Vatican: Vatican denounces feminism for threatening families

South Asia Citizen's Wire
The Vatican has denounced feminism for trying to blur differences between men and women and threatening the institution of families based on a mother and a father.
The Vatican issued a letter Saturday attacking the "distortions" and "lethal effects" of feminism, which it defined as an effort to erase differences between men and women -- a goal, the statement said, that undermines the "natural two-parent structure" of the family and makes "homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent."
The sharp critique was contained in a document issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a chief adviser to Pope John Paul II and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department in charge of defining Roman Catholic orthodoxy. The 37-page document also outlined the Vatican's formula for relationships between men and women, calling for "active collaboration between the sexes" and rejecting subjugation of women.

The statement was the latest Vatican salvo against trends it regards as undermining its teachings on sexuality and the family. Vatican officials have assailed abortion and contraception; politicians who support abortion through legislation; and legalized same-sex unions. The pope approved the document, titled "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and the World."

Catholic feminists in the United States said the letter presented a caricature of feminism as antagonistic toward men and trying to deny any difference between the sexes. They said feminism seeks equal rights and respect for both genders.

"The demonization of feminism is most disturbing," said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, an advocacy group for abortion rights, who said her blood pressure "shot up 20 points" when she read the letter.

"It takes extreme positions that may have been historically held by five people and casts them as if they were held by every woman," Kissling said. "The feminism I know is all for partnerships and is all for empowering both men and women. The feminism I know does not ignore the fact that there are sexual differences."

Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, a feminist theologian at Harvard Divinity School, said the document restated positions the Vatican has taken many times and that the only surprise was its timing. She said church leaders may be feeling some urgency to combat same-sex marriage, as well as renewed pressure to consider ordaining women in response to the worldwide scandal over sexual abuse by priests.

"It has some positive things in it, but the political function of the document is the same as the ones before," Fiorenza said. "It's trying to make a theological case, which they're really not able to make, against the full equality of women in the church."

Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said on Vatican Radio that the aim of the letter was to critique two current strands in feminism: one that emphasizes "a radical rivalry between the sexes" and the other that seeks to "cancel the differences between the sexes."

The letter argued that "the obscuring of the difference . . . of the sexes has enormous consequences," including inspiring ideologies that "call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality."

While assaulting what it said were the bases of feminist ideology, the letter tried to tackle the practical difficulties and inequities that feminists also decry. It appeared to attempt to strike a balance between a Catholic ideal of women raising children at home and the reality that many work outside the home.

Women ought not be stigmatized for desiring the life of a homemaker, the letter argued. "Indeed, a just valuing of the work of women within the family is required," it said. Women who choose to work in the labor force should be awarded a proper schedule and "not have to choose between relinquishing their family life or enduring continual stress," it said.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the national Catholic weekly America, said in an e-mail message that "although most American feminists would express their ideology differently than the Vatican, on the practical level they are on the same page (in terms of equality in education, politics, workplace) except on abortion and women priests." If there are differences, he added, "it is probably on the relationship between men and women in the family, not in society. . . . For the Vatican, the ideal is that a father be paid well enough so that a mother can stay home and raise the kids."

The letter called for the Catholic Church to take advantage of "feminine values" that include listening, understanding, caring and faithfulness. Although women are banned from the priesthood, their role in the church is not "a passivity inspired by an outdated conception of femininity," the letter maintained.

Almost a third of the letter was devoted to biblical declarations about the sexes. "From the first moment of their creation, man and woman are different, and will remain so for eternity," it said. Tracing the story of Adam and Eve, it said original sin opened the way to relations between man and woman "in which love will frequently be debased into pure self-seeking, in a relationship which ignores and kills love and replaces it with the yoke of domination of one sex over the other."

In the afterlife, the letter stated, men and women will continue to be different, but sex will come to an end. "The temporal and earthly expression of sexuality is transient," it declared.

Cooperman reported from Washington.

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Sun 1 August, 2004 13:48
By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Women have reacted with anger and amusement to a Vatican document on feminism, with some saying the Catholic Church is run by men who live in a time warp and want to keep women in their place.

The document, issued on Saturday, said modern feminism's fight for power and gender equality was undermining the traditional concept of family and creating a climate where gay marriages are seen as acceptable.

Frances Kissling, president of the U.S.-based Catholics for a Free Choice, said she thought she had "passed through a time warp" when she read the document.

"I thought for sure I was the 1960s and Archie Bunker had been appointed theologian to the Pope," she said, referring to the character in an old American TV series whose bigoted views included opposition to any form of women's rights.

In a 37-page document "On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World", the Vatican said women should be respected and have equal rights in the workplace, but differences between the sexes must be recognised and exalted.

The document, which re-stated Catholic Church positions, including the ban on female priests, said that many women felt they had to be "adversaries of men" in order to be themselves.

It criticised feminism's attempt to erase gender differences, saying it had inspired ideologies questioning the traditional family structure of a mother and a father and making homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent.

"Such observations could only be made by men who have no significant relationships with women and no knowledge of the enormous positive changes the women's rights movement has meant for both men and women," Kissling said.


Emma Bonino, a former European commissioner and current member of the European parliament, said the Vatican was writing about a world that she said no longer exists.

"This letter could easily have been written by an imam of al-Azhar," she said referring to Sunni Islam's most respected institution of religious learning in Cairo.

"To be fair to the Catholic Church, no religion is a great friend of women," she told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. "They pay you a lot of compliments but when push comes to shove they ask you to stay in your place: wife, nurse, mother and grandmother."

The document said that although motherhood is a "key element of women's identity," women should not be considered from the sole perspective of procreation.

It said women who choose to be full-time mothers should not be stigmatised and it appealed to governments to make it easier for mothers to hold outside jobs without "relinquishing their family life".

Some women suggested that the Vatican was taking a patronising attitude that it would not take towards men.

"Everyone knows that men and women are different and the feminist movement has always held this view," said Chiara Saraceno, a professor of sociology at the University of Turin.

"What continues to shock me is this teaching attitude that is always directed at women and never at men," she told the leftist newspaper L'Unita. t of the world is increasingly moving towards acceptance, reported The Washington Post.

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Vatican not a Credible Source on Women
As Vatican prepares to release statement on feminism, CFFC questions its exclusion of women from leadership in church

Statement of Frances Kissling, President, Catholics for a Free Choice.

For Immediate Release
July 30, 2004

WASHINGTON, DC-A new Vatican document on women to be released on Saturday, July 31, is unlikely to position the Vatican as a credible or objective source of information, analysis, or support for women's rights. "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Collaboration between Men and Women in the Church and in the World" surfaces as the world's women begin their preparations for a ten-year analysis of the UN women's conference held in Beijing in 1995. At this conference, the Vatican was seen as a source of disinformation and as an obstacle to international policy that improves women's lives. Early reports indicate that the document rehashes the same false charges and stereotypes about feminism, including the charge that feminism is hostile to men. The reality is that it is the Vatican that is hostile to women's full inclusion in the church itself. Until the Vatican addresses its own exclusion of women from leadership, it is hard to believe anyone will take seriously its views on women.

--statement ends--