Calling the Pope a feminist

Many might think that the Pope Francis’ championing of the rights of women to equal pay for equal work is a no-brainer, and nothing more than would be expected of  the leader of a universal church that believes men and women are created in the image of God. His other references though, to the need to include women in all decisions-making levels in the Church and society, and his castigating those who blame the women’s liberation movement for changing attitudes to marriage, are far more progressive and unexpected.

Of the latter he said to loud applause from the crowds at his general audience, ‘Many people hold that the changes these past decades were put into motion by the emancipation of women. But this argument is not valid either. It’s an insult. It’s a form of machismo, which always tries to dominate women’. Now that’s an anything that is far better than nothing and could hardly be more timely.

Blaming the women’s liberation movement of the seventies for any number of changes in society falls into the same category as blaming individual women, liberated or not, for any number of things, including violence against them. Echoing the mythical accusation of Adam against Eve, ‘She made me do it,’ is a pathetic excuse. A form of machismo indeed!

By taking this stance Pope Francis once again has proved that he dares to speak for truth and justice in a way that is ahead of many people, not only in the Church but also in society in general. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a move in the right direction, or the opening up of a conversation that people need to have. It is not unlike his calls for non-judgemental attitudes towards people who are homosexuals, for mercy and love and a welcoming attitude to all people of good will. That’s why he is so loved by the majority of people in the Church and society in general.

Given all of the above, the vexed question of how women can be included in decision making on all levels in the Church still remains unanswered. My own opinion is something like that expressed by Geraldine Doogue in ABC TV’s Compass on 3 May. Knowing how remote the concept of women’s ordination in the Catholic Church is, I have the hope that giant steps can be made without depending on equality in this regard.

An eye-opener, however, in the Compass program was how willing two leading  Australian Catholic women, Kristina Keneally and Sr Trish Madigan, were in using the ‘ordination’ word and seeing women’s ordination as an essential part of equality in church governance.

All indications are that Pope Francis doesn’t share their view and nowhere more so than when he wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, that ‘The reservation of the priesthood to males … is not a question open to discussion.’ This document, so refreshing in promoting changes in the status quo, options for the poor and social justice, treated the faithful as children who may be seen but not heard by prohibiting discussion on this issue.

Was its inclusion a sop to the conservatives in the Roman Curia? Some think so, but I remain sceptical. Moreover I’m of the opinion that outlawing discussion on this issue is an aberration. Forbidding discussion on any issue of equality is repulsive and one can only wonder why some people, for whatever reasons, support it. Those who envisage the Last Supper as some sort of ordination ceremony would be free to express their opinions in any discussion and have nothing to fear in that regard.

If not a feminist, Pope Francis is certainly an innovator and an initiator of new ways of looking at issues, particularly as they relate to human rights, and that’s something to be grateful for in the 21st Century. Certainly something that is better than the void of nothing. More power to his heart in a symbolic and literal sense.

Maureen O'Brien is a Melbourne writer.

Topic tags: Maureen O'Brien, Pope Francis, women, feminism, leadership



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