Sex and the Church of Rome
By Rosemary Ekosso
I went to a school run by Irish nuns. They were nice women, but every so often, the cantankerous old school chaplain would refuse to let them touch the communion because, he said, they were not pure. I never could tell what it is that he meant.
Of course there was speculation. Some girls said it was because some of the nuns were dating other priests. An interesting, and at the time, a titillating possibility, but not very plausible from where I stand now. Priests where I come from have been known to date women and occasionally father children. No one has told them not to officiate at mass for that reason.
I have wondered whether it had anything to do with nuns having their periods. But how could the chaplain know that? In any case, a woman cannot be said to be impure on that account, because what we all basically are is nine or ten missed periods and one microscopic tadpole. You might as well say that that one is impure from producing saliva.
It cannot be because they confessed some heinous deed to him. The sacrament of Confession wipes it all away.
During my church-going days, I also observed that in some parishes the priests did not wash their vestments. The nuns washed them. And much of that nicely embroidered altar linen is made by nuns.
In many Christian communities, women do the flowers in church, take the collection, and generally keep the place clean. They also take the children to church while their husbands are recovering from their hangovers. They are more likely to attend church than men. They contribute to church coffers. Many a vicar has found it expedient to befriend a wealthy elderly widow in expectation of filling the church coffers with her legacy.
In short, the women are essential to the churches, although they are not recognised as equal to the men.
This is why, for all the uncomplimentary things I will certainly say on this site about evangelical churches, I must say that many of them at least consider women to be on a par with men.
Let us return to the Church of Rome, which shaped my belief system. I was pleased to see a girl serving mass today. When I was growing up, only boys were allowed to do this. Of course I wanted to wear the red and white robes too, carry the chalice and ciborium to the altar, wave the thurible about and spread the sweet smell of incense over the faithful and walk in front of the priest, head bowed and hands together. But I was a girl, you see, and not allowed.
Caption: People in front of St. Peter's Basilica during the funeral mass of Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, Friday, April 8, 2005.
What is the explanation the Church has offered for this, and why has it changed its mind now?
I think you can be a deaconess these days. But this role is clearly circumscribed:
“The Apostolic Constitutions expressly attribute to them the duty of guarding the doors and maintaining order amongst those of their own sex in the church, and they also (II, c. 26) assign to them the office of acting as intermediaries between the clergy and the women of the congregation; but on the other hand, it is laid down (Const. Apost., VIII, 27) that "the deaconess gives no blessing, she fulfills no function of priest or deacon".
The entire article is available here.
You can, of course, be a nun, but I think that nuns who do not have training of some kind become glorified housekeepers and seamstresses for the male clergy. As far as I am concerned, the nuns who save lives in bush hospitals do a damn sight more than the priests who go around ministering to souls, and have sometimes, as is now becoming obvious, “ministered” to bodies of particularly vulnerable young people.
When it suits the Church, women are pressed into service. In the early 1970s Bishop Felix M. Davidek ordained Roman Catholic married and women priests in Czechoslovakia to work in the underground church. So women can be priests, eh?
Consider this: Galatians 3:28, Paul says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." An analysis of this verse is available here.
So who are they to tell you that you are different or inferior? Who are they to decide for you in what way you will serve your God?
Now, I suspect some of you knew I was coming to this, so let’s do it.
I am referring to the Church’s insistence on regulating sexual matters.
The first point against this is that as they are themselves celibate, priests have no idea at all of what it means to be sexually active. If they have some idea, they shouldn’t. No one told them to stop having sex or children. They decided to do so themselves. All was well until the fourth century, when the madness started.
In 306 AD, the Council of Elvira, in Spain, decreed that a priest who sleeps with his wife the night before Mass will lose his job. It went downhill from there. A summarized history of celibacy in the Catholic Church is available here. You cannot issue edicts about something that you have not experienced. It goes against all human reason.
The second point is that they cannot issue edicts on the lives of women, because women have little or no say in the decision-making organs of the church, and cannot therefore change these decisions when they turn out to be ill-advised. I’m not talking about parish councils, which have female members. Parish councils cannot change a church edict on, say, condoms.
It is simple decency to allow people to at least choose the rope by which they shall be hanged.
The Catholic Church advocates the rhythm method of birth control. I think that involves a lot of mucking about with your used underclothing and peering at calendars and that sort of thing. We should have better things to do with our time. Since the human body is treacherous, this method also fails fairly frequently.
The same applies to what is called the withdrawal method. People who have tried it will tell you that by the time it becomes necessary to withdraw, at least one of the partners is markedly reluctant to allow this to happen.
So why not just use a condom? No, it is not good, says the Church. Because it uses technology? Does the church not use computers? Why do they not just pray for help in computing data, and wait for God to send rolls and rolls of closely written paper scrolling down from the sky? Because sperm will die? Well, of the two million or so released each time where the woman gets pregnant, at least one million nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine do die. And if the woman does not get pregnant at all, they all die.
Shall we mourn them?
Is it because it is unnatural? Is it natural to wear clothes? Are we born dressed? No. We adapt to our environment by wearing clothes. In our current environment, unbridled procreation is just not an option for people who cannot feed large families, or for people whose work takes up a lot of time. We have to control it by some means.
The condom is more efficient than the means advocated by the Catholics. So why does the Church not let it happen? Does the Church not see the effect of AIDS?
There are some islands of reason in this sea of wrong-headedness. Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, for instance, has said that using condoms would be justified when one partner is HIV-positive. Anyway, most Catholics quietly ignore the Vatican on the matter of birth control.
Why are the childless “Fathers” of the Church so reactionary?
Because they have no experience of the controversy and danger associated with normal, routine sexual activity (I don't mean playing with children in sacristies). You can have fun, but then you pay for it, sometimes with your life (if you die in childbirth, for instance), with your social status (if you get the wrong person pregnant) or with your future (if a girl is sent away from school because she has a baby). They do not have to make those difficult choices.
Because they do not get pregnant. I have always felt that if men, who run the world, could get pregnant, we would have many more abortions and much more efficient birth control methods. If those old men in the Vatican had to pay school fees and deal with teenaged children, believe me, they would view the matter differently.
Because of the tortoise-like pace of the church’s adaptability to progress. During the Inquisition, the Catholic Church placed Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) under house arrest for the rest of his life because he contradicted the Bible by saying that the world was round. The reason they did not kill him as a heretic was because he had powerful friends who spoke on his behalf.
The Church only admitted that they had been wrong about Galileo in 1992. Now, it would be alright if these people just adapted slowly and quietly. But they are the "fathers of the church", you see; they get god-to-person calls from heaven telling them to tell people not to read books they don't like, and the pope is infallible anyway, so they have to make pronouncements and torture or kill people for the "defence of the faith".
Then, four hundred or one thousand years later, they change their minds, usually without actually admitting that they were wrong, and that they have actually passed off their prejudices as the word of their god. But the people are still dead.
All this happens because women let them. Women make up at least half of the church faithful. They should stand up and tell those men what their ignorant meddling is doing to their lives. Or they should form their own church.
Who says they cannot?
In keeping the women out of its decision-making organs, the Church has proven that it is not spiritual at all, but a power-hungry, repressive organization. If God had actually chosen the pope and had written across the sky in words of lightning that he must be male, then God would be a misogynist and I would have nothing to do with him.
But this is not, despite their pious protestations, the world of God. It is the world of man.
Oh, sorry! I mean male human beings.
Rosemary Ekosso is a translator and court interpreter with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Holland. She blogs as Ekosso
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