SOCIAL EDGE INTERVIEW: THEOLOGIAN AND ACTIVIST MARY HUNT
By Rosemary Ganley
Dr. Mary Hunt is
a Catholic feminist theologian who co-founded the Women's Alliance
for Theology Ethics and Ritual (WATER) in 1983 in Silver Spring,
Maryland. WATER is a research and education center which invites
women and men from around the world to bring feminist insights
to religious practice in the service of social change.
Mary Hunt lectures
worldwide, and writes on theology and ethics with attention to
liberation issues. She is the author of A Guide for Women in Religion:
Making Your Way from A to Z, (Palgrave). With Patricia Beattie
Jung and Radhika Balakrishna she edited Good Sex: A Feminist Perspective
from the World's Religions (Rutgers University Press).
This past August,
Hunt helped organize the 25th anniversary conference of Women-Church
Convergence, a coalition of 36 Catholic-rooted women's organizations
in the U.S. and Canada. I spoke with Hunt at the conference, which
was held in Chicago.
Rosemary Ganley: In
the wake of two recent Vatican statements, the first reasserting
the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church and describing other
Christian denominations as "suffering from defects,"
and the second entitled Summorum Pontificum bringing back the
Latin Mass with its prayers for the conversion of the Jews, many
Catholic reformers are saying that Vatican II is "over."
Do you agree?
Mary Hunt: I think
it is simply ahistorical to claim that Vatican II is over. The
Council has had a significant and lasting effect. It is not possible
to erase the paradigm shift in Catholicism which it articulated.
Even the virulent restorationist forces which seem to be ascendant
in the Vatican today cannot do that.
The second reason
Vatican II cannot be erased is that its ideas are remarkably similar
to postmodern ways of thinking. These ways include the complete
dismantling of hierarchical structure and power. The postmodern
mind doesn't cop to the older model. Then globalization with its
powerful communication tools which show to the entire world both
the interlocking systems of violence, injustice and suffering,
and at the same time the unstoppable human yearning for a sustainable
livelihood and participation in all communities (including that
of faith), makes top-down, men-only edicts from a central authority
Taking those things
together there is really no rolling back of the Council's insights.
The People of God, certainly those I see of the female gender,
are going to act like the People of God.
RG: How do you describe
the conference here in Chicago and the directions it shows women
in Catholicism are taking?
MH: Several things
have happened here. Women from diverse Catholic backgrounds and
diverse ministries have come together in a harmonious way in the
context of the larger picture, which is that inescapably that
of war and greed. Any differences among the women have been only
strategic or personality-driven, not substantial. Here we have
had many religious communities of women, including the Loretto
Sisters, the Dominicans, Franciscans and Mercy and Cenacle Sisters,
feminist scholars, pastoral workers, Roman Catholic Womenpriests,
reproductive rights activists and ecological leaders.
One great joy for
us was the participation of Sr. Theresa Kane, who in 1979 stood
up in the National Cathedral (in Washington D.C.) and told Pope
John Paul II he must listen to women. Another was the presence
on each of our tables of the names of great foremothers in the
long struggle for equality. (From Canada incidentally, were the
names of Bertha Wilson, Doris Anderson and June Callwood).
But there is a new
thing happening in 2007.The focus of these women now in ministry
is the world, not the Church. They are not, in its fundamental
sense, reformers. They are not trying to change a recalcitrant
and kyriarchal Church, but to embody liberation and commitment
to a more humane world. This means to confront racism, heterosexism
and economic and ecological injustice. They are struggling to
be defined not by the official Church, but by their engagement
in the needs of the world.
We need a new framework
for understanding critically how the Roman Catholic Church in
its institutional form has become an unsafe and unsavory environment
where felony behaviour has been covered up and children put at
risk. Once we have understood that framework --and Women-church
has gone a long way towards it-- we must find new definitions
of ourselves and our community as Catholics in a pluralistic world.
We need a public forum for discussion, a critical, civil debate,
and a vision of the future. Then we need structures to organize
our common life in ways that reflect the values of our faith.
Through all this, celebration, which is what good liturgy is.
RG: Is there in fact
a crisis in Catholicism?
MH: I am reluctant
to describe the current situation as a crisis. I think it is a
logical, if unintended consequence, of a system in urgent need
of deep change. Frankly I am not in crisis and most Catholic feminists
I know are not in crisis. I think it is a time when the North
American Catholic Church is learning in the hardest possible way
that it must become a faith community led by women such as Elisabeth
Schüssler Fiorenza, and by men not bound up in clerical knots.
It is an opportunity, not a crisis, to re-think the basics and
repair the damage. I am confident our faith can survive such scrutiny.
If it cannot, we are in bigger trouble than we thought.
RG: Are the women of
this movement Catholic?
MH: Of course, there
are many ways of being Catholic. Ministry springs from one's baptism.
We strive to appropriate it through prayer, discernment, and the
friendship of others. We are seeking always the guidance of Divine
Wisdom. We are shaken by the statements and attitudes of the present
leadership of the Catholic Church. We are scandalized, for example,
by the size of the financial settlement recently announced by
the Archdiocese of Los Angeles ($660 million) showing the immensity
of clerical sex abuse crimes. And as we weep over suffering in
Iraq and Afghanistan, we strive to change the scandalous policies
of our government in its persistent war making and neglect of
the poor. It is frustrating to be able to use mapping technology
to find a street in Baghdad, but to be powerless to stop a government
from bombing it.
Within this difficult
matrix, our Church and state is in disrepair, to put it mildly.
Perhaps Women-Church is seen by some as heretical, but I think
history will show that at the beginning of the twenty-first century,
the Church was unable to carry the freight of the Gospel message.
We seek to maximize
our positive effect on the world, putting aside our differences,
as for example, over the ordination of women priests or the reproductive
rights agenda, in order to work within our movement, and inter-religiously,
in a kind of holy spiral. We seek to do this publicly so that
when people think of Catholic, they think of us.
We are modeling what
it means to be a "discipleship of equals," that ringing
phrase of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, who was with us in
The women see their
ministries in justice, community building, peace making, doing
theology, and political advocacy as part of a large global movement.
There is a noticeable shift in consciousness away from negating
the statements coming from Rome and a refusal to respond to the
agenda set there, but rather to be about construction, in hope
and love rather than in shame and scandal. The Church takes on
a public voice and so must we. It has an enormous influence globally
and in many ways is part of the interlocking systems of injustice.
We simply cannot be lied to or intimidated any more.
Doing theology is
an activity of justice-seeking friends. I find that only by attending
to the divine-human nexus in all its diversity and complexity
can I approximate a political strategy deep enough to make change.
RG: Is religion experiencing
some kind of renaissance?
MH: Young people are
increasingly interested in religion. At WATER, our efforts to
engage in inter-generational dialogue have yielded us a few clues.
Some people have such a narrow vision of religion we do not recognize
a religious question when it comes up. There is the frightening
instability of the world; the degradation of the earth, the violence
we now witness and perpetuate. All are urgently-asked religious
And some religious
practices just make good sense. Attention to food and friends,
sharing and solidarity with others, taking Sabbath time and retreat
weekends, fasting and feasting, all add texture and meaning to
life. I frequently mentor young people when looking at these questions:
I am also enriched by being mentored by them.
RG: Your work is about
liberation. Albert Nolan of South Africa in his new book describes
the Gospel message as basically one of freedom. To what extent
do you agree with this notion?
MH: I have not read
Fr. Nolan's book yet, but if he means freedom in the sense that
all life on this planet is flourishing, I agree. But freedom in
a personal, individual sense can lead to tyranny and to narcissism.
Love and justice are the central message of the Gospel, and I
would add, sacramental solidarity. So many and so much need liberation.
RG: Do you think it
important to consider one's social location when doing theology?
MH: Yes, very much
so. Each one's perspective is specific, limited. I am a white,
North American feminist. I am committed, as are many others, to
the creation of new structures that are egalitarian and democratic.
We can see many interlocking ways by which injustice functions,
and we can envision many interlocking ways, large and small, by
which justice can be done.
Finally, I believe,
equality and mutuality will trump hierarchy and greed. Because
being Church and doing justice are one and the same thing.
is a long-time Catholic teacher and journalist who for five years
was co-editor of Catholic New Times. She is now on the board of
Amnesty International Canadian Section. Her article "Open
Talk About Church Needed" appeared in the October 2005 issue
of The Social Edge.
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