Pope Francis asks us to enact a “revolution of mercy” and to get rid of “useless” and “decadent” structures. Like the good Jesuit he is, he speaks suggestively, leaving listeners to work out the meaning.
Let me suggest a new tack Francis might take that would be a two-fer, showing mercy and getting rid of a truly decadent structure all at once. He could stop speaking about women so equivocally. I mean (picking up on British theologian Tina Beattie, among others) that he could wean himself, so to speak, off of talking about capital W “Woman” in terms of essentialized motherhood while talking about actual lower-case real women as unqualified for the priesthood in a crudely literal way. It is past time for those who speak of the equality and “dignity” of womanhood to get real and get consistent.
As Tina Beattie put it at the women’s ordination conference this past weekend, John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter explained the exclusively masculine priesthood by using language about gender “analogically in some places and literally in others, with no attempt to explain why this is so. In other words, it begins to look rather like gender ideology” (quoted in National Catholic Reporter, September 19, 2015).
Pope Francis has shown little mercy–most recently in Cuba the other day–for those who use ideology as a way of masking their power grabs. It would be intellectually lazy of this fine Jesuit man to speak about women analogically here and literally there, just as he pleases. And it would be selling short his capacity for change to give him a free pass on women’s issues, even while he is a guest in the United States. Francis is likely to speak to Americans about our huge blind spots of consumerism and gross inequality. We should listen carefully and learn and, yes, repent. We should also see Pope Francis as he is, a man with a great bully pulpit who ought to listen to and learn from marginalized people. That would include women who have been excluded for a very long time by sloppy, equivocal thinking that does nothing more than defend privilege.