On Thursday, September 24th, 2015, the day of the much-anticipated papal visit, feminist activist group, Stop Patriarchy, lead by Sunsara Taylor, took to the streets of Manhattan to indict Pope Francis and the Catholic Church for its crimes against women.
While Gawker Media may have lovingly dubbed Pope Francis the “coolest pope who ever poped,” Stop Patriarchy activists view him as merely a superficial rebranding of the same old patriarchal oppressions institutionalized by the Catholic Church. For example, Pope Francis recently made the announcement that priests would have the authority to “forgive” women for “the sin of abortion.” While some pro-abortion groups viewed this decree as a step in the right direction, Stop Patriarchy was less than impressed, writing:
“Some people are celebrating Pope Francis’ ‘gracious’ gesture of allowing women who have had abortions one year to repent. This is total bullshit! Women who get abortions have nothing to repent about. Fetuses are not babies. Abortion is not murder. Women are not incubators.”
Drawn to Stop Patriarchy’s unflinching defense of women, I joined them on Thursday in “The Procession of Unrepentant Women,” marching through Manhattan, declaring that women had committed no sin for which they should be ashamed. Rather, it is the Catholic Church who should “repent” for contributing to the deaths of women — 47,000 each year — who die due to a lack of access to safe, legal abortion.
The Unrepentant Women donned white pants stained with red paint symbolizing the blood of botched, back-alley abortions and carried bloody wire hangers. We hoisted images of women who had lost their lives to this barbarity. Chains wrapped around our arms, bodies, and necks, symbolizing the institution of marriage upheld by the Catholic Church and Pope Francis’ condemnation of divorce and birth control, enslaving women as “little more than breeders” within the patriarchal family, with no escape.
As I put on my “bloody” pants, I experienced a visceral feeling of discomfort. As women, beginning with our first menstrual cycle, we are ever-careful and vigilant in avoiding “leaks.” To have a visible menstrual stain on our clothes in public would be the ultimate embarrassment and shame! But there we were, drawing attention to our female anatomy and the blood of our reproductive systems, as a way to show we are not ashamed. Instead, it is those who perpetuate violence against us for having female biology who should be ashamed of contributing to such heinous acts.
The atmosphere that day was abuzz with the electricity of a large, shared event taking place — the sort of energy that makes one slightly more aware in their day-to-day lives that they are actually part of a civic community. Pedestrians with their signature brisk New Yorker pace and I’ve-got-shit-to-do aura were more likely to look up at the people around them and stop to see what out-of-the-ordinary event was going on. Many stopped to observe/photograph the spectacle of women in bloody garb shouting: “The Catholic Church enslaves women!”
This is a bold statement that few millennials would utter in earnest, as many seem to regard the Catholic Church with an air of cynical detachment and a prevailing attitude of, “Well, of course the Catholic Church is terrible. But what do you expect? It’s the Catholic Church!” Yet for some reason, many people who aren’t even Catholic and who hold critical views of the Church praise Pope Francis, saying things like, “You have to admit he’s a cool guy and at least way better than the last pope.” Hell, I’ve even praised him, myself. I mean, he did invite Rachel Moran to meet with him. Wow, what a cool pope! … *Ahem* Pardon me.
Strangely, the Catholic Church seems more relevant than it’s been in years. Pope Francis is an Internet-media goldmine, cranking out headline after headline, making “chill pope” statements that liberals love one day, followed by controversial ones decried as “bigotry” the next. (It looks like even the Dalai Lama is taking a page out of the Pope Francis playbook and trying to grasp at relevancy.)
Meanwhile, the headlines keep pouring in: “Pope Francis says evolution is real, God is no wizard!” “Pope Francis compares transgender people to nuclear weapons!” “Pope Francis says to breed like rabbits!” Anything the Catholic Church actually does is overshadowed by the unrelenting Pope Francis quote machine. In the 21st century, he is less the political and spiritual leader of Catholicism and more its celebrity (a bad-boy rebel), siphoning off all the attention. (Ignore the pedophile priests behind the curtain.)
It was refreshing to see Stop Patriarchy taking the Catholic Church to task for the material impacts it has on the lives of women. The Procession of Unrepentant Women indicted Pope Francis on three counts of “felonious and malicious cruelty against women”:
1) “For condemning divorce, causing millions of women to be trapped, over centuries, in violent, abusive, and spirit crushing marriages.”
2) “For condemning birth control, destroying the lives of millions of women who’ve been forced for centuries to live as little more than breeders, forced to have child after child against their will, dying in childbirth and cast out in shame if they do not slavishly subordinate and sacrifice their every desire to serving husband and child.”
3) “For condemning women’s right to abortion… As one example of this barbarity, ex-communicating those who assisted a nine year old rape victim in getting an abortion in Brazil but not the grown man who raped her.”
Among other charges in the indictment were two counts of “aiding and abetting genocide”:
1) “For condemning condoms, adding gasoline to the genocidal fires of the HIV/AIDS epidemic as it tore though the country of Africa and other oppressed parts of the world.”
2) “For the canonization of ‘Saint’ Junipero Serro, who was responsible for the physical and cultural genocide of Native Americans. Father Serra set up the mission system in California that led to the deaths of over 60,000 Native Americans from 1769 to 1821.”
The Unrepentant Women ended their march at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where the Pope was to give a speech later in the day. The plan was to post the indictment to the door of the church, but a police barricade was set up that prevented church access. Instead, the indictment was delivered in front of the church and posted to the police barricade itself. As the indictment was recited, several police officers — some armoured and wielding assault rifles — pressed in around us. Yet no woman’s voice faltered, and our piece was heard. We stood up for women, “cool pope” or not.