Monday, August 10, 2015

Changing Modern Papal Thought on Women

"Religion . . is undoubtedly the single most important shaper and enforcer of the image and role of women in culture and society," asserted Rosemary Radford Ruether, a prominent Catholic feminist scholar, in 1973.[1] Many recent commentators on women in the Catholic Church have agreed and frequently have rendered harsh judgment on the role of Catholicism as a "shaper and enforcer." In 1968, Mary Daly accused the Church and Papacy of supporting a "long history of antifeminism." She acknowledged that traditional church attitudes toward women were similar to those of society at the time, but she argued that the Church and its Vatican leadership resisted feminist demands even after the non-Catholic world began to respond to them:

Only as there has been an evolution in secular society toward full recognition of the potential of women have attitudes within the Church been modified, usually after a time-lag and resistance from conservative structures and androcentric thought-patterns.[2]

Other critics have been only slightly less caustic. Writing on the Italian women's movement of the 1970's, Leslie Caldwell charged that the Church in Italy "has pursued a policy which denigrates women and, in effect, refuses them the right to the control of their own lives."[3] In 1975, Jean Aubert called the Church "one of the last bastions of masculinity."[4] Even the more moderate George Tavard pointed out that the modern Church still has liturgical prayers referring to women as the "weaker sex" in the tradition of misogynist Church Fathers such as Tertullian.[5] Writing more recently, Mary Malone lamented that Catholic writers still assumed women's responsibilities in the Church to be secondary and auxiliary to those of men. In general, she said, these writers reduced women's gifts and ministries to three: "nurturing, being beautiful, and serving. Leadership of any kind, then, is automatically excluded." Along with many others, she agreed with Daly that the Church undertook a genuine re-examination of this issue only after the Second Vatican Council of the 1960's.[6]

In reality; the evolution of papal thinking about women began long before the Second Vatican Council. Inspired by the example of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), the twentieth-century popes constructed a program of social and religious reform in which women were expected to play an increasingly important role. Although the popes only gradually modified their strong opposition to many feminist demands and only slowly revised their patriarchal conception of women's roles in the family, their numerous and widely disseminated encyclicals, letters, and speeches displayed a growing appreciation of the contributions women were making outside the home. As a result, they expressed an increasing desire to recruit both married and unmarried women for the work of the Church in the outside world. Papal thought on women in the twentieth century represented a significant departure from traditional church attitudes, although not an absolute repudiation of them. The Second Vatican Council reconfirmed and expanded earlier papal teaching on women's rights and duties; it did not begin a new era.

This "new era" in papal social awareness had begun almost ninety years earlier with the work of Leo XIII. Unlike his predecessors, Leo was convinced that the Catholic Church and its papal leadership could no longer view the institutions and values of secular society as evils to which the only valid church response was intransigent opposition. Encouraged by a small but articulate group of "social Catholics" in France, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, he believed that the Church could function effectively in the outside world to advance its holy mission, iniquitous though many aspects of that world were. To that end, he sought to win a more influential place for the Church in this world giving the Church a voice on the major social issues of the day. [...]

These pronouncements unquestionably responded to the social and political pressures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including the rise of women's movements, but their content also was shaped by traditional church teachings reaching back to the Fathers of the late Roman Empire. The most significant influence on the medieval church tradition about women was St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), who taught that God made the souls of both sexes in His image, but made man the only true image of God in both body and soul. Consecrated virginity was the most exalted possible state for women in this world. Marriage was also good, but the married woman was no longer an equal partner with her husband, as Eve had been to Adam in Paradise. Because of the Fall, the wife was the property of her husband and was to serve him as a subordinate, although not as a slave without rights.[8]

St. Thomas Aquinas, the other major influence on the medieval Catholic doctrine concerning a woman's "place," agreed with Augustine on these points but went beyond his great predecessor to assert that even the female soul was of a different and lesser nature than that of the male. Influenced by Aristotle, Aquinas viewed women as defective human beings created solely for the purpose of procreation since that was the only human activity in which women were essential. Men and women were spiritually equal before God and would be totally equal in Paradise, but on earth women were physically and morally inferior to men and naturally subordinate to them.[9]

The nineteenth-century popes were well aware of what these theologians taught and agreed with them about the wife's subordination to her husband in the Christian family. The encyclicals of both Pius IX (1846-1878) and Leo XIII supported this assumption by citing a favorite passage from Augustine's De Moribus Catholicae Ecclesiae:

[(The Catholic Church) subjects wives to their husbands in chaste and faithful obedience, not for the gratification of lust but for the begetting of progeny and the society of the family; and it places husbands over their wives not in scorn of the weaker sex but under the law of pure love. (NB: I've used a different translation than the one given in the original article because it is easier to read.)][10]

Nineteenth-century Catholics sincerely endorsed much of this teaching. Most of them, including the Papacy, did not doubt the traditional Catholic conviction that inequality was the natural order of God's world, within the family and without. No amount of social engineering could alter that reality, they agreed, although human endeavor might alleviate some of its most flagrant injustices. Women were indeed the weaker sex and in need of male protection, but both men and women had to realize that their mission on earth was to complement and assist each other rather than enter into a battle of the sexes in either the secular or religious spheres of life.

Yet for Catholics to reaffirm these ancient doctrines was not to make them totally immune to more modern attitudes concerning women. The misogynist conviction that women were morally inferior to men, long a standard teaching in many Christian confessions, disappeared from nineteenth-century papal pronouncements, as it did from most other social tracts of the time. Indeed, the female role model for the popes increasingly resembled the "Victorian" credo that women belonged in the home and were to be honored there as the moral guardians and teachers of the children. As Leo XIII said in his famous social encyclical, Rerum Novarum (May 15, 1891), "a woman is by nature fitted for home-work, and it is that which is best adapted at once to preserve her modesty and to promote the good bringing-up of children and the well-being of the family."[11] If, as George Tavard argued, the Catholic tradition on women was "open schizophrenia" because it idealized women and also proclaimed them the weaker sex, many middle-class men and women outside the Catholic Church were schizoid as well.[12]

[...] Although it is an overstatement to label the Catholic Church of that era a "major obstacle to feminism"[13] when most of the other established religious, political, cultural, and social institutions were similarly opposed to feminist ideals, there is no denying that women's rights activists were unwelcome in Catholic circles until very late in the nineteenth century.

The avowedly anticlerical views of many feminist militants of the time solidified this Catholic antifeminism. In traditionally Catholic nations such as Italy and France, even the more moderate feminists frequently viewed the Catholic Church as a malevolent influence on women and saw women's emancipation as a means of reducing the influence of the Church on all aspects of national life.[14]

The Catholic response to this feminist challenge became progressively less negative in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. [...] By the 1920's, Catholic feminism, unthinkable fifty years earlier, had, at the very least, become a possible program.[15]

Leo XIII's response to this program was silence. Devoted though he was to the Christian reform of society, he saw the female half of this society as either consecrated virgins or as wives restricted to home and Church in passive, loving subordination to their husbands. Consistent with the prevailing views of his era, he assumed as natural and eternal a middle-class vision of marriage fairly recent in origin. He lamented that women were forced to work outside the home and repeatedly admonished Catholics to work for legislation to protect women from those who would exploit their "weaknesses." To a French workers' pilgrimage of 1889, he said, "it is by means of regulations and other equitable measures that the interests of the working classes are guaranteed, the young are protected, and the weakness and the exclusively domestic mission of women is safeguarded."[16] On the women's movements of his day and their important legal and political victories, he rarely even commented.

Pius X (1903-1914) broke the silence of the Papacy on feminism in spite of being more conservative than Leo and less interested in Catholic social action. He even gave reluctant approval to some feminist goals such as admitting women to the universities and the professions. On the other hand, he explicitly opposed political rights for women in an era when Catholic women were already exercising these rights in some nations. In an interview of 1906, he argued that, "there is much to admire in the feminist desire to elevate women intellectually and socially, but the Lord protect us from political feminism!" He did not deny that women should have some influence in the political arena but insisted that they should not become politicians.[17]

Benedict XV (1914-1922) apparently withdrew Pius's opposition to female political involvement. In an audience of 1919, widely quoted in the press, he allegedly went so far as to say, "We would like to see women electors everywhere."[18] By this year, millions of women, many of them Catholic, were exercising the right to vote for the first time in history. Where women still had not won this right, as in France, Catholic women and their organizations were increasingly sympathetic to woman suffrage. Whatever Benedict's personal reservations about the new trend, the Papacy could not have continued its opposition to it without making the Church seem archaic even to many Catholics.

And Benedict had such reservations in spite of being more open to political and social innovation than Pius X had been. His sympathy for the "new" woman of the postwar era was severely limited, and his public statements on the subject were not a radical departure from the views of his predecessors. In a letter of 1917, he argued that some women were taking up occupations "ill-befitting their sex" and that others "abandoned the duties of the housewife, for which they were fashioned, to cast themselves recklessly into the current of life."[19]

He sounded a more positive note in 1919 when he acknowledged that the new rights and functions of women gave them new opportunities; these new conditions had "expanded the area of a woman's activity: the more intimate, restricted duties of the domestic sphere which were originally hers have been replaced by an apostolate in the wider world." But women needed to be aware of new dangers that went with these opportunities: "this apostolate must be understood in such a way that the woman, whether in her home or outside of it, will not forget her duties to her family the care of which even today is principally consecrated to her."[20]

Pius XI (1922-1939) reiterated these expectations and emphasized the traditionalist element in them. He was less open to innovation than Benedict XV and ruled his church in a time when women's rights were given a low priority by the rulers and the ruled of nearly every persuasion. The economic chaos of the time and the polarization between the radicals of right and left seemed more important to many than advancing the women's cause.

Pius XI agreed but was concerned about the impact of these secular crises on the lives of women and their families. In his social encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno (May 15, 1931), commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, he responded to the impact of the Great Depression on women by being the first pope to give unequivocal support to the principle of the "family wage," dear to the hearts of many conservative Catholic social reformers. This wage policy decreed that the worker with many dependents needed a supplement to his "normal" compensation. The explicit goal was to enable the wife to stay at home. "It is an intolerable abuse, and to be abolished at all costs, for mothers on account of the father's low wage to be forced to engage in gainful occupations outside the home to the neglect of their proper cares and duties, especially the training of children."[21]

Too many alleged reformers were promoting this "abuse" as female emancipation, he charged, and the odious Communist movement was particularly guilty. Under Communism the woman was "withdrawn from the family and care of her children to be thrust instead into public and collective production under the same conditions as the man."[22] The pope agreed with the many other Catholics and non-Catholics in that economically troubled era who argued that married women should not be in the paid labor force.

Nor should woman be given the same education as men, he added. Pius XI once again endorsed the Catholic tradition that women's education needed to be separate and distinct from that given men. In his encyclical on Christian education, he asserted:

The Creator has disposed and ordained perfect association of the sexes only in the unity of matrimony, and, with varying degrees of contact, in the family and society. Besides, there is not in nature itself . . . anything to suggest that there can be or ought to be promiscuity and much less equality, in the training of the two sexes.[23]

The pontiff's conception of life within the family was scarcely less traditional. He reconfirmed the opposition of his predecessors to divorce, extramarital sexual relations, and "artificial" family planning. His understanding of the structure of family authority was still essentially patriarchal, but, unlike earlier popes, he made some concessions to the feminist view that the truly fulfilling marriage was a union of equal partners and loving companions. In Casti Connubii (December 31, 1930), his encyclical on marriage, he asserted, as his predecessors had, that the wife must obey and be subject to her husband. Then he added:

This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty that fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion. Nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due the wife, nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with persons who in law are called minors.[24]

The pontiff even conceded that a wife's marital subordination was subject to changing family and societal conditions. Indeed, when the husband refused to do his duty, the wife sometimes was required to take the husband's place as the head of the family. The state too had responsibilities regarding the rights of the wife. Although a "certain inequality" had to be preserved in Christian marriage, "as . . . the social and economic conditions of the married woman must in some way be altered on account of the changes in social intercourse, it is part of the office of public authority to adapt the civil rights of the wife to modern needs and requirements."[25]

Mary Daly charged that even this unprecedented concession highlighted the subordination of women to men in the thought of Pius XI since the state was to control the process of modernizing women's rights:

It is significant that in this process of adaptation, it was the "public authority" which was said to adapt the rights of the wife. All of this was to be decided for her. There was no suggestion of a democratic process in which she might claim her rights or actively further social change in her favor.[26]

Daly's accusation was about half-right. Pius XI undoubtedly had reservations about the democratic process, as he did about "exaggerating" the claims of a wife's equality in marriage. At the same time, he urged both women and men to promote the Catholic vision of social change. Indeed, he proposed a more active role for Catholic laymen and laywomen in the life of the Church than any predecessor. Women in Catholic religious orders had long been active in teaching, nursing, and missions, but laywomen were rarely encouraged to emulate them. Only in the twentieth century did the church leaders, such as Pius XI, promote Christian social action by the laity.

What type of activity was most suitable for Catholics? The pope's answer was to urge the laity of both sexes, married and unmarried, to organize, under the guidance and direction of the clergy, as militants of "Catholic Action" defending the Church and strengthening society through social and religious activities separated from all political parties. Catholic Action became strong enough in Italy to be attacked by the Fascists in one of the major conflicts between Church and State of this era. Pius wished to be remembered as the pope of Catholic Action, and his view of women's activities in this organization was far removed from any vision of the angel in the house. His determination to defend the Church with an organized, disciplined laity partly overcame his traditionalist biases about a woman's place.[27]

His successor, Pius XII (1939-1958), seemed equally determined to encourage Catholic women to reach out beyond their traditional sphere in the home. He made more public statements on secular and religious issues than any other modern pope, and in many of them he urged Catholic women to be active in the outside world. In one of his earliest speeches, he told the representatives of the Leagues of Catholic Women:

There was perhaps a time when the apostolic work of women was limited to guarding and nourishing the Christian life in the home. It is no longer so today, when every aspect of family life is necessarily and immediately subject to the influence of the social conditions in which it finds itself. On these conditions depends to a large extent the spiritual tone of the family, and so also its moral and religious life. This is why the Catholic woman of today is aware of her social obligations.[28]

Political activity became an increasingly significant means of fulfilling these obligations in the thought of Pius XII. From his perspective, the Church was in exceptional danger almost everywhere due to the rapid expansion of Communism. The faithful of both sexes were obliged to defend true religion and morality by any legitimate means. One weapon was the Catholic vote, an important element in the democratic power structure of many non-Communist nations such as Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, West Germany, and, to a lesser degree, France. Potential Catholic power had been greatly enhanced in Italy and France after 1945 by the enfranchisement of women. In Italy, the Church became a particularly formidable political force through the dominance of the Christian Democratic Party and Catholic Action. Some voting analyses suggested that the Italian Christian Democratic Party received almost sixty percent of its votes from women and was the only party in Italy to receive substantial female support.[29]

Pius XII unabashedly encouraged such voting behavior among Catholic women in order to resist the advance of Communism and defend Church and home from the tides of secularism, hedonism, and materialism. Ignoring the reservations of former popes about women in politics or about the use of the democratic suffrage to defend religion and morality, he proclaimed that "the ballot in the hands of the Catholic woman is a means of realizing the goals dictated by their conscience in the laws of the land." Three years later, he condemned abstention from elections on the part of Catholics as a "grave sin."[30]

Sins equally grave had to be avoided by women who did vote. "No wise woman," he taught, "favors a policy of class struggle or war. Her path to the ballot box is the path of peace." The Christian woman had to vote to "secure for the families of every class the conditions needed for their economic, legal and moral integrity." Support could be given only to candidates who offered "secure guarantees that they will respect the rights of God and religion."[31]

Pius XII was more ambivalent about the problems and opportunities for women in modern life outside the voting booth. Typical was his reaction to the growing number of women, married and single, entering the labor force in most Western nations: "Not a few deplore such a change," he told the Society of Christian Women Workers in 1945, "but it is an accomplished fact which at present is impossible to alter."[32]

But at times, altering this situation seemed exactly what the pontiff had in mind. In the first year of his pontificate, he repeated the call of Pius XI for a "family wage" policy paying men with large families more than other workers as a means of enabling their wives to stay at home. The plight of single women with families to support was not mentioned. After the war, he altered his emphasis somewhat by maintaining that women workers had the right to salary parity with men, but once again protection of male workers seemed to be one of his primary motives: "It would be unjust and contrary to the general welfare to profit from the labor of women solely because they will work for lower wages; this not only brings harm to women workers but exposes men to the threat of unemployment."[33]

He was also less than enthusiastic about giving women full economic equality with men. He attacked the "totalitarian systems" for trying to win the political support of women by making glowing promises of equal rights with men, social services for pregnancy and childbirth, community kitchens and other domestic help, public childcare centers, free schools, and health insurance. He conceded that these social programs could be valuable if administered properly, but would the real condition of women be improved thereby? In nations where these "systems" operated, "equality of rights with men has taken the woman out of her home where she was queen and has subjected her to the same work requirements as those of men. Her true dignity has been disregarded; the foundation of her rights, that is her femininity and the intimate cooperation of the two sexes, has been undermined."[34]


And what of married women who did stay home? Initially, Pius XII's attitude toward them seemed as conservative as any of his predecessors. In one of his early addresses to newlyweds, he reconfirmed the traditional view that the wife was to be subject to her husband in love and that her husband was to exercise authority over her with love and respect. He even cited the misogynist defense of male authority found in I Timothy 2:13-14, which proclaimed that women were subordinate because they were the first to be deceived by the serpent.[36]

In the postwar era, the pope was more sensitive to modern notions of marital equality. To representatives of the World Union of Catholic Women's organizations, he asserted that, in spite of the duty of wives to be subject to their husbands, "the man and woman are images of God, and, each in his own way, are persons of equal dignity and possessing the same rights, so that it is impossible to uphold that the woman is in any way inferior."[37]

Furthermore, contrary to the charges of some of its critics, Christian tradition exalted women:

Even now you can still find some people who tend to play down or even completely ignore the Church's meritorious role in restoring womankind to its original status.... They use false fragmentary evidence and give superficial interpretations of customs and laws which were inspired by necessary proprieties of the day; and they do this in an attempt to associate the Church with something that it has firmly opposed from its very beginning--that unjust status of personal inferiority to which paganism often condemned women.[38]

In contrast, Christianity taught that men and women enjoyed "an absolute equality in personal and fundamental values," although the two sexes still had different functions which were "complementary and superbly equivalent." For Pius, a woman's primary right and duty was motherhood. This was her "sublime mission" and her basic function.[39] For Mary Daly, this meant that the pope wanted a woman to remain the "purely relational being who receives esteem from society because of her maternal role."[40]

Yet, Pius XII also taught more explicitly than any former pope that women could no longer be contained within their traditional roles in family or society. Perhaps he became more cautious and negative on many social and religious issues in his last years, as even many Catholics asserted,[41] but he also believed that the new realities of women's lives, however doubtful some of their benefits might be, were here to stay and had to be confronted by the Church in an informed and creative fashion.

His successor, John XXIII (1958-1963), essentially agreed. However popular he became as a symbol of the renewal of Church and society, his pronouncements on women proclaimed no revolution. In an address to representatives of a Congress on "Women and Social Life," for instance, he acknowledged that modern conditions tended to establish an "almost absolute equality of women with men," but he did not give unqualified approval to this trend. In words similar to those of his immediate predecessors, he asserted that a "parity of rights" had to be supported in all appropriate areas, but this did not imply a "parity of functions." On the contrary, the Creator gave women unique qualities and inclinations which fitted her for the vocation of motherhood.

Some situations, he added, made this vocation more difficult, the most serious of which was the employment of wives outside the home. "Anyone can understand that this prolonged absence from home and the attendant dispersion of energies creates a situation which prevents the wife from carrying out her duties of wife and mother, as she should." To enable the wife to alleviate this situation, he supported the principle of the family wage.[42] He even urged women, in another address, not to allow their activities in the world outside the home to undermine their "open and delicate spirit." Fulfilling this promise might be very difficult, for women "are called to an effort perhaps greater than men, if you take into consideration women's natural frailty in certain respects."[43]

In his last encyclical, Pacem in Terris (April 11, 1963), he seemed more prepared to re-examine traditional roles for women. He became the first pope to assert flatly that, in the founding of a family, "the man and the woman enjoy equal rights and duties." He also noted how women's roles in public life were changing:

Women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity. Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves m be regarded as a kind of instrument, they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.[44]

His successor, Paul VI (1963-1978), much maligned as an opponent of Pope John's vision of progress in the Church, seemed in fact determined to preserve John XXIII's balance between reform and tradition in the area of women's rights. Now, however, many of these traditions relating to women were increasingly criticized even by Catholics. He agreed with John XXIII that the sexes had to be equal in rights. Early in his reign, the Second Vatican Council proclaimed that women had the right "to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognized for men."[45] In that same year, the pope said that the Holy Scripture recognized for women "the perfect equality of nature and dignity and therefore of rights."[46]

But he warned of those for whom equality was not enough. He was plainly disturbed by the more radical demands of the feminist revival that became such an important social and political force in his era and which won increasing support within the clergy and laity. He felt that modern feminist movements were moving beyond their successful campaign to eliminate the social inequality of women and now seemed to be attacking the moral foundations of women's roles in society. Justice for women, he told the women in one of his audiences, did not consist in the "banal assimilation of your life into a masculine life-style" but rather in the "elevation of your femininity" in a manner that would be complementary to the lives of men.[47]

He never abandoned this attempt to define women as equal but complementary. In the encyclical Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968), which incurred the wrath of Catholic and non-Catholic progressives by reaffirming the Church's opposition to "artificial" contraception, he also proclaimed that one of the mighty new forces of the modern world was "a new understanding of the dignity of woman and her place in society."[48] Yet, the pope also urged women, in another address, to exercise a "prudent realism" in responding to this new force. He warned against making a fetish of sexual equality:

Equalization of rights must not be allowed to degenerate into an egalitarian and impersonal elimination of differences. The egalitarianism blindly sought by our materialistic society has but little care for the specific good of persons; contrary to appearances it is unconcerned with what is suitable or unsuitable to women. There is, thus, a danger of unduly masculinizing women or else simply depersonalizing them.[49]

He and many other members of the hierarchy were especially opposed to eliminating distinctions between men and women in the ministries of the Church, as their actions during the Second Vatican Council made clear. Women did not participate in the early sessions of the Council under John XXIII, nor, initially, was the role of women in the Church an issue before that body. Not until the third session of the Council (1964) did the new pope, Paul VI, announce the designation of selected women as auditors without the right to speak to or vote in the council sessions. In 1965, women's rights were first discussed by council members. In 1971, the bishops considered and rejected a resolution favoring the ordination of women. In 1973, Pope Paul established a "Study Commission on the Role of Women in Church and Society" but gave it the following charge: "From the onset of study, the ordination of women must be excluded." Furthermore, the Commission was urged to keep in mind the differences between the roles of men and women.[50] On January 22, 1977, the Holy See responded to the ever increasing requests for the ordination of women by proclaiming that Christ established a bond between maleness and the priesthood which could not be altered.[51]

[... Pope John Paul II's (1978-)] commitment to women's emancipation seems at best uncertain. Catholic feminists have expressed bitter public distress at his unyielding support for the 1977 ban on women's ordination.[52] His social encyclical, Laborem Exercens (September 14, 1981), was distinctly traditional in its approach to women's work, supporting as it did a family wage which was "a single salary given to the head of the family for his work sufficient for the needs of the family without the other spouse having to take up gainful employment outside the home."

On the other hand, Laborem Exercens also argued that women could not be discriminated against in employment because of their feminine nature or family duties:

The true advancement of women requires that labor should be structured in such a way that women do not have to pay for their advancement by abandoning what is specific to them and at the expense of the family in which women as mothers have an irreplaceable role.[53]

Two years later he reiterated to the bishops of the United States that "the bishop is called upon to oppose any and all discrimination of women by reason of sex."[54]

Were these other than the insincere platitudes of a fundamentally unsympathetic pope, as some charge? On August 15, 1988, in the apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul attempted to refute these critics by becoming the first pope to publish a treatise devoted exclusively to the subject of femininity. Mulieris Dignitatem was written in response to the request of the 1987 Synod of Bishops for further study of "the meaning and dignity of being a woman and of being a man,"[55] The result was a lengthy meditation on the dignity, rights, and duties of women that forthrightly rejected patriarchal readings of the Scriptures and misogynist traditions within the Church. At the same time, the pontiff yielded not an inch on what he believed to be the essential differences between women and men in both nature and vocation.

Women and men were "essentially" equal in the Holy Scriptures, he concluded. Without mentioning the Church Fathers, John Paul rejected their patriarchal interpretations of the creation accounts in favor of the conviction that God had created men and women as a "unity of the two" in which each was rational and free. Even the admonition in Genesis 3:16 to women, "your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you," was seen by the pontiff not as divine approval for patriarchy but as a "violation" of the equality given by God. "The overcoming of this evil inheritance," he added, "is, generation after generation, the task of every human being, whether woman or man."[56] Both Christ and his Church affirmed this essential sexual equality. Even in marriage the "subjection" taught by Paul in Ephesians 5:21 was "mutual" rather than for the wife alone. Women, he concluded, "have shared in every age in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God." God had a "royal priesthood" for woman and "entrusts the human being to her in a special way."[57]

This "special way" recognized women's unique gifts which were complementary to but different from those of men. "The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources of masculinity: they are merely different." One such difference was that Christ, acting "in a completely free and sovereign manner," chose only men as apostles and intended the priesthood to be exclusively male. Christian believers had to accept this decision, as they obeyed all Christ's commands. In the legitimate cause of resisting male oppression, women had to avoid being "masculinized." "Women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine 'originality.'"[58]

Perhaps this indicates that John Paul is continuing the teaching ministry of his predecessors by gradually adjusting the papal ideology on women to modern demands for female social and political emancipation without abandoning the traditional claim that women have a unique, irreplaceable role in family, Church, and society. In the evolution of papal thought, women first became the moral equals of men and later, more slowly and reluctantly, were accepted as equal partners with their husbands in marriage. As the rhetoric of inequality faded from the papal ideal of marital relations, the concept that the spouses were complementary became more and more important. For this reason, the popes hesitated to endorse the growing practice of married women working outside the home, for they feared that such work would compromise women's duties as wives and mothers.

However, this ambivalence did not dampen the ever increasing papal enthusiasm for women helping to advance the cause of the Church in all other areas of life. In fact, women were seen more and more as full participants with men in the Christian reform of society, although not as clerical leaders in the the Church. It remains to be seen whether women will be able to fulfill this mission if laywomen are hampered in their secular careers by the requirements of the Christian family and if religious women continue to be denied ordination and leadership positions [...]



[1] Preface to Religion and Sexism: Images of Women in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. Rosemary Radford Ruether (New York, 1974), p 9.

[2] The Church and the Second Sex (New York, 1968), p. 7.

[3] "Church, State and Family The women's Movement in Italy," in Feminism and Materialism: Women and Modes of Production, ed. Annette Kuhn and Ann Marie Wolpe (Boston, 19-8), p 72.

[4] Jean Marie Aubert, La fermme: antifeminisme et christianisme (Paris, 1975), p. 7

[5] George H. Tavard, Woman in Christian Tradition (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1973), pp. 130-131.

[6] Mary T. Malone, Woman Christian: New Vision (Dubuque, Iowa, 1985), pp. 5. 117; Daly, op. cit., p. 8.


[8] Kari Elisabeth Borrison, Subordination and Equivalence: The Nature and Role of Woman in Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, trans. Charles Talbot (Washington, D.C., 1981), pp. 30-32; Tavard, op. cit., pp. 113-118; Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Misogynism and Virginal Feminism in the Fathers of the Church ' in Religion and Sexism, ed. Ruether, pp. 176-178. See also Margaret A. Farley, "Sources of Sexual Inequality in the History of Christian Thought,"Journal of Religion, 56 (April, 1976), 167-168.

[9]Borreson, op. cit., pp. 171-178; Tavard, op. cit., p. 125; Farley, op. cit., p. 168; Eleanor Commo McLaughlin, "Equality of Souls, Inequality of Sexes: Woman in Medieval Theology," in Religion and Sexism, ed. Ruether, pp. 217-218.

[10] Pius IX, encyclical, Nostis et Nobiscum, December 8, 1849, in Claudia Carlen (ed.), The Papal Encyclicals (Raleigh, North Carolina, 1981), I, 302; Leo XIII, encyclical, Immortale, Dei, November 1, 1885, in Etienne Gilson (ed.), The Church Speaks to the Modern World: The Social Teachings of Leo XIII (Garden City, New York, 1954), p. 170. The passage is quoted from Gilson.

[11] Gilson, op. cit., p. 228. The misogynist tradition in the Catholic Church is outlined by Henri Rollet, La condition de la femme dans l'Eglise (Paris, 1975), pp. 32-38, 84- 85.

[12] Tavard, op. cit., p. 149. Extensive scholarship now exists on the once neglected question of the ideology of a woman's proper place in the nineteenth century. Among those works I found most useful for understanding prevailing attitudes among both Catholics and non-Catholics are Rollet, op. cit., pp. 215-216; Adeline Daumard, La bourgeoisie pparisienne de 1815 a 1848 (Paris, 1963), pp. 357-358; Deborah Gorham, The Victorian Girl and the Feminine Ideal (Bloomington, Indiana, 1982), pp. 4-5; Jane Lewis, Women in England, 1870-1950 (Bloomington, Indiana, 1985) pp. 75-78, 82-86; James McMillan, Housewife or Harlot: The Place of Women in French Society, 1870-1940 (New York, 1981), pp. 9ff.; Steven Mintz, A Prison of Expectations: The Family in Victorian Culture (New York, 1983), pp. 14-15, 50-51, 140-141; and Claire G. Moses, French Feminism in the Nineteenth Century (Albany, New YOrk, 1984), pp. 35-35.

[13] Richard J. Evans. The feminists: Women's Emancipation Movements in Europe, America, and Australasia, 1840-1920 (New York, 1977), p. 237. James McMillan disputes this point and argues that anticlericals in France often were no less opposed to women's rights than were the Catholics. See "Clericals, Anticlericals, and the Women's Movement in France under the third Republic," Historical Journal, 24 (June, 1981), 362 ff. Evan's reply is in "Feminism and Anticlericalism in France, 1870-1922," Historical Journal, 25 (December, 1982), 947-952.

[14] Moses, op. cit., p. 120; Judith Jeffrey Howard, "Patriotic Mothers in the Post-Risorgimento: Women after the Italian Revolution," in Women, War, and Revolution, ed. Carol R. Berkin and Clara M. Lovett (new York, 1980), pp. 239-242.

[15] Paola Gaiotti de Biase, Le origini del movimento cattolico femminile (Brescia, 1963), pp. 24ff; Francesco Maria Cecchini, Il femminismo cristiano: La questione femminite nella prima Democrazia Cristiana, 1898-1912 (Rome, 1979), pp. 31-37; Steven C. Hause and Anne R. Kenney, "The Development of the Catholic Women's Suffrage Movement in France, 1896-1922," Catholic Historical Review, 67 January, 1981), 11; Women's Suffrage and Social Politics in the French Third Republic (Princeton, New Jersey, 1984), pp. 7 ff.; Richard Evans, The Feminists Movement in Germany, 1894-1933 (London and BEverly Hills, California, 1976), pp. 6, 18-19, 229.

[16] As quoted from Arthur F. Utz and Medard Boeglin (eds.), La doctrine sociale de l'Eglise a travers les siecles: documents pontificaux du XVieme au XX[ieme] siecle, textes originaux et traductions (Basle, 1970), II, 986.

[17] Gaiotti de Biase, op. cit., p. 100; Hause and Kenney, "Development," p. 23.

[18] The word "allegedly" is used because neither I nor Hause and Kenney could find any record of this statement in church documents. Benedict's statement is quoted from Hause and Kenney, op. cit., p. 27.

[19] Natales Trecentesimi, December 27, 1917, Monks of Solesmes (eds.), The Woman in the Modern World: Papal Teachings (Boston, 1959), p. 27.

[20] Address to delegates of the Italian Union of Catholic Women, October 21, 1919, Utz and Boeglin, op. cit., 11, 1288.

[21] Terence McLaughlin (ed), The Church and the Reconstruction of the Modern World: The Social Encyclicals of Pope Pius XI (Garden City, New York, 1957), p. 244. Cf. Camp, op. cit., pp. 82-85, 96-97 The family wage concept was promoted by Catholic conservatives and others, including the British labor unions, in the nineteenth century. See Michael P. Fogarty, Christian Democracy in Western Europe, 1820-1953 (London, 1957), pp. 149-150; and Lewis, op. cit., p. 175.

[22] Encyclical, Divini Redemptoris, March 19, 1937, McLaughlin, op. cit., p 370.

[23] Rappresentanti in Terra, December 31, 1929, McLaughlin, op. cit., p. 97.

[24] McLaughlin, op. cit., p. 126.

[25]. Ibid. pp. 127, 143.

[26.] Daly op. cit., p. 69.

[27.] Pius XI spoke frequently of the duties of the women of Catholic Action. Examples can be found in his letter of July 30, 1928, to the Italian Union of Catholic Women's Leagues (see A. M. Cavagna, Pio XI e l'Azione Cattolica (Rome, 1929), pp. 45-46); and his apostolic letter to the Philippine Hierarchy of January 18, 1939 (see Utz and Boeglin, op. cit., II, 1830-1832) The conflict between church and state in Fascist Italy is well explained in A. C. Jemolo, Chiesa e stato in Italia negli ultimi cento anni (Turin, 1963), pp 431ff. A more recent and detailed study of its crucial phase is in John F. Pollard, the Vatican and Italian Fascism, 1929-1932: A Study in Conflict (Cambridge, 1985). The Catholic tradition on the role of the laity is discussed in Rollet, op. cit., pp. 214, 235-237, 269ff.

[28.] Address of April 14, 1939, Monks of Solesmes, op. cit., p. 44.

[29.] Giorgio Galli and Alfonso Prandi, Patterns of Political Participation in Italy (New Haven, connecticut, 1970), p. 57; see also Joseph La Palombara, Interest Groups in Italian Politics (Princeton, New Jersey, 1964), pp. 333-335.

[30.] Address of October 21, 1945, to Italian Christian Women, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 37 (1945), 294 (hereafter A.A.S.); address of September 11, 1947, to the International Union of Catholic Women's Leagues, Monks of Solesmes, op. cit., p. 171. The conflict between the Catholic Church and the Communist movement did not begin in 1945. The Papacy condemned Socialism almost from its pangs of birth in the nineteenth century. See Wallace, op. cit.

[31.] Address of October 21, 1945, Monks of Solesmes, op. cit., p. 294; Address of March 10, 1948, A.A.S., 40 (1948), 119.

[32.] Address of August 15, 1945, A.A.S., 37 (1945), 213.

[33] Encylical, Sertum, November 1, 1939, A.A.S. (1939), 654 address of August 15, 1945, A.A.S., 37 (1945), 214.

[34] Address of October 21, 1945, to Italian Christian women, A.A.S., 37 (1945), 288.


[36] "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor"; address of September 10, 1941, Monks of Solemes, Le foyer chretien; les enseignements pontificaux (Tournai, 1964), p. 159.

[37] Address of September 29, 1957, Monks of Solesmes. Woman in the Modern World, pp. 301-302.

[38] Radio message of October 14, 1956, Monks of Solemes, Woman in the Modern World, p. 271.

[39] Ibid., p. 273.

[40] Church and the Second Sex, p. 71.

[41] J. Derek Holmes. The Papacy in the Modern World, 1914-1978 (New York, 1981), p. 198.

[42] Address of September 6, 1961, Monks of Solesmes, Le foyer chretien, pp. 403-404.

[43] Address of December 7, 1960, The Pope Speaks, 7 (1961), 172-173.

[44] As quoted in Carlen, op. cit., V, 109, 111.

[45] "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World," December 7, 196S, in Walter M. Abbott (ed.), The Documents of Vatican 11 (New York, 1966), p. 228.

[46] Address to delegates of the Italian Women's Center, May 30, 196S, Utz and Boeglin, op. cit., 11, 1302.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Carlen, op. cit., V, 223.

[49] Address of January 31, 1976, The Pope Speaks, 21 (1976), 164-16S.

[50] Rollet, op. cit., pp. 29S-310; and Tavard, op. cit., pp. 127-129.

[51] Rosemary Ruether, "Entering the sanctuary The Struggle for Priesthood in Contemporary Episcopalian and Roman Catholic Experience, II. The Roman Catholic story," in Women of Spirit: Female Leadership in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. Rosemary Ruether and Eleanor McLaughlin (New York, 1979), pp. 379-381.

[52] George H. Williams, The Mind of John Paul II. Origins of His Thought and Action (New York, 1981), pp. 37-38. The disaffection from his position, at least in the United States, may be widespread. A recent newspaper poll indicated that sixty percent of the American Catholics in the polling sample believed it "wrong" to exclude women from the priesthood; Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1987, p. 20.

[53] Carlen, op. cit., V, 318.

[54] Address of September S. 1983, The Pope Speaks, 28 (1983), 335.

[55] On the Dignity and Vocation of Women (Boston, 1988), Section 1, pp. 10-11 (hereafter 1:10-11).


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