DE PERE, Wis. –Abortion advocacy, support for euthanasia and applause for excommunicated and “ordained” women priests—such were the highlights of last week’s “dialogue” with radical feminists Gloria Steinem and Bell Hooks on the Catholic campus of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis.
The event was held in the College’s campus theater on April 21, despite initial exposure by the Cardinal Newman Society last October, public protest by Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay in January, and assurances from the College that Steinem was invited only to headline a “discussion of the history of the women’s movement, especially as it may be understood in the context of domestic violence.”
Bishop Ricken lamented that Steinem’s “whole career and life is a grand affirmation of the pro-abortion movement.” And the Newman Society called on the College to rescind Steinem’s invitation, stating that its refusal to do so “adds insult to injury by disregarding Bishop Ricken.”
Nevertheless the College went forward, and the activists’ dialogue, titled “Talking Together: A Legacy of Solidarity,” predictably highlighted contempt for “patriarchal religions” and pushed support for abortion rights and euthanasia. A video of their dialogue indicates that Steinem and Hooks barely touched on the subject of domestic violence but focused instead on “reproductive rights” and societal ills caused by the patriarchy.
Thomas Kunkel, president of St. Norbert College, opened the event, welcoming the more than 800 participants who reportedly attended.
“As the face of the women’s movement… Gloria Steinem leaves us in awe,” said Dr. Karlyn Crowley, professor of English, as she introduced Steinem.
Steinem is unapologetically pro-abortion and is credited with popularizing the phrase, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” In a 2011 article in The Guardian, Steinem touted her own abortion, claiming that it was “positive” and “the first time I had taken responsibility for my own life.”
Hooks is frequently hosted as a teacher-in-residence at St. Norbert College. Last year, the College even presented the “year of bell hooks” which featured “programs that celebrate bell hooks, the prolific scholar, social justice advocate, feminist and canonical writer.” In her book Feminism is For Everybody, Hooks claimed that “one cannot be anti-abortion and an advocate of feminism.” She also declared that “without the right to safe, inexpensive, and free abortions [women] lose all control over their bodies.”
Hooks began last week’s dialogue by discussing when she and Steinem first became interested in feminism. Barely two minutes into the discussion, Steinem launched into her support of abortion, crediting abortion with opening her eyes to feminism.
Steinem told the audience that “[i]f one in three of us in this nation, then and now, has had this experience [of abortion] at sometime in our lives, why is it illegal, why is it dangerous? Who owns women’s bodies, who says we can’t control our own reproductive lives?”
The dialogue did not include a balanced discourse on life issues. Instead, Steinem and Hooks pushed an agenda in favor of travesties like abortion and euthanasia, which they claimed was necessary for feminism. Alternate perspectives were not considered, and Church teaching on these crucial issues was not included.
“Why are the same groups against lesbians and birth control?” Steinem asked at one point. “The patriarchal system… controls reproduction and says it’s only moral and okay when sexuality… can end in reproduction. And everything else is wrong. That means sexual expression between two men or two women, it means women’s ability to control it ourselves [is wrong].”
“Sometimes I fear that our adversaries understand the connections better than we do,” Steinem added.
At the same time, Hooks spoke about “the right to die” and said it was “a primary political issue for feminism.” She claimed that she was concerned for “death rights,” as women were most often the ones responsible for taking care of elders.
Gender theory was also discussed. “The masculine role is a prison,” said Steinem. “It may be better, it may have wall-to-wall carpeting and people to serve you coffee, but it is a prison nonetheless.” Steinem insisted that “there is no such thing as gender” and the “system” of delineating male and female was incorrect. “We made it [gender] up, “ she declared.
Steinem’s comments drew a striking contrast with Pope Francis’ recent comments on radical gender theory, which he cited as “the problem, not the solution.”
When the floor was opened for questions from the audience, one woman identified herself as “an ordained Roman Catholic woman priest.”
“Does the pope know?” Steinem asked.
“Oh yes, I just got my formal excommunication papers from the Diocese of Lexington,” the woman responded, garnering cheers and applause from the audience. The woman went on to credit Steinem and Hooks for helping her “discern to ask for ordination.”
Steinem even took the opportunity of the “dialogue” to denounce the importance of religious belief. “There’s a difference between ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious,’” she said in response to one audience member’s question on how religious beliefs contribute to societal issues. “Spiritual seems to me to be a faith in the mystery and the importance and sacredness of all living things,” she declared—ironic, considering her abortion support. “Religion is a name for politics in the sky. Religion is just politics you can’t talk about,” she continued and was immediately met with applause from the audience.
Steinem claimed that “patriarchal religion is all about controlling reproduction—that’s it.” Hooks continued Steinem’s sentiment, adding, “I encourage all of us to look for those writers and thinkers, both women and men, who are talking… about new forms of spirituality and religious practice and religious devotion.”
At one point in the dialogue, Hooks asked Steinem whether she felt “feminism has forsaken children.” Steinem, visibly caught off-guard, appeared uncertain how to respond. “It seems that as we moved into… economic power and success, we stopped talking about children and what we needed to do for children,” Hooks continued.
As it turned out, Hooks was referencing the necessity of implementing “gender theory” in children’s education—yet her question provided a poignant moment of irony, given the two women’s vehement support of abortion.
Such abortion advocacy is just what concerned Bishop Ricken about the event. He wrote in his January statement:
Why would St. Norbert, a Catholic college, invite someone who is such a high profile and well-known protagonist and activist of abortion rights to weigh in on the causes and contexts of a dramatic increase in domestic violence in the United States? One cannot build one’s claim to a right based on the denial of another’s fundamental right to life. One cannot really advance the rights of women while taking the life of an innocent child in the womb.
Therefore, he explained, Steinem’s platform at a Catholic college “is an internal self-contradiction.”
However, the College stood by its invitation to Steinem. “[J]ust because someone is on our campus does not mean the college endorses every position that person might have,” College spokesman Mike Counter told The Cardinal Newman Society last October. “An important way for our students to hone their critical thinking skills is to be exposed to a wide variety of ideas and perspectives.”
But Bishop Ricken proposed a better vision for the College.
“How refreshing it would be if St. Norbert College were to decide to be a vibrant Catholic college that embraces the Church and her teaching in its entirety, not just the social justice teachings (which SNC does so well), but also the doctrinal and moral teaching of the Gospel and the Church,” the Bishop wrote. “Rather than excusing it by finding ways to reason around it or to argue against it, why not embrace it with a real and comprehensive intentionality.”
Judging by last week’s event and its enthusiastic reception, St. Norbert College remains uninterested in this faithful perspective.
Published with permission