During the recent conclave, a number of mainstream journalists questioned the role of women in the Catholic Church. They angrily asked why women couldn’t be priests and why they weren’t in “leadership” roles.
Informed and inspired
For the last two years, EWTN has provided an answer to these questions — and to some outright misconceptions — through the weekly program The Catholic View for Women.
Hosted by three Catholic female leaders — two of them Legates — the show explores a range of issues specific to women. Topics include: radical feminism vs. new feminism, contraception, women leaders in the Church past and present, and pornography and its effects on women. The hosts speak about living single and challenges facing those who are divorced or separated. And they speak from experience: One of the hosts is single, another separated and another happily married. Their conversation is intelligent, informative, professional, fun — and unlike other similar-format television shows — civil.
“I got the idea about doing this show after meeting Teresa Tomeo in 2005 at the Catholic Radio Cruise,” said Janet Morana, a member of Legatus’ Northern New Jersey Chapter and executive director of Priests for Life. “Teresa and I started doing a radio show together every week after that, and then I thought, ‘Why don’t we do a good and wholesome TV show about women that could be an alternative to ABC’s The View, which is garbage.”
The Catholic View for Women debuted in March 2011. All three of the show’s hosts, it should be noted, were once far from the Catholic Church. All of them can relate to confused Catholics — and non-Catholics — when it comes to the “hard” issues: divorce, an all-male priesthood, abortion and contraception.
“I never had a problem with an all-male priesthood. My thing was abortion and contraception,” said Tomeo, a member of Legatus’ Detroit Northeast Chapter. “Again, I was on the surface. I was a hard-nosed journalist who had never cracked a Church document. Then I had a crisis in my marriage and lost my job. It was then that I realized my life had been built on sand.”
Tomeo’s husband Dominick Pastore came back to the Church and she eventually followed. Since 2000, Tomeo has hosted Catholic Connection, a daily morning radio program. She is an author, motivational speaker and columnist.
“I was raised in pre-Vatican II,” Morana explained. “When I reached high school, I left the Church. I felt that women had the right to take the Pill. And the infallibility of the Pope? Why could he tell people what to do? I started skipping Mass and only went to Church for Easter and Christmas.”
After Morana got married and had children, she and her husband moved into a two-family house with her in-laws. Her mother-in-law went to daily Mass and began taking Morana’s children along. One day, Morana went to church — begrudgingly — to light a candle after having been hired during a difficult employment time in New York City.
Her eight-year-old saw her and introduced her to a young Fr. Frank Pavone, saying, “This is my mom, who won’t go to Confession.” Father Pavone wrote down his phone number and told Morana to call him.
“That phone number stayed in my purse for weeks,” Morana said. “Then I found it and finally called him. We met and I told him all my problems with the Church. He listened and then told me, ‘You’re an intelligent woman. You like to read and study. Tell you what: I’m going to give you a document. You read it and we can talk about it.’ He gave me Humanae Vitae.”
Within a few months, Morana had her first Confession in years and began attending Mass regularly. Through her subsequent ministries, she has become one of the most notable Catholic female leaders in the country, recently writing a new book, Recall Abortion.
Astrid Bennett Gutierrez, executive director of Los Angeles Pregnancy Services and vice president of Hispanics for Life and Human Rights, also went through a period of questioning and disbelief.
“I was poorly catechized,” she explained. “I went through 13 years of Catholic school and never once learned about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. My parents separated and I stopped believing in a loving God.”
Gutierrez went to UCLA where she met a group of faithful Catholics who taught her about the faith and Who the Eucharist really is.
EWTN reaches 100 million households around the world. Since The Catholic View for Women debuted two years ago, the show has made an impact on men and women from every continent.
“I have received emails from Catholic women in Nigeria, Australia and England,” Tomeo said. “We also have an impact on Protestant women who send us letters. The show makes Church teachings real for women.”
One of the program’s unique features is that the hosts give viewers “homework” at the end of every show: discussion questions and papal documents to read. All assigned readings can be downloaded from the show’s website —TheCatholicViewForWomen.com.
Viewers have also formed Catholic View For Women study groups. They use resources on the show’s website to fuel their discussions, including the ability to watch previous episodes online.
“We have done shows on women leaders in the Vatican — both past and present,” Tomeo explained. “We interviewed Dr. Flaminia Giovanelli, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. She is the number two person in this very important dicastery and has been working in the Vatican for 25 years.”
In 2008, Tomeo took part in the international Vatican Women’s Congress and was one of only 270 delegates. She is well acquainted with scores of women who work throughout the Vatican as leaders in their respective fields — as well as Catholic female leaders around the world.
Future topics the show plans to tackle include the contribution of Latinas to the U.S. church and the spiritual values of immigrants. Both of these issues are close to Gutierrez’s heart.
“Our dream is to get this show on the road,” said Morana. “Just like the show Crossing the Goal does men’s conferences, we would like to do women’s conferences.”
If anything, the conclave that elected Pope Francis highlighted an increasing aggressiveness towards the Church — in particular with regard to the all-male priesthood. The Catholic View for Women celebrates Catholicism’s treatment of women — and it explains why. Though this seems counter-cultural, it’s completely natural for well-formed Catholics.
“I once had a TV anchor say to me, ‘Women should be allowed to speak from the pulpit.’ Well I reach more people than the average priest does from his pulpit,” said Tomeo. “I reach people across the U.S. with my radio show — and we reach millions with our TV show. We have to challenge people when they say these things, because they are not reality. We have to keep encouraging people to read Church documents and see how the Church’s teachings are true.”
SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.