Kevin McCardle, a professor at UCLA in the School of Management of all places, has a short and very clever reflection in the online edition of America magazine this week. His piece is titled, “In Praise of Radical Feminists: American Women Religious and the Call to Service.” The title is intended to be somewhat ironic, as reading the whole essay reveals, in that this charge of “radical feminism” leveled by the CDF at the LCWR in the now-famous “Doctrinal Assessment” has garnered much attention without significant reflection. McCardles thoughtful essay takes these two terms — radical and feminist — and looks at (a) what they actually mean and (b) how the mission statements of apostolic communities of women religious are, in fact, both radical and feminist in the truest and most genuine sense. Something, it should be noted, that is quite different from the disparaging colloquial usage popular among conservative pundits and, now it would seem, among certain Roman Catholic critiques of women religious.
One point of contention in the Doctrinal Assessment, and one for which the L.C.W.R. receives a reprimand, is the prevalence of “radical feminist” themes in some programs sponsored by the L.C.W.R. An alternative view, however, is that it is exactly their radical feminist nature for which American Catholic women religious should be praised.
A radical is someone who maintains strong principles and acts on them. What makes Catholic women religious so radical? Nothing more than the fact that they gave up their former lives and followed Christ.
He then presents snippets from the moving mission statements of several congregations of women religious, noting that, “the radical nature of the call in both the D.M.J and O.S.F. mission statements and their clarity that it is a religious call, not one of personal fulfillment. It is a call to community, prayer and action. It is not a call to power and glory, but to service in the name of Christ and his church.”
McCardle explains how he understands the term “feminism,” stating: “A feminist advocates rights for women equal to those for men. Feminism also provides a proactive approach to women’s place in society and church,” and goes on to explain:
By their very charism, professed Catholic women religious are both radical and feminist: radical in their response to Christ’s call; feminist in their carving out a role for themselves in the Catholic Church. For the L.CW.R. to deny the radical feminist nature of its existence, or worse yet, as the Doctrinal Assessment seems to demand, to renounce the radical feminist nature of its existence would be, I think, a dishonor to the hundreds of thousands of Catholic women religious who have served the U.S. church. It would also be a disservice to the Roman Catholic Church, its laity and its magisterium. For wherever the American Catholic Church presents an organized response to Christ’s call in Matthew 25: 35-40, there you will find member congregations of L.C.W.R. at the forefront. These are the exact roles that the Doctrinal Assessment “effusively” praises.
I agree with McCardle on the point that our sisters in religious life should be praised for their commitment to “radical” Christian living and a proactive “feminist” outlook that works for equality among both sexes of the human family, which equally reflect the imago Dei of our creation. I hope that the irony isn’t lost on those responsible for the misuse of these terms and can appreciate the heroic lives and work of our sisters in Christ.