Dreams of equality for Catholic women

by Maureen Fiedler

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On Tuesday evening, I invited some neighbors to my house to celebrate an historic event. It was the moment that the first woman had earned nomination as the U.S. presidential candidate of a major political party. Her name is, of course, Hillary Clinton.

However one regards Hillary politically, this was an historic evening… one more glass ceiling was shattered -- and it is a significant glass ceiling.

I've spent a lot of energy in my life working for gender equality: especially the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and women's ordination in the Catholic church, so when any movement in the direction of gender equality takes place, it's cause for celebration.

I stopped that evening to remember the suffragists who petitioned and marched -- and protested and went to jail -- for women's right to vote. I remembered by father sitting at the dinner table telling me (in the 1960s) that I could be anything I wanted to be and asking me if I had signed up to take chemistry and physics in high school.

I remembered the priest who was my high school principal telling me that I could not give the valedictory address at my high school graduation because I was a girl. And I remembered with satisfaction how I had when I challenged him with media exposure in our local newspaper ... and watched him back down. I gave the speech.

I recalled the years I spoke and organized for the ERA under the banner of "Catholics Act for ERA." And I recalled that I and seven other women fasted for 37 days for the ERA under a banner that said "Hungering for Justice." We did not achieve legal ERA ratification, but when I watched Hillary Clinton claim victory on June 7, I knew I was seeing part of that dream of equality come true. Slowly but surely, the ERA is becoming "culturally and politically" ratified.

Now, although we still have barriers to equality in civil society ("equal pay for equal work" comes to mind), it is the Roman Catholic church that makes me the saddest. The "reasons" given for not ordaining women don't make sense, and they certainly contravene the Gospel call to equality.

Yes, I was happy that Pope Francis agreed to study the idea of women deacons. But it's a little like an early 20-century U.S. president agreeing to "study" the idea of women in the House of Representatives. Whoopee!

I am still waiting for the day when -- after the church is re-structured to be less hierarchical -- women stand as the equals of men in all offices and ministries. Then, the stained glass ceiling will be shattered!

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