Dear Pope Francis,
As a Cradle Catholic and feminist theologian, the most impactful moment in my faith was the day you were elected pope. I was touched by your humility and commitment to social justice. And although I have struggled with my feminist Catholic identity over the years, your leadership has drawn me back in. For the first time in my life, I saw in you a leader who truly represents the mission of Jesus, a leader who validates my belief in Catholic social teaching and the full humanity of every person.
Nonetheless, throughout your papacy I have waited patiently for your wisdom to impact my life as a Catholic woman. While you have acknowledged many issues that exist in our world leading to oppression, it seems that you do not recognize their interconnection with gender-based violence.
While you remain committed to Pope John Paul II’s theology of complementarity, calling it an “anthropological fact,” such a notion serves to keep women in the position of being the largest group in the world who are suffering in poverty. To say a woman’s role is different from a man’s perpetuates the idea that women’s lives only have value in the roles of wife and mother. As a woman who has had an incessant struggle with infertility, I wonder, do I have value in the Church? As a woman who has chosen a career path, do my contributions count less? And what if I decided on my own that I do not want to be a mother or a wife? Have I sinned in the eyes of God?
Likewise, a theology of complementarity does not honor single parents or the loving and just relationships and marriages that exist among the LGBTQ community.
I am grateful for your incredible commitment to ending poverty; however, some Vatican teachings are directly connected to economic inequality for women. Complementarity contributes to the ongoing struggle for women to earn equal pay, to receive paid maternity leave, and to have appropriate access to education and healthcare. To deny her the right to reproductive justice is to deny a woman the ability to make decisions about her physical, emotional, and financial health.
With the U.S. Presidential election nearing, political arguments to defund Planned Parenthood and refuse parental leave are directly connected to the notion of complementarity. Likewise, the fact that women continue to earn less than their male counterparts with salaries decreasing following each child birthed is a result of misogynistic conceptions of gender roles that stem from Vatican teachings.
When you commented on gender and called for a new theology of women stating, “it is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church,” I was filled with hope. However, little has occurred to date and the Vatican’s romanticization of the role of motherhood continues. While you have called for women to have greater decision-making powers in the Church, you have also made it clear that the door to priesthood is closed for women. What does this mean for women who are called to the priesthood? I admit, I am not called to the traditionalrole of priest, but I would like to believe that through my daily efforts I am representing the mission of Jesus.
When my six-year-old adopted daughter asks why she cannot be a priest, I refuse to tell her it is because of her gender. In fact, I encourage her to know that she does indeed embody the Spirit of Christ. I want her to know that she is fully human, that she is no different in ability and potential from the boys she goes to school with, and that her gender does not limit her. It would be so powerful for her to see a woman leading mass and I fear it may never happen.
Pope Francis, as a Catholic woman and theologian, I need to know that I am more than a “strawberry on the cake.” Although well intentioned, such a statement continues the notion that women are an afterthought whose purpose is to add a feminine touch rather than contribute to the dialogue as equal partners and full participants in the Catholic tradition.
As a Catholic feminist, I believe in the full humanity of every person — women and men alike. I believe that we must end sexism and all oppressions; one must uproot all in order to uproot any. And so, while I am grateful for a pope who is deeply committed to social justice and demonstrates a true love for humanity; I dream of a pope who recognizes that the injustices committed against women based on gender and fueled by the teachings of the Vatican must be addressed in a crusade for a socially just society.
You have called for a year of mercy, a time where all should be absolved of their sins if they confess. With the utmost respect, I wonder, will this be a time when the Vatican confesses its sins against women?
As you travel to the U.S., you have asked for our prayers for a safe trip. I am praying for your safety; I am also praying for mine, my daughter’s, and the safety of all women. I am praying that you choose to examine the complexities that exist in relation to the issues you are addressing and recognize that the Vatican’s ongoing oppression of women perpetuates the very injustices you seek to disrupt.
I am grateful for your leadership and your efforts to live out the mission of Christ. I realize that change does not happen overnight, and yet, as pope you have transformed the lives of so many, including mine. I am optimistic and look forward to a conversation about women in the Catholic Church evolving.
With love, gratitude, and hope,
This letter originally appeared in the Huffington Post.