to slather around for decades to come, and she wasn’t even Catholic. She was of the hellfire and damnation wing of various evangelical denominations, although she wasn’t a mouth breather about it. Because my dad was RC, she just knew he was a bad man no matter what, even if his family was wealthy. As it is now, we’re all mostly agnostics and/or “spiritual,” with nobody following any organized screed.

    With regards to Francis the First, we shall see what we shall see, no?

  15. pam says:

    Fe – I’m not sure I was clear. i was certainly brought up to follow your integrity where it leads you, follow the intellectual and spiritual paths rigorously wherever they take you because it is there that you are ‘safe’ (sure?) in truth. Or you fall/your perception was incomplete and you get up (and change). (

    Perhaps this is ‘protestant’. This is what I mean by men of faith (rigorous thought and heart in synthesis). Even if sex was not their province human nature and souls were/are. Tolerance kindness compassion. The Mission with Robert de Niro shows the 3 way dilemma. Faced with a difficulty what do you do in life. (Take up arms to defend the vulnerable, just accompany them come what may, do things which are expedient in one area for political reasons in another).

    It is very very difficult. Only each person can be true to him or herself.

    Is this new Pope a man of integrity.

  16. pam says:

    Fe, I hear what you say and I hear it often from many directions.

    It is also true that the Church is only as good as its representatives and its representatives tend to reflect the state of the world.

    There are good priests. As a child, many passed through our house of all denominations – on Church agricultural ‘business’ with my Dad. Perhaps the cream of the crop is sent to the tropics, perhaps in the 70’s there were still men of faith. Swiss brothers who sent me stamps for my collection, the Jesuit of great scholarship, my Dad’s best friend (a lay Anglican). They were immensely gentle people, had seen everything, at least one was abducted and killed by freedom fighters. They had more at stake than the Church today seems to. My father was also a scholar. The debates were fierce, the lowest common denominator of integrity was high. When Ursula le Quin writes of the Masters of Roke that they were ‘terrible’, it is this unsparing scholarship and scrutiny towards what needs to be done to make good.

    Times may have changed. Religion may be defunct, but the breath is always there somewhere. That the current church doesn’t apparently embody it says more about the church than its breath. So seek the breath (as you seem to have).

    Perhaps they will find it again. Can you see a way to breathe life into it. Or balance perhaps. The Keys of the Kingdom by AJ Cronin, and The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge, or even The Charioteer by Mary Renault all have things to say.

    How can we do our part to accompany our world and ourselves to wholeness. Or just accompany.


  17. Lizzy Lizzy says:

    Yes – I didn’t have the same experience as you, Fe, but I have close women friends who did, and I know the dreadful legacy and scars it leaves.

  18. Fe Bongolan Fe Bongolan says:


    Yes attribution does matter, and thank you, Patty and Green Star Gazer for pointing that out.

    Pope Francis may not have said it, but he leads a religion that does. Actions trump words. The actions of the modern-day Church in the enforcement of doctrine that denies women their right to reproductive freedom – the say over their bodies – and their complicity in the politicization of that is what offends me more than anything said.

  19. Lizzy Lizzy says:

    Thank you for this beautiful piece, Fe.
    And thank you for the snopes link, Greenstar. Fe, I think it does matter when such a quote is attributed to a person, when there is no proof that he said it. Surely one of the foundations of PW is demolishing false truths and upholding integrity?

  20. I would say that on one level, as you have suggested, indeed it does not matter if the quote was actually uttered by the man for yes, it is yet another fractal flash of the whole rotten business that is the arranged (forced) marriage of the groom of Patriarchy to the bride of spirituality/religion. However, since I have recently worked very hard to uncover some of my own essential truth that has lain dormant under the heavy veils of false projections others have placed upon me (and I accepted), I would say that yes, it does matter whether the new Pope did actually say those words or not. If we continue layer on false projections onto one another based on our own personal bias, it will take much longer for us all to be free and clear of the emotional and psychic distortions that keep us from being our authentic selves.

    It is a fine line to walk. It is the difference between discernment and judgement. In one we see, comprehend and evaluate keeping in mind the relationships that connect the parts but ultimately are pieces of a greater whole. In the other we polarize, separate and either elevate or condemn…but more importantly we remove our own humanity and set it apart from the humanity of “the other”. In that gap, the space between “us” and “them” the wild destructive seeds of our own unclaimed Shadow grow and fester.

    Yes, the Edifices, the corporations that promote “power-over” others in all the ways they can and do must be allowed to crumble and fall…only then can they be dismantled, stripped and redistributed. Only then will the the vast resources of wealth, individual empowerment and respect for the Earth be released back into collective. The Uranian-Pluto processes are what this is all about. These forces do not willingly give themselves up to this process. Now that the concentrations have formed, they will, like any concretion try to maintain their hold and shape. Uranus and Pluto square off and blast away at what we no longer want or need… a welcome but messy process.

    In your story that you have shared I am reminded of a science program that I recently enjoyed. One segment talked about the incredible balance being held in check between the powerful life-giving and life-destroying capacities of the Sun (the Solar/Sacred Masculine) and the receptive life hosting capacities of the Earth (the Gaia/Sacred Feminine). The program talked about the streams and storms of radiation that constantly bombard our Earth every moment. What protects our home and all life from this constant barrage? It is the strength of the moving core of the Earth…the rotational core that creates a magnetic field that the radiation must then follow…and pass around the Earth back out into space. I was thinking, THIS is how the Feminine can reclaim Her power…she reconnects with her own core which is not fixed or stationary but is in constant movement and flux…she lets the rotating core of her own Being-ness create a field of energy so powerful that the toxic pulse of the Patriarchy simply can no longer have influence.

    Your story about reclaiming the power and Sacredness of the Body/Feminine is the same story…the Power of the Feminine comes from her ability to radiate from her core her Truth and with that strength, the Life that she holds dear is protected and allowed to flourish free from the ravaging effects of a too-strong and over-powering solar influence. This allegory may not make sense to anyone else but for me, I gained a great lesson from reading your post and remembering this recent program…the two are very connected for me. Thank you!!

  21. Fe Bongolan Fe Bongolan says:

    Green Star Gazer:

    Thank you for such a beautiful reflection, and what I see as a prayer for better times, more truthful times. It gets to the heart of what is the wound that fallible humans created, when establishing the Church — the congregation has lost it’s meaning and its way. It evolved into The Edifice (The Vatican), and Catholicism as an ancient corporation residing in that office space. It truly could be looked at as much a primary model for our robber barons as any or our modern day predatory banks.

    As for the use of the quote, does it matter if he said it? This is a reflection of what we women have been handed and what the Church promotes. If the quote should not be associated with Cardinal Bergoglio, then just remember the sea of the sullen faces of Catholic priests testifying before a Congressional sub-committee on women’s reproduction in 2012.

    The American Taliban relies heavily on the corporate Catholic Church to enforce their beliefs on our republic. They need that corporate entity to spread the word and the way. They’ve got the money, the infrastructure and the adherence to their similarly outmoded thinking. The reluctance to change and revolutionize is leading to the Church’s own undoing. I say hurray.

  22. re: the rumor mill and the quote: http://www.snopes.com/politics/quotes/francis.asp

    That aside, Fe, this is a powerful and beautifully written essay, thank you! I vocalized a big “Amen!” when I got to the end! :-)

    I’ve been reflecting on something while so much talk is in the media these days about the church and the scandals…and I can’t help but wonder… we have a peculiar set of expectations in our cultures. Americans are shocked when they discover that their politicians are dishonest while a Brit would just wink, nod and say “Why would you expect otherwise…they are politicians, after all.”

    In the same way, members of the clergy are held up in our cultures as supposedly super-human, infallible and holy. Partly this happens because this is how the system has evolved. In the same way that you have been able to liberate yourself from the false framework and beliefs that corrupted the original intent of the teachings of Jesus, a similar catharsis needs to happen within the church that would allow the clergy especially to return to their “mere mortal” stature. I can imagine that being released from the impossible standards and restrictions imposed upon them from the organization along with the dissolution of the concentrated power that is given to them by the system (and those who give over to it) would allow the whole crusty and corrupted elements to fall away and the core elements of the teachings and practices would be allowed to return to their humble origins. If the humanity and humility were to be elevated and valued in religious organizations, then the predators, pedophiles and despots would have fewer places to hide and the organizations would be more able to cleanse themselves of the toxic influences that still lurk in our imperfect human selves because the organizations would have everything to gain in leading by example. Compassion would replace judgement. Love would replace fear. True spiritual awareness would replace political lust.

    Is the collective that is the Roman Catholic church ready for its own Chiron journey into healing? Maybe so…at least some baby steps can perhaps be made in that direction. If so, then the previous Pope, for all his failings is to be congratulated, for with his radical and rather Uranian choice of stepping aside now, he has opened the door to allow the possibility of a cleansing/healing process to begin. IF this new Pope is able to retain his Jesuit values and bring them into the system, then the twisted distortions that no longer serve the institution will be released and healing can begin. It is time for the abuse of power to end with this system and so many others.

  23. Patty says:

    The quote is showing up as an urban legend in several places.

  24. partemaudite says:

    Fe, dear,

    Nice big voice, thanks for speaking from the heart.

    May you keep finding the Whole in your parts, ever and now.


  25. Fe Bongolan Fe Bongolan says:

    I dedicate this column to my late darling Auntie Rosario, my mother’s sister, who had the world’s filthiest TRUE story to tell about a priest and her roommate.

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