(The following is a letter of apology to all women, from His Holiness Pope Francis.)
Dear women –
It’s so funny, isn’t it? How you go through life, and at a certain point you think you have things pretty much figured out, but then – big surprise – you don’t? I am 81 years old, and I thought the rest of my life would be showing up and doing the pope job. Following the daily agenda. An easy slide from here to the end.
So imagine my surprise when I was on Facebook yesterday, watching the CEO of Starbucks apologizing to the two African American men who were arrested in one of his stores, basically for being black. I was thinking, wow, this is a great apology, and suddenly I heard a voice that said, “Francis, pay attention to this because you too have some apologizing to do.”
The voice was in my head but also in the room. It was majestic, and all around me. “Is that you, God?” I asked.
“Who else would it be?” the voice said.
I was flooded with feelings: tremendous awe, that it was actually God, the Big Man, the Guy Upstairs, the Real Deal. And fear, that I had done something that made him angry enough to speak to me. And yes, okay, a tiny little bit of pride. Because as far as we know, He hasn’t ever spoken directly to a pope or a bishop or a cardinal. Until me. Mama would be so proud.
“I have been watching what has been going on down there on Earth,” God said, “and I have to tell you, Francis, I am not happy with how you and the other popes and the bishops and the cardinals have been running things for the last couple thousand years. I am not happy at all. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty pissed.”
Awe and pride vanished instantly, leaving only fear. I fell to my knees and prostrated myself on the floor. “Dear Lord,” I said, “whatever it is we will fix it. Is it all the fornication that’s going on? Ever since birth control, women think they can have sex with anyone they want! Do you want us to crack down on them? We can start automatically excommunicating any woman who has sex outside of marriage. That will get their attention.”
“No, Francis,” He said, patiently. “Women having sex is not the problem. Try again.”
I sat back on my heels. “Is it the smaller families women are having in America and Europe? I’m disturbed by this too. Instead of six or eight or ten children, women now just want one or two. Selfish creatures! I can write a papal bull that excommunicates any woman who refuses to carry out your directive to have a big family.”
“Wrong again, Francis. And I never commanded women to have big families. As a matter of fact, when I look at all the suffering big families cause for women, and all the damage overpopulation has done to the home I gave humanity - and told you to take care of, by the way - I want to smack somebody. But that’s not what I want to talk to you about.”
I could hear in His voice a little edge, a little irritation, and it worried me. I searched my brain for what else it could be. “It’s goddess worship, isn’t it,” I said. “I knew that would lead to trouble. We finally managed to stop women from worshipping the goddess, although we had to burn an awful lot of women at the stake to do it. And now it’s coming back! Dear Lord, for Your glory we will go into the attic here at the Vatican and find where we stashed those stakes, and we’ll start burning women again until they stop this damned goddess baloney.”
“Francis, please. I do not want you to burn women at the stake. The last time you popes did that I was extremely unhappy. What kind of men spend centuries rounding up hundreds of thousands of women so you can torture and kill them? And for what? Because some want to believe I’m a woman and not a man?”
I could tell that I had angered God, though I could not understand why. I was trying my best, and I kept guessing. “Is it women refusing to accept that marriage and babies are what you designed them for? That’s it, isn’t it. Some of them have babies outside marriage. Some of them don’t get married at all. They’re totally out of control!”
“Francis, stop. Just stop.”
I heard God take a deep breath, and then His voice became patient, like the voice you use on a small child who doesn’t understand what you are trying to say. “What women are doing is not the problem. Does it seem strange to you that everything you’ve said to me is about blaming women? That not once have you thought that it might be something you have done? You popes, you cardinals, you bishops? You men?”
“I… I don’t understand, my Lord. We have only done as we thought you wanted us to do.”
Now His voice became sharp. “Francis! Get your head out of your butt!”
I was startled. Not since my blessed Mama has anyone said that to me.
“Look,” God said. “I have waited for you to figure this out on your own, and I’m getting tired of waiting. I guess I have to draw you a picture because it doesn’t look like you’re ever going to get it without help.” I couldn’t miss the irritation in His voice. I felt a tiny little bit of irritation too. Yes, He was God. But did we have to play the guessing games?
“Let me be very clear,” He said. “The problem I’m talking to you about is exactly what you have been telling me is the problem. It’s women. But it’s not what they are doing. It’s what you have done, and continue to do, and it’s all because you keep using the word ‘them.’ Women are not them, Francis. They are human beings, just like you are. They are no different.”
My knees were killing me, and so I got up from the floor. I wanted to sit down, but how does one sit in the presence of God? So I stood. “With all due respect, Lord,” I said, “the church accepts that they are human beings, that they are equal to us in dignity and value. I have given speeches about this, and my most recent predecessors have published documents about this.”
“Why is it necessary to make speeches? To publish documents?”
“Well,” I said, thinking hard. How to put this into words? How to explain that women had mostly accepted their roles from the beginning of the church until quite recently, when they started demanding ‘equality,’ and so we have to give them speeches and documents, to assure them that they are already equal so they will stop complaining.
But before I could come up with what to say, God continued. “And what is this whole ‘complementarianism’ business?”
“Oh,” I said. I waved my hand. “That’s a word that explains how women have complementary roles because they’re different than men.” As soon as I said it, I realized God was probably not going to like me using the ‘different’ word. So I hastened to add, “But at the same time they’re equal to us. And we value them highly. Complementarianism isn’t about not being equal. It’s about being different. Different but equal.” Damn it! Why could I not come up with another word for different?
“Different but equal,” God said, slowly. “Like separate but equal?”
“No,” I said, sharply. “Not like separate but equal. We are not racist. And we are not…not…not...”
“Misogynist?” suggested God.
How I hated that word! How I hated women throwing that word at us, every time they got upset about any little thing! I lost my temper in frustration. Surely God wasn’t stupid. Surely God understood the creatures He’d created. “Men and women are not the same!” I shouted. “They have different equipment! They do different things! Men are the fathers and women are the mothers! Men are the soldiers and women are the nurses! Men are the leaders and women are the teachers! This is how you created our species! This is who we are!”
“Hmm,” said God.
I was so angry I was panting. And then suddenly, I remembered who it was I was shouting at, and what He could do to me with just a thought, and my anger left me. I hung my head, ashamed at my outburst. What kind of pope shouts at God? I waited for Him to punish me, to smite me in some way, blind me or inflict sores on my body or banish me naked to some wilderness to fry in the sun while I contemplated my arrogance.
“Francis,” He finally said. “You and all the other popes, and your cardinals and bishops and priests… you look at women and you see reproduction. You see motherhood. You see vehicles for babies. And that’s all you see.”
“But… isn’t that how you made them?” I asked.
“Gaaaagh!” God made an angry, strangled sound. I flinched, expecting to be smitten. Then I heard Him exhale, long and slow, the exhale of someone who is doing his deep breathing, so he can find his patience.
“I’m sorry,” He said. “I don’t mean to frighten you. And I understand why you are stuck on this. It’s because you, and all your cardinals and all your bishops, you surround yourselves with yourselves. You believe what you were taught to believe by men just like you. And so in your minds this whole way of looking at the world isn’t opinion. It isn’t interpretation. It’s fact. I get that. And I know it’s very hard to change what you believe, especially when what you believe benefits you.
“But you, Francis, of all my popes, you are the one I am hoping can open your eyes and see. The others, well, they liked being pope too much. They loved the little red handmade shoes and the crowns and rings and everybody kneeling and calling them Your Holiness, and all the other symbols of wealth and power. And they loved having the nuns who did their laundry and made their beds and brought their meals and thought they were just so holy. Their minds were closed, and there was no getting through to them. But you… you might be different.
“So here’s what you’re going to do. First, you are going to apologize to women. You are going to relate what we talked about, and you are going ask their forgiveness. Second, you are going to convene a council to help you study this problem, and you are going to come up with a plan to fix it. And this council is going to be made up of women. All women. You will be the only man in the room. I want to see Catholic women, and I want to see women who used to be Catholic. I want to see atheists, and Jews, and Protestants and Hindus and Buddhists. I want representation from all the women on the planet. And I want you to ask the questions, and then I want you to shut up and listen.
“At the end of your council, I want you to publish a document that has two parts. Part one is what is wrong. Part two is how to fix it. I don’t want to see a book. Keep it short and simple.
“And I don’t want this taking forever. A couple months should do it. Say, three months. Starting today.”
“But… but…” I stammered, trying to get my mind around the logistics of what He was instructing me to do. The selection of the women, the invitations, the venue, the hospitality, the publicity, all the prep work could take a year! And then the actual meetings! Listening to a room full of women go on and on about ‘misogyny’ and ‘the patriarchy.’ Shoot me! And then, trying to write a document that would represent what the women said, but in a way the cardinals and bishops and priests would accept because I really did not want to be poisoned. “My Lord,” I said, exasperated. “Three months is no time at all for something like this!”
“You’re the pope, Francis,” He said, without sympathy. “Make it happen.”
And so, dear women, with this letter I am fulfilling the first task God has given me. I am relating His visitation and our dialogue, and I am apologizing to you and asking your forgiveness.
To be honest, I am still not quite sure what He wants me to apologize for, because I don’t understand what the church has gotten wrong. We have assured you over and over that you are indeed just as equal as we are. We have written about your dignity and your value. But clearly, we’ve missed something.
I have faith that my eyes will be opened during the upcoming Vatican Women’s Council, which I will be convening as soon as possible. There are a thousand details to work out, but have no fear. We will get them worked out. This is the first time, as far as any of us knows, that a pope has actually had a conversation with God Himself.
I don’t want to screw this up.