ROSEMARY RADFORD RUETHER UNMASKED
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. 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).
Ruether was on the organizing committee for CFFC's two New York Times
advertisements. 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."
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." 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. 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
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.
"Ruether was a founder of Women-Church and in 1983 helped unite many of the
feminist groups into [a coalition called] Women-Church Convergence." "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."
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." 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'."
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
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. 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." 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." 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."
Some of her other beliefs include:
(1) The Sacraments are just symbols.
(2) Priestly power arises not from ordination but from the community's
(3) The very name of God should be replaced with God/ess.
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."
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.
Ruether sees the root of the Church's anti-abortion position as a
"devaluing of women's lives, women's persons". 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.
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." 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
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'."
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
10 Steichen, 32. Ruether's autobiographical essay referred to here is
"Beginnings: An Intellectual Autobiography," in Gregory Baum, ed.,
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.
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:
7845 Airpark Road, Suite E
Gaithersburg, MD 20879