Recently one of my Facebook friends kindly posted a link to an NBC article for one of her Facebook friends, a devout Catholic who is a big believer in home births and breastfeeding:
The post got a number of likes, and four comments praising the Pope.
Not only did NBC pick up the story, but the New York Times carried a similar AP story,
that found this invitation to breastfeed so noteworthy that it mentioned the fact twice in a brief eight paragraph story.
I am happy to see progress of any kind, and glad to see Facebook comments supporting much-needed change.
Another title could have been:
"Organization that Promotes High Birthrates has an Event for Babies, at the Event Babies are Allowed to Eat."
The fact that it is noteworthy a Pope has encouraged breast feeding highlights the entrenched misogyny and hypocrisy of one of the planet's most powerful organizations. Their 1.1 billion members make up 16% of the world's population and are found in substantial numbers on almost every continent.
As I see it, this Pope, rather than being super awesome, is meeting minimum standards. Praise his actions if you wish, but in my opinion the cries of "Yes!" would be more effective if reframed as "Yes!...and..."
Apparently Catholic mothers are so accustomed to NOT being allowed to feed their babies when needed that they require assurance to proceed with this most mundane act. Did I mention that this event was held in one of the organization's most sacred spaces? A place that logically - given the importance of babies in this religion - should have a tradition of babies being fed without the bat of an eyelash?
Apparently that logic is not so. This incident made worldwide news because the leader has broken with 2,000 years of tradition. Two THOUSAND. Not only is this leader only barely meeting minimum requirements, the previous 265 men who held his post did not.
Oh my lordy lord.
You may think that I am taking this rather personally, and if so, you are correct. I was raised in a conservative Catholic household and community that aligned itself completely with Church doctrine.
One of those doctrines is that of Papal infallibility: the Pope is always right no matter what. When I was little I was taught that should I ever disagree with any of the Church's teachings, I must pray to God for the grace to see that I was wrong. No thinking allowed!
Despite my parish's exhortations of "Don't hide your light under a basket," if someone's light consisted of exposing hypocrisy, misogyny, rascism, sexual abuse, homophobia, transphobia, people-who-belong-to-any-other-religion-other-than-Catholicism-pohbia, and all other manners of violence so counter-intuitively perpetuated in the name of God was, as you may expect, stuck under that basket more often than not.
When some people get angry they tense their jaws, their fists, their bellies. Over the last ten years I have come to realize that when I am angry - especially when I feel angry and powerless - I clench the bejeezus out of my pelvic floor, the most hidden part of my body, the place where I can hide this anger and therefore protect myself from repercussion the best.
I recently read (on a blog, I can't remember which one, tell me if you do) a pelvic pain patient comparing her musculature to that of a clenched fist, held for years on end. Of course, when that hand begins to relax, it will not be the same as before. It would be exhausted, weak, painful, tense.
And after 18 years of living in a Catholic household that is exactly what happened to my pelvic floor.
I don't blame the Catholic Church for my pain - I don't blame anyone or anything, as a matter of fact.
But I do acknowledge the fact that any and all illness is due to a dysfunctional relationship between our outsides (environment, stressors, etc) and insides (diet, physicality, emotions, etc.) So yes, I see a clear connection between my Catholic upbringing, the Papacy, and my pelvic pain.
It's not only me. I have known other Catholic-raised women, some of whom continue to identify as Catholic on some level, who make the same connection: misogyny (or any violence) disguised as spirituality is a sickness. And, not to pick on Catholics, I'm guessing many women connect their pelvic pain to experiences or beliefs they have had, religious or otherwise.
* * *
I am not opposed to Christianity, or any other religion. My spirituality is dearly important to me, and I wish to respect the culture and structure of others' spirituality.
Yet it is incumbent on all of us to resist and speak against the violence that threads it's way through our religious institutions. They are not perfect, nor should they be. But like all people and organizations, religious establishments should be held to high standards, striving to continually evolve into better versions of themselves.
Religions carry an even heavier responsibility than other organizations because they purport to connect humans to divinity, The Meaning of Life, afterlife, our interconnection with everything on this planet and beyond. They are with us in joy, but also take a deep responsibility to be with us in dark times, offering us hope and healing. Their reach extends far beyond their adherents, molding broader society's ethics and values.
Introducing violence, hate, and exclusion into these places of intense vulnerability and importance magnifies that violence beyond the effect it would have had elsewhere. Should a religious institution break it's covenant to care for people, it must take the violation seriously and correct it. This should not take 2,000 years.
This planet and it's inhabitants deserve better.