Archbishop Sean O'Malley apologized for upsetting women with his decision not to wash the feet of women on Holy Thursday and for his inclusion of feminism in a list of societal ills in a homily during Holy Week. The bishop’s statement appeared in his weekly column in the archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot.
Several archdiocesan priests had reported that women in their parishes were offended by the feminism remark and the foot-washing ceremony.
The bishop drew criticism for listing “feminism” among negative forces in society during a homily April 6, during the Chrism Mass. However, he clarified in his column that there are expressions of feminism - such as demanding equal pay for equal work - that he supports.
“If someone were to ask me about feminism, I would say that there is feminism, which is a Christian imperative and invokes promoting the rights and prerogatives of women,” the bishop wrote.
“Thank God we have many noble examples of Christian feminism, and thank God we have many noble examples of Christian feminists in our church,” he wrote, citing Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the social activist Dorothy Day as examples.
“I am also very proud of the fact that in my years as a priest, a major part of my ministry has been promoting the rights and welfare of women,” he added.
Bishop O’Malley drew further criticism the following day when he declined to wash the feet of women on Holy Thursday.
In his column, the bishop said he was adhering to Church teachings, which hold that priests should wash only men's feet in an observance that marks Jesus' washing of his disciples' feet.
The bishop pledged that he would seek clarification on the matter during a scheduled visit to the Vatican in August.
"I am sorry if this controversy has been upsetting to our Catholic women, and I hope that these reflections will help you to understand that I more than value the gifts and contributions that women make to our church and to my own faith life," he wrote in The Pilot.