Virginia Lafond

Rome Reflections Day 5.5

Posted on October 8, 2023 by Virginia Lafond

When I quickly wrote my ‘Roman Elizabeth Story’ on Saturday morning, I very well knew it needed editing. I did edit it as best I could in the 45 minutes that I had at the airport, before I boarded my flight; however, even with Veronica Dunne’s excellent editing together with her input of valuable facts, I need to tell you:

  • Sister Elizabeth Mary’s family/last name is Davis – not Davies as I mistakenly understood it to be when I first wrote;

  • Elizabeth, you’ll remember, listed for us a number of aspects of the almost eight decades of her life – in teaching, healthcare, and religious life – that she believes that these aspects, once ‘summed up’, persuaded Pope Francis to appoint her as a voting delegate in the Synod of Synodalities.

To my chagrin, I realized 2 or 3 days ago that I didn’t tell you about one of these facts when I first wrote about our Zoom encounter with her last Thursday (October 5), Therefore, I’d like to tell you that story now.

In 1985 Elizabeth was taking a course given by none other than (the well-known feminist theologian) Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza at Notre Dame University, Indiana. When the final exam came out she saw that there were but two questions which, in her view, were simplistic (my word). and she at first decided she would not even try to address either of them. However, a friend kept nudging her, reminding her that there would be some grief if, in not answering one of the two questions, she failed the course. Fast forward, she caved and submitted a response to Fiorenza. When Fiorenza phoned her shortly after, Elizabeth first thought she had failed the course. Instead, Fiorenza explained that she was writing a book, and then she proposed to include Elizabeth’s exam submission in a section of her book.1

Friends, that book is the outstanding classic entitled In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. (Crossroad. New York. 1992). “Yes, I do have a contribution in that book,” Elizabeth declared to us. Actually, I myself have kept a copy of it on my shelf for at least two decades – and, thanks to this fabulous encounter with Elizabeth Mary Davis, I plan to soon read the whole book again, this time with a deep hopeful lens.

I’m pausing now to remind myself again of a welcome fact: Both Catherine Clifford (an “official” Canadian delegate with whom we also met) and Elizabeth Mary Davis are progressive/constructive-thinkers, loving, and well-educated women who think outside the box. (Contrast them to many other women who have been up till now appointed to Vatican committees.)

Before leaving you, I thought I’d explain one more time, for what it’s worth, why I decided to come to Rome with my eight companions. Here goes:

Anyone who comes to know me has probably heard me identify myself as the most Protestant (read ‘protesting’) Roman Catholic on the face of Mother Earth. Why have I stayed with the Church with a vision of somehow contributing to its badly needed reform? I believe my answer, in great part, is related to my professional social work lens: I see the Roman Catholic Church as powerful beyond measure, influencing countless numbers of its baptized members, other individuals and organizations outside the church, including great and small organizations (think of its membership in the United Nations) – and, though many members validly claim gains from the church’s influence, others don’t have a positive experience.

I’m sad to say what is obvious, ie, great numbers of people have had and are experiencing terrible abuse, including physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. Some of those abused are children. But, I want to mention here that, through my work as a social worker/therapist, I have worked with adults who have been abused in one way or another by Roman Catholic clergy. Victims can end up feeling that they in some way are responsible for the abusive behaviour. I’m wanting to emphasize here that the outcome of abuse to the victim can take decades to come to the person’s consciousness, and when it does, the work of regaining the health of mind, soul and body can be, and most often is, one huge task.

As well, years ago I learned from Sister Veronica Dunne, RNDM, (CNWE Conference, 2001) that any group which holds ‘power over’ others always makes for suffering for/in those others. Thus, I perceive that those who hold second-class citizenship in the church, viz., all the women and all the non-clerical men are vulnerable to feelings which range from annoyance to absolute (break-me-down-and-out) frustration. Many leave, criticize, remain angry, move to other religious bodies, go nowhere near ‘organized religion’ ….

Finally, to conclude, I think the church as it is operating is ‘a wreck’. Yes, a wreck. I regret having to say this but I will not take my words back. When I see the Church’s rules and regulations (Canon Law) excluding people from sacraments for various reasons (e.g., marriage breakdown, living with out-of-wedlock partners, living in same-sex unions, ….), I am not only sorrowful but appalled because Jesus the Christ, our centre, taught, lived, and modelled LOVE towards the other, no matter who they were or what they’d done. The Roman Catholic Church absolutely needs to work toward reforming itself to be truly inclusive including expressing love as Jesus did.

I am a practicing Roman Catholic, and have been all my life. I have the wherewithal to speak ‘truth to power’. I came to Rome to do just that. And, I’m not shy to say, that I, along with my fellows in our group of nine did that! Hallelujah!

Enuf! for sure. Thanks so much for reading this. Blessings on us all!

Virginia Lafond

… a member of CNWE (Catholic Network for Women’s Equality) and RCWP (Roman Catholic Women Priests)

1 In Chapter 2, entitled ‘Toward a Feminist Critical Method’ (pp. 40 – 67), one finds Davis’ response to one of two exam questions. Fiorenza introduces it: “…I have found it helpful to encourage students to write stories or letters from the perspective of leading women in early Christianity. … The following ‘apocryphal’ letter of the apostle Phoebe written by one of my students can highlight the educational and imaginative value of retelling and rewriting biblical androcentric text from a feminist critical perspective. #54 is the last note at the end of Chapter 2. It is followed by: “Sr. Elizabeth Davis, paper written for a course on ‘Women in Early Christianity,’ given at the University of Notre Dame, Summer 1978.” The ‘apocryphal’ letter begins on p.61 and ends on p. 64 mid-page.