Everyone sins. We’re human, after all. The Catholic Church hierarchy sins too, composed as it is of human beings. Even the hierarchy, I suspect, would admit they’re human.

What sins have they committed? The list is long (it’s an old institution), but here are a few lowlights: Forcing Galileo to recant and publicly accept the Catholic cosmology even though they were wrong about the entire universe (and didn’t admit it for 400 years); failing to speak out against the Nazi Holocaust during World War II; enabling centuries of oppression against Jews as Christians branded them “Christ-killers;” tolerating and tacitly supporting the apartheid regime in South Africa, choosing societal order over justice.

If you ask Catholics to name the institution’s greatest sin, many would likely reply “pedophilia.” But pedophilia was committed by individuals, not by the institutional Church. On the other hand, the cover-up was perpetrated by the hierarchy, so that’s certainly in the running.

In my opinion, the Church’s greatest sin is sexism. Pedophilia is related but sexism is bigger, more pervasive. Relegating women to separate and unequal status is the most far-reaching shortcoming the institutional Church needs to correct.

Our favorite Catholic metaphor for the Church is “the body of Christ.” If the metaphor holds, then the church isn’t just a body. It also has a mind, or “psyche,” as Carl Jung called it. According to Jung, the human psyche is both male and female, animus and anima. What the psyche strives for is balance. Anima needs animus. Animus needs anima. An imbalanced psyche, Jung said, is unhealthy. What we have in the Catholic Church these days is an extremely imbalanced psyche.

But what about our vaunted devotion to the Blessed Virgin, the mother of God? Glad you brought that up. That devotion, bordering on cult worship (the hierarchy officially designates it a cult) is a clear sign of a badly imbalanced animus seeking the anima.

In addition, have you ever wondered why Mary Magdalene wasn’t written out of the New Testament? A strong woman, seemingly on equal footing with the Apostles, the only observer at the Crucifixion mentioned by name by all four evangelists, the only one who didn’t run away, the first person Jesus revealed himself to after the Resurrection? Very inconvenient. We desperately need the anima, however, and Mary Magdalene over the centuries has provided plenty of it.

But not enough. Catholics won’t be a healthy Body of Christ until women are treated as equals.

We were on the right track during Vatican II in the 1960s. In Pacem in Terris, his wonderful 1963 encyclical, Pope John XXIII wrote, “It is obvious to everyone that women are now taking a part in public life. … Since women are becoming ever more conscious of their human dignity, they will not tolerate being treated as mere material instruments but demand rights befitting a human person both in domestic and in public life.”

And, by extension, in Church life.

The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), perhaps the most influential and beloved Vatican II document, acknowledges that “where they have not yet won it, women claim for themselves an equity with men before the law and in fact.”

They have not yet won it in the Catholic Church.

Oh sure, the Church pays lip service to women as mothers, wives and members of religious orders (as long as they keep their place). We have altar girls (except in the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., and certain parishes nationwide) and female lectors and cantors. Women serve on some parish councils, where parish councils exist, but those are tiny steps.

“The Church in the Modern World” is unequivocal: “With respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”

Contrary to God’s intent.

What would Jesus do? Treat women as equals.

The aforementioned document addressed civic society, but do we really think the Catholic Church shouldn’t practice what it preaches? Why should the world listen if we don’t?

Think of what a powerful example the Church could set for the rest of the world, where the treatment of women is often, surely, an abomination in God’s eyes.

Sexism does more to undermine the Catholic Church’s moral authority than even the pedophilia scandal or the hierarchy’s wrongheaded position on birth control.

Ultimately, though, this isn’t about balance and justice. It’s about officially recognizing that women bring to the table a wealth of spiritual power and wisdom, which has been ignored for far too long.

It’s about making this a stronger, better Church. Surely that is God’s intent.

Join the discussion on social media!

19 replies on “The Catholic Church’s greatest sin”