August 16, 2014

Dear Pope Francis: the Issue is Not Women. ~ Robert Rabbin


Somehow, somewhere I became hypersensitive to the ways in which girls and women throughout the world are disrespected, degraded, abused, violated, imprisoned, sold, raped, tortured, and killed.

I have traveled through or lived in more than 20 countries.

I have seen this everywhere, from put-downs at dinner parties to teenage sex workers to eight-year-old laborers.

When I lived in Australia from 2005 – 2011, I taught authentic public speaking. The majority of my students were women, most of whom had experienced some form and degree of emotional, psychological, or physical abuse. I would sometimes offer them, in the safety of our workshop, a chance to speak with strength and power to their past oppressor. I had to stop offering that exercise because it became too explosive, sometimes violent.

In Melbourne, a girlfriend of mine told me she had been sexually abused every day from the time she was three until she was strong enough to stop it—at 16 years of age. We were sharing a bath when she told me. I couldn’t hear all of it at first. I couldn’t get my mind around it. I cried. She was a beauty who had not only survived, but thrived. Her heart and her forgiving soul were beyond me.

So, when I recently read a story in The Guardian about Pope Francis responding to an interviewer’s questions about the status of women in the church—well, I thought enough is enough. I don’t give a damn if he’s the Pope or a pauper: women did not come from a man’s rib! So, I decided to write a letter to Pope Francis.

Pope Francis,

You need to refurbish your God and revise Church history and policy regarding women.

I’m moved to suggest these strong actions because of your recent comments to Franca Giansoldati, the Vatican correspondent of the Rome daily Il Messaggero. I’m sure you remember. You spoke about “the issue of women” and about the status of women in the Church.

Before I go on, I want to pay my respects to you and commend you for the many exemplary actions you’ve already taken in your brief papacy. As the leader of more than one billion Catholics and as a global touchstone of peace, love, and charity, you wield enormous power and influence. You are using this power, so far, in near game-changing ways. Perhaps, unknown to us, you hear in an inner chamber of your consciousness the words of another cultural touchstone of change, Bob Dylan, who sang “the times, they are a-changin’.”

I applaud your courageous stand against the mafiosi who practice “the adoration of evil.”

I am moved by your humility in comforting people personally, even washing the feet of a woman and a Muslim with your own hands. I am happy you are cleaning up money-laundering shenanigans by Vatican bank officials.

I am heartened by your willingness to admit the widespread and long-standing pedophilia within the priestly ranks of the Church. You sent a clear message when you defrocked Józef Wesołowski, your former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, for purchasing sex with minors. You chasten the greedy and those who profit from inequality.

Your own modest lifestyle is a welcome counterpoint to Cardinal Bertone’s luxurious retirement apartment.

This is all good, and long overdue. Keep your foot on the pedal, and the pedal to the metal. You’ll soon be canonized as a spiritual rock star!

Okay, back to your comments. When Franca Giansoldati asked you whether you could detect an underlying misogyny in the Catholic church, you replied: “The fact is that woman was taken from a rib.” Giansoldati wrote that you then laughed “heartily” before saying: “I’m joking. That was a joke. The issue of women needs to be gone into in more depth … “

Now, please keep an open mind. The issue of women is not the issue, nor is it an issue. The issue is that you and the Church have an issue.

The issue is that you and the Church do not see what is self-evident, which is that “woman” was not created from a man’s rib, nor does “woman” occupy anything less than absolute equal status and standing to “man”—in every and all ways save for the naturally occurring biological differences.

Equality is the natural order, and this natural order must be reflected in all societies throughout the world, and in all social, political, and spiritual institutions. That throughout much of human history, male-dominated social structures have oppressed women only testifies to how perverted this history is.

I need not remind you of the Church’s bloody history regarding centuries of witch-hunts. In fairness, I will put next to this a tragedy of my own country, the USA: the granting of women the right to vote in public elections only as recently as August 18, 1920.

Can you imagine? Granted women the right to vote?! What pathetic sickness would make a man think they did not have that right from the time they were a handful of cells in their mother’s womb?

I am not a Catholic. I don’t know the genesis of this “issue of women” in the Church. If it is from your God, then you need to refurbish that God. If it is from scripture, then you need to revise those.

If it is from policies born of political intrigue and power-mongering amongst men, then these policies must be changed. Equality between women and men is self-evident and obvious and within the natural order and this equality must trump all else.

I have to stress this: from before time and at the very beginning, women and men were created as equal in the eyes of Nature. Throughout most of recent history men have subjugated, dominated, controlled, abused, bought and sold, tortured and killed women.

But it must stop. Right now. Today. Throughout the world.

In all ways, women must be elevated and celebrated, adored, worshipped, loved, honored, and respected. We must no longer block or impede them from assuming their rightful place in any domain of society as the very equal of men.

You, sir, can make a loud noise in this regard, and this is what I ask you to do. One thing that our evolving global culture cannot tolerate in any way whatsoever, and I do speak here in absolutes, is the oppression, denigration, abuse or humiliation of women.

While I hold this notion to be self-evident and within the natural order of life, you may dismiss my view. As I said, I am not a Catholic. I am not even religious. So, let me ask you to consider the sentiments of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, a deeply committed Christian.

Carter still teaches Sunday school in Plains, Georgia, although his church withdrew from the Southern Baptist convention in 2000 over doctrine that women should be submissive and that women could no longer serve as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the armed forces. In the more than 30 years since Jimmy Carter was president, he has traveled to 145 countries.

During his journeys, he has become increasingly frustrated with the way women and girls are treated. He has been disturbed at sexual slavery through prostitution, the custom of genital cuttings, child marriages and dowries, spouse abuse, the so-called “honor killings” of women, rapes, and what he calls the “genocide” of female infants around the world through abortion or murder because parents prefer a male child.

In March 2014, he published a book about all this, entitled “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.” You should read it.

President Carter was encouraged to write this book by a wide coalition of leaders of all faiths. He reports on a system of discrimination that extends to every nation. Women are deprived of equal opportunity in wealthier nations and “owned” by men in others, forced to suffer servitude, child marriage, and genital cutting. The most vulnerable, along with their children, are trapped in war and violence.

With all due respect, you need to immediately stop referring to “the issue of women”, and immediately do everything in your power to restore women to their rightful place as equals to men in every and all ways, by order of Nature and good sense.

I know this is a lot to ask, but our violent times ask a lot of all of us. You can swiftly set a new standard for world culture. You can correct centuries of atrocities. You can help educate men and elevate women throughout the world. You can do all this. I will help you. Millions of others will help you. Just take the first step.

Open the most secret and sacred rooms of the Church to women. Let the next pope be a woman.

Think big.

Make your God truly proud.

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 Apprentice Editor: Guenevere Neufeld / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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