By Angela Bonavoglia
In his controversial sermon at St. Peter’s last week, Reverend Raniero Cantalamessa expressed no concern for Catholic Church policies that endanger women, writes Angela Bonavoglia, author of “Good Catholic Girls: How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church.”
Cantalamessa apologized for his comment that many felt belittled anti-Semitism last week but failed to acknowledge any role of the Catholic Church in endangering women.
It was indeed outrageous that Reverend Raniero Cantalamessa in his Good Friday homily at St. Peter’s Basilica, with Pope Benedict in eyeshot, compared the public denunciation of the Catholic Church hierarchy for harboring child molesting priests to the homicidal viciousness of anti-Semitism.
While not nearly so shocking, there was another reason to be troubled by that homily. Cantalamessa chose to focus a part of his talk on the need to end violence against women, which is crucial, but he did so without any acknowledgement of the church’s own culpability in the abuse, endangerment and intimidation of women.
“Much of this violence,” he declared, “has a sexual background.” Yes, let’s start there. In 2001, a year before the pedophilia crisis hit the news, the National Catholic Reporter analyzed internal church reports written by two Catholic nuns—a physician who was a Medical Missionary of Mary and the AIDS coordinator for the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development—documenting the sexual exploitation of nuns by priests in 23 countries on five continents.
One of the most stunning allegations concerned a nun impregnated by a priest, who forced her to have an abortion that killed her and then officiated at her funeral. Priests were alleged to have raped young nuns who approached them for the required certificates to enter religious orders; to have told nuns that oral contraceptives would protect them from AIDS; and to have used nuns as “safe” alternatives to prostitutes in countries plagued by AIDS—with some priests going so far as to demand that heads of convents make the nuns sexually available to them.
And it is not just nuns, of course. Like the recently reported case of a 14-year-old Minnesota girl allegedly molested by a priest who was not removed from ministry but simply transferred to a parish in India (this after the Vatican supposedly toughened up its policies), thousands of girls, from infancy through adolescence, have been molested by priests. Adult Catholic women have been subject to clerical transgressions from sexual exploitation to harassment to rape to beatings to potentially negligent homicide. Many sexually active priests have left a trail of wounded women and fatherless progeny in their wake—testament to the hypocrisy in the claim of a celibate priesthood.
Cantalamessa expressed great concern about violence “in the relationship between husband and wife,” crediting “many associations and institutions” that provide women with support. Yet, the founders of those associations and institutions were not Catholic clergy, but secular feminists, whom the church hierarchy regularly and ruthlessly condemns. And if domestic violence is such a priority for the church, why did Pope John Paul II beatify Elizabeth Canori Mora—the path toward sainthood—a beaten, abused woman, subject to both physical and psychological violence at the hands of her errant husband, for her “absolute fidelity” to the sacrament of marriage?
And what of the church’s policies—so well known—that endanger women worldwide?
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