Faith and Feminism

Women’s value in the Catholic Church


I should begin by acknowledging that although I was raised in the Anglican church, the majority of my understanding of Catholicism is probably inherently learned through reading The Thorn Birds. As intelligent and insightful a writer as Colleen McCollough was, it’s not exactly an unbiased view on religion. I also realise that faith is very personal, so this is by no means a criticism of people’s faiths, but rather a critique on a holistic approach in Catholicism. I don’t see a powerful movement for change in the Catholic church when it comes to women, so perhaps most people don’t see any concern or willingness to change, but I’d like to challenge this.

Many faiths have supreme figureheads; Anglicans have the Archbishop of Canterbury, Buddhists have a Ganden Tripa, but the Catholic faith seems to have a more historic and monarchist approach to their leadership, so it’s often a faith that comes under fire for it’s rather discriminatory methods of hierarchy and succession*. In my Ascent of Woman post I talk about how women in ancient times were worshiped in religion, but were second class as people. Catholicism seems no different in its approach. The men, emasculated through Priesthood, are seated in the thrones of ecclesiastical power and married to an effeminate and inanimate object: the Church. The women are seen as sacred icons. I mean, even Mother Mary is heralded as an image of a virgin, and she is the highest female figure in the Catholic church! Fortunately there is separation between church and everyday practice, as Catholic women have rights in every sector (depending on the law of the land) to have authority and responsibility, but this is because of secular law – not God’s law. Legally, the church is exempt from workplace discrimination laws, but this creates a lot of ambiguity and biased decision making.

*Popes succeed one another in a similar method to secular Royalty, except that there is a level of democracy in the process. What many people don’t realise though is that the requirements for being Pope are that you are baptised Catholic and are male. However, history suggests that Popes are rarely non-Cardinals or non-European, which begs the question: is the selection made through prayer and by God, or is it a popularity contest?


In many ways, I like Pope Francis. Maybe it’s because he’s the first non-European Pope, or maybe it’s because of his humble rejection of the luxury and self-importance his role offers, but I find him a modern leader who is open to dialogue and actively bringing the Catholic faith into the 21st century. However, he has been pretty adamant that women should not be clergy in the Church, which almost makes meaningless his whole modern revival. So when the Pope made a commission to study the historical role of female deacons in the Catholic Church, my ears perked up. He said the Vatican should study the question of ordaining women as Deacons, challenging the Vatican to be more inclusive. Wanting to learn a little more about this commission, I contacted a local Priest to enlighten me about it. He was really knowledgeable in his faith, and tried his best to answer my questions (although I think he was fairly unprepared and perplexed by my boldness in contacting him) but frankly, from what I understood, Deaconship is not even that … important. Like Nuns and Monks, Deacons are simply another form of service. They are not ‘Persona Christi’, as the Priest told me. Many are even retired folk who are married and with children. So for me, this was a massive disappointment, making this commission seem like a waste of time.

So I asked him, why can’t a woman be Pope, or ‘Persona Christi’?

All the Priest could answer was that men could only be ‘Persona Christi’ because the Apostles were male, and from what I gather, Catholic faith views Persona Christi as – well, a literal connection to the Apostles, and therefore they must be men. Regardless of acknowledging that Mary Magdalene was the ‘apostle to the Apostles’, I asked him if he ever saw women becoming Persona Christi or Pope one day. He told me he did not. I’m not sure if this was his own traditionalist opinion, a lack of faith in his church, or his firmness that this is God’s Will.

Perhaps it is God’s will that women aren’t to be leaders within the church. Perhaps I’m simply mistrustful of men because history has shown them as consistently unkind to, and abusive of their power over women. Perhaps I’m mistrustful of religion because the Bible is a collection of writings by men, picked out by men, without any obvious recognition of women’s role beyond their biological purpose or gentle nature. But for some reason, the more I investigate, the more unreasonable and illogical this gender discrimination becomes, and the more annoyed I get.

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