Vatican Entangled in Women’s Issues

Pope Francis has promised to lift up women’s voices and create more meaningful roles for women in the church, but if the Vatican’s latest bumbling effort to do so is any indication, it might be better for the pope to just say something else cute about puppies or bunnies.

At its three-day annual meeting beginning today the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture will be discussing “Women’s Culture: Equality and Difference.” As the title suggests, the meeting is less an attempt to advance the status of women in the church by giving them access to any real authority—which would necessitate admitting women to the priesthood—and more an effort to burnish the church’s tarnished reputation with women while holding fast to its “complementarian” views.

The effort started off disastrously when the Vatican created a widely derided video featuring a sexy blonde Italian actress rather vampishly soliciting short videos from women to be part of a “great meeting of cardinals and bishops in Rome” to discuss their lives—without them.

While the Vatican notes that a panel of women had a hand in drafting the conference document, the actual discussions about the lives of women will be held by the all-male Pontifical Council for Culture, who will in all their manly wisdom ponder such questions as why “women had so little impact on the Church’s structures.”

And, in perhaps one of the greatest “paging Dr. Freud” moments in recent history, this is the image the Vatican chose to illustrate the conference document:

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Yes, an institution terrified of women and sex has chosen an image of a woman—a headless, depersonalized women—with her private parts bound in rope. An institution that has sough to contain what it clearly believes to be the destructive power of women’s sexuality by refusing to condone access to contraception, thereby maintaining the link between sex and procreation, with pregnancy as “punishment” for stepping out of bounds, is using an image of a women’s generative anatomy physically girded and bound.

The actual conference document is more or less unintelligible, written in passive-voice Vatican-speak that sounds like a medieval monk who’s just woken up and encountered the modern world:

For, in the past (but only in the past?) women had to fight to exercise their professions or take on decisional roles that appeared to be exclusively meant for the male world. So the areas of reflection are extended throughout the different cultures, they transform and present themselves with different accents, sometimes becoming entwined with political and strongly ideological movements. In this globalised and strongly dialectical horizon, there is an urgent need to find answers. Our Plenary is engaged in discovering and understanding the feminine specificity in considering themes such as function, role, dignity, equality, identity, liberty, violence, economy, politics, power, autonomy etc.

Got it? Besides such Vatican chestnuts as women are “much more capable of tenderness and forgiveness than men” and “the physicality of women…finds in the womb its greatest expression,” we get a random warning against plastic surgery as “aggressive toward the feminine identity” and a “burqa made of flesh.”

Making women truly equal, however, is definitely not the answer to the problem of women being given the pastoral “ideological and ancestral left-overs:”

There is no discussion here of women priests, which according to statistics is not something that women want. If, as Pope Francis says, women have a central role in Christianity, this role must find a counterpart also in the ordinary life of the Church.

In the end, the council ponders why the church holds so little appeal for women, who, sadly, “no longer spend their afternoons reciting the rosary or taking part in religious devotions” like in the good old days:

In the West, women between 20 and 50 years old rarely go to Mass, opt for a religious wedding less often, few follow a religious vocation, and in general they express a certain diffidence toward the formative abilities of religious men. What is not working, today, so that the image of womanhood that the Church has kept, does not correspond to reality?

Gee, I don’t know. What is it about the image of womanhood in the church that women find so off-putting? I hope they don’t get all tangled up trying to figure it out.

  • NancyP

    Just. ROTFLMAO. Paging Dr. Freud, indeed!

  • PetrusRomanus1

    Behold the institutional clerical celibate image of womanhood! Male church leaders, a/k/a the celibatocracy, have taken their “body is bad” mantra to new lows, and thus proclaimed to church and world that the CELIBATE MALE alone can be pure and holy and ontologically different. And for a long time they succeeded, even in keeping the Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis and coverup mostly out of public view.

    Church authority and fancy robes can no longer command interior assent or stifle free speech. The fairy tales of the past are nothing like the Truth that’s coming out now. Catholic women ar well aware, celibate clerics have yet to start the learning process.

  • Jim Reed

    Someone should set up a different religion for women to join.

  • Craptacular

    “Our Plenary is engaged in discovering and understanding the feminine specificity in considering themes such as function, role, dignity, equality, identity, liberty, violence, economy, politics, power, autonomy etc.” – vatican document

    So let me get this straight…a group of men who have vowed never to have sex/date/marry women are holding a meeting in an attempt to understand the feminine? That’s like a bunch of teetotalers getting together to discuss the finer points of bourbon or scotch.

    Why anyone would take healthcare/employment/marriage/feminine advice from those who have no idea what they are talking about is beyond me. When catholics go to the doctor, do they ask the doctor to take their confession?

  • Jim Reed

    The theory is those men might not have any understanding, but they speak for God.

  • Whiskyjack

    The Church is evidently immune to irony.

  • Alma

    Your position defeats your own. You say, how can they make the right decisions without being women? So, how can you judge catholics without being one?

  • Luis Gutierrez

    It is a visceral issue. Every conceivable rationalization is being used to justify the perpetuation of the male-only priesthood. The Holy Spirit will have to work overtime. An apparition of the Blessed Virgen Mary in support of women priests and bishops would be helpful. “Regina apostolorum, ora pro nobis.”

  • Womenpriests and LCWR could form a new Catholic Rite which would be inclusive of all. There is a history of new rites in Catholic tradition.

  • Jim Reed

    Does tradition matter?

  • Of course, tradition matters! We must glean the truth and love it has provided for us and take that gift forward to pass on to the generations to come…after adding each our own small contribution.

  • Jim Reed

    That brings up the big question. Is that truth only regarded as truth because of the acceptance of the tradition? Maybe tradition has caused us to accept truths that are not really true.

  • Tradition is always regarded as truth in some way or another, don’t you think, Jim? Often times tradition is on to some truth but needs some future to work it out more.

    Bottom line for me, we must always question the truth we lock down in certainty. Otherwise, we leave no room for the Living Truth (the Living God) to get through to us.

  • Jim Reed

    In a church type environment God is out of the picture. The church becomes the God for those people, and gives them the tradition. That brings up the question of where did the tradition come from in the first place? Was it from the past, and is now tradition because it is tradition? That method of looking to the past keeps getting worse and worse as the world develops faster and faster. Tradition is having a hard time keeping up, so all it ends up doing is dragging us down.

  • Tradition can never keep up. If it drags us down, it is because we are fearful of moving beyond it, no?

  • Jim Reed

    Fear might be a part of it. Another part is some people find ways to profit from it, so they want to keep it going.

  • Fearful people need to gather lots of dollars and things to protect themselves just as some of us gather doctrines and rituals around ourselves to protect what we hold dear.

    Whether “they want to keep it (greed or control) going “makes no difference UNLESS we buy into our fear. I guess that’s why Jesus repeated “Do not be afraid” so frequently.

  • Jim Reed

    Jesus is a church speaking for him, and the church is interested in control.

  • Fear is always interested in control.