Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Building Goddess Paganism

by Donna Steichen


Neo-paganism or Goddess religion is on the rise in American society. Donna Steichen delves into the history of this movement and who its proponets are. She reveals which "so-called" Catholic organizations are deeply involved in this attack on the Faith.

Larger Work

The Latin Mass



Publisher & Date

Keep the Faith, Inc., Fall 2003

Photomosaic, a contemporary art process patented by Robert Silvers, uses small pictures as a medium to construct a large picture, related in theme. In visual effect it recalls tile mosaic. You have probably seen Silvers' image of the Mona Lisa, composed of hundreds of miniatures of women's faces, reproduced on magazine covers, posters or ad illustrations. If a viewer first looks at the finished picture from afar, then moves closer, he is startled to find that the image is made up of smaller pictures — full face portraits, distant figures, cartoons, photographs, fine art reproductions. It is even more startling to begin by examining the separate components, and then to draw back and see the large image come into focus.

That technique sprang to mind recently when I encountered yet another popular promotion of Goddess religion. "The divine feminine" is the theme of Dan Brown's awkwardly written, historically false, commercially successful novel, The DaVinci Code. Put in photo-mosaic terms, this book is the newest wart on the end of the Goddess's nose.

Gazing at it, I was dismayed to consider how many collaborators are promoting neo-paganism in American society these days. Like the disparate components in Silvers' Mona Lisa, many of its advocates seem only remotely related to each other, or to their end. One has to retreat some distance to see how they combine into a complete image. When it comes into focus, we are faced with a shocking conclusion: this movement intends to root out the faith in God the Father from which Western culture springs, and to replace it with the neo-pagan cult of a Mother Goddess.

Where did this "Goddess" come from?

What kind of religion stirs so evangelistic a spirit in an age inclined to toleration, if not indifference? What is her appeal? Who are her apostles? What kind of "gospel" do they preach?

Goddess religion rose in our society like seawater seeping into a leaky ship, so quietly that few dancers in the salon noticed what was happening until the vessel began to list. Twenty years ago, parents recoiled in anger from any suggestion that neo-pagan witchcraft might be invading their children's campuses. Today, it is lapping at our chins, and no one seems embarrassed to float out of the broom closet any more. Assisted by an unlikely swarm of allies — some of them nominally Catholic — the Goddess movement is swimming boldly toward its blasphemous goal.

Contemporary Goddess religion is an unstable compound of neo-pagan practices drawn from dubious sources: it combines appropriations from established religions with Masonic rituals, primitive drumming and bonfire dancing, elements from Theosophy, Santeria, occultism and voodoo, ancient mythology, literary fantasy, even comic inventions. (One Dallas group calls itself the "HotTub Mystery Religion" and uses nitrous oxide as its chief sacrament.)1

Disciples might be sorted by their attitude toward the truth of their "tradition." Serious occultists exist, who believe they can command spirits and manipulate people and material forces. Such disciples may insist that rituals be performed in a "right" way, to formulaic specifications. Others think they are dealing with unknown but benign spiritual beings, or with imperfectly understood natural powers. These may feel that exact formulae are unimportant.

They call themselves Pagans, Wiccans, witches, Druids, Shamans, followers of Celtic Spirituality. Little distinguishes them from New Agers, except perhaps a fondness for costume. A few, like the HotTubbers, regard the entire neo-pagan experience as creative play, or "performance art," having nothing to do with truth or falsity. Members of such covens are not likely to evangelize, and may reject applicants to their closed circle. There is ample room for individual imagination in the Goddess' nebulous cult, which is a principal part of its attraction. One observer says, "Neo-pagans couldn't agree long enough to organize granola."

Some Goddess followers hold that the deity, if there is one, must be both male and female, both Father and Mother. Others believe "divinity" is only to be found within the self. Most see neo-paganism as a way to flout traditional Christian or Jewish faith, to defy its moral strictures or mock its perceived hypocrisy. More than a few non-believers use Goddess spirituality as guerrilla theater, to make political points or to advance an agenda. Like the publishers and manufacturers who profit financially from the neo-pagan movement, political ideologues are apt to be active recruiters.

Earth Religion?

However much they differ, virtually all neo-pagans describe their belief system as an "Earth Religion" in harmony with the universe; they reject the old belief that nature exists for man's use. The most conspicuous plank in their platform is "eco-feminism," a form of intense environmentalism deeply influenced by two men. One is British scientist James Lovelock, whose 1979 book, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (Oxford University Press), proposed the mythological goddess "Gaia" as a metaphor for a living earth system in which all terrestrial beings are interconnected. The other senior guru is 89-year-old Thomas Berry, a Passionist priest who mutated into a "geologian" during a 12-year stint (1975 to 1987) as president of the American Teilhard Association. He condemns civilization's central institutions, including the Church, as patriarchal, environmentally exploitative agencies. Sounding less like Teilhard than like discredited doomsayer Paul Erlich (The Population Bomb, 1968), Berry warns that mankind must limit population if the universe is to survive.

Berry wants us to learn to look upon the natural world as if it were a sentient being. Enthusiastic and compliant neo-pagans stretch the Gaia metaphor to claim that the Earth is not only living but also a conscious, personified life force. They become pantheists, worshipping material creation as "Gaia" (or Gaea), the Goddess herself.

A more Teilhardian neo-pagan principle holds that all creatures, human, animal, vegetable, and mineral, are equal in value and dignity. Seen from that perspective, mankind's original sin is "anthropocentrism. " But Wiccans deny the doctrine of original sin, along with other Christian dogmas.

The Origins of Goddess Spirituality

Neo-pagan celebrities like Starhawk and Matthew Fox have taught and defended spurious historical claims as literally true, maintaining that peaceful, Goddess-worshipping matriarchies were conquered by warlike prehistoric patriarchs, who ruined their flourishing culture. Most also insist that nine million innocent women were burned as witches during medieval "Burning Times." Some neo-pagans now concede that such tales are fictions but defend both the false "history" and Wiccan doctrines as having "symbolic" value.

But today's Goddess spirituality is of quite recent vintage. Its virtual grandfather was Aleister Crowley, an English satanist from the turn of the last century, though he is rarely mentioned these days, as his perversions horrified even the permissive occultists in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. After they expelled him, Crowley tried Freemasonry, then set up his own "Abbey of Thelcma" to practice "sex magic." When he died in 1947, he left behind a trail of women degraded and terrified into madness.

The major figure in Wicca's invention was Crowley's younger friend, Gerald Gardner, a twentieth-century English civil servant with occult tastes and a desire to impress the world. In the 1950s, Gardner joined a Rosicrucian "Fellowship of Crotona" where, he later claimed, he met members of a "hereditary witch cult" who taught him their ancient rites. In fact, he designed them himself, from rituals borrowed from Crowley, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, and the Order of the Golden Dawn. In other words, "ancient" Goddess Wicca is a product of the 1950s, compiled and adapted by eclectic borrower Gerald Gardner.2 Newer adherents have been adapting it to their own tastes and purposes ever since.

Onlookers alarmed by witchcraft's long association with Satanism are always assured there is nothing to fear. Goddess worshippers don't even believe in Satan, they are told, but live by two Wiccan laws. One is the cautionary "Law of Threefold Return": whatever you give, for good or ill, comes back to you threefold. The other is the quaintly archaic "Wiccan Rede," which states, "An ye harm no one, do what thou wilt."Those familiar with Aleister Crowley hear it as a sanitized version of his motto, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law," and continue to assume the Goddess has cloven hoofs.

Who are her apostles?

Goddess Wiccans do not proselytize, according to authorities on neo-paganism. Yet someone is spreading the word and attracting new devotees. Wicca is said to be the nation's fastest-growing religion, thanks chiefly to teenage girls. Who are its apostles, and how have they achieved this increase?

Feeding the growth curve for some 15 years has been writer "Silver Ravenwolf," who has 32 Wiccan books listed on Amazon; one cynical reviewer refers to her as 'Silver." From her first major success, To Ride A Silver Broomstick (1990) through her mid-decade super-seller, Teen Witch: Wicca for a New Generation, to her latest, Solitary Witch: The Ultimate Book of Shadows for the New Generation (April 2003), all offer explicit, practical lessons on spell casting. (To judge by the eager but untidy reviews her adolescent fans send to Amazon, they might be better advised to study traditional spelling.)

However large Ravenwolf's royalties may be, the Pagan boom has first of all been a bonanza for Llewellyn Publishing, a longtime supplier of occult materials. Fans defend Ravenwolfs star status against that of the late Scott Cunningham, another popular Llewellyn author. His 1990 bestseller, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, is still in print, still holding an extraordinary 987th place in Amazon's sales standings as of this writing.

The immense popularity of the Harry Potter books and films helped detoxify witchcraft in the eyes of the public, as did two teen-targeted television series: Buffy the Vampire Slayer recently concluded seven smash seasons, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch is currently enjoying its seventh season. Sabrina has spawned a torrent of paperback spinoffs. Scholastic Books, with access to schools every where, offers and praises novels about "the Craft." Glamorized "pagan magick" is available in children's board games and video games. Seeking both companionship and direction in their esoteric search, enticed by websites shimmering with crescent moons and enchanted forests, hoping for poetic ritual, imaginative costuming and magickal power, teenagers of both sexes throng into the Covenant of the Goddess, a federation of autonomous covens and individual witches, incorporated in California in 1975.

It isn't only adolescent girls who embrace neo-paganism; adults of both sexes do so as well. A CoG poll done in 2000 estimated the total number of "Witches and Pagans" in the U.S. at approximately 768,400. (Only 11 percent were 17 years and younger; 65 percent fell between 18 and 39; 23 percent between 40 and 59. Only 1 percent were 60 or older.) California has the most, followed by Texas, Florida, and New York, in that order. So perhaps it is unsurprising that cars bearing Wiccan bumper stickers — BLESSED BE, or MERRY MEET, or HONK IF YOU LOVE ISIS — park beside mine in the supermarket lot. At Barnes and Noble and Borders bookstores, neo-pagan titles fill yards of shelf space. In recent days, I stumbled on more local instances of open Paganism, tesserae in the Goddess image now under construction.

  • While shopping, I overheard a young retail clerk chirping audibly to co-workers about the delights of her Wiccan religion.
  • One friend, a convert to Catholicism, said she avoids her pre-conversion coterie because they are caustically critical of the Church, and still deeply involved in the occult, often casting spells in an effort to win her back.
  • The son of a devoutly Catholic local couple married a girl from a devoutly Wiccan family; the bride's mother, a Wicca priestess, officiated at the "hand-fasting."
  • An otherwise conventional acquaintance told me serenely that her 22-year-old daughter-in-law "Rowena" is a witch. Rowena is "perfectly nice," she said, and perfectly tolerant of other religions. "Except Christianity. She bristles if anyone mentions Jesus." One can understand Rowena's aversion to Christ, my companion explained, because in previous incarnations she was burned at the stake by the Church. Twice.

Across America's four directions, and across the world from Australia to the British Isles, Germany and Italy, seasonal pagan festivals draw flocks of goddess followers to firsthand encounters with Mother Earth: tent camping, fireside rituals, optional nudity, non-stop music and all-night drumming. Neo-paganism is "gay friendly," so a disproportionate number of attendees are homosexual. (This is not your mother's summer camp.) Sample tiles from the growing Goddess mosaic:

  • For 28 years the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, a lesbian-dominated event notorious for rampant nudity, has been held in August in the woods of Walhalla, Michigan, near Grand Rapids.
  • Promotional ads for a "Gaea Goddess Gathering" at the 168-acre Gaea Retreat Center near Leavenworth, Kansas, in September, promised a Wild Woman Ritual, another ritual to honor the Goddess Inanna, a Talent Show, and some 25 workshops.
  • Phoenix Enterprises of Florida hosts two "Major Pagan Gatherings" in Florida each year: "PhoenixPhyre" in March, and an "AutumnMeet" gathering in November. The 2003 AutumnMeet is set for a "naturist" (i.e., nudist) resort in Land O' Lakes, 40 miles north of Tampa, and promises five days of "Festival, Workshops, Networking, Ritual, and Drumming."
  • Selena Fox's Circle Sanctuary, in the woods at Mount Horeb, north of Madison, Wisconsin, has sponsored Pagan Spirit Gatherings each summer since 1974. Crowds having apparently outgrown the facilities there, this year's gathering was held in June at Wisteria, Ohio, for "long-time practitioners as well as newcomers" to "Wicca, Paganism, Shamanism, Celtic traditions, Native American ways, Eco-feminism, Animism, Pantheism, Nature Mysticism and related forms of Eco-spirituality."
  • In Culture and Family Report (March 1, 2002 ), Martha Kleder and Robert H. Knight tell of an annual pagan "Midsummer Mountain Mysteries FreedomFest" hosted by Los Alamos' "First Congregational Church of the Old Religion" and held in a nearby national forest. FreedomFest spokesman and "patron god" Robin Goodfellow said that "as much as possible we dissolve the laws and 'thou shalt not' rules of modern 'civilized' culture that we see as coming from a different religious theology." The rules at FreedomFest allow public nudity, public sex, and even public bodily elimination, say the authors. It remains, however, a smoke-free environment.
  • Wicca is so popular with Unitarians that the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans — CUUPs— is an affiliate congregation in the main body of the Unitarian Universalist Association, with its own website, and tax-exempt status as a 501(c)3 on-profit organization.
  • On a less exotic level, Wiccans increasingly demand the social recognition accorded "normal" churches. Wiccan "priests" and "priestesses" are accepted in local ministerial associations, where they sometimes hold office. Wiccan worship services are held on U.S. military installations, on board ship, and in prisons.
  • I have watched unidentified but unmistakable Wiccan rituals (participants called on the Spirits of the Four Directions and the "Powers in the Earth and in the Air" to "honor the Earth" and draw its "energy" into the worshippers) at a theme park demonstration of "Native American" culture, at a Catholic School Earth Day ceremony (in the church sanctuary) and at an Irish Fair exhibitors' booth, while Mass was being celebrated in a large tent on the other side of the park grounds.

Wicca has gone mainstream. No wonder Western culture seems to be coming undone.

The Return of Barbarism

Goddess Wicca is not the only belief system ever invented out of whole cloth. So was Joseph Smith's Mormon sect, plural marriages and all. Mary Baker Eddy based Christian Science on lore she learned from faith healer Phineas Quimby. L. Ron Hubbard, another sometime associate of Aleister Crowley, not only invented Scientology but, like Gerald Gardner, also published its foundational papers in Astounding Science Fiction during the 1950s.

Invented religions tend to become respectable and even hierarchical over time; note the ranks and degrees of honor in Freemasonry. But it is clear that America can no longer be described accurately as a Christian nation. Aside from the emergence of new religions, mainline Protestantism seems to have exhausted its Christian capital. And the pre-conciliar Catholic culture of the United States is dead, too.

Human history is full of lost cultures. The mighty Roman Empire fell when its internal decay collided with the vigorous will of Europe's barbaric peoples. Yet what at first looked like a calamity for civilization proved to be providential for the rise of the Church. The Catholic faith brought Europe out of pagan darkness, raising and animating medieval Christendom.

Facing the pagan spirit in today's culture of death, we looked to the Church to rescue us from this revived barbarism, and restore Catholic culture as she did in the past. As we hoped, the Holy Father issued a stream of encyclicals defending the sacredness of human life, affirming the splendor of Truth, reasserting the Truth of Holy Scripture and the essential role of Jesus Christ in human salvation. Rome warned the faithful against dabbling in false mysticism, and called on bishops to certify the orthodoxy of theologians teaching under their jurisdiction.

The Church is at a grave disadvantage in this cultural war, however. National episcopal conferences, like Vichy French, have apparently come to terms with occupation forces. In Western nations, most shepherds, and many sheep, ignore Rome's instructions, frozen in apathy, while an extraordinary number of her designated defenders have decamped to a traitorous Fifth Column. Surely the most improbable of Goddess allies are the Catholic religious professionals — theologians, Scripture scholars, teachers, liturgists, catechists, musicians, clerical bureaucrats — who took up her cause as a political strategy.

Catholics of living faith find it nearly incredible that consecrated religious, who vowed their lives to Christ, could deliberately work to replace Him with an imaginary Goddess. So absurd an idea creates cognitive dissonance in the minds of witnesses. But it is true, and it is not a new phenomenon. Some of the Catholic tiles in the Goddess image were cemented in place 30 years ago.

Beginning in the 1970s, at retreat centers like Grailville, Ohio, religious feminists, including nuns, were exploring Wicca, experimenting with voodoo, and plotting to "exorcise" God the Father,3 to replace Him with an immanent deity found in "the deepest contemplation of the self."4

In 1983, then-Dominican Matthew Fox moved his Institute for Culture and Creation Spirituality from Chicago's Mundelein College to Oakland's Holy Names College, and added a professed witch named Starhawk to his faculty. As the core of the ICCS curriculum then, and at his University of Creation Spirituality now, Fox promotes the idolatrous worship of Mother Earth as Gaia that stems from Thomas Berry.

Through the 1980s, at Catholic women's colleges, manifest faculty contempt for the Faith leached it out of students' hearts, and implied sympathy for neo-paganism groomed them to embrace the Goddess. At St. Catherine's College in St. Paul, Dr. Joan Timmerman of the theology department told students that theology had nothing to do with morality, that right and wrong were entirely relative, that no "class of acts" was inherently immoral. Minnesota's College of St. Benedict held a "Womanspirit Rising" Day in 1984. Already, speakers from Global Education Associates were holding up globe-print pillows and teaching Catholic First Communion classes that the Earth was Christ for our times.

Feminist organizer Rosemary Radford Ruether, a declared unbeliever, says in an autobiographical account that as a college freshman she ceased to believe in personal immortality or in "a body of revealed".5 Sexism and Godtalk (Beacon, 1983) she calls the Church "demonic," and says women "must emancipate themselves from Jesus as redeemer and seek a new redemptive disclosure of God ... in female form."6

But ever since the 1970s, Ruether has also advised rebels, "Stay in the Church and use whatever parts you can get your hands on!" Form covens for emotional support, she advises, but remain nominally Catholic for tactical reasons.7 As she does: the 2003 Call to Action program still identifies her as "one of the leading Roman Catholic feminist theologians in the world."

Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM, professor of New Testament at Berkeley's Jesuit School of Theology, has vilified the Faith for two decades. In Beyond Patching (Paulist, 1990) she wrote that "every aspect" of the Catholic faith "is not just tainted but perverted by the evil of patriarchy. It is not that the tradition has some problems; the tradition is the problem."

She told the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in 1997 that to many nuns "the God of Christianity seems too small, too violent, and too male; the focus on Jesus Christ seems narrow and exclusive; the resurrection seems mythological if not incredible and, in any case, irrelevant to a world in anguish." Hence, she explained, many set out on a "personal mystical quest to develop a spirituality without religion."

Yet Schneiders is still teaching seminarians at the GTU.

Saying that fairness requires it, Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, announced in her 1992 book, She Who Is (Crossroad) that the time has come to stop addressing God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to begin addressing Him as "She Who Is." For this she won awards and a promotion to "Distinguished" Professor of Theology at Catholic Fordham University.

From its beginning in 1976 through its later reorganization, the Call to Action organization has been a focal point for rebels against orthodox Catholicism. Any liberal reproved by Church authorities anywhere in the world is sure to appear at Call to Action's next conference. But notoriety now prevents the group from sowing confusion as effectively as it once did, and as its founders age, death notices have become common. A new face was needed to carry on the demolition of traditional Catholicism. Enter "FutureChurch," a Call to Action offshoot founded in 1990 by Sister Christine Schenk, CSJ, and Mary Engert, and headquartered in Cleveland. FutureChurch's avowed purpose is to urge the ordination of women as a solution to the growing priest shortage. Director Schenk, who has master's degrees in midwifery and theology, is rhetorically adept at phrasing her public statements. She conceals her radical intentions behind a mask of plausibility, in a way that predecessors like Reuther and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza could not or perhaps would not do.

FutureChurch's motto, for example, is "We love the church... we're working to make it better." Its mission statement mildly declares, "Eucharistic Celebration (the Mass) is the core of Roman Catholic worship and sacramental life. We advocate that this celebration be available universally and at least weekly to all baptized Catholics." Who would disagree?

FutureChurch's newsletters and press releases, written in polite boilerplate, cite papal letters and Vatican documents to justify FutureChurch's game plan, and stipulate respect for "present Church teaching." Schenk says FutureChurch representatives have met with Bishop Anthony M. Pilla to inform him of their activities. At least three diocesan priests and eight women religious are listed by FutureChurch as contact persons who promote the organization's mission and goals in parishes; three more priests are named as members of its Leadership Council. Website references to FutureChurch's local critics avoid vituperation, expressing sadness rather than anger at being misjudged. FutureChurch's website is strikingly handsome and professional looking for an organization admitting to only 5000 members. These publications do not mention abortion; nor do they call for "gay marriage." So what is the problem?

The rest of FutureChurch's mission statement advocates "widespread discussion of the need to open ordination to all baptized Catholics." Such discussion is not meant to explain the status quo but to effect change incrementally. Another statement, in FutureChurch's Spring 2003 newsletter ("Separating Fact From Fiction") elaborates: FutureChurch shares with the Catholic Theological Society of America "serious doubts about the Church's current position on the ordination of women," and seeks "women's full inclusion at every level of decision-making in the church from Rome to the local parish."

Despite its careful public language, FutureChurch's real agenda combines the perennial goals of Call to Action and Women's Ordination Conference. To recognize them, though, one must read with an eye for ambiguities, faulty assumptions and familiar names. For example, a "Frequently Asked Questions" feature on FutureChurch's website declares, "Jesus did not ordain anyone. Ordination was a practice that started to occur decades later in church history. Jesus had both male and female disciples."

Of course He had female disciples, but that has nothing to do with ordination. It is the unvarying teaching of the Church, restated in Lumen Gentium, that priesthood was instituted by Jesus Christ when He ordained the Twelve Apostles at the Last Supper. Elsewhere, Schenk conjectures that ordination may not even be necessary for the celebration of the Eucharist. These positions are patently inconsistent with her guise as a faithful Catholic anxious only that the faithful not be deprived of the Eucharist.

In one statement, Schenk names four FutureChurch role models, all of them radicals notorious for disobedience: Sr. Carmel McEnroy, Sr. Barbara Fiand, Sr. Joan Chittister, and Rev. Mary Ramerman. The first two were removed from seminary teaching posts for obstinate heterodoxy, the third publicly rejected a Vatican request, the fourth was excommunicated for attempting ordination at the hands of an Old Catholic bishop.

In Schenk's essay "Why I Choose to Stay," she expands her list: "contemporary female theologians, biblical scholars and liturgists," including Rosemary Ruether, Monika Hellwig, Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, Phyllis Trible, Sandra Schneiders, Elizabeth Johnson, Jane Schaberg, Mary Collins, Diana Hayes, Catherine LaCugna, Miriam Therese Winter, Jeannette Rodriguez, Elaine Pagels, Mary Catherine Hilkert, Anne Carr, Lisa Sowle Cahill, Ida Raining, Diane Bergant, Phyllis Zagano, Margaret Farley, Joan Chittister, Pheme Perkins and others "who for the first time in history, are turning a female lens toward biblical study and Catholic theology."

All the saints, holy founders, hermits, missionaries, and abbesses of the past 2000 years, and not one of them ever cast an eye on the Scriptures, until these infamously feminist theologians came along? Please.

Schenk's charge that women in ministry are exploited and powerless is hard to take seriously, when she admits in another published statement that women already hold 85 percent of paid lay ministry positions, while 35,000 more — 85 percent of the total — are serving as Catholic "chaplain."8

The emergence of the FutureChurch organization has in fact shifted the erection of the Goddess idol into higher gear. FutureChurch apparently intends to raze any residual roadblocks of Catholic faith or culture, to level the ground for new construction.


FutureChurch director Schenk, an ardent Call to Action member and frequent conference speaker, also chairs a joint FutureChurch/Call to Action project called "A Call for National Dialogue for Women in Church Leadership." Like FutureChurch itself, the project exists to promote women's ordination by persuading them that the Church oppresses them. From the FutureChurch address, this committee offers educational packets and reprints tailored to that end, among them "Heart of Flesh: A Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men" by Joan Chittister; Feminist Christology by Elizabeth A. Johnson (author of She Who Is); Why the Church Should Ordain Women to the Permanent Diaconate; and Tips on How to Organize a Women's Equality Witness in Your Diocese.

Some 50 local activists around the U.S. and Canada have been enlisted by Schenk's FutureChurch/Call To Action committee to launch what sounds like a rerun of 1960s feminism: "raising consciousness at the parish level," expanding women's "roles and visibility" by "starting parish women's groups, taking leadership in parish worship, spirituality, and social justice commissions," and urging religious educators and diocesan women's commissions to use FutureChurch's materials.

As a society, we've been there, done that, moved on. Still, to understand FutureChurch's priorities, one must pay more attention to what is done than to what is said; Schenk acts openly but without talking about what she is doing. Witness a FutureChurch meeting held at the Church of the Resurrection, Solon, Ohio, on March 1, 2003.

The church interior was stripped to the bare walls; not even the mounted figure of the Risen Christ remained. The empty nave was set with luncheon tables and chairs, arranged in a circle around a ring of fat candles. More than 100 attendees nibbled and chatted, then listened to keynote speaker Miriam Therese Winters, a Medical Mission Sister and the dissident author of Defecting in Place (Crossroad, 1995). Her address, "Women as Mystics and Prophets," was an exercise in the hermeneutics of suspicion; she denied that Saint John was at the foot of the cross, noting that the only gospel to depict him there is his own. She said the Gospels err again in failing to mention the presence of women at the Last Supper. They had to have been there, she insisted, and would have been named but for patriarchal bias.

Later, for an informal "breakout session," the smaller Adoration chapel was used. But unlike the denuded main church, nothing was removed from the Blessed Sacrament chapel, so Christ remained in the tabernacle, utterly ignored, while some 20 conferees discussed plans for a revolutionary new religion.

Above the heads of the diners in the nave hung seven large silk panels, the size of beach towels, painted by one Debra Wuliger with grotesque images of the "Goddess Sophia," first enormously pregnant, then giving birth to Creation, including male-female twins. The figure was indistinguishable from the eco-feminist Gaia, but Sophia is the preferred name for the Goddess when speaking to Christian audiences.

Who is Sophia? An accident of grammar. Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom. In both Greek and Hebrew words are assigned gender, and abstract nouns (folly, for example) are feminine. Wisdom (Sophia) is a grammatically feminine noun, personified as "she" in the Old Testament book of Wisdom, between the Song of Songs and Ecclesiasticus. Those passages were traditionally interpreted as references to Christ, the Word born of the Father before all ages. But feminist theologians now exploit this linguistic circumstance to claim Sophia as a "Scriptural Goddess" whose cult was suppressed in favor of Jesus, by sexist patriarchs in the early Church. The truth, of course, is that those who worshipped goddesses were anathematized. High school students who have had no Christian instruction may be drawn to Goddess occultism chiefly because they hear it described, with conviction, as offering answers to their human questions about the meaning of life and death. Magic and mystery have significant appeal but conviction is the essential factor in any evangelism. Conviction is also what attracts young people — girls as well as boys — to Islam, though such an attraction would seem counterintuitive for American youths raised in a culture of sexual permissiveness, semi-nudity, and raucous sound.

The great majority of Catholic children and young people have never in their lifetimes heard the Faith taught in its integrity and with conviction, by a parish catechist, in a parish school, or from the pulpit. It is unlikely that their parents ever heard the Faith taught with conviction, either, so they probably cannot fill the gap. It is not that the young do not hunger for certitude; they do. That hunger is what moves them into paganism, or Islam, or evangelical churches.

But what could possibly attract educated adult women, Catholics of mature years. to a belief system they know to be a sham? No one can plausibly claim women were better off in pagan cultures than in Jewish or Christian societies, despite any imperfections in those societies. And despite any imperfections they may have encountered in the primitive Church, women's lot was never so bad as feminists like to claim, and always vastly better in Jewish and Christian societies than in pagan. No matter what FutureChurch propagandists may argue, I am confident that feminist rebels no more want to be real pagans than they want to be real priests owing vowed obedience to a bishop.

Why, then, is Sister Schenk desecrating the churches where she holds her meetings?

What do members of FutureChurch and Call to Action really want? To destroy the Church? To displace Jesus from the tabernacle and establish a graven idol in His place? Why? In order to expropriate the Church's members, and real estate, and office machines, and silence forever her admonitions about the moral law? That outcome, I believe, is what the whole Goddess movement seeks: an unconditional surrender, ending the long battle between good and evil, with evil as victor.


Confronted by these troubles, we look to our shepherds to defend us. Do our bishops recognize the danger we face? Is help on the way? What measures do they propose for our defense?

The evidence suggests that few of them are able to bring the Goddess image into focus at all. Rather than moving to quash the Goddess-feminist rebellion within the Church, they are serving the agenda of the USCCB Committee on Family, Laity, Children and Youth, which is — coincidentally? — indistinguishable from that of the Future Church—-Call to Action project on "Women in Church Leadership" proposed by LCWR organized by Call to Action and FutureChurch, and chaired by Sister Christine Schenk.

Neither are they paying perceptive attention to the catechetical void that is emptying the pews, and the hearts of Catholics. Instead, most bishops have been trying to appease the unappeasable feminists in their apparat, by doing whatever they ask at the bidding of the USCCB Committee on Women. Does this mean they are in league with the idolators? Surely they are even less likely than feminists to want a Goddess religion? Their reasons, I think, are simpler and more humanly understandable: they dismiss as fanatics the consciously orthodox Catholics who try to warn them, first, because they accept at face value the rhetoric issuing from the USCCB Committee on Women and from clever propagandists like Christine Schenk. And second, because most of all they want to keep peace in their offices.

That is why, though the rest of us were unaware of it, the USCCB has been evaluating information on women employed in Church leadership positions since 1990. In March 2001, the Bishops' Committee on Women in Society and in the Church, in collaboration with the Committee on Family, Laity, Women, and Youth, convened an unprecedented, invitation-only conference for women in diocesan leadership posts in 120 dioceses, to ask whether they feel appreciated at work, to tell them how to rise to higher positions, and to discuss how to promote more collaboration between men and women in the Church. "Collaboration" here means encouraging the use of feminist language, and taking steps to ensure the proper "psychosexual formation" of seminarians.

At their annual June meeting this year, the bishops decided to compose a pastoral letter on such collaboration.9 Since any needed consultation has already been done (in the controlled setting of that March 2001 meeting), the bishops won't have to fear the kind of objections that arose during the 1980s, when they tried but failed, through repeated drafts over the course of ten years, to write an acceptable letter on Women's Concerns. This time, no one is apt to notice what is happening except those already in control.

In other words, if you are waiting for the USCCB to defend you and your children from Gaia, you should probably stop waiting. Short of a miracle, the restoration of poor battered Mother Church will not come from that quarter.

Nevertheless, restoration is coming. We can see it all around us, as though this culture was rebuilding after the trauma of a Great War. But it is coming from the laity. God, as always, is choosing the little ones to confound the wise, in order to show us whose work and whose victory it is. As Jesus assured us, He has already conquered the world.

In this age — as no doubt in every age — it is easy to see the brambles growing up among the wheat, threatening to choke it. But the aging rebels of Call to Action and FutureChurch, whose tunnels honeycomb the clerical bureaucracy, are already defeated, like the Japanese soldiers who held on in caves on Pacific Islands long after World War II was over. Soon they will be gone.

But in the very heart of the bramble patch, Christ is still snatching brands from the burning. Even in the most unlikely places. In dissident Catholic colleges, ruled by feminist tyrants, little groups of believing students are forming Catholic cadres. Mature men, deep into successful business or professional careers, are following His call into new vocations as priests or monks. New and faithful Catholic colleges are flourishing. To the exasperation of their administrators, even mediocre seminaries are turning out more orthodox young priests, and the seminaries of consciously orthodox orders and dioceses are filled to capacity. New orders of faithful women religious are thriving. New publishing houses and magazines are sprouting on all sides like crocuses in spring. Today's Catholic apologists, like the early Dominican and Franciscan mendicants, are bringing word of the Faith to young men and women starved for truth, and setting their hearts on fire; I know a former Wiccan priestess who heard such a talk and was transformed into a devout, and happily traditional, Catholic wife and mother. Forsaken by the Church apparat at parish and diocesan level, thousands of young families have turned to homeschooling, and so discovered in the domestic Church — parents and children alike — the soaring adventure of the Faith.

These are the people who keep us from despairing over our present troubles, because they are the real future of the Church. They will be building new and beautiful cathedrals when the ugly Goddess idol is a forgotten ruin.

Donna Steichen is the author of Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism (Ignatius}


1. Jesse Walker, "Inside the Spiritual Jacuzzi," Reason, May 2003.

2. Charlotte Allen, "The Scholars and the Goddess," Atlantic, January 2001.

3. See, e.g., Women's Spirit Bonding, eds. Janet Kalven and Mary Buckley (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1984), and WomanspiritRising, eds. Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow (New York: Harper and Row, 1979).

4. Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Crises and Challenges of Catholicism Today," America, March 1, 1986.

5. Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Beginnings:An Intellectual Autobiography," in Journeys, ed. Gregory Baum (New York: Paulist Press, 1975).

6. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and Godtalk (Boston: Beacon, 1983),p.135.

7. Ruether, "Crises and Challenges of Catholicism Today."

8. Christine Schenk, "Why I Choose to Stay," The American Catholic, May 2003.

9. National Catholic Reporter, July 4,2003

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