Steichen, age 81, is a prominent Catholic author and journalist. Originally
from St. Cloud, Minnesota, today she lives in Ojai, California. She married her
husband Roy 60 years ago, and the couple has four children as well as 29
grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
the 1970s, Steichen began working as a Catholic journalist, writing for her
diocesan newspaper. She was also active in the pro-life movement, the Catholic
League and religious education.
an avid reader of Catholic publications, in the 1980s Steichen became
increasing concerned about the effect of feminism on American Catholicism. She
wrote a number of articles on the topic, and, at the request of Father Joseph
Fessio, SJ, founder of Ignatius Press and publisher of CWR, agreed to turn her articles into a book. In 1991, her book Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic
Feminism, was published. The book was a surprise hit for a first-time
author, selling 50,000 copies and garnering her speaking engagements in North
America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
Steichen spoke to CWR on the occasion
of the 20th anniversary of her groundbreaking book.
What is feminism and how does it operate
in our society?
Donna Steichen: That’s a good
place to start, because if you notice, feminism is rarely defined. In
particular, the feminists don’t define it. It is to their advantage not to
define it, because most people interpret it as meaning that you’re for women, or
that you believe women have a right to be educated or are just as smart as men.
that’s not what it is about at all. Feminism is about overthrowing the
structure of the family and society. It rose out of the writings of Karl Marx
and Friedrich Engels [authors of The
Communist Manifesto]. They saw that the family was at odds with their
vision of society. Owning the factories is not enough; you can’t change society
unless you get rid of the family. When you attack the family, you attack
society itself, including its institutions, authority, and traditions, as well
as the Ten Commandments and God. Religious feminists, and even secular
feminists, want to overthrow God. The religious feminists have set about
replacing the Trinitarian God with a mishmash of New Age spirituality,
paganism, psychology, and anything that is not structured, that is not
traditional, that is not Christianity.
society is in dire straits, and the past 50 years have been a terribly
difficult period in history. Feminism has played a leading role in destroying
our civilization. It corrupts a woman by creating contempt within her for her
natural role. The major secular feminists believe that women should not be
allowed to stay home and raise their children. The general tone is that having
children and raising them is really a waste of a woman’s talents and education.
Feminist philosophy has saturated our society. For example, take the fact that
relatively few families have a mother at home raising the children full-time
with a father working to support them. Women are expected to be employed
outside the home and take care of their children in their spare time. And forget
about having a large family. Since women are career-centered, they simply don’t
have time to take care of eight or 10 children.
And the few children they do have suffer?
Steichen: Of course, that’s
the real tragedy. Go back in history and observe what happened when immigrant
groups arrived in America.
When they began they were often poor and living in slums. But, with two parents
and the mother full-time in the home, the children got an education and
assimilated into society. That’s because they had their parents there to direct
in single-parent homes or two-parent homes where the mother is often absent at
work, the parents aren’t there to provide direction. So, the kids look
elsewhere for the guidance they should be getting at home. This could be an
inner-city gang, or a group of friends at the mall. Or, kids are left for hours
in front of the television set, absorbing vile forms of entertainment. The TV
set should be turned off and the parents ought to interacting with them.
is bad for women, bad for men, bad for children and bad for the family. It will
never cease to be a mystery to me that so many people fall for it. I suppose it
does prove what the Catholic Church has always maintainedwe’re creatures
flawed by Original Sin and prone to sin and foolishness.
I like to remember that our side wins in the long run. We knew that from the
beginning. God has promised he would not abandon us.
And, of course, the feminist movement
has long promoted the use of artificial contraception and abortion.
Steichen: Oh, yes. Abortion
is the sacrament of the feminist movement. They don’t believe in capital
punishment for anyone except unborn babies.
What led you to write Ungodly Rage, and what reaction did you
Steichen: I’ve always
read many Catholic and secular publications, and in the 60s and 70s, I couldn’t
figure what was going on with many of our nuns and priests, as well as people
working in Catholic catechesis. Many of our religious were walking away from
their vocations, and heterodox Catholic teachings seemed to be everywhere. I’ve
always had an interest in the Church and doctrine, so I began to look into it.
spent the 1980s going to the religious feminist conferences, usually
undercover, and I wrote about my experiences for magazine articles. Father
Fessio liked my work, and asked me to write a book. So, I did.
received a favorable reaction from orthodox Catholics. In fact, neither I nor
Ignatius Press thought it would sell so well. It turned out that a lot of people
like me were looking for an explanation of what was going on.
John O’Connor [the archbishop of New York from 1984-2000] talked about the book
from the pulpit in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. That prompted a call to me from a New York Daily News reporter to find out
what the book was about. When he found out that I was not a feminist, he lost
interest in doing a story.
Cardinal O’Connor liked it, a great many bishops did not. The Church
bureaucracy as a whole didn’t either. And the feminists hated it with a passion. These were people involved with
organizations like Call to Action, the Woman’s Ordination Conference, and the
Leadership Conference of Women Religious, as well as writers for publications
like the National Catholic Reporter.
Do you remember any specific criticisms?
Fitzpatrick, the head of Women’s Ordination Conference for nearly 20 years,
wrote in one of their publications, “How dare
this woman quote us without our permission?” But I quoted public statements in published
declared publicly that what I was saying was not true, but nobody ever
challenged me personally because the book is documented with over 500
reality is that women religiousthose on the Left, not the orthodox oneshate
the Church. They want to overthrow it. Listen to what they’re saying. They don’t
say we’re faithful daughters of the Church, but we’ll be whatever we want to be
and don’t you dare criticize us. They
may have impressive academic credentials and a long history of service to the
Church, but that doesn’t mean they can’t fall away. We’ve seen it happen again
If feminist women religious hate the
Church, why don’t they leave?
Steichen: For one reason,
they’re much more effectiveeffectively destructive, effectively subversiveif
they don’t leave.
the example of Sister Joan Chittister, a regular columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. She’s as much
a feminist as anyone. Everything in the worldthe temperature, the sunshine,
the rain, dinner, the newseverything
reminds her that women are persecuted by the Church. The universe is unjust to
women. She’s just upset.
she remains a nominal Benedictine nun and has created publishing houses and
organizations of which she can be the star. She speaks everywhere. She not only
criticizes the Church, but declares that she has moved from that old notion of the
God of the Scriptures, the Trinitarian God, to this new sense of that God is a
unifying spirit, a process God. To her, reality is god and we’re changing it.
It’s the ultimate in anthropomorphism: we make god.
What do you think of the recent apostolic
visitation of women’s religious communities in the United States?
Steichen: It is 40 years
late. Honestly, I don’t know why they waited so long to do it, except that the
Church does move slowly. It provides us with an interesting example of how the
Left, the modernists, the rebels in the Church, are a dog and pony show.
what these people are up to is perfectly valid. But the Leadership Conference
of Women Religious, Call to Action, the National
Catholic Reporter, and the stars of the feminist movement like Sister
Sandra Schneiders [of the Catholic Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley,
California] are echoing each other in saying what an outrage it is that anyone
would dare to criticize them or
secular press picked up the controversy, and it appeared that many people were
upset about the visitation. But I don’t know of anyone who was upset about it
other than these groups on the Left. And their numbers are dwindling. They’re
aging and dying out. Soon the feminists are going to be the very thing they don’t
want to be, a footnote in history.
The problem will take care of itself in
Steichen: Yes, it will. I
believe it. But, meanwhile, the damage they’ve done is incalculable. As a
mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother, I can’t stop feeling anguished
for all the souls that have been lost because they were never taught or
supported in the true faith. I’m not their judge, God is. And I certainly hope
everyone goes to heaven. But Catholicism has been under attack and the faith
has been destroyed in many places.
Minnesota, for example, where I grew up, used to be very Catholic. It’s not any
longer. The city where I used to live only has three pastors, each of whom now
serves three parishes. We’ve lost so many vocations. Many religious communities
are not getting any new members. And why would they? Who is going to join a
movement of people who hate what they profess to believe?
Not all the nuns in these communities
accepted feminism. What happened to these faithful nuns?
Steichen: I asked a good
nun in Minnesota this question. She said they were trained to obey their
superiors. Obedience is a virtue in religious life. Radicals would take over
positions of authority in communities, by cheating if necessary. Then they
would issue edicts their communities were expected to obey.
otherwise faithful nuns were the victims of organized brainwashing, too, which
I discuss in Ungodly Rage.
I’m sure you’re excited to see women
joining traditional women’s religious orders.
There are many wonderful communities like the Nashville Dominicans, the Sisters
of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and the Alhambra Carmelites that are flooded
with candidates. Young women are flocking to them.
You also have a background in Catholic
education, and you’ve expressed concern about the decline of Catholic education
in the United States.
Steichen: During World
War II, Msgr. Ronald Knox, the famous British cleric, said young American
Catholics were the best instructed Catholics he had ever encountered. But
today, nobody knows anything. We see evidence of this all the time.
former House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is a prime example. She was educated by the
School Sisters of Notre Dame in Baltimore and graduated from Trinity College in
Washington, DC. She declares she is a believing Catholic, but says erroneous
things about the faith all the time. She may really believe what she is saying
for all I know, but she is wrong. She thinks her opinions are as good as the pope’s,
or as God’s, for that matter.
need a completely new catechesis, and I’m happy to see that Pope Benedict
thinks so, too. He recently established a new Pontifical Council for Promoting
New Evangelization. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York is a member, and so is
Australian Cardinal George Pell of Sydney. It looks promising.
in the United States, some fine new centers of catechesis have been established,
like Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. I’m happy to see that many
bishops are hiring Steubenville graduates to be their directors of religious education.
The Augustine Institute in Denver is doing wonderful work, too. There are many
young people who want to know the faith, and many who want to serve as
Who are some of the priests and
religious you admire for remaining faithful over the last few generations, when
others did not?
Steichen: I think when
people look back on our troubled times, they’ll see that there have been some
really extraordinary people in the Church. Father John Hardon, SJ was a
wonderful man. He was soft-spoken and gentle, but taught the truth totally and faithfully
as the Church teaches it. The fact that many of his colleagues didn’t care for
him never made a bit of difference.
Paul Marx, founder of Human Life International, was an extraordinary man. He
spoke the truth, and was a brilliant organizer and strategist. He knew how
movements work and how to organize them. He spread the pro-life message
throughout the world.
Angelica is a marvel. She is not an academic, but a genuine, believing
Catholic. She was able to accomplish what the bishops could not. They tried to
establish their inoffensive little television network and could never get it
off the ground. With her sisters she launched EWTN, which has been a huge
I also admire Mother Assumpta Long, OP,
foundress of the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist; Mother Teresa,
foundress of the Missionaries of Charity; Sister
Jeanne Therese Condon, OSB, foundress of Minnesota’s LifeCare Centers, a chain
of storefront pregnancy clinics; and Sister Michaela Fuchs, OSB, a French teacher
from Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Sister
Michaela never gave up her habit, or her orthodoxy, but simply lived all
her life as the faithful, Catholic nun she was when she began.