Thursday, June 28, 2007

Catholics protest the 'silencing' of writer, diocese claims no censoring

Catholics in Phoenix took out a paid advertisement in The Arizona Republic June 8 headlined “Catholic Women Will Not Be Silenced” to protest the treatment of popular Catholic speaker and writer Edwina Gateley by the Phoenix Diocese, which is led by Bishop Thomas Olmsted.

They also gathered 2,000 signatures on a petition they said they said would give to Bishop Olmsted.

Gateley was contracted to give a weeklong retreat to religious women at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Ariz., June 1-8, but in March diocesan officials informed her they would be taping her presentations to monitor whether her talks conformed to Catholic teaching.

Diocesan spokesman Jim Dywer said June 13 that the purpose of the taping was to avoid prejudging Gateley. “We had heard that she had a reputation for giving statements that are antithetical to Catholic teaching. ... [But] we didn’t want to prejudge it. So we just figured we would tape it ... to see if she really does what other people claim she does.”

Dwyer said, “She balked at that, which is her right, but she decided to withdraw. Nobody here silenced her.”

“That is what they say,” Gateley said in a June 13 interview from her Chicago home, “but that is a real twist, because I was backed into a corner.” She said that she raised three objections, which included protection of her copyrighted material. She said she had a signed contract with the retreat center that forbade taping without her permission.

But she said her main objection was that the taping would be intrusive. “Can you imagine giving an eight-day retreat with a tape recorder running? [Participants] might even be afraid of asking questions,” she said.

“I would like to ask if the bishops would like somebody to put a tape recorder in a bishops’ synod meeting so that a group of women could listen to them when they finish talking. It was just not appropriate,” she said.

Gateley said she tried to work around the issue. “I am already on tape. I offered the bishop copies of all my taped material, which is available to the public. But it had to be a private taping for the bishop alone.

“And when I said ‘no,’ then the bishop said, ‘Well, you cannot speak.’ Now their reading of it is that I said ‘no’ and therefore I canceled myself. I mean, there’s a real nasty twist there.”

Nicole Sotelo, acting codirector of Call to Action USA, said in a statement, “The bishop’s threat of taping suggests censorship and silencing, but Catholic women refuse to be silent any longer.”
The retreat went on with new leaders.

The Catholic reform group Call to Action paid for the newspaper ad and organized the petition drive. A group of Catholics paid Gateley to come to Phoenix in early June to give four public lectures. The largest event, June 10 at Crossroads United Methodist Church, attracted more than 300 people.

Gateley founded the lay Volunteer Missionary Movement in 1969 and opened Genesis House, a residential program for prostitutes in Chicago in 1984. She has a master’s degree in theology from Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union and has written 10 books, including Soul Sisters: Women in Scripture Speak to Women Today, Psalms of a Laywoman and, with Robert Lentz, Christ in the Margins. Dwyer said the diocese doesn’t have a set policy regarding outside speakers, except that “it doesn’t make sense to invite speakers to Catholic institutions who are opposed to Catholic teaching.”

Because the diocese didn’t know what Gateley was going to say, he said, “we wanted to tape it and find out for ourselves. Despite some of the publicity to the contrary, we did not censor her.”
Gateley said she found a certain irony in this experience. “I have a whole file of responses to my retreats to women. Quite a number of them actually say, ‘Because of your retreat, I am going to stay in the church.’”

“There is no way that these women are charging out of the church, knocking down the bishop, because of my retreats,” she said.

“They are wonderful religious women, whose lives have been a witness to faithfulness, who never should have been barred from hearing another woman speak.”

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