In October 2015, Catholic Women Speak published a collection of personal narratives and theological reflections, Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table to coincide with the Synod of Bishops on the Family.
The book was published by Paulist Press in the United States and by Alban Books in the UK. 300 copies of the book were distributed free of charge in the Synod hall to those attending. You can read articles and reviews about the book here:
Tina Beattie, “A Place at the Table” in Commonweal, March 29, 2016:
As we had hoped, the book received widespread media coverage and many positive reviews. The enthusiasm continues unabated. We have had launches in New York, Johannesburg, and London as well as Rome, a number of groups are using the book as a study resource, and we are planning a follow-up publication. The book is already on its fifth reprint.
Nevertheless, none of this was enough to solicit a response from the hierarchy. We sent out invitations to a number of cardinals and archbishops to attend the launch, but only received three acknowledgements and no acceptances. We asked if Pope Francis would send us a message of welcome, but again we received no response. It is hard not to conclude that the men who rule the church are willing to listen only to women whom they themselves select, and who are guaranteed to tell them only what they want to hear.
Luke Hansen SJ, “Bringing Doctrine to Life” in America, November 2016:
A broad range of personal testimonies on controversial topics was largely missing from the synod, and this is where Catholic Women Speak makes its most important contribution. The bishops at the synod talked about people who are divorced and remarried or gay, but too often the bishops did not talk with the people themselves and listen to them. These essays bring the bishops one step closer to the pastoral encounter that Pope Francis repeatedly emphasizes. Yet the relevance of the book extends beyond bishops. It is an aid for any person who wants to explore the experiences, joys and struggles of women in the church.
“Femmeliterate” review of Catholic Women Speak:
Far more than a scolding of Church leaders, the book provides eloquent evidence that the androcentric nature and history of Church leadership and tradition, in perpetuating an ongoing “refusal and exclusion” of women (13), fails to fully meet the needs of the over one billion members of a living Church, whose real role is not designed as an institution of law-giving but a mirror to reflect the love of Christ to his creation. The chorus of over forty female voices of the contributors, sharing among them an impressive level of education, a number of degrees, and significant service in both the public and domestic realms, while they individually reflect the diversity of Catholic women’s lives, communally call for a “spirituality of inclusion” (xiv), present the humble demand “for a more equal and meaningful presence in the Church,” (9) and imagine “a more just order” (30) that allows a “a full flourishing of humanity” (38) for all of God’s human creatures, not just the prototypical male ones.
Dianne Strevens, review of Catholic Women Speak in Tui Motu InterIsland Magazine:
Catholic Women Speak: Bringing our Gifts to the Table is, I believe, a significant contribution to the discussion around the role of women in the Catholic Church in the 21st century. It is not only well-researched, but is a lively and thought-provoking read. I thoroughly recommend it.
Stan Goff (‘Chasin’ Jesus blog’), ‘The Walls Begin to Crumble: A book review of Catholic Women Speak‘. (Stan Goff’s book, Borderline: Reflections on War, Sex, and Church is excellent).
Assembled almost on the run, with a generous fast-track assist from Paulist Press to be published in time for the 2015 Synod on the Family,Catholic Women Speak provides forty short, pithy, thoughtful reflections on precisely those concerns that are being ostensibly addressed by the Synod: sex, marriage, family. That skeptical qualifier “ostensibly” refers to the fact that voting members of the Synod are 279 males, with only 30 women as non-voting “auditors.” And so this book stands (Hier steh ich?) outside the door of the Synod as a testament to those who are not at the table. … Rather than wait another thousand or so years for powerful church men to willingly abandon their shifting rationalizations for male dominance, and eschew that power themselves in the likeness of Christ, these women are entering the spaces created (thankfully) by the fall of Christendom – a system of power that was always self-consciously male-dominant – and engaging those intellectual traditions. Sometimes, with support. More often, against resistance. But that horse will never go back into the barn.
This is the hope that this book gives me, not merely in its publication, but in its intentional timing. It is holding a mirror up the male power structure within the church precisely when, in every other field, the new Pope is calling the Church to repentance for its unseemly and oftentimes corrupt alliances with power. The retrenched position of patriarchal apologists has been to criticize the flaws of liberalism (a critique I enthusiastically share), and then to put an equal sign between liberalism and feminism. This is a cynical and sly fallacy. Many of the contributors to this book are fluent in Thomism and other Catholic philosophical traditions, and they show clearly that this language can be wielded against male domination, as soon as we abandon the discredited Aristotelian excuses for male power that are stilled tucked away within the larger concept of “natural law.” As many feminists have shown, as and many contributors to this book show again, one can demonstrate the errors in patriarchal intellectual traditions without resort to liberal categories. Moreover, there are abundant feminist critiques of liberalism – inside and outside the Church – that show liberalism itself to be yet another masculinist (and warlike) epoch.
Matt Geiger, ‘Speaking Out: Local woman fights to give women a greater voice in the Catholic Church ’—interview with contributor and CWSN member Rhonda Miska:
If you are going to talk about motherhood, marriage, family and all they mean in various contexts, the best way might not be a room full of men,” says Rhonda Miska, a Middleton native, author, theologian and translator.
That sentiment is at the heart of “Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table,” a new book published by Paulist Press and launched earlier this month at the Pontifical University Antonianum in Rome.
Daily Theology: Lorraine Cuddeback, ‘Review: Catholic Women Speak’:
One of the strengths of the volume is the plurality of voices, which do not speak with a single, unified opinion on controversy. Recurring themes do abound, such as the particular problems of poverty and motherhood, or the need for mercy in the aftermath of divorce, but there are some tensions between voices in the book. This is all the better, really, to reflect the complexity of women’s lives. Eve Tushnet contributes an essay on her identity as a Catholic and celibate gay woman; following that is an essay by Katie Grimes that critiques the stance of Tushnet from a virtue ethics perspective. Such conflicts and dissonances are not problems, but signs of a live conversation, of ongoing processes of discernment about what our experiences mean and how the Spirit may be working in the world.
Throughout the reflections runs a thread of disconnection, disjuncture between women’s lives and official church teachings. … So it is interesting to see that many of the contributions describe moments when members of the church act with some flexibility concerning the letter of the law. … Such small moments of grace, and the requisite tensions they produce, should be taken seriously by those who serve in any kind of teaching or leadership role within the church. I can easily see this book being valuable for pastors and pastoral associates, for parish book clubs, for academics to use in their classrooms when dealing with perennially hot-button topics. The Catholic Women Speak Network plans to distribute the book to all the attendees at the next meeting of the synod this October — I sincerely hope those who will speak and eventually vote will make the time to read it as they discern a future trajectory for the Roman Catholic church.
Dating God: Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Daniel P. Horan, OFM: ‘Catholic Women Speak: A New Book for the Synod’:
[T]he personal narratives and theological considerations contained within the Catholic Women Speak volume are wonderfully thought provoking, powerful, insightful, and at times very painful.
Vox Nova, Jeannine Marie Pitas, Book Review: ‘Catholic Women Break Their Silence’:
For me, this book is a breath of fresh air. A thick wall of silence has been broken; masks have been removed. It is refreshing to see these forty-four women speak in such a courageous, vulnerable and self-revealing way. … [T]his book is a must-read for all who seek a better understanding of the real, lived experience of women in the Catholic Church today. While these essays certainly contain much critique and questioning of the institution, the predominant sentiment expressed is one of great love for Christ and his Church. This love is what resonates most clearly with me as a Catholic woman who relates to many of the challenges described in these essays. Like them, I embrace this flawed Church which I believe is still the best witness to God’s presence in our broken world.
3 October: Extracts published in The Tablet: ‘Breaking Rules, Finding Grace’.
5 October: South China Morning Post: ‘Silent majority: Catholic women struggling to get women’s voices heard at Vatican’s synod’
5 October: El Universo: ‘Las católicas exigen ser escuchadas en sínodo de obispos’
4 October: Actualidad: ‘Las mujeres católicas quieren ser eschuchadas’
4 October: The Asian Age: ‘Catholic women bid for rights as synod opens’
It will be a landmark review of Church teachings and women want their say: as bishops gather in Rome to review attitudes to modern family life, the “Catholic Women Speak” network is primed for a fierce but uphill struggle.
The Vatican needs to “stop speaking about women in order to concentrate on speaking with women,” says the network, the frustrated cry of women being snubbed by a centuries-old institution run exclusively by robed men.
3 October: Dubuque Telegraph Herald, THOnline: Anthony Frenzel, ‘Catholic Women Speak’
3 October: Svenska Dabladet – Ulla Gudmundson, ‘Slut på tålamodet med katolsk sexism’, 3 October 2015
Swedish Jesuit journal Signum home page: Ullla Gudmundson om katolska kvinnor
2 October: Independent Catholic News, ‘Book: Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table’.
30 September: L’Osservatore Romano, ‘All’Antonianum parlano le donne cattholiche’.
Massimo Faggioli, Commonweal, ‘What to Expect from Synod 2015’:
And the forum known as Catholic Women Speak Network has produced a rich book (with articles by Tina Beattie, Elizabeth Johnson, Lisa Cahill, and Margaret Farley, among others) that will be presented publicly in Rome a few days before the synod.
23 September: Avvenire, one of Italy’s most widely-read Catholic daily newspapers, recently published an article on the book.
17 September: Josh McElwee, National Catholic Reporter: ‘Catholic women sharply call for synod to open to women’s participation, voices’.
Deborah Rose-Milavec, on the blog FutureChurch, writes that the book is “an extraordinary effort to make women’s experience and reflections on a variety of topics related to the 2015 Family Synod available to synod delegates, auditors, experts and to Catholics everywhere”. She continues: “With almost miraculous speed, [Professor Tina Beattie] and a small group of dedicated editors wove together this first-of-its-kind resource. Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table is an anthology of essays by women who represent a broad international perspective and come from a variety of personal backgrounds, who believe that the Church cannot come to a wise and informed understanding of family life without listening to women (Paulist Press blurb)”.
Deborah’s review offers a brief overview of some of the contributions to the book, and closes with some of her own reflections: “A synod on the family that does not engage women in meaningful ways leaves the Church limping, ‘breathing with just one lung.’ But more than that, it leaves women and children at risk by what is passed over or assumed because of the blind spots created by race, sex, geography, class, age, privilege, etc. […] May this new book of essays help fill the gap. Where male experience and wisdom has its limits, may it help the Church to provide meaningful and, yes, life saving guidance to all the baptized”. Read the full review by Deborah here.
Dan Russo writes about some of the reflections of one of the book’s contributors, Rhonda Miska. Noting the hopes that this book will add to the dialogue at the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October, Dan relays Rhonda’s prayers that “our book — a collective labor by many, many people — will enrich the conversations in the synod as well as among Catholics everywhere […] Archbishop Jackels, speaking at the August Wisdom and Wine shared that the word ‘synod’ has its Greek roots, (meaning) ‘to be on the road together.’ We pray that the words shared in the book inform the conversations of those who gather at the synod as they are ‘on the road together.’” Read Dan’s full article here.
CathNews New Zealand offers a short review of the book, detailing some of the issues being addressed and some of the authors’ intentions for the book. Read it here.
Television, Radio and Online Broadcasts:
5 October: BBC World Service, ‘Newsday’: live interview with Tina Beattie about the Catholic Women Speak Network (about 45.54 minutes into the programme).
4 October: BBC Radio 4, ‘Sunday’: A brief soundbite from Tina Beattie about the Synod (about 33.38 minutes into the programme, followed a bit later by Cardinal Vincent Nichols thanking us for giving him two copies of the book, and correcting Tina’s view of the Synod as nearly 300 celibate men).
3 October: Vatican Radio: Interview with Tina Beattie, ‘Catholic Women Speak: stories of everyday family life’
27 September: Sunday Sequence, BBC Radio Ulster: Interview with Tina Beattie about Catholic Women Speak (starts at about 01.09 hours into the programme)
17 September: Young Adult Catholics: Recorded interview with Rhonda Miska: ‘Spirited Conversations: Listen Up, Pope Francis: Catholic Women Speak’