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Intersections of Justice: Plenary Address for DignityUSA Convention

By Jamie L. Manson, M. Div

Editor’s Note: Below is an excerpt from Jamie Manson’s plenary address “Intersections of Justice.” 

Being a lesbian at Xavier was pretty easy. Being a woman was much more challenging because on any given day, I was reminded that my body was an obstacle to ways in which I was able to serve and be present to the community. 

Though I had the ordination degree, a Master of Divinity, and all of the right pastoral training, I could not baptize the baby, or give the second grader first communion, or marry the couple, though I had done all of the work to prepare them for the Sacrament, because of this body; though I had passion and zeal for the poor, the homeless, and the broken, I could not hear their confession and grant them absolution, because of this body. And, in some ways most painfully, though I did my very best to serve the community in all of its work, its joys, its sorrows, its neuroses, I always had the sense that could never be deemed as valuable or authoritative as a priest, even by our very progressive female and male parishioners, because of this unordained and unordainable body.

The parishioners did not act this way out of malice. This is just how Roman Catholics have been inculcated and indoctrinated. To my surprise, I even met some gay men who would be quite content in a church that accepted homosexuality but continued to ban the ordination of women.

While I was still at Xavier, I happened to hear a speech by openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson. At one point, he addressed his sorrow at the misogyny he still sometimes witnesses among some gay men. He asked, “When will we gay men realize that the reason the Church hates us, is because they hated women first. The hatred of gay men is rooted in the original hatred of the feminine.” When gay men exclude women, they participate in their own oppression.

By banning women from serving as priests, the Roman Church is saying that God simply cannot work in the body of a woman as God can in the body of a man. The institutional Church places limits on God and God’s own capacity to work inside God’s very own creation! Now, not only is that chutzpah on a cosmic level, it also runs completely contrary to good Catholic sacramental teaching, which tells us that all of creation is capable of revealing goodness, holiness, and God Godself.

For over forty years, Dignity has refused to allow the Roman Catholic Church to tell them that the natural desires of their bodies and their expressions of love are intrinsically disordered. Why then do some in the Dignity community still allow the Roman Catholic Church to dictate the ways in which God can work through the bodies of women and the ways in which women express their spiritual authority? You have not let the hierarchy control your bodies, why let them control the bodies of women?

The mistreatment of women in the Roman Catholic Church is as indefensible as its mistreatment of LGBT persons. We know that. So why do some Dignity communities still abide by the institution’s exclusion of women by perpetuating it in their weekly liturgies?

I’m not suggesting that there is one, right way to model inclusive, ministerial leadership. But I am insisting that we put our creativity and courage into trying to envision new forms. Catholic communities are in desperate need of new models of leadership. The old forms of priesthood are not cutting it in the institutional Roman Church, so why should they work inside Catholic communities like Dignity?

This is a situation that cries out for intersecting justice. Every year, dozens if not hundreds of LGBT Catholics graduate with Master of Divinity degrees, and have no home, no church where they are welcome to serve and use their gifts. Dignity’s legacy of self-empowerment on behalf of gays and lesbians compels us to take risks to empower the women, and may I add transgender persons, who clearly have been called by God to be ministerial leaders, but were never given an opportunity because of their bodies or gender expressions.

Are Dignity communities truly reflections of intersectional justice and inclusion? Four decades ago, Dignity prophetically freed itself of harmful church doctrines so that gay men and lesbians could experience true inclusion in their church community. Isn’t it time to use the privilege of being free of Roman authority to envision and model ministerial leadership that truly honors the dignity of women and transgender persons, too? If we really want to honor the Catholic tradition, we should be in solidarity with those who are also oppressed by unjust church doctrines. I firmly believe that our answers to these questions will determine the future and the viability of this church community.

Our own stories of struggle and liberation ought not isolate us, but on the contrary, bring us toward others who also yearn to know the fullness of dignity and equality in society and church. LGBT people have a compelling voice to offer others who fight their marginalization and oppression. In just a matter of years, we have convinced the majority of Catholics in the US that we deserve not only full inclusion in the Church, but that our relationships deserve to be called marriage.

In these ways, straight people have been powerful allies to the LGBT community in society and the church. However, I do believe that so-called

“Francis effect” could pose a new challenge to Catholic women and LGBT people. The new pope’s commitment to the poor and marginalized, his acts of humility, have been compelling thus far. However, he has also referred to feminists as “chauvinists in skirts,” and believes that women’s roles are best expressed in motherhood or virginity. He has called same-sex marriage an “anthropological setback,” and recently has spoken of a nefarious, corrupt “gay cabal” inside the Curia.

When I have raised these concerns, some of my straight, progressive Catholic friends have called me a hater, or have told me that I already decided that I don’t like the Pope, so I am incorrigibly biased, or that I’m preoccupied with my own desires for justice and cannot see the good this Pope will do for so many others.

Again, this is a situation that calls for a recognition of the intersections of justice.

We must help our straight allies understand that though women and LGBT people are achieving justice in our country, women and LGBT persons globally suffer a disproportionate amount of violence, poverty, and discrimination. The Roman Catholic Church is powerful in many of these areas of our world. Creating church doctrines that truly honor the dignity of women and LGBT persons would be highly influential in achieving justice for all of God’s children in the most desperate and broken parts of our world.