Former Detroit television reporter Teresa Tomeo is a superstar in the growing world of Catholic media. She is host of her own radio show, Catholic Connection, heard on northwest Ohio’s Annunciation Radio, and co-host of The Catholic View for Women, seen on the Catholic television network EWTN. Tomeo has written seven books, including her latest, "Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Women," and speaks on media, culture, and women’s issues. She will be in Perrysburg Nov. 17 for a women’s conference at St. Rose Parish. Toledo writer Judy Tarjanyi Roberts talked recently with Tomeo about her life and her work.
You were a child of the 70s, coming of age during a time of great expectation for women and hope of change for the better. How did you fare during those years and what do you see as having come from that period in the lives of other women?
I think on the plus side, there were many things that needed to be addressed – equal pay for equal work, the same career opportunities for women as for men. Women were not treated properly in the workplace and statistically, their wages were lower. On the positive side, there were women who paved the way for us educationally and on the job circuit. On the other side, it was taken too far, to the point where we lost our way and we thought we had to behave like men. In addition to having more opportunities, we also thought freedom and opportunity meant we had to get that same freedom in the bedroom. We complained a lot -- and justifiably so -- about being objects and women being oppressed because they didn’t have opportunities to move out of the home, but again we took it too far. Sex for recreation became part of the recipe for freedom. So there was a lot of good, but a lot of damaging things that came out of that. I’m talking about birth control, sex outside marriage. All this promised freedom for women, yet in sexual relationships, women are most susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases and women still have to make all the decisions in terms of reproduction and protecting themselves sexually. So where is the freedom in that? If anything, what kind of freedom did the sexual revolution really bring? It actually gave men more freedom to treat women in worse ways. I benefited from the freedom in the workplace and I had opportunities women 15 to 20 years before did not. But the bad thing is I bought into a lot of lies of the secular culture and I had a lot of scars at the same time.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Yes, I do, but I consider myself a new feminist, not what I would call a radical feminist, which is mostly what we see in society today. A radical feminist would be someone who thinks freedom encompasses giving women the right to kill their children, to use sex as something recreational outside marriage. That’s been damaging to women. I call myself a new feminist, someone who understands who I am. I don’t have to change who I am in order to be successful and free.
At 53, you’ve already had a full life and are in the midst of what essentially is a second career. You are also married. What do you say to young women today about planning their lives to include marriage, career, and family?
I think it’s really, really important from a Godly perspective to always every day ask for God’s will. Everyone has a calling, a vocation. That could include career, marriage, a family. You have to pray and say, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” First, as a woman of faith, you have to put it before God: “What is your will in my life?” The interesting thing about this is we may think we’re meant to do a certain type of profession. For me, it was obvious that my gifts, charisms, and talents are in communications. I’m still using them. But when I was in the secular media, I was using them mainly for my own gratification. I thought I was trying to be idealistic, do a good job as a journalist, but even in being a reporter, I wanted it to be for my own satisfaction, to make my mark on the world. I didn’t look at it until I came back to church and saw that my gifts or talents weren’t all about me. Deep down, we know we’re meant to help other people. We have gifts and talents that are meant to be used, not buried. I have to say, it can mean all three: marriage, career, family, but it may be that your best place is in the home or the workplace and maybe you’re going to have a single life, but it’s constantly seeking, asking, and being open.
I don’t think we can have it all, all the time. One of the chapters in my new book deals with a fascinating cover story in the July-August issue of Atlantic Magazine: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” It’s by a woman who was very prominent in the Obama Administration and left her position in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office, because she realized that not only did she need to be home, but she wanted to be home for her family. At some point, if we try to do it all, something’s going to suffer. I say it’s about balance.
In your book, "Extreme Makeover," You’ve written, “A woman’s extreme makeover must start first with a cultural detoxification. Bit by bit we have to peel away those layers of faulty messages and wean ourselves [from] a certain type of thinking.” What faulty messages and thinking did you need to shed? Are they the same for every woman today?
I think, in some cases, they are the same, in the sense that when we look at self-esteem issues, every woman has the issue of appearance and weight. I haven’t met one woman who hasn’t been concerned about that at least once in her life. Every time I speak, I have someone come up to me and say, “I also struggle with an eating disorder.” Then there are also a lot of other issues not everyone has faced: it could be abortion in someone’s past, a divorce, a broken relationship, unfulfilled dreams, career goals. What we have to do is stop judging ourselves by what the media or the culture deems perfection or success. Because we’re never going to measure up to what the world says is most important and really matters. They’re always telling us we’re not skinny, pretty, smart enough.
As a married woman who is childless, do you have difficulty being in a church that emphasizes the importance of married couples bearing children?
My attitude is my husband and I always have been open to life once we came back to the church, but I feel that God has called me to be a spiritual mom, not a physical mom. Though I’m somewhat sad about it, there’s not a huge hole in my life. I think God works all of that out. It doesn’t mean I don’t think it might have been different. If I understand church teaching correctly, there is a place for all of us. The church doesn’t say you have to have five, six, or seven children. The church says you have to be open to life. I am at my best as a woman in the church fully accepting its teachings. “Be fruitful and multiply” means many things in many ways, in addition to bearing children and bearing life.
What would you say is the most pressing issue facing women today – Catholic and non-Catholic alike?
I would say the biggest issue is the lies – capital L – we’ve been told since the sexual revolution: information about the fallout from the revolution not getting out there, such as abortion and the connection to a very high increase in the rate of breast cancer, the connection to the pill and breast cancer, the damaging effects of sex outside marriage. We women are more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases because of the way we’re designed. There also is psychological fallout for women. We are not meant to have a million partners. But the lies, for example, the lies put out there about the abortion industry. Few people are aware that many of the abortion facilities in the country are not up to the basic standards required of surgical outpatient facilities. This would never be allowed for any other type of procedure. It would be the headline in every newspaper. Yet, if we’re trying to let women know about the dangers, we’re considered the bad guys and we’re told we’re restricting freedom. If a woman were to go in and have heart bypass or eye surgery or even minor surgery like foot surgery and not be told the possible side effects there would be lawsuits all over the place and yet women time after time after time are not given full information about abortion. It’s suppressed, denied, ignored. Those who are trying to get the information out are not taken seriously by the medical community. The whole world has been turned upside down in terms of truth. The lies women are being taught about abortion and contraception is the biggest bill of goods we’ve been sold. There’s destruction all around. It’s like that children’s story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The emperor is walking down the street naked and everyone is too afraid to tell the emperor he’s naked until a child speaks up. This is what we’re living with in our society. Everybody is so afraid to speak up because abortion and contraception are so sacrosanct that the truth is ignored. Everybody who says anything against it is accused of being oppressive and restrictive to women. The real war on women is being waged by them. They know it and it’s why they’re working so hard to turn the truth around. We’ve been lied to, we’ve been had, we’ve been sold a huge bill of goods.
We often hear that the Catholic Church has a woman problem because it does not ordain women as priests. How can women who are denied what many regard as a right find equality and dignity in a church that some feel has marginalized them by keeping them from one of its most important leadership roles?
I think if you look at what the priesthood really is, it’s not about leadership, it’s about servanthood. From the get-go, we have to stop looking at the church as another General Motors or Ford Motor Co. which has all these glass ceilings we’re supposed to break through. We’ve taken the idea of the sexual revolution and tried to equal it and put into the church. The church is not a democracy. God runs a kingdom. He’s king of kings and lord of lords. I’ve heard the arguments over and over again, but I have yet to hear anyone look at the priesthood for what it really is. It’s not just about celebrating Mass, which is huge, but it’s about that covenant role between God and his people. It’s the bridegroom as Jesus and the church as the bride. The church is mother, God is the father. The male-female role is huge and the world doesn’t want to see that. Both genders are created equal, but differently and for different purposes. This male-female complementarity is the same thing that comes into play here with the priesthood, but we want to reduce it to a job opportunity.
You are about to begin your second season as a co-host of "The Catholic View for Women." Tell us about that program and how it’s different from ABC’s The View.
Co-host Janet Morana and I were on a Catholic Answers cruise several years ago and we were lamenting that all the talk shows for women have only one ideal for women: abortion, contraception, and sleeping around, and that those who disagree don’t have a voice. We were just fed up so Janet came up with the idea of calling it The Catholic View for Women. The idea was to really let women know what the Catholic Church offers for us, why being in the church in relationship with Christ is the best place for women. We’ve started to dive into topics like how you can be a real woman and proud of who you are by working in the world or staying at home or both. The show is airing on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) every Wednesday night at 11 Eastern Time and re-airs Friday mornings at 10:30 Eastern. On some of the upcoming shows we will be discussing miscarriage, saying yes to the marriage instead of saying yes to the dress, health issues, and exercise. All the topics for this season’s shows came from our viewers.
You also speak to groups about the media. What is your biggest concern about what we read, hear, and see in the media today?
My concern is the fact that reporters are so strapped for time even on the best days that there’s very little time to check and double-check facts. Now with the Internet we have the double whammy of a time constraint and it’s not always possible to get the most accurate information in a timely manner. Also, reporters have been restricted because newspapers and TV stations are a business and it’s a tough economy. Everyone is trying to do less with more. Economic restraints don’t allow for investigation, digging, filing a Freedom of Information request, the proper investigation that needs to be done. You also have a trimming of staff so major issues are not covered the way they used to be covered. Now pretty much everybody is a general assignment reporter, at least in my area. Then you have the fact that lot of this is covered by an agenda. The agenda is not even gray anymore. It’s clear where the media stands. If you look at studies that go back 30 to 40 years, it’s pretty obvious most reporters support abortion on demand and contraception. Most vote Democrat. In a perfect world, it shouldn’t matter. They should be able to keep their opinions to themselves. The problem is that we’re human. There’s no such thing as total objectivity. We are shaped by our life experiences and beliefs. The media is great at diversity in terms of giving more Asian-Americans, African-Americans, and women a chance, but as far as diversity of opinion, there is none.
You have talked and written about the importance of silence in our lives and minimizing the time we spend with media. Given that you need to stay current with the news because of your radio program and other work, how do you manage to build a “media-free zone” into your daily routine? And what place do television and the computer have in your home?
We do have computers, obviously, but only one main TV in the family room and one small TV where our exercise equipment is set up. We go by the idea that all these things should be in a central area of the home. We have laptops and so forth in our offices, but when my husband brings the laptop to bed, I say, “Wait a minute, this is against what’s in my book.” So we help each other with accountability on this. In the morning, no media is on in our house for the first two hours of the day before we go off to work. After I get off the air, even though I’m writing and technically I’m on the computer, I try to minimize any type of noise in the background. In the summer, my oasis is my patio and backyard. I love to sit out there and do some prayerful reading on my own and really just sit and relax in silence and listen to the sounds of the day. During dinner, we ignore the phones and let the answering machine get them, and our cell phones are off when we’re home.
You have been outspoken in opposing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring businesses and institutions to cover contraception in their health plans. Why do you object to the mandate? What would you say to those who consider your opposition to be a betrayal of your gender?
If I were to support it, it would be a betrayal of my gender because of the huge, huge negative impact that abortion and contraception have on women and all of society. First of all, if you look at it from a religious freedom perspective, this is utterly ridiculous that the government is defining religion. There is an exemption, but it doesn’t apply to the Catholic Church, which ministers to people outside the faith. The Catholic Church is the Good Samaritan -- always has been, always will be. So right off the bat, we don’t qualify for that exemption. They’re saying you have to stay within your own and help your own [to qualify for the exemption] and that’s contrary to the gospel. So it’s a religious freedom issue. If we accept [paying for contraception] we’re aiding and abetting intrinsic evils.
Then is this about contraception or religious freedom?
I think it’s religious freedom. On a large scale, the biggest thing that affects everyone is that if it’s allowed to stand, what’s next? This is intrusion into the lives of religious people -- for Catholics in particular because it’s forcing us to pay for intrinsic evils in one way, shape, or form. If I hear one more time someone saying that the church and those against the mandate are forcing women into the dark ages. ... I want to know where the war on women was a year ago. No one was saying then that the church had to pay for contraception. People were going about their business and they knew who offered coverage and didn’t and made accommodations. Now, all of a sudden, there’s a mandate and a war on women. That war didn’t exist a year ago. It’s not like the people against the mandate are going around pulling all the condoms off the pharmacy shelves or demanding that obstetricians and gynecologists stop prescribing contraception. [The mandate] is forcing us to cooperate with intrinsic evils and we can’t do that. People talking about this being against women don’t understand what’s really against women.
Throughout the debate over the HHS mandate, it has been reported that most Catholic women use contraception and that therefore, the church shouldn’t oppose this mandate. Isn’t the church’s view an outdated one that should be changed?
Most people don’t follow the speed limit. Does that mean we should increase it to 100 mph? It’s a ridiculous argument. Should we lower the drinking age just because under-age people drink? Just because most people engage in bad behavior doesn’t mean we should affirm that bad behavior. It doesn’t make the teachings wrong. The Catholic Church has proven over and over again the fallout from contraception.
Tell us about your newest book and the one you’re working on now.
"Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Women" is a book and companion journal that can be used for a women’s study group. A lot of messages in two of my previous books, Extreme Makeover and Noise, are in Wrapped Up, but the idea is for women to feel wrapped up in God’s love. What are your gifts and the gifts for women that God provides? We talk about the gift of priorities, suffering, sisterhood.
The book I’m working on now is about God’s plan for your happiness and what does that really mean.
Teresa Tomeo will speak to a Women’s Conference from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 17 at St. Rose Parish, 215 East Front St., Perrysburg. The $30 registration fee includes a light breakfast and lunch. Registration deadline: Nov. 7. Information: 419-874-4559 or www.saintroseonline.org