This interview with Cardinal Raymond Burke about the importance of a manly church for manly men has been making the rounds:
Burke, who has a reputation as an arch-conservative in an already conservative religious organization, is also known for his love of clerical bling, with all of the silk, lace, and fancy hats that entails. Many commenters have focused on the seeming contradictions between Burke’s desire for a “manly church” and his lacy attire, which doesn’t project masculinity by the standards of the wider culture. I won’t focus on Burke’s choice of clothing, which is like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel, but on what he actually said.
The crux of Burke’s interview is that “radical feminism” (whatever that means) is responsible for radically transforming the nature of the Catholic church to the point where men don’t want to get involved. This has led to a severe drop in vocations and a reduction in the number of men going to mass and being involved in the sacraments. But is this dire situation really the result of uppity altar girls, female lectors, and female ushers? Based on what I have read, there have been more women than men in church — all churches — for some centuries. There is a famous Norman Rockwell painting from the “good old days” of a mother and her children getting ready for church, while her husband lounges around on the couch with the newspaper. Given that the pagan Romans dismissed Christianity as a religion for “slaves and women,” perhaps this was the case from the very beginning.
I think that the reason that more women than men tend to be involved in church is that faith, like modesty and chastity, has traditionally been a feminine virtue, one that men were free to adopt but didn’t necessarily add to their manhood. Since women were in charge of the childrearing, it was their responsibility that children be formed in the faith, which involved taking them to church, teaching them prayers, and seeing that they studied for their CCD classes, among other things. There’s not really much of a role for men in the “church, children, kitchen” scheme of things, especially if they’re supposed to be the main breadwinners, out working all day.
The drop in vocations appears to have started at the tail end of Vatican II, when many priests left to marry. Conservotrads use this as an illustration of how Vatican II ruined everything, but I think that the vocations crisis would have happened whether Vatican II happened or not. Until recently, the seminary and the cloister offered material advantages that could not be found in the secular world, including education, three square meals a day, and the possibility of social advancement (this was particularly true in traditionally Catholic countries). By the mid-20th century, there were other opportunities for men and women that didn’t require an oath of celibacy and obedience. Like it or not, the religious and clerical life just isn’t as attractive as it once was, and the abuse scandal only increased these negative sentiments. In fact, I would say that these days that the abuse scandal and the subsequent disillusionment with the hierarchy is the biggest reason why you don’t see parents encouraging their sons to be priests. Conservotrads will point to conservative orders or dioceses where there are an above average number of vocations, but I think that can be attributed to the fact that conservative Catholics truly believe in the idea of the priesthood and are willing to look the other way or not think about the endemic corruption in the institution.
Burke’s interview actually dovetail nicely with my previous post on the scam that is the “feminine genius.” The cardinal goes out of his way to assert that, “women are wonderful, of course,” but keeps harping on how they’re ruining the church for men. The comments on this Catholic blog (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kylecupp/2015/01/the-catholic-version-of-the-mens-rights-movement/) are quite instructive, since the general consensus is that they don’t mind feminism so long as women have lots of babies and don’t get all uppity.
That women are criticized for going to church and “feminizing it,” but also for leaving the church to be selfish hedonists indicates that women simply can’t win in a patriarchal religious organization. It doesn’t matter how many girls serve at the altar or how many women are lectors or Eucharistic ministers, because no one with XX chromosomes is ever going to be in a position to make decisions in the church. Despite their claims of persecution at the hands of the evil “radical feminists,” Burke and his ilk are the ones with all the power in the church, and if this institution isn’t what they want it to be, they only have themselves to blame.