Malala and the Papal Conclave

What They Share in Common.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai

The Papal Conclave

The Papal Conclave

You are probably wondering what this article will be about. Last night, right before I went to bed, I caught up on the news and was perusing the CNN website on my iPad. I read two articles that were about two very different subjects but somehow these articles created a collision of thoughts in my head too loud to ignore and I decided to write about them today.

First, I read an update on Malala Yousafzai’s health status. Malala is the 15-year old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban while riding her school bus. Malala was shot for being an advocate of girl’s rights and an education activist. She started blogging in 2009, at age 11, about her life under Taliban rule. Malala rose to prominence after the New York Times did a documentary about her. (See link below). She just became the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in history. After Malala was shot, she was initially treated in Pakistan but was later flown to London for additional surgeries and follow-up. Malala’s father, who has been her number one supporter, has relocated with her to London. He is very proud of his daughter and commented in a recent interview, that Malala “is the daughter of the whole world” and has become a symbol of girl’s rights. Malala continues to recover from this terrible incident and we hope to see and hear more from her in the future. I certainly hope this incident serves as a catalyst for change for girls like Malala.

Malala with Other Girls in School

Malala with Other Girls in School

Then I clicked on the article about the Vatican getting ready for its Conclave, the secret meeting of cardinals in which a new Pope is elected. I then saw a picture of all the Cardinals gathering for this special event. It was the “old boys club” gathering for the Conclave.

Cardinals Arriving for the Conclave

Cardinals Arriving for the Conclave

And then it hit me like a huge rock on my head. The absence of women in the photo screeched loudly inside my brain, a symbol of the obscure and outdated role of nuns in the Catholic Church. Suddenly, Malala’s symbolism of girl’s rights transferred to women’s rights, and suddenly to nun’s rights.

DSC_0675 - Version 2

Although I was raised Catholic I decided many years ago to keep my relationship with God, my spirituality, between God and me and not between the Church and me. I feel manmade religions have been the cause of many wars, problems, and controversy throughout history. I also feel that these “man”-made religions have somehow mangled the role of women in such a way that it seems absurd and antiquated for the times we live in.  I am not talking just about Catholicism but other religions as well. And so Malala fights for the simple right to get an education, and the Taliban punishes her based on their interpretation of their religion. How different is it then to look at the role of nuns in the Catholic Church. These nuns cannot be priests and they most certainly cannot voice their modern day opinions for they run the risk of being accused of heresy by the Vatican Inquisition.

St Peter's BasilicaVatican, Rome

St Peter’s Basilica
Vatican, Rome

There is an organization called the LCWR, The Leadership Conference of Women Religious. It is a group of 1500 superiors (mother superiors) representing about 80% of the 57,000 nuns in the US Catholic Church.  In 2008, the Vatican feeling threatened by some of the LCWR points of views and their advocacy positions began a review of the LCWR practices. In April of 2012 the Vatican accused the LCWR of “doctrinal confusion” and said the group was “ infected with strains of radical feminism”. The Vatican requested that the group come under the control of three US bishops. The LCWR runs the risk of being excommunicated if they don’t comply. The sisters simply claim that they are following the changes made by the Vatican II council.  The Vatican II was a major reform made to the Catholic Church between 1962-1965. Imagine, a reform that is already 48 years old. In essence, these American nuns, through their exemplary leadership skills, have evolved over the years to become more relevant to the communities they serve. And now, because they have raised questions, challenged the status quo, and tried to improve their systems, they are looked down upon by the old boy’s Vatican network, accused of defiance, and considered the “nuns gone rogue”.  There has been an enormous outpour of support for the LCWR even from US Catholic Bishops. So therefore, what we need is for more of these modern-thinking bishops to become modern-thinking cardinals, who will form a more modern-thinking Conclave, who will elect a more modern-thinking Pope. And perhaps then, the Catholic Church will reform again to become more relevant to its followers. It is yet to be determined how the LCWR will respond to the Vatican’s reprimand. The LCWR hopes to continue a dialogue with the Vatican, perhaps a dialogue that will serve as a catalyst for change in the role women play in the Catholic Church.

Sister Pat FarrellPast President of LCWR

Sister Pat Farrell
Past President of LCWR

I view Malala and LCWR’s plights to be similar, both leading and advocating for basic rights and for change. I would not be the woman I am today had it not been for those women of years gone by, thankfully infected with “strains of radical feminism”. I am not just talking about the radical feminists of the 1960’s, but going further back to the late 1800’s to those amazing feminists that formed The International Council of Women in 1888 and the International Woman Suffrage Alliance of 1904 to discuss women’s rights and initiate a historical women’s rights movement. (Read more below) Some of us are privileged to live in societies that guarantee women their rights to education, freedom of speech, freedom of choice, and most of the time equal opportunities. I only hope the environment continues to improve for my daughter. But I don’t have to remind you that there is still so much more to achieve.

Women's Suffrage Movement

Women’s Suffrage Movement

Maybe tonight I’ll read another two articles that will collide in my head. I have yet to discuss the topic of separation of Church and State (or lack thereof) and maybe the future reincarnation of Chavez.

Sweet Dreams and Good Night.


About Malala:

New York Times Documentary about Malala:

Malala’s Nobel Peace Price Nomination:

Articles about the LCWR

Women’s Suffrage:’s_suffrage

Human Rights Watch:

Women’s Rights: http:’s_rights


4 thoughts on “Malala and the Papal Conclave

  1. Excellent blog and comparison! You hit it right on the nail! I don’t think our daughters realize how much women, even in the United States and the United Kingdom, had to overcome and still have to overcome to simply get the same rights as men! Who knew you have a little feminist hidden inside of you, haha! Love you!

  2. Pingback: Malala’s Father Refused US State Dept Award | THE SCARECROW

  3. Pingback: Happy International Women’s Day – The Kitchen Blackboard

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