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Catholic Women Confront Their Church: Stories of Hurt and Hope Hardcover – September 29, 2016
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Award-winning journalist Wexler tells the stories of 10 women (including herself) of various ages, ethnicities, and life experiences who have wrestled with their Catholicism and the institutional church’s approach to women. Each finely crafted profile includes a biographical story interwoven with a faith journey in progress, all of which include a strong sense of a call to service. Certain themes recur: the question of women’s ordination, ordination in general, issues of social justice, and a commitment to a 'faith that transcends the institutional church.' Those profiled include Sister Simone Campbell, of 'Nuns on the Bus' fame; Barbara Blaine, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests; and Marianne Duddy-Burke, 'a full-throated advocate for gay Catholics.' Wexler quotes liberally, conveying the women’s own voices; for example, Frances Kissling, longtime president of Catholics for Free Choice, says, 'Abortion is very serious for me. It is a moral issue'; Diana L. Hayes, an African-American womanist theologian and adult convert, says, 'God knew not to ask me into this church prior to Vatican II.' These thought-provoking profiles brim with hope and concern for the future of the Catholic Church. (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)
An award-winning journalist and lifelong Catholic, Wexler presents the stories of nine Catholic women who have navigated Catholic identity in the last 50 years. The women profiled represent a range of races, classes, and economic strata. Readers may recognize media-savvy women like Simone Campbell (executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social service lobby) and Frances Kissling (one-time president of Catholics for Choice). The stories are linked by the women's defiant positions in relation to the church: love and resistance intermingle in the way these women say ‘I am Catholic.’ For example, Teresa Delgado’s desire to be an agent of change from within the church inspires her Catholicism. In the same spirit, Gretchen Reydams-Schils insists that no one can take her Catholicism away from her. Wexler’s book is also a history of Catholicism in North America since the Second Vatican Council. Referencing key critical issues surrounding female theologians, Catholic feminism, LGBTQ and sexual ethics, the sex-abuse crisis, the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and the papacy in recent years, this book is a story of Catholic women figuring out how to be both women and Catholic and also a portrait of a changing religious landscape.
Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; professionals; general readers. (CHOICE)
Wexler, a journalist and lifelong Roman Catholic, offers 10 biographical portraits developed from interviews with women who continue to practice Catholicism–or have returned to it–in spite of social, political, theological, and psychological issues they have faced with the Church. In addition to the well-known Sister Simone Campbell (Nuns on the Bus), the subjects include Sharon MacIsaac-McKenna, present at Vatican II before leaving the religious life; Marianne Dudldy-Burke, active in the American Church's LGBT DignityUSA; women who have persevered in Catholic academia in spite of its sexism; and those who have suffered deeply and personally through abuse by clergy or racial injustice. Each woman's story of internal conflict, theological development, and spiritual growth is, of course, unique, and yet together they form a nuanced account of women in the American Church today and offer models for those who experience both deep belief and religious structural doubt. (Booklist)
Through reading Wexler's book, you'll feel like you had a place at that dinner party, getting to know nine women — 10, including Wexler herself — and come away with a deeper conviction that there is a place for visionary feminist women in the church. Wexler's book deserves to be read widely, especially among parish-based women's groups and young women who struggle with their Catholic faith. (National Catholic Reporter)
This [is a] well-reported story of smart, committed, progressive Catholics [who prove] that women are church. In light of the corrupt, often-criminal institutional Roman Catholic Church, Frances Kissling, Diana Hayes, Theresa Delgado, Marianne Duddy-Burke, and others profiled model the best of the Catholic tradition—faith, primacy of conscience, social justice work, and dedication to equality. Ironically, these women who are variously mistreated and dismissed give Catholicism a good name. (Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER))
Catholic Women Confront Their Church includes a valuable list of resources (with links), ranging from Call to Action and Catholics for Choice to WATER−Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual and the Women’s Ordination Conference. She provides careful Notes for each chapter, as well as a helpful Bibliography. (Catholic Books Review)
The stories of these modern women (brought to life in this exceptionally well written book) who continue to challenge or institutional church (and all of us) to open our eyes to the universal truths of Christ's message of acceptance, healing, understanding, love and salvation.... [This is a] well referenced book.... I can truly say that no matter where you are on your faith journey, you will find so much truth in this book. You will be able to identify with the hearts of all these women. You will find the grace that fills your soul with the eagerness to be part of this time in history when we can bring to the 'institution' what the Church is truly called to be for all eternity. (EqualwRites)
While there are in the United States alone thousands of women similar to the ten whom the author describes, fewer are as perceptive, well educated, and articulate as those whom Celia Viggo Wexler chose to interview for this book.... The focus on details of each woman’s life is appropriate, for in them the reader will see and learn the power of each individual’s decision-making. And that is precisely the point of Wexler’s research: the hope that these women offer the world is the possibility of personal change, not necessarily of institutional reform. This book is in many ways an easy read and it draws the reader in by its clear structure, human stories, and comprehensible rendering of ecclesial and spiritual concepts... [It] deserves and will find a welcome place on college reading lists and library shelves. Even more likely is the market that should develop among general readers and book discussion groups who have an interest in the contemporary Roman Catholic Church. After all, Wexler does state that one of her purposes in writing the book is to address the lack of conversation about the issues among like-minded women. (American Catholic Studies)
The courageous Catholic women profiled in this timely book have issued a clear call for the transformation of the institutional church. Their faith is profound; their voices are strong. Their message has the power to change hearts, minds, and hierarchies. (Joan Connell, former editor of Religion News Service)
In Celia Wexler’s meticulously assembled inquiry into the state of mind of contemporary Catholic women, we hear from nine different subjects, each as riveting and articulate as the next, calling for compassionate and heartfelt change. The result is a stunning choral effect, worthy of being heard in the sacristy and in the streets, by men and women alike. Wexler’s prose reads with the clarity and conviction of a beautiful prayer. (Madeleine Blais, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, University of Massachusetts Amherst)
From the Author
I wrote this book to answer a very personal and compelling question: Could I continue to be both a practicing Catholic and a feminist? I found nine exceptional Catholic women who shared their own struggles with a sexist institutional church, and their views on the Catholic faith. I know the book changed my life, and how I perceive my Catholicism. I did not realize how much the book would matter to my readers. Many of you have told me how much the book meant to you, and how the experiences of the women I profiled resonated with your experiences. Writing a book is lonely, but on this three-year journey I felt I have been supported by a community of women -- first, the extraordinary women who agreed to be interviewed -- and now the women I have met who have so enthusiastically and unselfishly embraced the book.
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As a lapsed Catholic, I found this book fascinating. Wexler’s personal story is a lot like my own, with this important difference – she is still a practising Catholic. I am not.
What I gained most from the book was an appreciation of those who do not leave, but aim to change the Roman Catholic Church from within. For myself, I found my own beliefs so unlike those of the institutional church that I no longer called myself Catholic, no matter how much I missed and appreciated the devotion, community and love of Jesus Christ offered by the institutional church. I once thought, like another reviewer, but for very different reasons -– they’re not Catholic, why don’t they face it, and leave? Why belong to an institution that devalues women, has a bloody and intolerant history, is highly political in nature, and amasses money while touting a devotion to the poor?
I thought a better way to effect change was to ‘vote with your feet’. And its true, that when the RC Church began to lose members and religious in droves, it began, or seemed to, an process of self-examination that boded well for the future. But soon enough it took a turn back to ‘the old values’, afraid of losing it’s ‘true believer’ base, and even with the advent of the kindly Frances, it seems only to be aware that image matters a whole lot, while content stays the same. Pope Benedict XVI left, some say, because he could not affect change with the Vatican Bank, and gave up; Frances was brought in because he was less of a threat to the institution.
This re-entrenchment gives me a new appreciation for the people who remain in the Church, yet are committed to change, and who also believe that Roman Catholicism itself can be changed, that the edicts of the hierarchy are not the only way to interpret ‘the one true faith’. I admire the truly courageous women highlighted by Wexler’s book.
A skilled and intelligent writer, Wexler knows how to conduct and report a good interview. The women and their faith come vibrantly alive. The book makes for a fascinating read and is entertaining, thought-provoking and gripping.
Leslie Wolff, Israel