'Baad' news around the world

by Phyllis Zagano

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The hilarious online Religion Dispatches' post of official synod on the family photos showed not a woman or child in sight. They called it, "You've got male."

Such is still the case in Rome, and if truth be told, throughout the church and the world that echoes its attitudes.

While widespread academic writing by women causes the men in black to pay a little more attention to women's intellectual achievements, the plain fact is that Rome ignores women. Vatican hard-liners and their international coterie of minions control the conversation as carefully as professional public relations men. That is, if the words come from a woman who might be slightly off their message, she is ignored or silenced or shunned.

That translates to no invitations, publications or appointments. The long, black tentacles of Roman power invade every area of women's lives.

Of course, women's inroads into academic circles, in secular institutions and increasingly in Catholic institutions are what percolate and spread around all those books, articles, conference papers and speeches by women.

Of course, the thick black wall seems to have a few openings now that the cappa magnas have been drawn back to expose some discussion, even dissent, in the ranks. That is healthy and hopeful internally. But what about around the world?

The simple fact of the matter is until headquarters' attitude toward women demonstrates a decisive shift, the rest of the world will continue to question -- and ignore -- any Christian suggestion that women are made in the image and likeness of God.

It's not about women in the Roman Curia. It's not about women's ordination. It is about women's dignity.

Look beyond the Vatican walls.

Look into Afghanistan, where at the age of 5, an Afghan girl named Sohelia was betrothed to a man 51 years her senior. That is no typo: When she turned 16, she would become -- albeit illegally -- the fourth wife of her father's by-then 67-year-old cousin. All to settle a family dispute that began before she was born. The practice is called baad.

Take a look into Nigeria, where terrorists kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls to give to their fighters as "wives." In World War II, the term was "comfort girls."

Take a look into Pakistan, or Somalia, or any other country where women are chattel. Legally or illegally, they are owned by their male relatives to be bartered, enslaved, denied education, abused, and even killed should they "dishonor" their father, their father's family, or their father's tribe.

Women around the globe suffer from one simple fact: being female.

Have you seen any movement, any sign that hardcore Rome thinks differently about women than, say, the in-laws of Aesha Mohammadzai, now known as Bibi Aisha? She is the Afghan woman whose husband's relatives cut off her nose and ears in some baad arrangement. She got cosmetic surgery in the U.S., but the rest of her has not healed.

I am not saying the bad guys are hiding in the Sistine Chapel with butcher knives. I am saying they are wandering around the papal palace with iPads, meeting over coffee, and passing comments at ceremonies.

Their disrespect -- and that is the mild term -- for women is endemic in the clerical ranks. Certainly, there are many grown-ups wearing cassocks. But too often, they are afraid to speak.

Meanwhile, there is too much derision of the serious work done by women theologians, women theologians who do not essentially republish the work of Curia staffers. There is too much dislike of women who think.

That is the problem, you know. Take it from the standpoint of the "theology of the body." Accept it. Women see things differently, and because women see things differently, they present what they see differently.

Why is that such a threat? Why do women have to be so controlled that they are given in marriage as children, or kidnapped to provide "comfort" for thugs, or physically and (if truth be told) emotionally disfigured by their own?

Why are thinking women such a threat? What serious discussion gives only token admittance to women? Why can't women take a real part in the public discernment of the church?

So long as women who might disagree are excised from the halls of power and so long as only submissive women walk on their polished floors, the church will be a mirror of abuses elsewhere, not a beacon signaling refuge and respite.

We know that. So does the rest of the world.

[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University and winner of the 2014 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice. She will speak Nov. 9 at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia; Dec. 6 at Union Theological Seminary in New York; and March 11 at University of Illinois, Chicago. Her newest books are Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest: A Crosscultural Anthology and Ordination of Women to the Diaconate in the Eastern Churches.]

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