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CATHOLIC WOMEN SPEAK – STATEMENT ON EXTREMISM AND SOCIAL MEDIA

CATHOLIC WOMEN SPEAK – STATEMENT ON EXTREMISM AND SOCIAL MEDIA

The following statement was issued by the Catholic Women Speak Network on 26th September 2017:

Rebecca Bratten Weiss is a member of Catholic Women Speak (CWS) – an international network of nearly 900 Catholic women committed to defending women’s right to speak and be heard inside as well as outside the Church. That is the only single cause we campaign on, for our members represent the diversity that exists among Catholics on other issues.

In early August this year, Rebecca was told that her contract with the Franciscan University of Steubenville would not be renewed, even though she was scheduled to teach three courses in the autumn semester, and to direct two theses. She was shown screenshots of conversations she had participated in on social media, including some taken from the closed CWS Facebook group, as evidence for why she was no longer employable by a Catholic institution. In September the website Lifesite News (not linked here for reasons of taste and discretion) posted an attack on Rebecca, using similar screenshots to those her employers had used.

Rebecca is one of a vanishing breed in the Catholic Church – a passionately committed young woman academic who is both a faithful Catholic and a feminist. None of the evidence used against her was heterodox or doctrinally challenging in any way. She is also married with children, and the loss of her job has had a devastating impact on her family.

Rebecca’s is one of several similar stories currently in the news. Losing one’s job is a more serious issue than having a lecture cancelled, but we are also dismayed to note that this week Professor M. Shawn Copeland has agreed with Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan, that she will voluntarily cancel a lecture she was due to give after an attack by a group called Church Militant.

There is nothing new about the Catholic far-right using social media, blogs and websites to promote their views, often using multiple pseudonyms, and some of our members have in the past been targeted. However, the increasing ferocity and intensity of these attacks is alarming. Many of the perpetrators have three things in common – opposition to Pope Francis, support for Donald Trump and, in the small but significant faction in the UK, support for Brexit.

We are dismayed to note how many Catholic organisations and institutions are being swayed by the threat of attack from these groups. This includes the withdrawal or rescheduling of several speaking invitations for Fr James Martin SJ following attacks relating to his book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity. Organisations affected include Cafod, the official development agency of the Bishops of England and Wales, which decided to reschedule a lecture by Fr Martin because, to quote from a statement, ‘we saw the strength of feeling it generated in some quarters. … We have recent experience of social media attacks. Responding to these takes a significant amount of staff resource’. (See the Tablet editorial, 20 September 2017).

Another member of CWS, Professor Tina Beattie, was the target of the attacks referred to in that statement, again instigated by a screenshot from CWS’s private Facebook group. Tina is a member of Cafod’s theological reference group (an advisory group of theologians who volunteer their time but who do not represent Cafod or seek to influence policy). She faced sustained questioning from trustees and senior management because in April 2016 she signed a letter (along with 98 other Catholics, including well-known bona fide theologians), urging the Polish bishops not to support their government’s proposal to criminalise abortion. In May 2016, Tina gave a full account of her position on her blog. Eventually in July 2017, Cafod’s trustees arrived at a decision not to ask for her resignation.

We applaud Cafod for this decision, but we are dismayed that they are still allowing themselves to be manipulated by social media attacks. We believe that, in this time of disunity and extremism, it is vital for all Catholic organisations and concerned individuals, including bishops and priests, to defend the fundamental principles enshrined in Vatican II. We also fully support Pope Francis in his endeavours to nurture an ecclesial ethos of mercy and compassion in which clericalism is condemned, pastoral sensitivity to life’s incarnate and messy realities takes precedence over doctrinal absolutism,  and all Catholics share the vocation to follow Christ in joyful humility and solidarity with those who are marginalised, poor and oppressed. We add to this the increasingly urgent need to include women as full and equal participants in church institutions and structures, which would be one effective way to combat the growing extremism and rhetoric of violence which is infecting the Catholic Church along with so many other religious and political institutions.

Among the billions of Catholics in the worldwide Church, 900 women’s voices may not be a movement for global change, but the Church we love first came to life among a small number of terrified people huddled in an upper room. Let’s act now before we all find ourselves in a small and windowless room, bullied into silence.

 

Martin Niemölller (1892-1984):

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

A paraphrasing (2017):

First they came for the immigrants, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an immigrant.

Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Muslim.

Then they came for black people, feminists and gays, and I did not speak out—
Because I was a straight white man.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

For enquiries, please contact hello@catholicwomenspeak.com

2017-09-26T20:57:38+00:00

9 Comments

  1. Patty Griffin September 26, 2017 at 10:23 am - Reply

    Well said. Everyone with a conscience should read it and take heed.

  2. Kate Prendergast September 26, 2017 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    There is something quite distressing in people who call themselves Catholic objecting to a Pope who gives love and mercy to the people they think have no right to inclusion in the Sacramental life of the Church. Equally distressing is their refusal to exercise dutiful stewardship toward the earth and diverse forms of life.

  3. JH September 26, 2017 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    Shame on you for your insulting paraphrase of the poem above. Oh yes, that dastardly villain, the straight white man…
    I am one woman who is grateful not to be included in your statement. You certainly do not speak for me.

  4. Carla Barrett September 26, 2017 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    How is all of that like Jesus;bcan’t believe anyone would want to teach at Stubenville; these Franciscans are nothing like the ones in Detroit at St Bonaveture or like any others I know of

  5. Anne Holland September 26, 2017 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    We women online have been used to and hardened by these attacks for years now. So we are surprised at the reaction from our male peers when at last the attacks bubble up to a point where they notice them personally. I don’t want to say men are inherently way more fragile, I do want to say they clearly haven’t looked beyond their noses or they would have become innured to this conservative nonsense as we have long since learned to become. Having to deal with their newbie reactions is frankly as painful and offputting as dealing with the source of it all is. Because the men who should be our allies, at our backs, are reeling about with virginal reactive shock..and betraying us in the process.

  6. Ruth Napp September 26, 2017 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    Make it 901!

  7. Antonia Lacey September 27, 2017 at 7:17 am - Reply

    Well said – we have to stand up for ourselves and all those who are marginalised and have no voice. Things must change in our beloved Church following the lead of this great Pope Francis

  8. Rosalia rutherford September 28, 2017 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    Very interesting agree with most of this and women were always seen as second class in the Catholic Church but without women there would be no church

  9. Phyllis Kaminski October 5, 2017 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this statement.

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