Document Recommends Cultivation of 'Feminine Values': Vatican Rejects Combative Feminism, Seeks 'Active Collaboration' for Men and Women

By Allen, John L., Jr. | National Catholic Reporter, August 13, 2004 | Go to article overview

Document Recommends Cultivation of 'Feminine Values': Vatican Rejects Combative Feminism, Seeks 'Active Collaboration' for Men and Women


Allen, John L., Jr., National Catholic Reporter


In a critique of what some in Rome regard as American-style feminism, a new Vatican document has rejected systems of thought that, in its view, blur differences between men and women and regard women as adversaries of men.

A related tendency to see gender as culturally constructed, the document warns, has generated "a new model of polymorphous sexuality," which reflects an "attempt to be free from one's biological conditioning."

As an alternative, the document proposes a biblically based vision of male/female "active collaboration," positing that men and women have profound differences rooted in human nature that are complementary rather than competitive.

In one intriguing theological assertion, the document says that male/female differences are so fundamental that they will endure even in the afterlife. The distinction is seen as "belonging ontologically to creation, and destined therefore to outlast the present time, evidently in a transfigured form," it says.

The analysis comes in a 37-page document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog agency, titled "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World." It was released July 31.

The full text of the document is on NCRonline.org in the special documents section.

In the civil sphere, the document endorses labor policies that do not force women to choose between a career and motherhood, and urges governments to "combat all unjust sexual discrimination." It also calls for women to have access to positions of responsibility in politics, economics and social affairs.

In the context of male/female difference, the document once again confirms the male-only character of the Roman Catholic priesthood. It also offers a theological defense of celibacy and virginity.

The document recommends cultivation of "feminine values" such as "listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting." At the same time, the document insists it is not urging women to "a passivity inspired by an outdated conception of femininity."

"Every outlook which presents itself as a conflict between the sexes is only an illusion and a danger; it would end in segregation and competition between men and women, and would promote a solipsism nourished by a false conception of freedom," the document states.

Vatican sources told NCR July 30 that the document, which has been in preparation for years, has had a complex editorial history. At various points it seemed it might not appear because of internal debate. One source compared it to the U.S. bishops' ill-fated attempt to bring out a pastoral letter on women, an effort that spanned a full decade from 1982 to 1992. That text went through a long series of revisions before eventually ending in defeat in a floor vote.

The document played to mixed initial reviews from American Catholic women.

Regina Schulte, a feminist theologian, told NCR that the document's insistence on seeing the relationship between Christ and the church in terms of bride and bridegroom "places women in a headlock as far as church leadership and ultimately ordination go. …

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