In this article, and the one on Toronto feminists by David Dooley in this edition, as well as previous articles on the same subject, we are not considering the intentions of those who profess these ideas: we are considering the ideas themselves and their internal logic.  It could well be that Church feminists have no intention of denying fundamental truths of the Faith and that they wish to remain in the Church.  But that is not at issue.  We are engaged in an objective examination of certain affirmations and the conclusions to which they logically lead.  Editor.

For the second year in a row the Catholic retreat centre of the Kingston motherhouse of the Sisters of Providence organized a four-week workshop on “Women’s Spirituality” (Tuesday evenings, March 31 to April 28).  For the second year in a row it proved to be a blistering attack upon the Catholic Church, the Pope, and Catholic women who do not accept the feminist ideology.

The  workshop was advertised in some Kingston parishes and conducted by Carolyn Dawson of the Toronto Sisters of Loretto.

The tools employed were videos of feminist conferences and the propaganda films produced by Studio D, the Women’s Studio of Canada’s National Film Board, specifically the 1984 production Nuns: Behind the Veil and the more recent The Burning Times.

Nuns: Behind the Veil

Nuns: Behind the Veil, shown in the 1991 workshop, is fiction presented as fact.  Despite its fictional content, it is rated as a documentary.

The film refers to the time of the Druids, when people venerated female deities, as a Golden Age.  Alas, this wonderful pagan time was ended by the coming of male Christians such as St. Patrick in Ireland, with their God the Father and God the Son.  However, despite this, the monasteries became places where women, especially the abbesses, enjoyed freedom and power.  But says the film, jealous bishops helped to put an end to all this.  Finally, in the sixteenth century the Council of Trent solved the female power problem by cloistering all nuns!

With history presented like this, it is a useful tool to indoctrinate participants in a women’s retreat to the presumed evils of patriarchy and exclusive language.  Two pro-lifers, Mary Ellen Douglas and Mrs. Joan Jackson, who had not attended the 1991 indoctrination workshop, were reluctantly allowed to register.  Perhaps Sister Dawson had a premonition that this time she might meet opposition.  If so, she was proved right.

Workshop one

On the first night, 15 persons were present, about four of whom were Sisters of Providence.  The song “We are the Body of Christ” was played.  Sister Dawson said that she had wished to begin with “dancing” to it, but hesitated since some were newcomers.  She asked for comments regarding the direction of the sessions.

One woman wanted to begin an immediate discussion of strategies for the future.  Another wondered if the group would do some rituals.

Instead, it started with an hour-long video showing a presentation by American Sister Madonna Kolbenschlag, to the “Women in the Church Conference” held in Washington in 1986.

In her now famous book Ungodly Rage, The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism, (1991) Donna Steichen, who was present at this conference, describes Sr. Kolbenschlag’s talk as follows:

“In her blistering address, she excoriated the Papacy, the Church, Western Civilization, the Judeo-Christian Tradition, the Holy Trinity and monotheism.  Then she asked the audience in the name of ‘our elder brother, Jesus,’ to be a scandal to patriarchy’….”
“The myth of the Father God,” she said, “ensured a world of dominance and despondence….Patriarchy, embedded in the creation story of Genesis, is the universal religion.  What explains the persistence of the myth?  What explains its selection?”

There were other myths available at the time, she says.  But the genesis myth marked the establishment of monotheism and the legitimation of patriarchy as the way of nature – as God’s will!

Sister Madonna Kolbenschlag goes on to say that in presenting a transcendent God, the creation myth in the Bible’s first book Genesis is the cause of bigotry, racism, etc.  Authority comes to be vested in the male, who is told to rule over the woman and subdue the earth.  The woman is presented as the cause of evil, and the snake, which is the symbol of female fertility, is banished signifying the banishing of the goddess and of woman’s free and autonomous expression of her sexuality.

One would think that these distortions of truth would suffice to discredit the speaker once and for all. But no.  Kolbenschlag also argues that the Vatican is preoccupied with laws against divorce, contraception, abortion, female altar servers and ordination.  This has nothing to do with the mind of Christ, she says, but everything with the desire to control a woman’s expression of her sexuality and with preventing her exercising complete control over her own body!

Just as these falsehoods were applauded in Washington, so the video was warmly received by the participants with heads nodding approvingly.  One of the sisters present mentioned the freedom she has felt since she discovered her own truth within!

Violence against women

The second session consisted of more of the same, this time with the film “The Burning Times” as guide, accompanied with a talk by Caroline Dawson on “Violence to Women.”  According to Sr. Dawson, Jesus took a stand against patriarchy.  She wondered out loud what happened later to His “value system.”

In commenting on the biblical account of the cure of the woman with the haemorrhage, Dawson stated that a women’s blood was considered unclean because it has power and that this belief is still at the root of much misogyny in the Church!

Sister Dawson blamed the violence against women on the Church, and the film The Burning Times was to provide “the evidence.”

According to her, the recent “Family Violence Resource Kit” produced by the Catholic Women’s League and the 1989 Quebec pastoral letter A Heritage of Violence also claim the same patriarchy as the source of violence against women.

The Burning Times

In a letter of complaint to the CRTC (Canadian Radio and TV Commission) dated May 27, 1991, asking for removal of this film from public showing the Canadian Catholic Civil Rights League states,

“The Burning Times” clearly exposes Catholics to hatred and contempt, especially by means of falsifying history and the use of inflammatory and false statements against the Catholic Church.”

“Christianity is portrayed as anti-women per se,” the CCRL says.  Therefore, the Catholic Church is shown as “a wicked, patriarchal, misogynist institution” which supposedly sup-pressed “the rights and privileges of women.”

The film’s title refers to the burning of witches.  The theme is that of violence against women, who supposedly were the healers and counselors of their day.  They possessed wisdom and power and were involved in an ancient cult of an earth goddess.  But the evil males of the Christian patriarchy, fearing the power of women, accused them of being in league with the devil and supposedly burned nine million of them at the stake.  (The witch-burning craze involved both women and men and according to the best historians numbered 60,000 at the most, many of them in areas overrun by “Reformers.”)

Several scenes in the film portraying modern times show pagan type rituals being per-formed by participants including the witch Starhawk associated with the notorious Father Matthew Fox of California.

In answer to objections against this vicious propaganda from a participant, Sr. Dawson warned her not to go out there saying that she was teaching paganism.  She advised her to take an up- to-date course in Ecclesiology (Church structures).

Action was called for

By now the two pro-lifers had had enough.   Armed with documentation on the videos and an account of the proceedings, they met with Archbishop Francis Spence of Kingston asking him to close down the workshop as a threat to the faith and morals of the partici-pants.

But His Grace felt that they should go through the appropriate chain of command by first contacting Mr. Martin Jeffrey, the Director of Providence Centre.  They might also get in touch with the Superior General of the Sisters of Providence, Sister Irene Forrester.  As Archbishop, he said he has no direct authority over either the Sisters of Providence since they are a pontifical order, or Mr. Martin Jeffrey.

The pro-lifers indicated a certain urgency because the following week the video The Goddess Remembered would be shown.  According to the agenda, the fourth week looked as if it might be a witchcraft-naming ceremony.

Besides that, the attending Sisters exercised influence in parish communities.  One had given a recent Lenten talk during which she said she prefers to pray to the “God within.” In answer to a question she admitted to having trouble with including adoration as a form of prayer.

The two pro-life women agreed to follow the directive of their Archbishop, indicating, as politely as possible, that it was their intention to inform the community of what was going  on at the Centre.

On April 10, they delivered a letter to Mr. Jeffrey, outlining the objections to the workshop series, the reasons for their concern and a request that it be stopped, Mr. Jeffrey, employed by the Sisters of Providence, is a laicized priest and a former editor of the disastrous Come to the Father religion course of the Seventies.

When the day of the third workshop arrived, Tuesday, April 14, and no answer had been received, the bishop was phoned and urged to contact Mr. Jeffrey.

No word was received by Tuesday evening; so action was taken.  Ten men and women prayed the Rosary outside the Retreat Centre while the two pro-lifers offered the incoming participants background documentation on the videos.

Mr. Jeffrey was not pleased when told of this, considering it to be “aggressive.”

When  his letter finally arrived, it proved a whitewash of the events.  “In an open church as envisioned by Vatican Council 11,” he wrote, “we all must all be prepared to listen and dialogue with each other.”

As for Sr. Madonna Kolbenschlag, “I do not hear any exaggerated criticism of the Church, the bishops or of the Holy Father.  I hear a concerned Catholic woman who loves her Church and seeks to renew it in the best sense of that word.”

As if to justify the proceedings at the “retreat,” Jeffrey listed Sr. Caroline Dawson’s credentials: a Doctorate in Sacred Theology /Ministry through St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto; teaching at high school, College and Faculty of Theology levels; ten years as director of theological field education for priests, sisters and laity studying at the St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology in Toronto.

Sr. Caroline, he pointed out for good measure, has also undertaken studies and acquired experience in spirituality and spiritual direction.

Jeffrey also followed another approach to justify what was going on.  He enclosed copies of the interventions of Bishop Lebel of Valleyfield at the 1980.