Rosemary Radford Ruether Unmasked

Author: HLI


special to HLI

Rosemary Radford Ruether is continually referred to as a "theologian" in the United States, a "feminist theologian," and recognized as a Catholic. It was under these labels that she was invited last month to give a lecture titled "The Image of Mary and Feminism in North American Culture" at an international Mariological symposium in Rome.[1] Ruether's whole career has been one of activism in Catholic circles, or circles that called themselves Catholic. She spoke at the first meeting of the Women's Ordination Conference, and since 1985 has been a member of the board of directors of the pro-abortion feminist organization Catholics for A Free Choice (CFFC).[2] Ruether was on the organizing committee for CFFC's two New York Times advertisements.[3] She was one of the signers, along with other CFFC members, of the "Statement of Support" for a pro-abortion ad published in The New York Times on 7 October 1984. That ad was signed by 97 "leading Catholic scholars, religious and social activists."[3]

But the Catholic pretensions of CFFC are a hoax. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement on 4 November 1993 denying that CFFC was Catholic. "Many people," the statement read, "may be led to believe that it is an authentic Catholic organization. It is not. It has no affiliation, formal or otherwise, with the Catholic Church."[4] As C. Joseph Doyle has reported, the bishops went on to point out that CFFC is associated with the pro-abortion lobby in Washington and shares an address and funding sources with the National Abortion Federation, the trade association of the abortion industry.[5] Citing CFFC's support for "the violent destruction of innocent unborn human beings ... for all nine months of pregnancy and for any reason," the bishops insisted that CFFC "has rejected unity with the Church," and holds positions that "deliberately contradict essential teachings of the Catholic Faith." They concluded that "Catholics for a Free Choice merits no recognition or support as a Catholic organization."[6]

The time has come to strip the mask off Ruether as well. The feminist "theology" she represents is rooted in false principles contrary to any semblance of Catholic doctrine. Ruether often resorts to exalting pagan religions and practices above what she calls the "patriarchal oppressive" nature of the Catholic Church. The following comments and written statements made by Ruether unveil her opposition to the Catholic Church and unmask her work as mere subversion of its institutions.

To begin with, Ruether believes the Word of God is a lie-a collection of myths-and that "the Bible has to be demythologized"-that is, rewritten from the feminist perspective.[7]

"Ruether was a founder of Women-Church and in 1983 helped unite many of the feminist groups into [a coalition called] Women-Church Convergence."[8] "As part of their strategy, leading feminist theologians such as Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza of Harvard Divinity School now refer to the feminist movement in religion as 'women-church'- a movement of 'self-identified women and women-identified men' from all denominations whose common goal is to reinterpret the Gospel from the perspective of women's liberation. Led by theologian Rosemary Ruether of Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary, in Evanston, Illinois, women have created their own life-cycle ceremonies. They include rituals to mark the start of menopause, the union of a lesbian couple, mourning for a stillbirth and recovery from an abortion."[9]

From early on in her academic career, Ruether had announced her unfavorable disposition towards the Catholic Church and rejected one of the most fundamental beliefs. "According to an autobiographical essay in 1975, she discarded 'the doctrine of the personal immortality of the soul ... the very nub upon which all discipline and doctrine are hinged,' during her freshman year at Scripps College."[10] Ruether "came to view dogmas not as statements of ontological truth but as useful symbols, and the Church 'not as a repository of truth...but as a terrible example of what we all are'."[11] Years later in a keynote address, titled "Emerging Women-Church: the Challenge of Feminist Liturgical Communities", she offered a summary of the "oppressive history" of the Church against women and called conferees to "exorcise from the self the deep layers of compliance with patriarchal subordination."[12]

Ruether has rejected the most fundamental beliefs of the Catholic Church. As a "feminist Christology", she proposes that the "mythology about Jesus as Messiah or divine Logos, with its traditional masculine imagery," be discarded.[13] In her book , she states: "Eucharist is not an objectified piece of bread or cup of wine that is magically transformed into the body and blood of Christ. It is the people, the , who are being transformed into the body of the new humanity, infused with the blood of new life."[14] In a 1985 interview with the misnamed US Catholic, she admitted that "I could hardly tell her (a nun) that my devotion to Mary was somewhat less than my devotion to far more powerful females I knew: Isis, Athena, and Artemis."[15] Ruether also rejects the Catholic priesthood. That is why her cause, as well as that of many other feminists, is not the ordination of women as priests in the present (and historic) sense of the word. They want some kind of new priesthood. Indeed, she has openly declared that, "Most Roman Catholic women neither can nor wish to be ordained in priesthood as presently defined."[16]

Some of her other beliefs include:

(1) The Sacraments are just symbols.

(2) Priestly power arises not from ordination but from the community's collective experience.

(3) The very name of God should be replaced with God/ess.[17]

These ideas contradict the very essence of Catholicism, and Ruether continues making strides that are ultimately aimed at destroying the traditional institution of the Catholic Church and changing it from within. In Ruether's own words, destruction of "blasphemous" patriarchy "is the primary goal of feminism."[18]

One of the main areas of contention between Ruether and the Catholic Church is the area of "reproductive rights," abortion, and sexuality. At a Mexico conference on 14 June 1994, organized by CFFC, Ruether gave a talk titled "Reproductive Rights" and indicated that there was a need to fight against the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church, specially against its official ethic and its maternal culture. She also affirmed that the use of contraceptives is a responsible choice and that abortion is a right.[19] Ruether sees the root of the Church's anti-abortion position as a "devaluing of women's lives, women's persons".[20] She also accuses the Church of promoting abortion, by refusing to support policies such as promoting research on "safe and effective" contraception, comprehensive use of contraception, and a culture that affirms the woman as a moral agent in the decisions that affect her life.[21]

Ruether claims that "anti-choice is anti-life" and urges that "pro-choice Catholics must unmask the facile and delusory rhetoric and tactics of those Catholics who equate anti-choice with anti-war and who claim that both types of activism are a 'seamless' continuum in defense of life."[22] It is obvious that Ruether wishes to convey the unfounded belief that the Church is what is ultimately destroying our society when she states that "the combination of an anticontraceptive culture, combined with hostility toward female sexuality and self-determination, promotes the conditions of unchosen pregnancy and hence recourse to abortion as the unchosen but forced solution...."[23]

In the light of Ruether's rejection of fundamental Catholic teachings, the question that comes to mind is: why do she and other radical feminists remain in the Catholic Church? According to Catholic writer Donna Steichen, for Ruether the answer is simple: "Agencies of the 'spiritual revolution' must remember, she warned, that 'unless we manage to insert what we are doing ... back into ... main institutional vehicles of ministry and community ... it will have no lasting impact'. Religious revolutionaries should 'stay in the Church and use whatever parts of it they can get their hands on.' Thus they 'will have far more impact, both on the Church and on the world...than they could possibly gain if they separated from it'."[24]

Ruether has at least maintained the illusion that she is "within" the Catholic Church. But the facts concerning her so-called theological positions show that Rosemary Radford Ruether is neither a Catholic theologian nor any other sort of Catholic. She is a feminist pagan wearing the mask of a Catholic.


1 Pontifical Theological Faculty "Marianum," , Rome, 4-7 October, 1994.

2 Donna Steichen, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 304.

3 Loc. cit.

4 "Pluralism, Dissent and Abortion," (20 March 1986): 652.

5 C. Joseph Doyle, "Agent of Influence," (January 1994): 42.

6 Loc. cit.

7 Cornelia R. Ferreira, (Toronto: Life Ethics Centre, 1987), 4.

8 Steichen, 304.

9 Kenneth L. Woodward, "Feminism and the Churches," (13 February 1989): 60.

10 Steichen, 32. Ruether's autobiographical essay referred to here is "Beginnings: An Intellectual Autobiography," in Gregory Baum, ed., (New York: Paulist Press, 1975), 34.

11 Loc. cit.

12 Ibid., 33.

13 Ruether, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983), 137; quoted by Steichen, 302.

14 Ibid., 208, quoted by Steichen, 302.

15 "The Hideous Error of Women Priests," , Autumn 1992: p. 4.

16 Ruether, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 66.

17 "Hideous Error," 4.

18 Ruether, , 73, quoted by Steichen, 303.

19 Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Reproductive Rights," 14 June 1994. Information based on a fax sent to Vida Humana Internacional by Rocio Galvez, from Comite Nacional Pro-Vida, A.C. of Mexico, on 27 June 1994.

20 Ruether, "Women, Sexuality, Ecology, and the Church," (Spring/Summer 1993): 6.

21 Ibid., 10.

22 Ruether, "Prochoice is Prolife: Winning the Propaganda War for Reproductive Rights," (September/October 1993): 9.

23 Ibid.

24 Ruether, "Crises and Challenges of Catholicism Today," (1 March 1986): 152, quoted by Steichen, p. 78.

Taken from the November 1994 issue of "HLI Reports." To subscribe contact: HLI Reports 7845 Airpark Road, Suite E Gaithersburg, MD 20879