Reflections on the Social and Ecological Impacts of Religious Patriarchy

Vol. 2, No. 5, May 2006

Luis T. Gutierrez, Editor

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Humanity is currently on a global journey from patriarchy to solidarity, sustainability, and sustainable human development. The Solidarity & Sustainability newsletter is a series of reflections on how to mitigate patriarchal barriers to human development and, in particular, how to overcome the enormous obstacles caused by religious patriarchies. The newsletter integrates existing and emerging knowledge (empirical evidence, tradition, relevant experience, wisdom) to show that true religion radically transcends the patriarchal mindset. In fact, true religion always enhances human development, and should never be an obstacle to it. The "Millennium Development Goals" of the United Nations are used as a point of reference.

Theme of this Issue:
Mimetic Violence in Patriarchal Religions 2

Notice: According to feedback received from subscribers, some previous issues have been too long and a bit crowded. Starting with this issue, every effort will be made to make the newsletter simpler, shorter, and easier to read.


This issue continues the theme of the previous issue, i.e., Mimetic Violence in Patriarchal Religions. The previous issue attempted to provide a conceptual understanding of Girard's mimetic theory. The present issue illustrates the application of the theory to a very concrete example.

The example pertains to the movement (including both advocacy and theological reflection) toward the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church. This movement was gaining momentum when, in 1994, it was abruptly stopped by the Vatican authorities. The sequence of events leading to the Vatican action is mapped against the five Girardian phases -- desire, rivalry, skandalon, scapegoating, and sacrifice. There is no implication of intentional wrongdoing by the Vatican. But it is shown that this was an act of harmful, albeit subtle, psychological violence.

The anticipated social and ecological impacts are described. It is proposed that the urgency of a radical renunciation of institutionalized violence is increasing very fast in today's world. This urgency applies to all human communities, especially religious institutions. Religion should never be used to cover up the triple patriarchal addiction to wealth accumulation, absolute power, and worldly honors.

In brief, mimetic theory appears to be applicable to the analysis of violent behavior, including those cases where the violence is of a religious nature and practically invisible. Some simple suggestions are given for prayer, study, and action pursuant to a radical renunciation of violence by all human institutions and all people of good will.











The Girardian analysis of mimetic violence entails five recursive phases [01]. These phases may not be strictly sequential, in fact they often overlap:

1. Mimetic Desire -- A person/group desires something another person/group already has. This may entail desiring to become like the other person/group.
2. Mimetic Rivalry -- Competition ensues between the two persons/groups and creates tension, turmoil, confusion in the community.
3. Skandalon (Greek for "slander" or "scandal") -- The rivalry eventually becomes disruptive of community life, to the point that the authorities must intervene.
4. Scapegoating -- The authorities seek a weak, vulnerable person/group to serve as scapegoat (innocent victim).
5. Sacred Violence -- The chosen scapegoat is sacrificed (punished, killed, ejected) to restore "law and order," at least temporarily .... until the next cycle starts.

It should be pointed out that mimetic theory is semiotic (semiotics is the study of meaningful signs). In fact, all human thinking and all theories are semiotic. But not all semiotic theories are mimetic. The crucial practical feature of mimetic theory is that it links mimesis (imitation) to learned human behavior.


The reader is probably aware that, in the second half of the 20th century, the women's movement reached the mainline Christian churches. The central question: why is it that the priest or pastor must be a male? Some churches, after reaching the conclusion that there is no theological basis for such practice, have started ordaining women to the priesthood or ministry. Other churches still refuse to do so, in particular the Roman Catholic Church. This is not the proper place for a theological discussion about the ordination of women. The following is an example of mimetic violence in the context of the process followed by the Vatican to suppress the issue. Specifically, the example refers to the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) and the subsequent declaration Responsum ad Dubium (1995). This exercise was orchestrated so as to seemingly claim that the 1994 letter was infallible teaching (which is not the case [02]). Such manner of proceeding is a psychologically violent example of misinformation, manipulation, and intimidation to perpetuate the patriarchal system in the Roman Catholic Church.

The reconstruction of the Ordinatio Sacerdotalis-Responsum ad Dubium episode as a process of mimetic violence is as follows:

1. Mimetic Desire
As the women's movement unfolds, many of the faithful desire to see the maternal face of God reflected in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. There is increasing awareness that women deacons, priests, and bishops would enrich sacramental ministry for the glory of God and the good of the faithful -- both men and women.

2. Mimetic Rivalry
The rivalry is triggered by the Vatican's refusal to consider the issue, and allow an open process of prayer and theological reflection, even though most catholic scholars (including the Pontifical Biblical Commission) agree that there is no theological basis for reserving priestly ordination to men alone.

3. Skandalon
The skandalon in this case is that other Christian churches start ordaining women, including liturgical (sacramental) churches such as many provinces of the Anglican Communion, most Old Catholic Churches, and most Lutheran Churches. This increases the heat on the Vatican, especially when surveys show that a significant majority of the faithful (not only in Europe and North America, but in other traditionally Catholic countries such as the Philippines) would welcome the ordination of women.

4. Scapegoating
In this case, the scapegoat is God. More specifically, the scapegoat is the Risen Christ. The Roman Catholic Church, according to the Vatican, "is not authorized by Christ to ordain women." The implication is that Christ is the one who is making things difficult for the pilgrim church on earth.

5. Sacred Violence
The sacred violence in this case is the publication of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) and Responsum ad Dubium (1995), and the implication that the male-only priesthood is a matter of faith. This has a cooling effect on the movement for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church, because now all the effort must be displaced to show that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis lacks the requirements for infallibility as defined by Vatican Council I in 1870 and explained by Vatican Council II in 1964.

It is not difficult to find other examples of religious and/or secular violence that fit Girard's mimetic theory. But this particular episode may have many undesirable repercussions in the years and decades ahead [03].


Religious violence often (always?) leads to social violence, which in turn generates violence against the human habitat. These social and ecological impacts may not be apparent immediately, so the cause-effect relationship is seldom anticipated, or even perceived over time. The following social and ecological impacts of the Ordinatio Sacerdotalis-Responsum ad Dubium episode are anticipated:

Social Impacts [04]

  • A global weakening of the women's movement in general.
  • Persisting conformance to a patriarchal mindset in family and society.
  • Slower progress toward worldwide gender equality in education.
  • Failure to implement the resolutions of the 1995 Beijing declaration.
  • Impaired capacity to confront the gender inequities of radical Islam.
  • Inflated obstacles to gain further understanding of human sexuality.
  • Increased propensity to seek and exercise absolute power.
  • More frequent abuse of the media to manipulate and confuse people.

Ecological Impacts [05]

  • The patriarchal mentality of 1.3 billion Roman Catholics continues to be reinforced. This is bound to have a multiplicative effect on other people and institutions worldwide. This in turn translates into more obstacles on the path toward achieving the U.N. MDGs, which are tightly interconnected and include gender equity and environmental sustainability.
  • This is the bottom line: "The ideology which authorizes oppressions such as those based on race, class, gender, sexuality, physical disabilities, and species is the same ideology which sanctions the oppression of nature." Greta Gaard.


Violence is the common denominator underlying most human tragedies. To the extent that violence is mimetic, it is a form of learned human behavior. Behavior that is learned can be unlearned. Therefore, to propose a radical renunciation of violence is not utopian. Humanity can and must embrace nonviolence.

"What is experienced now is a form of mimetic rivalry on a planetary scale" [06]. A radical renunciation of violence is the only sensible choice after 9/11. It will take time and efort, but it is a practical possibility; and unless humanity embraces nonviolence, there will be no progress toward solidarity and sustainability.


Patriarchy is the institutionalization of mimetic violence. Mimetic violence in patriarchal religious institutions is especially contagious, since such institutions claim to conserve and transmit norms of conduct in accordance with God's will. The ten commandments specifically forbid violence. But there are many kinds of violence, some more subtle than others. When religious authorities use violence (no matter how subtly and unintentionally) it registers as "violence is OK" in the collective unconscious of the people entrusted to their care [07].

Institutionalized religious patriarchy propagates very quickly to family life and all kinds of social institutions. To preach love and practice violence is the ultimate hypocrisy, and leads to delusions such as

"I shall be well content if on my conscience
There rest no heavier sin than what they suffer
From the devices of my love." [08].

This is an appeal to all religious authorities, and in particular to the leaders of patriarchal Christian churches: read the gospels, where love and nonviolence are revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. Patriarchy is a heritage from the Roman empire. There is absolutely no patriarchy and no violence in the gospels. Take a look at the signs of the times. Isn't it time for a new reformation?


The renunciation of patriarchy and violence must be radical. The most subtle forms of violence are often the most harmful, for the wounds they create in people are very deep, even touching the soul. Any attempt to disguise violence as "tough love" is not an option either. It is said that the eucharist is "heaven on earth," and this is true. But it is also true that the eucharistic liturgy, when presided by male-only clergy because women are excluded from service at the altar, in today's world becomes "hell on earth" for those who need to be touched by the divine feminine.

Patriarchal religious institutions have, therefore, the greatest responsibility of self-reformation to renounce the use of violence. Since patriarchy is the way mimetic violence is institutionalized in religious communities, it follows that the patriarchal mindset (and supporting structures) must be discarded by religious institutions, and sooner rather than later. Again, this is an appeal to all religious authorities, especially in the patriarchal Christian churches: read the gospels, pray the gospels, renounce all manner of patriarchy and violence. The crusades were an atrocious failure. The inquisition was an atrocious failure. The last thousand years of Jihad -- by Christians against each other, and against Muslims -- are coming back to us in a terrifying way. For violence is sinful and has a long tail!


Prayer: Pray for girls who suffer discrimination in religion and society -- see Prayers for Hannah.
Study: Read and meditate the gospels -- see Christ and Violence.
Action: Discontinue financial support to patriarchal institutions -- see Matthew 21:12-13, Galatians 2:11-14.


Click on the reference [##] to go back to the text.

[01] For general background on Girard's mimetic theory, including references, see the previous newsletter: Mimetic Violence in Patriarchal Religions, Solidarity & Sustainability, Vol. 2, No. 4, April 2006.

[02] See the following:
Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: Infallible?, Jack Healy, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, December 1996.
How Binding? “Ordinatio sacerdotalis” unleashes debate on the Magisterium, Klaus Nientiedt, Herder Korrespondenz 9, 1996, pp. 461-466.
Tradition and the Ordination of Women, Catholic Theological Society of America, Origins, June 1997.
Was The Teaching Infallible?, Peter Burns S.J., BASIC, March 1999.

[03] Women's theology and European unity, Lily Zakiyah Munir, The Jakarta Post, 6 May 2006.

[04] Gender and Society: A Matter of Nature or Nurture?, Michael C. Kearl, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas, 2006.
The Power of the Purse: Allocative Systems and Inequality in Couple Households, Catherine T. Kenney, Gender & Society, 20: 354-381, June 2006.
The forward march of women halted?, Fred Halliday, openDemocracy, 5 May 2006. Make sure to click on Catholic Church.

[05] Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature, Greta Gaard, Temple University Press, 1993, page 1 of 322 pages.
Gender Economics of the Kyoto Protocol, Neha Pandey, Ecology and Society, Vol. 6, No. 1, June 2002.
Gender: the missing component in the response to climate change, Yianna Lambrou and Grazia Piana, FAO, October 2005.

[06] "What Is Occurring Today Is a Mimetic Rivalry on a Planetary Scale", René Girard, Interview by Henri Tincq, Le Monde, 6 November 2001.

[07] Religion and Violence: the Suffering of Women, Susan Rakoczy, Sexuality in Africa, Volume 2, Issue 4, 2005.

[08] The Cenci, Act I, Scene II, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), quoted in The Violence of the Sacred: The Economy of Sacrifice in The Cenci, Robert M. Corbett, Romanticism on the Net, Issue 4, November 1996.

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The following are links to previous issues of the newsletter:

V1 N1 May 2005: Cross-Gender Solidarity
V1 N2 June 2005: The Phallocentric Syndrome
V1 N3 July 2005: From Patriarchy to Solidarity
V1 N4 August 2005: Synthesis of Patriarchy and Solidarity
V1 N5 September 2005: From Solidarity to Sustainability
V1 N6 October 2005: Dimensions of Sustainability
V1 N7 November 2005: Analysis and Synthesis of Objective Evidence
V1 N8 December 2005: Solidarity, Subsidiarity, and Sustainability
V2 N1 January 2006: Synthesis of Solidarity and Sustainability
V2 N2 February 2006: Sustainable Human Development
V2 N3 March 2006: Patriarchy and Mimetic Violence
V2 N4 April 2006: Mimetic Violence in Patriarchal Religions

Logo Symbolism


The pelican is a legendary symbol of commitment to generous service to others, especially those who are most vulnerable. Sources:

The Physiologus, circa 400 CE
Adoro Te Devote, 13th Century
Dante's Paradiso, 14th Century
Donna Hrynkiw, 1999
Rev. William Saunders, 2003
Rev. Silvia Roberts, 2004


Evandro Vieira Ouriques, Professor of Communications, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and developer of a Sustainable Theory of Communication. Those who can read Portuguese can find his online publications by searching for his complete name. He sent a new article, A New Epistemological Perspective for Solidarity and Sustainability in the Essentially Patriarchal and Emblematic Crisis of Western Mindset, to be published as a supplement to a future issue of this newsletter.

Kamala Sarup, a Nepali writer and journalist, and currently editor of the e-magazine "I hope, we will work together to bring peace for the world. Together, we can heal our broken world and defeat terrorism and promote peace." See her article, Armed conflict takes several forms on women, Los Angeles Chronicle, 12 May 2006.

Robert Volpicelli, Ithaca College, wrote to share an interesting paper entitled Preachers Preach of Evil Fates. This paper also may be published as a supplement to a future issue of this newsletter.


WOMEN AND ORDINATION IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES: Conference at Lincoln Theological Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, University of Manchester, UK, 12-14 July 2006. For more information, visit the conference website, or contact Dr. Ian Jones.

CALL FOR PAPERS: A conference on Global Built Environment: Towards an Integrated Approach for Sustainability is to be held 11-12 September 2006, Preston, UK. Please submit abstracts by 15 February 2006 to Professor Monjur Mourshed, Senior Lecturer, Built Environment, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, PR1 2HE, United Kingdom.

CALL FOR PAPERS: The 14th international conference of the Society of Human Ecology (SHE) will take place 18-21 October 2006 at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. SHE welcomes proposals for sessions, multi-session symposia, as well as individual papers. Contact the Conference Committee, SHE XIV.

United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)


1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

2. Achieve universal primary education

3. Promote gender equality and empower women

4. Reduce child mortality

5. Improve maternal health

6. Combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases

7. Ensure environmental sustainability

8. Develop a global partnership for development

Interested in more information and data? Click the map below:


Millennium Project

Global Challenges
The Millennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University is proposing the following 15 questions on the global challenges facing humanity.

1. How can sustainable development be achieved for all?

2. How can everyone have sufficient clean water without conflict?

3. How can population growth and resources be brought into balance?

4. How can genuine democracy emerge from authoritarian regimes?

5. How can policymaking be made more sensitive to global long-term perspectives?

6. How can the global convergence of information and communications technologies work for everyone?

7. How can ethical market economies be encouraged to help reduce the gap between rich and poor?

8. How can the threat of new and reemerging diseases and immune micro-organisms be reduced?

9. How can the capacity to decide be improved as the nature of work and institutions change?

10. How can shared values and new security strategies reduce ethnic conflicts, terrorism, and the use of weapons of mass destruction?

11. How can the changing status of women help improve the human condition?

12. How can transnational organized crime networks be stopped from becoming more powerful and sophisticated global enterprises?

13. How can growing energy demands be met safely and efficiently?

14. How can scientific and technological breakthroughs be accelerated to improve the human condition?

15. How can ethical considerations become more routinely incorporated into global decisions?

For more information, visit the Global Challenges Facing Humanity web page. To submit your ideas on how to answer these critical questions, send them to AC/UNU with a copy to Jerome Clayton.

Gender Balance in Religion

Women in Roles of Religious Authority

Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori
Source: Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, USA

Gender Balance in Society

Women in Roles of Secular Authority

Prime Minister
Han Myung-Sook
of South Korea
Source: The Seoul Times

Roman Patriarchy

Vatican Patriarchy

"Freedom and tolerance of thought, speech, religion; choice of place of residence, coming and going, jobs and professions, will be on equal terms and conditions for everyone. No inquiry, injustice or harassment is allowed to be done to anyone. In this way Cyrus says that I have sown the seed of amity, friendship and affection among nations and have granted the people peace of mind, security, tranquility and comfort."

Bill of Human Rights of Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, sixth century BCE


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Copyright © 2006 by Luis T. Gutierrez


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