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Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action

 President's Message Christmas 2017

Last month, I took a leap that I had wanted to for some time.  I went through the process of changing my name.  I decided to return to the name that I had at birth-Sullivan.  This is not a change that I took lightly.  In fact, I put it off because it was going to be such a hassle.  Then my daughter reminded me that women do it all the time.  The name that I carried before, Edgar, was that of my stepfather who adopted me when I was ten.  However, he was extremely abusive.  I survived broken ribs, concussions, chipped teeth, and bruises the size of saucers at his hands.  I also endured emotional and psychological abuse, even after I became an adult.  So this is a big step in healing for me.  I now shed myself of all that and reclaim my identity.  What stands out for me is a tough recollection.  My siblings and I recently discussed an article we found online.  The article described how "everyone knew" of the abuse the writer and her mother suffered but kept quiet.  We had the same experience.  Everyone knew that we were abused, including the Catholic community of which we were members.  As long as we looked like the good Catholic family on Sunday, with all the children who were so well behaved, no one cared.  How could a faith community that claims to follow the Prince of Peace allow such a thing?  

ARCC has always promoted a message of rights.  Primarily, we emphasize the rights as they are presented in Canon Law.  Let me suggest that we should also advocate for human rights-those that are God-given.  We have a right to peace in our homes.  We have a right to basic human dignity, that which is derived from the fact that we are all children of God.  Yet, we have allowed the abuse of children and women over all the centuries.  The continued preservation of patriarchy only facilitates these abuses.  This system is premised on the idea of hierarchy.    Much of the concept of hierarchy can be seen arising from the Genesis story.  The emphasis on a "fall" in Genesis 2 and 3 projects the idea that there is this order.  It has come to be viewed as God, angels, man, woman, animals, and plants.  What if there was no fall?  Anne Primavesi, in her book From Apocalypse to Genesis , makes just such a point.  She suggests that the consumption of the fruit was not a fall but a choice for free will.  Since the tree is identified as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it would seem rather paradoxical that one could sin prior to this knowledge.  By assuming that there was a fall, we find ourselves submerged into the hierarchy:

This step [the fall] demands that we consider the mechanisms which turn us into unwilling co-authors of this sin.  It is not just outside us, we are part of it: we are its accomplices.  This is one clear fact which emerges time and time again from ecological studies of environmental problems with their quota of death, destruction and suffering.  One of the mechanisms is the relationship between us and hierarchical law, including religious law.  There is an inertia involved in living under the rule of law, in which sins are by omission, by going along with the policies of exploitation against "them."  Women know this only too well.  Hierarchical government sanctions the rule of "power over" at the cost of power-from-within.  It sanctions sins against the Spirit, devaluing and destroying diversity which creates ecological community and fills the earth with glory.  (Primavesi, 1991, 236)

This same hierarchy is incorporated into all our lives, even into our families.  Parents continue to have ownership of their children and men have continued to claim ownership of women's bodies.  Now, we are witnessing an incredible cultural phenomenon in the #metoo movement.  Women are boldly claiming their voices and exposing this systemic sin.  This will likely continue to have a tectonic impact on our society.  I cannot begin to say how much I am in awe of these powerful women.  It is time to shake the hierarchy, especially as patriarchy, at its very foundation.  When Jesus of Nazareth declared to the disciple "here is your mother,"(John 19:27) he was not just telling him to care for her.  Rather, he was commanding that he view all women as he would his mother.  To honor her and follow her example.  As we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, let us remember who it is that says, "let it be done unto me" (Luke 1:38) for all of us.  This was an incredible act of faith that transforms all of us.  Let this time of empowerment for all women and children be such a time again.  I hope that all of us will support these brave women so that we may bring about a world that we wish for our daughters.  

My leap cannot be compared to that of the courageous women or of a young Miriam.  But I can relate to the need to shed the power of the hierarchy and reclaim my name-both as one who refused to be governed by violence and as a beloved child of God.

We at ARCC have experienced a year of discernment which, I believe, has brought about a re-energizing and a newness at the same time.  We are more committed than ever to promote the rights of Catholics in the church.  We are also committed to providing resources to continue that mission.  I hope that all of our members and those who read our newsletter will find the knowledge they need to claim their voice.  We will also be launching some online courses so that anyone can learn more about the sources of personal empowerment.  We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to grow in the Spirit, the source of Wisdom.  

I know many of you have benefitted from our message and that we have opened eyes to the richness of our faith tradition rooted in human dignity.  If we have touched you in any way, I hope that you can find it in your heart to support us and tell others.  We no longer send out membership notices because we found that it wasn't particularly effective.  Nevertheless, we still need your support.  As the year comes to a close, consider giving to ARCC.  For those who can give generously, we rely on you to continue our work.  

Merry Christmas to you all,


Patrick B. Sullivan, DPA, M.Div.
President, Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church
Director. Professional Development Center
State of Montana

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