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Underground, women's press multiplies.

WASHINGTON -- Catholic women's underground press. That is how feminists describe the growing number of newsletters, tabloids and magazines flooding the mail -- all bearing the logo of a progressive women's organization.

The publications have cropped up because of the failure of the Catholic press to adequately cover women's issues, said School Sister of Notre Dame Margaret Traxler in a recent interview. "The mainstream Catholic press reports everything through a masculine lens," she said.

Traxler edits the Chicago-based National Coalition of American Nuns newsletter. Recent issues have dealt with topics such as church and patriarchy, women prisoners and gay rights.

"Alternative women's publications are our only salvation to survive in a church where the press is just not |with it,'" said Traxler.

According to Ruth Fitzpatrick, "diocesan newspapers have to reflect the bishops' bias, the patriarchal system. By being independent, the women's press is free to be more prophetic and show an alternative vision of church."

Fitzpatrick directs the Women's Ordination Conference, which publishes the New Women, New Church quarterly to educate more than 4,000 readers on the issue of ordaining women to a renewed priestly ministry. WOC is based in Fairfax, Va.

Recalling the early days, Fitzpatrick said, "I remember the reality of printer's ink. We mimeographed the first issues of our newsletter, stapled them, stuffed them in envelopes and licked the stamps."

An estimated 6,300 mostly Catholic women receive the interfaith newsletter, Daughters of Sarah. Each issue focuses on a theme -- biblical, historical, social and theological -- as it relates to women.

Like other editors of women's publications, Daughters of Sarah editor Reta Finger, said hers helps fill a void. "The regular religious press is not meeting the needs of women in a specific way," she said."

The large number of subscribers to women's publications is not surprising, said St. Joseph Sister Judy Vaughn. "Women are looking for substantive articles written by women about women," said Vaughn, director of the Chicago-based National Assembly of Religious Women.

The group's bimonthly publication, PROBE, educates 3,000 members on economic justice, violence against women and sexuality. "NARW involves women in diverse cultures to write for the newspaper," Vaughn added.

Other publications also tackle a wide range of issues.

A spokeswoman for the 10-year old national Conference for Catholic Lesbians, who asked to remain anonymous, said the quarterly newsletter, Images, "offers a platform for discussion of spiritual, holistic and lesbian issues of concern to more than 300 CCL members." The group is based in New York.

A recent Images interview focused on "A Recovering Catholic" -- how a Catholic lesbian used humor to get out of the "guilt-trip mind-set" imposed by a traditional church.

Las Hermanas, an organization of Hispanic women, publishes the newsletter INFORMES to maintain contact with its chapter members throughout the United States.

"We network with more than 800 grass-roots Hispanic women," said Las Hermanas director Sister Yolando Tarango. "Our eight-page, home-press publication is their only link with issues such as the free-trade policy as this relates to Hispanic women."

Based in San Antonio, Texas, Las Hermanas works to maintain a feminist approach from a cultural context.

Arlene Goetze edits the Catholic Women's Network in Santa Clara, Calif. "Our newsletter offers women help in their everyday lives," she said.

Topics have included how to deal with anger and how to be more assertive. "Many of our 6,500 women subscribers admit that as they grow older, they have not completely outgrown the |father said' syndrome," said Goetze. "We try to open ideas about faith and relationship to God, to move beyond the limitations of one religion, one church."

CouRAGE, said Kansas City, Mo., editor Loretto Sister Mary Ann Cunningham "uses humor to criticize patriarchy without being too harsh." A response to the recent Vatican document on discrimination against gays and lesbians evoked a comical verse, "Some Considerations for You Homosexual People From All of Us At the Doctoring of the Faith."

The idea for the newsletter grew out of the 1987 Women Church Conference. "Diocesan papers voice the views of bishops," said Cunningham. "We push issues that are important to women. And we believe that |rage' is a healthy dimension of |courage.'"

Kindred Spirits wants women to write articles and poetry -- contribute art work -- "anything creative that gives them a chance to speak their own truth," said B.J. Schlachter, coordinator of the Detroit-based Women's Sources and Resources group.

The bimonthly newsletter is an outreach to 700 women subscribers who, said Schlacter, are often isolated in their parishes and need to ventilate their complaints about the church system. The author of an article about women's ordination said she was thrilled that "I can write what I can't speak aloud in the archdiocese."

Joan Urbanczyk, Center of New Creation coordinator in Arlington, Va., said, "When authoritarian parish structures would not permit us to raise divisive questions related to church teachings on social justice, three women founded the center to tell the truth as we find it."

New Creation News gives voice to women who are victims of violence locally, nationally and globally. Urbanczyk, on her return from a delegation to the Middle East, recorded the stories of Palestinian and Jewish women victims -- mothers, spouses, grandmothers -- working together now for peace.

Diann Neu and Mary E. Hunt coedit WATERwheel, the quarterly publication of Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) in Silver Spring, Md.

"We take on topics that the patriarchal/hierarchical church is reluctant to address," said Neu. The newsletter's circulation is 10,000.

Feminist theologian Hunt writes on issues such as AIDS, reproductive rights, choice, life-style, racism. Neu contributes creative rituals and liturgies that use feminist symbols.

The proliferation of women's publications will continue, said Neu. Recently a group met to consider combining efforts to publish a national publication, something like a Ms. magazine for Catholic Women.

"But we decided that was not an immediate direction. The women's movement is young," Neu said. "The focus of each group on a specific issue is important now for telling women's stories, for documenting |her-story.'"
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Catholic Reporter
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Title Annotation:Catholic feminism
Author:Vidulich, Dorothy
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jan 15, 1993
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