In the wake of controversy over the Vatican’s recent rebuke of American nuns’ activities and announcement of plans to reorganize the Leadership Council of Women Religious, Lisa Miller urges the Church to project Mary’s voice. Standing at the center of the Christian story—and in many ways the figure that “undergirds all of the church’s contemporary dissonances on gender and sex”—Mary is a submissive virgin, and yet simultaneously revered for her braveness and cherished as a symbol of motherhood:

Mary has long been the Catholic Church’s best ambassador to the world — and especially to women, the ones who go to church and pray that she might save or heal or protect their children. The power of Mary lies not in her virginity, or in her mythical beauty. Mary resonates because she is every woman. She bears a son in unusual circumstances. The boy is extraordinary, and she struggles to raise him. And, in the end, she has to watch him die.

Mary was a poor girl from nowhere, living in a culture in which men made all the rules and owned all the property and women had nothing. For more than a thousand years, women like Mary have entered religious life hoping to find a safe place where they might receive an education and protection from the oppression of marriage and the dangers of child-bearing.

Today, women in Africa and Asia, where the church is growing fastest, find a friend in Mary, both comfort and inspiration. They build shrines to her in backwater shacks. It is 2012. It is time for the men in charge to let Mary speak.

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