Feminists Critique Past, Present Catholic Church

By Barrett Sheridan
Daily [Stanford CA]
April 15, 2003

Ida Raming [click link for picture] is in love with God but in conflict with the Roman Catholic religion.

The renowned feminist theologian and religious activist led a panel discussion on women in the Catholic Church yesterday in Sweet Hall, where she reviewed her lifelong battle against systematic sexism in the church, her decision to buck the dogmas of the papacy and become an ordained priest and her subsequent excommunication.

The panel also included Iris Mueller, another Catholic woman who had joined Raming in her quest to become ordained, and Rea Howarth from the Catholics Speak Out / Quixote Center, one of the sponsors of the event.

"There is a long history of discrimination in the Church," Raming said. "It reaches back into the Hebrew Bible and extends beyond it."Raming, a native of Germany, is widely considered the pioneer of the women's ordination movement in the Catholic Church. In 1969 she published her doctoral study on discrimination against women in Catholicism.

That study, according to the Web site of the Catholics Speak Out / Quixote Center, "conclusively proved [that] the church's exclusion of women from the priesthood was based upon concepts of the essential and ethical inferiority of women."

It included biblical evidence gleaned from ancient texts that had not previously been translated into English, specifically Hebrew, Latin and ancient Greek texts. Raming spent years learning these languages so that she could use primary sources for her research.

Eventually, she reached the conclusion that the sexism of the church "does not come from Jesus, but only tradition."

Raming found that Christian theologians since the birth of Christ - from the first followers of Jesus's twelve disciples to St. Thomas of Aquinas - promoted the subordinate role of women.

After publishing her work about the past and the progress of the church, Raming said she came to a heartbreaking realization: "We have no future for women in the church."

But, in the spirit of civil disobedience, Raming and six other Catholic women, including Mueller, made the decision to enlist the help of a sympathetic clergyman and become ordained as Catholic priests.

For their action, the seven ordained women received a rare written excommunication directly from, in Raming's words "the high people of the [Catholic] hierarchy."

Rea Howarth, the third panelist and a member of the Quixote Center, summarized the view of the seven women.

"The law that restricts ordination to baptized males is not legitimate because it creates two classes of baptism," she said.

For change to occur, she added, the church must witness "hundreds of women being ordained and the people of the church supporting them."

After Raming and Mueller finished discussing their history of battling against the Catholic Church, the panel opened the discussion to questions from the audience.

One attendee, an assistant professor at Stanford, questioned the workings of the modern Catholic Church.

"I think the Catholic church is a joke," she said to the panel, citing recent instances of discrimination and pedophilia among the ranks of the clergy. "What do you do with this archaic thing that doesn't change?"

Others followed this line of thought by arguing that Catholicism may be outdated and is an unnecessary tag-along from medieval times.

In response to these arguments, Raming noted, "The Catholic Church has influence in the whole world. Because it has such influence, it must be changed, otherwise it is a bad thing for all who are in it."

She ended the discussion with a call to action directed at all Catholics.

"We have argued for more than 40 years," she said. "Now we are done. Now we are acting."


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