Friday, February 25, 2011

The Feminist Church

This is an excellent article about the feminist nature of the Catholic Church, from America magazine.

An excerpt.

“About 13 years ago, I presented a paper at a conference on “Women’s Health and Human Rights” at the Vatican. A highlight of the event was a special audience for the conference participants with Pope John Paul II. To the surprise and delight of his listeners, he benignly proclaimed, “Io sono il Papa feminista,” “I am the feminist pope.”

“He meant it. In 1988, Pope John Paul II issued the apostolic letter “Mulieris Dignitatem” or “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.” Repeatedly he called for the development of a “new feminism” designed to honor and celebrate the “feminine genius” in all walks of life, in the world of work as well as the domestic world.

“If feminism is ultimately about affirming the dignity and well-being of women, the Roman Catholic Church as a whole is a feminist church in many crucial ways. It has done an enormous amount of good for women, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, in precarious circumstances throughout the world. To take only one example, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, Gender & Women runs programs around the world that help women organize into cooperatives for the production and marketing of goods; it also provides shelters for basic needs, educational programs in literacy and training in business knowledge and empowerment.

“At the same time, it is safe to say that many people do not share the late pope’s easy association of feminism and the papacy. In fact, there are some—among both secular feminists and Catholic feminists—who would bristle at the association. Secular feminists have frequently decried Catholicism as being opposed to the flourishing of women, particularly by its opposition to contraception and abortion. And officials in the Vatican have regularly published broad denunciations of feminism, castigating its destructive effects on society and the family, particularly upon children, both born and unborn.

“Catholic women can sometimes find themselves caught in the middle, loving their church and their faith but dispirited by occasional statements that suggest that the Vatican views them as disordered or defiled simply because they are women. Last July the Vatican caused a public relations firestorm after its announcement of two grave crimes under canon law: sexual abuse by members of the clergy and the attempt to ordain a woman. Even women who support the church’s restriction of the priesthood to males winced at the decision to group these two acts in the same document.

“In order to sort out the convergences and divergences between Catholicism and secular feminism, there must be nuanced historical, cultural and geographic studies. The tensions between the two are not the same in the United States as they are in sub-Saharan Africa, for example. At the same time, nuanced, rigorous, comparative analysis of the normative frameworks of Catholicism and feminism sorely needs to be undertaken.”