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Friday, March 20, 2009

Ruth Kolpack's Theology and Michele Obama's Arms

This is an image I lifted from the latest report from NCR (National Catholic Reporter).

It's the story of Ruth M. Kolpack, the pastoral associate who was recently fired by Madison, Wis., Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino.

Why? What heinous thing did she do? Did she have sex with a choir girl or boy? Has she been having an illicit affair with a parishioner? Has she been engaging in slander, raising questions and "doubt" that "Father" might be doing bad things in the rectory with little boys?

No, none of these things. She was fired for writing these words in an academic paper six years ago:

"In the same way that God acted to save the Israelites from captivity, God is 'acting now to free women from their captivity' and to free 'God language from the captivity of patriarchy'.”

Yup. That is, 'yup' to your heads nodding 'no' in disbelief. And, 'yup' to her assessment of God's activity in our worshiping communities of faith.

You can read it all here.

NCR reports: "The document in question actually comprises three papers totaling 51 pages of text and footnotes that investigate a comprehensive examination topic under the heading, “Inclusive Language for Naming God: Challenge for the Church.”

The papers, dated January through March, deal with the subject, respectively, from the perspectives of scripture, systematic theology and moral theology. The papers were written to fulfill requirements for a master of divinity degree at St. Francis Seminary."

In a previous article, NCR also reports that Kolpack was fired after a 10 minute meeting with the not-so-good Bishop who asked her to "denounce the thesis, make a profession of faith, and take an oath of loyalty in order to remain as a pastoral associate at the parish.

She said she could profess her faith and take an oath, but could not refute the thesis in good conscience, that to do so would risk her reputation as a scholar."

And, for that, she was fired.

Oh, the Bishop admitted to "reading bits and pieces" of her paper. Why read the whole thing when you are secure in the knowledge that, in terms of God, you have "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth".

Normally, I would dismiss this whole thing with a deep sigh and a very sad shrug of my shoulders, placing articles like this and the recent reports of Pope Benny's pronouncements about condoms and AIDS in Cameroon into the "circular file" with a prayer of thanksgiving that I long ago left Rome for Canterbury, adding a wee prayer for all my RC friends who have chosen to stay and fight the good fight.

"Only in the church," I sigh.

Except, lately, I've been thinking about Michele Obama's arms.

Is it just me, or has the whole world gone 'gaga' over the upper extremities of our new First Lady?

Okay, they are toned. If I'm honest, I admit to being envious of them. More importantly, she inspires me to take my own physical fitness more seriously.

But, what is it about her arms that produce such mania in the media?

I want to suggest that this is a thinly-veiled but nonetheless obvious example of the co-mingling of racism and sexism.

It's more of the same, in darker shades, as it were, of what is happening to Ruth Kolpack.

It's nothing new. The media has always been atwitter with the fashion of women in power. Recently, fashionsita journalism is completely obsessed with Hillary Rodham Clinton's trench coat. I loved it when she turned the table on her critics with her reference to "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits".

Her predecessor, Condoleeza Rice, was not immune. When she wore high-heeled boots a few years ago, she was instantly and shamefully dubbed a "dominatrix".

When Madeline Albright wore broaches on her colorful business suits, it did not escape the view of the fashionistas at People Magazine who said, as I recall, that she brought "a new panache to power suits for women."

I know I'm not alone among my sisters of the cloth who have not escaped scrutiny about the way I dress, which has been called everything from "interesting" to "crunchy granola-earth-mother-social-worker".

Sorry. I love basic black as much as anybody in the Northeast Corridor, but I'm really not interested in emulating the 'black is the rejection of the world' deeply flawed theology which is behind many of my clerical sisters' and brothers' sense of fashion.

Mostly, on a good day, I just laugh. Other times, it makes my already hot Portuguese blood boil.

There's a new term for it, I'm told. Micro-oppression. It's sort of an oppressive-death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts.

They build up and build up and build up and end up in things like the firing of Ruth Kolpack.

The battle for equality is far from over, my sisters and brothers.

It may well be time to join our sisters and brothers in Wisconsin and take our protest to the streets.

Or, at least to join in solidarity with our sister, Ruth Kolpack, who wrote a letter to Morlino in which she wrote, “My ministry is my life's work,” concluding by asking him to reconsider her dismissal.

Perhaps we should, too. You can write him here:

Diocese of Madison
Catholic Pastoral Center
702 South High Point Road
P.O. Box 44983
Madison, Wisconsin 53719

I have. Please join me.


Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, you are so "right on" with this post. This story has had me enraged from the outset. I shall be happy to join you by writing a letter in protest.

Jim said...

You will pardon my defeated view I hope, but do you really think that a bishop whose whole universe is defined by defense of a patriachial system that elevates him is gonna listen to Episcopalians? I mean we are already outside the set of good people we do not even kiss his (err) ring.

I suggest we invite Ms. Ruth to investigate the ordination process in the diocese of Milwaukee.


Anonymous said...

+++ We love you Bishop Morlino! +++ Stay Strong!

FranIAm said...

I love you for posting this, I truly do.

This was the big topic of discussion in my theology class Thurs night - of course I attend a school with academic freedom.

But that could still bite me - and other - in the rear years later.

And so right about the arms!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Prairie Girl - You are kidding me, right?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jim - When people with this much hubris know that other people are watching, a strange thing happens. They get embarrassed. I've seen it happen over and over again. Oh, they won't back down. It won't change a thing. Except, these guys do their best work - or, have their worst effect - when they think people are watching. So, it does tend to slow them down a few kilometers per hour.

That's enough for me.

St Edwards Blog said...

I agree with Elizabeth.

Plus I can also speak as a Catholic who loves her TEC friends and is so grateful for this community... but one that is still hard pressed to leave.

And yes- what is up with Prairie Girl? Is this humor or...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

He, St E's Blog, I love me my RC friends. I'm happy to help in whatever way I can.

If Prairie Girl thinks her remarks are funny, she's in worst shape than I think she is.

But you know, I have this vague, sick feeling that I recognize her . . . ahem . . . "name" . . . from my sojourns over at SFiF.

If so, it's not a joke. She's DEAD serious (emphasis on the DEAD).

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

The Sexism/Rasism of these two stories is blatant.

Who can not believe it?

David said...

you are so 'on' about calling these... idots on their blind arrogance and contempt.

they may not change, but by our calling them on it, they are forever on notice that they are being watched, and in some quarters at least, they are being held accountable before God- even if only by Anglicans and Episcopalians.

a letter going off this morning from here.

as to the First Lady's physiogamy- one of the many blessings of being born gay is a heightened sensativity to objectification, and this mistreatment of someone I believe to be a real gift to your nation has me.... pissed big time.
once again a bunch of small straight minds not capable of behaving themselves.
the end of patriarchy can't come soon enough!


FranIAm said...

Thanks for your love and support of your RC friends. From one who has a split personality, blogging wise that is!

Hiram said...

The RC Church is amazing in its inconsistency. Ruth Kolpack's bishop jumped all over her for one paper that questioned patriarchal language for God. Yet the Jesuits are replete with Zen masters and a thousand other heresies, and many religious orders are filled with "New Age" teachings - yet no word of discipline has come down from the Vatican. Ms Kolpack's bishop ought either to rescind his order, or start working on the Vatican to call in the head of the Society of Jesus for a little talk.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You're right, of course, Hiram. Although we disagree with each other's theology, at least you and I are consistent in the personal application of our faith - and yet we both have room in the 'roomiest room in the church'.

The RC makes no such claim. Indeed, it's claim of 'catholicity' demands the kind of conformity you suggest.

How about that, Hiram? We agree on something.

Frair John said...

You could knock me over with a feather.
I'm serious. A Roman Bishop doing something to an "uppity woman"? She's lucky he didn't excommunicate her, what with this idea that she's somehow as important a human being as he is.

I'm not going to write him, bt I am going to pray for him, and her.

I'm also going to point out (as others have) that the Episcopal Church welcomes Ruth, and her ideas.
We might even let her say Mass all on her lonesome if she feels so called.

As for Mrs. Obama's arms, I *AM* stunned. It never ceases to amaze me what people will fix on and obsess over. At first I though it was because she wasn't "lady like" enough. Now I realize that it's some kind of perverse celebration of their feelings of superiority.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Hey, the First Lady's arms pale in comparison to the fact I have a half sleeve tattoo on my right deltoid. You should see the looks I get over that.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Prairie Girl, God Bless Bishop Morlino for being an amazing Shepherd of the flock...please pray for him instead of mocking him for doing the work he is called to do by God as bishop (trust in the Church, she will never lead you astray!!)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

No one is mocking Bishop Morlino, Brian. It's really too bad no one ever gets any advanced notice before the Very Rude Awakening happens and you begin to understand how the church and the world really work. It's not going to be pretty for you, I'm afraid.

MarkBrunson said...

. . . (trust in the Church, she will never lead you astray!!)

Well, "she" led you astray right there, Brian.

As for mocking Morlino, I have no problem with that. The ridiculous deserve ridicule, that's why they're called "ridiculous."

Rev David Froemming said...

Once upon a time I worked across town from Ruth at St. Jude's on the west side of Beloit.

This episode confirms what Micheal Crosby once published in his book "The Dysfunctional Church," - namely that the power structure always silences those who identitfy the system's addiction to power.

This is why in the synoptic Gospels one finds Jesus speaking against family structure. Life in Christ is a call to koinonia - a community/partnership that embraces all the gifts of both women and men.

May the same Spirit that stirred Ruth to write continue to work among all of us!