This welcome address was delivered by Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D. at the first gathering of Catholic lesbians in November 1982. Her remarks remain as inspiring–and challenging–as they were almost two decades ago. It is our great delight to share with you her Welcome to the Conference for Catholic Lesbians.
: …beautiful women as far as the eye can see. It is a pleasure to welcome you this morning to Kirkridge , to one another, to the first Catholic Lesbian Conference. It is a time where you may find your second grade teacher sitting next to you. It is a time for making new friends, for greeting some old friends in new ways. For me, it is a pleasure of being with my old boyfriend’s sister …. Finally! And in all seriousness, it is time to let one more barrier fall, to let one more wall to unity drop, and to come together as faithful women from a variety of perspectives, from a variety of definitions of what it means to be lesbian, an even greater variety of definitions about what it means to be Catholic, ex-Catholic, post-Catholic, never-been-Catholic. But it is an opportunity to come together bringing all of that richness in order to enjoy one another, a lovely setting and the work that needs to be done. It is, therefore, a privilege for me to welcome each and every one of you.
Welcome to new insights and to awakenings never possible before because we never gathered like this. Because organizers never pulled us together as Catholic lesbian women. What for some was, in fact, a contradiction in terms, has been for others a delightful and fulfilling life already, with the promise of many years yet to come.
Welcome also to pain and confusion. Welcome to the pain of seeing and feeling and acting in a heterosexist, patriarchal world. Moreover, in a heterosexist and patriarchal church. Welcome to pain and confusion. But welcome to the strength and clarity. Welcome to a kind of sisterhood we sang about last night standing together. Welcome to learning about our foresisters and about ourselves. Welcome to trying to love well (?).
Welcome to the Catholic Lesbian Conference at a time when poet Adrienne Rich says to us “Two women sleeping together have more than their sleep to defend.” Imagine.
Imagine that two women sleeping together have more than their sleep to defend. The metaphor you fall on the so-called lesbian continuum. No matter what your experience in the women’s movement or in the church, it seems to me that there is, in fact, open season on lesbians and gay men, particularly religious orders at this particular moment in time. Welcome to a reality that is more difficult and more painful than the scenery outside our windows. But welcome to a conference which is at the same time, necessary, empowering and ongoing.
It seems to me this conference is necessary because the invisibility that lesbians suffer as a people, as a church, is the invisibility of ignorance and alienation. We can’t always see who we are to know that we are beautiful.
The conference is necessary because the experience of Catholic lesbians has been homogenized. It has been subsumed under the experience of gay men. It has even been homogenized in the women’s movement in the church. I’m not suggesting that we establish the Lesbian Couples of Women Religious, but I am saying that the invisibility and the homogenization of women in the women’s movement even in the church has been the source of great pain for many of us. It is time now to speak clearly that there would not be a women’s movement in the church, just as there would not be a women’s movement in this society, if it were not for the leadership of lesbians.
There would have been very little renewal in religious communities. There would have been fewer innovative liturgies. There would be a great shortage of theo-political analysis. There would be a dirth of strategies. There would be a great limitation on the number of pastoral ministers, campus ministers, hospital ministers, prison ministers if lesbians were not involved. It is time for us to say “We have been with you. Be with us.”
In the male model, knowledge is power. But in a female model, sharing knowledge is empowering. Being together, learning about the range of experiences that we represent and beginning to develop the networks of support and strategies for the ongoing struggles we face as lesbian Catholic women will, I think, be our way to contribute to one another and to the larger society.
And finally, a conference which is both necessary and empowering will, at the same time, have to be by it’s very nature ongoing.
But this is just the beginning; the first time when Catholic lesbians, and I hope, feminist women, are coming together out of the clarity of our own identity, relating one more form of oppression with a variety of others that it becomes our responsibility to address.
And so, as we begin to develop the kind of strategies for creative survival that are part of being lesbian Catholic feminist women, let me suggest also that we know enough now to know that one form of oppression is never separated from any other form of oppression. That is to say that as we understand and celebrate ourselves as lesbian women, it is only at the same time that we understand how our Black sisters and brothers, how our Hispanic sisters and brothers, how the poor and marginalized — particularly the economically poor — how the physically challenged, the elderly and the very young feel marginalized and are in need of the same kinds of strategies for creative survival. And so, with the Indians in Guatemala, we may say finally that all rise, that all are called, that there be no group nor two groups among you that remain behind the rest.
Welcome. Welcome as Catholic lesbian feminist women. Welcome to the world anew. Thank you.