Monica Doumit: The day I became a ‘crumb maiden’

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Silent protesters stand at the back of the Plenary Council on 6 July after the original chapter on the equal dignity of women and men did not achieve the required two-thirds majority vote from the Bishops. Photo: Fiona Basile

The most tolerant people in the world are ‘progressive’ Catholics, including bishops, clergy and theologians – until you disagree with them

Do you know what a ‘crumb maiden’ is?

It is an unflattering term, coined by Guardian journalist Amy Remeikis and adopted by Twitter elites, to refer to women who uphold power structures in order to benefit from the crumbs. Crumb maidens defend the patriarchy because they are sustained by it, even in just a small way.

I didn’t know what a crumb maiden was until I was labelled one, shortly after the first deliberative vote on women at last week’s Second Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia.

In what will come as a surprise to no one, I wasn’t one of the silent protesters who stood at the back of the room after the original chapter on the equal dignity of women and men did not achieve the required two-thirds majority vote from the bishops.
Indeed, I had criticised that chapter in a recent column for being so dismissive of the role of women as wives and mothers that it did not even include a reference motherhood anywhere in the chapter.

It also completely ignored the role of religious women, women as carers of parents and children with special needs, women who excel in a range of professions in the world, and those who devote their time and talents quietly serving parish and community in a myriad of ways.

I know that some commentators have demanded the bishops who voted against the motions explain themselves (depriving themselves of their canonical right to privacy on these votes) and have even begun speculating on who might have been the dissenters. In the interests of transparency, I will declare that I voted against the motions in the chapter – not because I do not believe in the equal dignity of women and men – but because the chapter did not reflect that equal dignity.

It is not men who I see through the ‘glass ceiling’ above my head, but progressive Bishops and clergy … and mostly Boomer Catholics of the so-called ‘reformer’ movement.”

Instead, it seemed to assume that the only meaningful roles were those that are publicly recognised roles, commissioned by the Bishop and involved in some form of diocesan or parish governance and scorned all other roles as unimportant and undignified.
Describing these other roles as worthy of inclusion was what earned me the title of ‘crumb maiden.’

Whatever. I pity the person who made the accusation because they appear to equate caring for others without recognition as crumby and undignified.
Our decision to remain seated also earned myself and some of the other female members the silent and spoken scorn of some of our fellow members, male and female, clergy and laity.

I was invited more than once to recognise my ‘privilege’ as a prominent Catholic woman who has been given a platform, primarily but not exclusively through the Catholic Weekly, to have my voice heard.

I tried to explain that it is not that simple.

It is true that I have been very blessed in the role that I have and that on most days, I am joyful and thriving in it. I love my job and the people I work with and am blessed to call many of our priests and bishops my friends.

On other days, however, I encounter obstruction and hostility and exclusion. In my case, though, it is not because I am a woman, but because I am seen as a ‘conservative’ woman, aligned with more traditional clergy and religious and usually expressing an orthodox perspective on social and ecclesial matters.

There are conferences at which I will never be invited to speak, dioceses that have disendorsed presentations that I have given and publications that will never print anything I write.

This is not because I am a woman, but because I am a conservative woman.
It is not men who I see through the ‘glass ceiling’ above my head, but progressive bishops and clergy and theologians and professional – mostly Boomer – Catholics of the so-called ‘reformer’ movement.

Amusingly, one of the male reformers and organisers of the women’s protest who is a consistent public advocate of the need to raise the profile of women in the Church had previously written that my conservative, Sydney voice should not be given any space in Catholic publications outside of this Archdiocese.

I also experience exclusion and silencing, but just for a different reason.
The wonderful thing is that it was this realisation that helped bridge the ‘divide’ between the women at the Second Assembly. It meant I could better understand the women who have experienced silencing and rejection simply because they are women, and that they could better understand me.

While we did not share the same experience, we could at least empathise with each other. Maybe the Holy Spirit was working after all.