What Would Reverend Barbie Do?

Published: April 9, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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She’s smart, sassy, and now she’s sanctified.  Who am I talking about?

Why, it’s Episcopal Priest Barbie!

That’s right, fun and flirty Barbie trades her hip Malibu pad for mission furniture better suited to her life’s latest mission: the rector at St. Barbara’s by-the-sea in… Malibu.

No matter the liturgical season, this pretty, peppy pastor is ready to go anywhere. From her exquisitely tailored vestments, courtesy of Vera Wang, to her benevolently black Jimmy Choo shoes and matching Bible, Episcopal Barbie is never out of place either on the alter or the runway.

The Rev. Julie Blake Fisher, an Episcopal priest in Kent, Ohio, created Episcopal Priest Barbie High Church Edition for a friend, the Rev. Dena Cleaver-Bartholomew, when she got her first pulpit assignment in Manlius, New York.  However, news stories about Fisher’s creation in conjunction with Newsweek’s cover story – What Would Mary Do? – How Women Can Save the Catholic Church From its Sins – is a timely reminder of an issue that’s spent far too long on the backburner – the role of women in leadership positions in the Catholic Church.

“…the all-male Catholic hierarchy,” Newsweek’s Lisa Miller writes, “has responded to the [child abuse] crisis too slowly… in a way that has instinctively protected its own interests above those of the children.”

“It matters how the church is seen,” says Kerry Robinson. “Right now, it’s seen as sins and crimes committed by men, covered up by men, and sustained by men. To overcome that, the church has to absolutely include more women.”

“…Robinson traveled to Rome last month to talk to cardinals about promoting more women. Executive director of the National Leadership Roundtable, a group of American businesspeople who hope to bring corporate best practices to the church, Robinson, together with a group of female colleagues, hoped to make a point. ‘A young woman looks at the corporate world and sees that she can reach the highest levels of leadership,’ says Robinson. ‘She is frustrated at the lack of opportunities to live out her leadership in the church. The grave consequence of that is that the church becomes less and less relevant to women. And the consequence of that is that it becomes less and less relevant to her children.’

“‘It’s just men listening to themselves’ on sex abuse, says Kathleen McChesney, the former FBI official enlisted to study and remedy the problem of sex abuse in American dioceses after 2002. ‘To my knowledge, there’s no woman in the Vatican who’s involved in sex-abuse issues.

‘Benedict needs to establish a group that is not just clergy,’ McChesney says. ‘He needs an advisory board of people who are expert in child abuse, in investigative issues, in problem solving.’  If these people are women,” Miller concludes “so much the better.”

While on the surface Rev. Barbie may be a joke to some, it might motivate others to begin a purposeful discussion of the critical needs of the Catholic Church: more respect, accountability and compassion; qualities women can and do bring, not only to the secular table, but the spiritual table as well.


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