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February 5, 2017

Book: Catholic Women Speak

Bishop Timothy Doherty

In 2015, an international forum called Catholic Women Speak Network edited a book to distribute to Catholic bishops before the second session of the Synod on Marriage and Family. I have now finished reading Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table (Paulist Press).

Forty writers make three- or four-page contributions. As one expects in any feminist collection, no one presumes to speak for all women. There is an allergy to projects that propose a “theology of women,” and we learn why. Each addresses her life/cultural experiences and faith, accounting for vocations and individual states in life.

The contents appear under four headings: Traditions and Transformations; Marriage, Family and Relationships; Poverty, Exclusion and Marginalization; and Institutions and Structures.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to follow the Western writers will revisit perspectives that have a long history. The contributions from South America, Africa and India will be less familiar, and some of our local concerns will pale by comparison. Readers who followed my last two columns on “expectations” will understand what I mean by this.

Here and there are comments about St. Anne, the Blessed Mother, and women in the Sacred Scriptures that are personally meaningful to me. This is not a series of essays that trashes the past or disdains any core doctrine. But it does ask whether we adequately name present realities.

I read the hundreds of 2013 pre-synod surveys returned from our own diocese before they went to Rome. Many of our fellow parishioners will recognize their concerns in these essays.

Just as with our current political scene, a homily or an article in this paper cannot do what a 186-page book can do. By the same token, many of this book’s topics are commonly discussed at kitchen tables, but can’t be — and should not become — extended treatments at Mass or in The Catholic Moment. Like our liberty, our discipleship requires serious reading across varied sources. Sorting out what is valid requires good sense and reliable company. This book suggests themes that might be included in the sorting.

Lastly, it would be a mistake to think that I agree with everything in the book. Even without my endorsement, the book is a useful discussion starter.

There is an old saying for when a man becomes a bishop: He will never again eat a bad meal, and no one will ever tell him the truth. Leaving aside its beginning, the editors of Catholic Women Speak work at overturning the last part of that proverb.

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