“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.”