Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Jesuits to Women: 'We Seek Conversion.' (Jesuit Document)(34th General Congregation of Jesuits, Rome, Italy)(Transcript)

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Jesuits to Women: 'We Seek Conversion.' (Jesuit Document)(34th General Congregation of Jesuits, Rome, Italy)(Transcript)

Article excerpt

Text of documention on Jesuits and the Situation of Women in Church and Civil Society


The 33rd General Congregation made a brief mention of the "unjust treatment and exploitation of women." It was part of a list of injustices in a new context of needs and situations which Jesuits were called to address in the implementation of our mission. We wish to consider this question more specifically and substantially on this occasion. This is principally because, assisted by the general rise in consciousness concerning this issue, we are more aware than previously that it is indeed a central concern of any contemporary mission which seeks to integrate faith and justice. It has a universal dimension in that it involves men and women everywhere. To an increasing extent it cuts across barriers of class and culture. It is of personal concern to those who work with us in our mission, especially lay and religious women.

The situation

The dominance of men in their relationship with women has found expression in many ways. It has included discrimination against women in educational opportunities, the disproportionate burden they are called upon to bear in family life, paying them a lesser wage for the same, work, limiting their access to positions of influence when admitted to public life, and, sadly, and only too frequently, outright violence against the person of women. This violence still includes female circumcision, dowry deaths and the murder of unwanted infant girls in some parts of the world. Women are commonly treated as objects in advertising and in the media. In extreme cases, for example in promoting international sex tourism, they are regarded as commodities to be trafficked.

This situation, however, has begun to change, chiefly because of the critical awakening and courageous protest of women themselves. But many men, too, have joined women in rejecting attitudes which offend against the dignity of men and women alike. Nonetheless, we still have with us the legacy of systematic discrimination against women. It is embedded within the economic, social, political, religious and even linguistic structures of our societies. It is often part of an even deeper cultural prejudice and stereotype. Many women, indeed, feel that men have been slow to recognize the full humanity of women. They often experience a defensive reaction from men when they draw attention to this blindness.

The prejudice against women, to be sure, assumes different forms in different cultures. Sensitivity is needed to avoid using any one, simple measurement of what counts as discrimination. But it is, nonetheless, a universal reality. Further, in many parts of the world, women who are already cruelly disadvantaged because of war, poverty, migration or race, often suffer a double disadvantage precisely because they are women. There is a "feminization of poverty" and a distinctive "feminine face of oppression."

The church speaks

Church social teaching, especially within the last 10 years, has reacted strongly against this continuing discrimination and prejudice. Through Pope John Paul II in particular, it has called upon all men and women of goodwill, especially Catholics, to make the essential equality of women a lived reality. This is a genuine "sign of the times." We need to join with interchurch and interreligious groups in order to advance this social transformation.

Church teaching certainly promotes the role of women within the family, but it also stresses the need for their contribution in the church and in public life. It draws upon the text of Genesis, which speaks of men and women created in the image of God (Gn 1:27) and the prophetic praxis of Jesus in his relationship with women. These sources call us to change our attitudes and work for a change of structures. The original plan of God was for a loving relationship of respect, mutuality and equality between men and women, and we are called to fulfill this plan. …

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