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Young Female Catholics Ask the Church to Listen

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 Jennifer Owens is the co-editor of From the Pews in the Back: Young Women and Catholicism.
A female panel of students, essayists and theology scholars discussed the role of women in the Catholic Church on April 8, with the hope for increased dialogue with church hierarchy.

While women have made significant economic and social and political gains in the last century, those working within the Catholic Church are still symbolically relegated to the "pews in the back," said Jennifer Owens, co-editor of From the Pews in the Back: Young Women and Catholicism (Liturgical Press, 2009).

"If I have learned anything from my studies in feminist theory and theology, it is that there is often an untold story, a pause in a sentence, a look, a sigh that signals the unconventionality of so-called conventional women," said Owens, a doctoral student in theology at Graduate Theologian Union. "If we pretend that the elephant in the room isn’t there, the situation is not going to improve."

Owens and co-editor Kate Dugan undertook the publishing project—a collection of 29 essays of Catholic women born in the 1970s and 1980s—to help "fill out the silences in the Catholic story," she said.

Three Fordham students joined Dugan and Owens on the panel to document their struggles with Catholicism.

Fordham College at Rose Hill junior Kathleen Mroz described the difficulty she had combining her love of the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary with her disillusionment in how the church has treated women as well as her father—an ex-priest who left the church to marry her mother.

But her Fordham education, and in particular her work with Sister Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Theology, has enabled her to discover a renewed faith in Catholicism through feminist theology, she said.

Panelist Eileen Markey (left) and Aimee della Porta speak at Young Women and Catholicism.
Mroz has been inspired to view theology as an integral part of being Catholic, she added, and has inspired her to stay in the church.

"The most important discovery of all was that I can fight for women’s ordination in the Catholic Church and still be 100 percent Catholic," Mroz said.

As a 21st century Catholic transitioning out of the church, Fordham College at Rose Hill senior Aimee della Porta said she has come to find God in her spiritual passions, such as performance, literature and—most profoundly—in service to others.

"This concept is unfathomable to my dad," della Porta said. "What my parents consider to be a phase, I see as both a generational influence and an effort to live like Christ. My service experience has taught me to value human interaction as a means of encountering Christ."

But her service work with underrepresented women has led her to be attracted to other religions that she feels better promotes gender parity. For these reasons, della Porta described herself as "dwelling somewhere between Catholicism and Quakerism."

"I don’t know whether this transition will ever be complete," she said.

Most of the women in the book, said the editors, have made the decision to stay in the church in spite of its shortcomings. Essayist Eileen Markey, FCRH ’98, who wrote in the book about her struggle over her son’s religious education, noted the difficulty in educating him in an institution that she feels "distrusts the fresh air of argument.” And yet, Markey said, many women—she included—stay as Catholics because it is part of who they are.

"Nobody is going to take it from me," she said. "You are not going to take the rituals, the community, or the good art. It’s mine."

The event was sponsored by the Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies.

Founded in 1841, Fordham is the Jesuit University of New York, offering exceptional education distinguished by the Jesuit tradition to approximately 14,700 students in its four undergraduate colleges and its six graduate and professional schools. It has residential campuses in the Bronx and Manhattan, a campus in Westchester, the Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y., and the London Centre at Heythrop College in the United Kingdom.
04/10

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