Church must show women are equal

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • December 22, 2006
ROME - Unless the Catholic Church can show the world concrete models of male-female co-operation in positions of responsibility and decision-making, the church will continue to struggle against charges that it is chauvinistic, said Mary Ann Glendon.

The Harvard law professor and president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences said church teaching that women and men are equal, but not identical, is a healthy corrective to the feminism of the late 20th century, which, she said, promoted a "unisex society."

Glendon and Lucetta Scaraffia, a professor at Rome's La Sapienza University, spoke at a Dec. 15 Rome conference on "Feminism and the Catholic Church." Both women argued that, despite a widely held prejudice, for centuries the Catholic Church has been a key promoter of women's dignity and equality, particularly by offering them education and through women's religious orders, which raised up generations of strong, creative leaders.

While most people, including Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, recognize more must be done to include women in church decision-making, Glendon said, "the right things have been said at the highest levels."

She said changes in the right direction can be seen in parishes and dioceses where "more and more priests, inspired by recent popes and comfortable with women" are relying on their talents and working with them for the benefit of the community.

She and Scaraffia argued that in any social institution directives from the top are essential, but lasting change flows from the grassroots up.

"The problem with the church today is the lack of women in positions of responsibility at the Vatican," Scaraffia said. "This must change and I believe it will," she added, saying her argument "has nothing to do with the question of women priests."

Glendon said the church "will continue to have difficulty explaining the exclusion of women from the priesthood" unless it demonstrates the seriousness of its belief that women and men are equal, but not identical, by providing examples of lay women and men and priests working together in real partnerships.

The push for women's equality too often has led to policies that force women to be "masculine" in order to get ahead in the world or which ignore the special responsibilities of women who are mothers, Glendon said.

The more the church demonstrates its belief in women's equality, she said, the more seriously people will take its leadership in defending the differences between men and women.

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