Observatory

The unresolved question of women does not primarily concern roles and activities

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28 November 2020

The Holy See supports the pursuit of equality between women and men, which it views as a fundamental aspect of a just and democratic society. This was reiterated by Monsignor Janusz Urbańczyk, the Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the OSCE in Vienna, on the occasion of the Third Review Conference on Gender Equality. However, what do we mean by equality? Moreover, are we sure that the Holy See and the OSCE consider “equality” in the same way?

The Holy See’s representative was clear in this regard when he stated that equality cannot be limited to encouraging greater inclusiveness of women in parliaments or areas of responsibility. Women should be valued for their “feminine genius”, maintaining their specificity, richness and moral and spiritual strength.

Nothing new behind it all. In 2009, Monsignor Celestino Migliore had already explained to the United Nations that the tendency to cancel the differences between men and women does not help to achieve equality. On the contrary, the empowerment of women will be achieved when differences are recognized and highlighted as complementary, and not antagonistic.

A decade on, and many things have changed, even within the Catholic Church itself. Nevertheless, while emphasizing the importance of valuing women in the Church, Pope Francis also maintains that the removal of the difference between women and men creates another problem, rather than a solution. Rather than equality, the concept of complementarity should be promoted. Today, more and more Catholic women, whether they are consecrated or not, and irrespective of if they are ready to govern in ecclesial communities, do not aspire at all to become equal with men, which is now an outdated model. They do not wish to conform to a vision conceived by men for women with the risk of repeating the same logical tendency that has governed the system thus far. Instead, in their own time and manner, they want to manage their strength, because equality does not mean uniformity.

As the French theologian, Anne-Marie Pelletier, states. “it is the relationship between men and women that needs to be repaired. Today, women are at the center of community life. It is necessary for their word to circulate, including at the seminaries, where one normally prepares oneself to serve communities composed of men and women”.

In short, it seems that the unresolved question about women does not primarily concern roles and activities, but the recognition of equal dignity and authority in society and in the ecclesial community. Pope Francis has shaken up the customs, but he is the first to admit that there is a significant delay. Words are important, but today workable statements are needed more than ever.

by Romilda Ferrauto