A few days ago, someone asked what we as women can do in the midst of the scandals. It’s a valid question. Though women are very much valued in the Catholic Church, they don’t have roles in the hierarchy. Even in calmer times, the teaching on a male-only priesthood can be difficult; in the present times, it can seem impossible to accept. But one of the reasons we cannot be priests also gives us some guidance for how to proceed: we have unique, feminine gifts that God has given us.

In 1988, Pope Saint John Paul the Second wrote Mulieris Dignitatem. One of the many striking things he said was “A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God “entrusts the human being to her”, always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself. This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them “strong” and strengthens their vocation.Thus the “perfect woman” (cf. Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit. These “perfect women” are owed much by their families, and sometimes by whole nations.”

I believe in this crisis we are facing, women have particular gifts that make them “irreplaceable support and source[s] of spiritual strength for other people.”

Something that has given me hope through this turmoil is seeing strong, Catholic women speak out. Whether it be providing consolation or encouraging action, there are so many beautiful voices crying out for justice and healing.

Something that has given me hope through this turmoil is seeing strong, Catholic women speak out.

The following are quotes I have found particularly powerful from some of my fellow Catholic women (in no particular order).

1. Do not stop the light from shining

“Everyone in pain reaches a point where it just feels too painful to go on. But like a woman in the transition stage of labor, this point of no return is where we have to go if we wish to see new life spring forth. Our souls cannot bear the cost of avoiding the question and allowing for any muck to be papered over. I mean that quite literally. For the sake of your soul do not stop the light from shining into the crevices.”

Kirby included this message along with several others directed towards women struggling with how to move forward despite all the suffering. This beautiful piece addressed “the women who want to fix everything,” “the survivors of any type of abuse,” “those who are mothering through public pain,” “women asked to answer for the crimes of men,” and “those who just want this to end.” It is a message for all Catholic women, and it is one of hope and consolation.

2. Jesus already knew

“Jesus already knew. He carried the sin of Cardinal McCarrick in his butchered heart. He groaned the groan of a tortured seminarian as His back was laid open. His scalp split with the pressure of the thorny mass of lies, evasions, excuses, and accommodations as the decades passed and everybody knew, everybody knew what went on, everybody knew about Uncle Ted. And Christ knew about Uncle Ted. And He wept, and bled, and died, knowing.”

This Simcha Fisher quote came from a difficult-to-read blog post. As Christians with our hearts aching, we must remember that Christ also carried this with Him. He knew that McCarrick would abuse his seminarians. He knew that 300 priests in Pennsylvania would commit atrocious acts of sexual abuse, most of it directed towards minors. He knew an orphanage named after His adoptive father would kill and abuse children who had already lost so much. And yet He still offered Himself for all of these people. And because we have this perfect love -Love Himself- at the core of our Church, we can have faith we can overcome these tragedies.

3. Priests and bishops are not the Church

“Priests and bishops are not the Church. They are an essential and indispensable part of the Church, but they are only a part. Where there are scandals, we should be outraged and offended that someone defiled what is most sacred. With that holy anger, every single one of us is responsible to fight the good fight against evil, perversion and confusion. We do not have the luxury to be cowardly when the destiny of eternal souls are at stake.”

As more and more gets revealed about the mess our Church is in, I have tried to remind people about the concept of righteous anger. I think anger is a perfectly reasonable response, but what matters is how we use it. That is one of the many reasons I loved Deyra Little’s article: she explains how we can channel this anger to do good in the Church.

4. We need to fight... with fortitude

“We don’t have to put up with the evil. But we can’t run away from it. We need to fight it. We need to purge it from our Holy Place with overturned tables and whips and shouting. With fortitude. We need fortitude to stick with the Church through this time of suffering. And fortitude to do whatever it is God is calling us to do to fight the evil infecting the Church.”

This line came from the introduction of an incredible reflection written by Sara of To Jesus, Sincerely. For each Sorrowful Mystery, she provides a meditation in light of the sex abuse scandal. It’s challenging to pray through it, but it also has the potential to heal.

5. Saintly women have fought before us

“Today, as lay and clerical voices alike insist on thorough, independent investigations, justice and reform, we can find in St. Catherine’s letter to that cardinal a powerful rallying cry to leadership for ordinary Christians.  “Shame, shame, on our human pride, our self-complacency, our self-centeredness, when we see how good God has been to us, how many gifts and graces he has given us — and not because he has to but because he wants to! Obtuse as we are, we seem not to see or feel this love so hot that, if we were made of stone, it would long ago have burst us open!”

In a powerful article, Kathryn Jean Lopez shared what she believes Saint Catherine of Siena would say to our bishops. This piece takes quotes that Saint Catherine wrote and talks about how they are still relevant today. It is an excellent reminder of the cloud of witnesses we have on our side, and shows that even in the late 1300s, there were strong women fighting for the good of the Church.

6. Fathers... we need to hear from you

“Fathers, these children of your flocks are suffering. Suffering over the grievous injuries done to those other children, the ones named in the Pennsylvania report, the ones whose innocence was shattered, whose dignity was spat upon, who suffered in their very bodies the wounds of Christ tortured and crucified. We cannot sleep for weeping over these images, crying out to heaven that men ordained to act in the person of Christ at the altar could also rape, pillage, and destroy the most innocent. We need to hear from you.”

Jenny Uebbing wrote an impactful exhortation, calling for the clergy to speak out about the horrors our Church is facing. Her honest reflection on the struggles of being a faithful Catholic, the pain the lay faithful are experiencing, and her call for action (both from clergymen and the laity) is an important message that balances the hurt with some recommendations to move forward.

7. Find hope in our history

“[T]he clergy and laity should meditate on the Rite of Degradation and use it to shape updated policies. It shows that throughout the centuries, Holy Mother Church has never taken the abuse of Her children lightly. It shows us Her love for justice, it shows us Her desire for mercy, and it shows us the sacredness of the priesthood.”

Hilary describes the (now out of use) Rite of Degradation. I think it’s fascinating how she connects something from the 1800s to our current Church situation, and I really respect how she explains that a rather intense practice is actually just, merciful, and reverent.  

8. Don't settle. Don't retreat.

“We must respond and cry out for healing.  Yes, our God is merciful, but He is also a God of justice. We must commit to change - even if we're not quite sure what our role will look like yet. Don't rot in silence. Don't settle. Don't retreat. Cry out. Demand justice.”

Chloe Langr’s short yet poignant blog post draws inspiration from the Saint Catherine of Siena quote “We've had enough exhortations to be silent. Cry out with a thousand tongues. I see the world is rotten because of silence." Her honesty and strength as she encourages action despite her own struggles is a great example of actively living our Catholic faith.  

9. Jesus is not silent here

“I can assure you that Jesus is not silent in response to the devil’s temptations and lies. He meets them head on, and defeats them with the power of God’s Word stored within His heart. The demons tremble before him and flee to the pit from which they came at the power of His great Name to the glory of God our Father. He does not stand by idle, shrugging helpless hands, and He is not merely “saddened” by the vile atrocities that ravage His beloved church today. No! His heart is set ablaze with the fire of love incarnate and is encircled with a crown of thorns. It has been pierced through with a lance that every last drop of His blood might gush forth, poured out in an agony of heartache to be a cleansing flood of salvation for you and for me. He rips it from His chest and holds it before my eyes, bleeding and pulsing with love.”

I had a difficult time picking the best quote from this remarkable letter written by Alison Oertle. She starts by reminding women of their identity and looking to Mary as a role model. This lovely introduction leads to a battle cry: calling for action from clergy while sharing the sorrow of our brothers and sisters who were hurt by representatives of the Church. This letter is fierce yet loving.

10. We are one body in Christ

"We are Catholic, faithful to the Magisterium and disgusted by the abuse and cover-ups that have plagued the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. We are heartsick over the 1000+ victims of abuse in the state of Pennsylvania and all the other boys and girls, men and women who have been sexually abused by priests and further victimized by the bishops who covered up these crimes. We pray for justice for the victims and their families and communities. We believe in the Catholic Church, founded by Christ and sustained by the Eucharist. We are one body in Christ."

This is an excerpt from the statement crafted by Kendra Tierney (Catholic All Year) and Bonnie Engstrom (A Knotted Life). Dozens of faithful Catholics are participating in this #sackclothandashes initiative: they offering prayer, fasting, and other sacrifices appropriate for their state of life as acts of reparation to God. Though this concept has received some criticism, the faith of the people participating is remarkable. What is even more impressive is it took just two lay women to start this.

If you’re looking for other unified acts or are just looking for guidance for writing letters to your bishop, make sure to check out The Siena Project as well.

♦♦♦

We are facing devastating time in our Church. It’s so tempting to succumb to despair, but we cannot give in to it. Allow yourself to feel your emotions, but then use them and the gifts God has given you to demand for change in the Church.

Look to the army of saints in Heaven.

Read the powerful messages from our Catholic sisters.

And mostly importantly, continue turning to Christ.

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Kate Hendrick

Kate Hendrick lives in Wisconsin with her husband and works full-time as a process engineer. Though Kate is a “cradle Catholic” she didn’t fully embrace the Catholic faith until mid-college. She discusses the challenges she and other young adults face as they try to live authentically Catholic lives on her blog Stumbling Toward Sainthood. You can also find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

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