Sharing Our Concerns About “A Letter to Pope Francis from Catholic Women”

Sharing Our Concerns About “A Letter to Pope Francis from Catholic Women”


Catholic Women Speak supports a broad and inclusive church that can accommodate a wide spectrum of Catholic beliefs and practices. Our members represent the diversity of the Catholic tradition in its many forms of expression, and we understand that women around the world interpret and apply church teaching differently in different cultures, social contexts and personal situations. 

We fully support campaigns to demand the release of documents and urgent action relating to ALL charges of priestly sexual abuse and hierarchical cover-ups. This includes the outrageous case of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar in India, who remains in office despite reports to police and senior church authorities by a nun that the bishop raped and repeatedly sexually assaulted her. We urge Pope Francis to introduce a more robust, transparent and determined campaign to tackle the sex abuse crisis and to bring to justice all those who abused or colluded in abuse, and indeed who continue to do so.

However, while individual CWS members might choose to sign the “Letter to Pope Francis from Catholic Women” currently circulating on websites and social media, we dissociate CWS as a group from that letter. The website hosting the letter offers no background information with regard to its origins or authors, and there is a disclaimer at the beginning which reads: “This letter reflects the personal initiative of the individual Catholic women signing this letter, and is not sponsored by any group or organization.”

Our research reveals that the letter originates from and is being promoted by a conservative alliance of American Catholics. We believe that those who sign it have a right to know this. It was initiated by the US-based Catholic Women’s Forum and the URL reveals that it is posted on their website. The Catholic Women’s Forum comes under the auspices of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, which describes its mission as “Defending American Ideals”. The letter is being promoted by EWTN. In an EWTN interview in the link here you can hear Dr Janet Smith (one of the sources behind the letter) attributing the abuse crisis to “the presence of active homosexuals in the priesthood”, and well-known Catholic journalist Alexandra DeSanctis defending Archbishop Viganò as “a very credible person”. You can read Dr Smith associating the abuse crisis with homosexual networks in this article on Lifesite News.

The letter demands a response from Pope Francis to claims made by Archbishop Viganò that in 2013 he warned Pope Francis about sexual abuse charges against the then Cardinal McCarrick and about the restrictions previously imposed upon the Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI. There is now abundant evidence that, if any such restrictions were imposed, Pope Benedict himself did not uphold them, and Archbishop Viganò was seen publicly embracing and praising Cardinal McCarrick in 2012.

We support Pope Francis in his struggle to bring about a more pastorally sensitive and inclusive ethos in the Church by nurturing qualities of compassion, tenderness and mercy, and by resisting the doctrinal absolutism that led to what he himself has described as an “obsession” with issues of sexuality and reproduction. In his passionate commitment to social justice, in his attentiveness to the voices of the poorest and most marginalised peoples, and in his care for the environment, we believe that he is the best available leader for the Church in these troubled times. We pray for his deepening and widening ability to listen to and learn from the voices of ordinary people, especially victims and survivors of abuse, and of course, women.

We are publishing this information here—with links to websites that we would not normally link to—so that if people choose to sign this letter they know what they are signing. People have a right to know the originating context of the letter, and we question why one has to search so diligently to discover this information which we suspect would be of considerable concern to many who have signed.

Please feel free to share this widely.



  1. Antonia Lacey September 10, 2018 at 9:29 am - Reply

    Thank you for once again articulating what I instinctively felt that this was a deliberately obfuscated attack on Pope Francis aimed at removing him. He’s not perfect (who is) but he’s the best pope we’ve had since John 23rd. We need to support Pope Francis and to make sure that the correct information and context are made available as widely as possible. I hate all this secrecy.

  2. Virginia Saldanha September 10, 2018 at 11:01 am - Reply

    Thank you for drafting this much needed clarification and support of Pope Francis.

    Virginia Saldanha

  3. Anne Leonard September 10, 2018 at 11:13 am - Reply

    I am deeply grateful that you took on this responsibility of exposing a potential threat to Pope Francis’ position as Head of the Church.
    One part of this kind of occurrence is that it takes the focus off the work of the Church at this time: to do all it can to support the victims of abuse while acting to assure that abusers are properly charged and sentenced.
    I appreciate the strength with which you write in my name!

  4. Patty Griffin September 10, 2018 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    I support you and commend you for bringing awareness to the source of this letter. We live in a world where we must apply critical thinking to every public action and cannot blindly follow what may not be in accordance with our deeply held beliefs and faith. I agree Pope Francis is our best hope to lead us out of the mire we are in. Thank you.

  5. S. Ann Pratt, OP September 10, 2018 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    I appreciate you laying out the origins of the other letter and clarifying their perspective. You clearly have stated our concerns as members of Catholic Women Speak regarding the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. I also appreciated the way that you balanced these concerns with the positive actions that Pope Francis has taken in a variety of areas while clearly stating the need for radical openness and transparency as he leads the Church in these troubled times.

  6. S. Ann Pratt, OP September 10, 2018 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Thank you for clearly identifying the source of the Catholic Women letter and for acknowledging the ways the Pope Francis has positively lead the Church while calling him to radical transparency in addressing the current sexual abuse scandal in the Church.

  7. Anonymous Lilu September 11, 2018 at 4:37 am - Reply

    Thank you for this valuable information. In the initial anger of the revelations of the scandal I did indeed put my name on the letter. I had reservations about some of the wording, and yesterday I met with my spiritual director. She is a diocesan hermit, and she recommended to me that I take my involvement with this letter to confession. She used similar reasoning as you have here. Thank you for writing this, and for remaining supportive of our Holy Father.

  8. Ruby Almeida September 11, 2018 at 4:10 pm - Reply

    I saw it and did not sign as I to felt that it was accusatory, non conciliatory, demanding and without any modicum of fact. In fact it was OTT i.e. over the top. Good to know that gut instincts do hold one in good stead. Many thanks for sharing your findings

  9. HR September 11, 2018 at 10:15 pm - Reply

    Thank you for being a voice I can trust and be proud of.

  10. Ann Smith September 12, 2018 at 8:25 am - Reply

    Thank you for this very helpful information. I totally support your proposal to publicise it more widely. It is important that people know what they are signing, its provenance and purpose.

  11. Celia Wexler September 12, 2018 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    This is a brilliant letter that reflects exactly the right tone. Every Catholic women should see this letter.
    I so appreciate your writing this! I will circulate.

  12. Julett M Broadnax September 17, 2018 at 1:14 am - Reply

    I believe Mary Rice Hasson has acknowledged she penned the letter on behalf of Catholic Women’s Forum but am trying to obtain verification of this from her.

  13. Mary Hasson September 17, 2018 at 4:09 am - Reply

    I just read the commentary at Catholic Women Speak on the Letter, including Julett’s comment below:

    “I believe Mary Rice Hasson has acknowledged she penned the letter on behalf of Catholic Women’s Forum but am trying to obtain verification of this from her.”

    To answer your comment: I did not write the letter “on behalf of the Catholic Woman’s Forum.” It expresses my views and the views of the individuals who sign it, not the organizations with which any of us are affiliated. CWF is hosting the letter, but it is promoted under the domain “” (I posted the letter, with the disclaimer, to the CWF website only after it reached 35,000 signatures and I was getting inundated by emails from people asking how to find the letter.)

    The origins of the letter have been covered in news stories from the time of its release. I drafted it, circulated it to a small group of friends for their substantive changes, and then circulated it to about 35 more women for lead signatures, then released it and invited any woman who felt that it expressed her thoughts to sign.

    The women who have signed the letter reflect a diverse group of women. While we do not all agree on all aspects of our faith, we are united in the view that truth and transparency are needed to restore trust, to figure out what went wrong, and to bring healing. Pope Francis has a pastor’s heart and we appeal to him in hopes that he will exercise the leadership needed at this moment. The Vatican knew for 18 years that McCarrick was engaged in sexual misconduct with seminarians–a clear abuse of power–before the laity heard anything about it. These problems are long-standing, but Pope Francis, as leader of the Church, needs to lead by example and provide the answers that laity are seeking–we have a right to know the truth.

    It’s a shame that Catholic Women Speak has portrayed the letter as the work of a “conservative alliance,” when it is not. The point of the letter is to convey a message to the Pope about the Church which we all love. While individual women may choose to express to the media their personal motivations for signing, those are their own opinions. It is not a “conservative” position to say that Pope Francis needs to answer the allegations made by Archbishop Vigano– the editors at America and Commonweal both made the same point recently.

    We cannot hope to address the problems if we do not even know the full scope of the problems. We need real answers. That’s our simple message– a message that more than 45,000 women have rallied around.

    If the editors at Catholic Women Speak have further questions, they are welcome to reach out to me personally.

    • Tina Beattie September 17, 2018 at 2:47 pm - Reply

      Thank you for taking the time to write this careful response. We are well aware that a diverse range of women signed the letter, including a number of our own members. However, we represent a global network of Catholic women, and some of our members were uneasy about the wording of this letter and its exclusive focus on Pope Francis. In these times of heightened tensions and widening divisions in the Church, we believe that we have a responsibility to help our members to make informed decisions about the causes they support and why. That is why we researched into the origins and accuracy of the letter and posted a caution on our website. Our initials, CWS, are not dissimilar to the initials of the Catholic Women’s Forum (CWF) founded by you, and we wanted to make clear that this letter is not one of our initiatives nor is it supported by us as a group, though of course our individual members may want to sign the letter and are absolutely free to do so.

      Archbishop Viganò is a well known critic of Pope Francis, and many of us have serious concerns about the extent to which his letter calling for Pope Francis to resign is part of a concerted attempt to undermine the present papacy by powerful factions within the American Church. There is now ample evidence that, as we say in our post, if Pope Benedict XVI did impose restrictions on the then Cardinal McCarrick, he himself did not uphold these. We posted a video that shows Archbishop Viganò praising Cardinal McCarrick, at a time when he presumably knew of the allegations and restrictions imposed upon the former Cardinal. To target Pope Francis directly without acknowledging that previous popes and Viganò himself are implicated in this cover-up, when only Pope Francis has taken decisive action against Cardinal McCarrick, seems to us potentially misleading.

      We do however call for full disclosure of all the murky circumstances surrounding this case, even if this exposes Pope Francis’s predecessors to public scandal. We believe that his first responsibility now is to the truth, and he should not seek to protect men in high places when so much is at stake. We are beginning to discover that the last two papacies were marked by continuing and widespread sex abuse and cover-ups throughout the Church. We too call for transparency and accountability by all who were responsible for this crisis, however senior they were or are in the hierarchy. In this, we believe that women can stand together and be a powerful movement for change in the Church, but we too must be transparent about our motives and causes.

  14. Mary Kennan September 17, 2018 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    Thanks to both of you that, while not agreeing on every point, you have engaged in a courteous and respectful way. This is becoming increasingly rare.

  15. Francina Berdine September 17, 2018 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    A delight indeed to read a courteous dialogue in these times of increased polarisation. I think however that there is some miscommunication going on, as Mary stresses the –credible– tactics of the letter while Tina addresses the –justifiedly– feared strategy behind them.

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