On the woman question, Pope Francis seems to follow in the footsteps of St. John Paul II, but at some times ignores the work of his predecessor and at other times shows a greater adherence to feminist ideology.
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which came out in the early days of his pontificate in November 2013, under “other ecclesial challenges” he includes a section on women’s role in the Church:
103. The Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood. I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church. Because “the feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace” and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures.
Pope Francis here echoes St. John Paul II’s ideas about the complementarity of the sexes and of women’s “genius.” However, he is more explicit than his immediate predecessors on women’s expanding role in the Church and more insistent on the need for even greater expansion.
Further, the idea that women have come a long way but not far enough is a page taken directly from feminist rhetoric. This rhetoric ignores the fact that, at least in countries like the U.S. and Canada, women now outnumber men in colleges and professional schools as well as in the workplace. In other developed countries if women don’t outnumber men at work and at educational institutes, the trend is that the gap is closing. Further, there is good reason why women don’t equal men in numbers in executive positions—because they are mothers and motherhood does pull women in the opposite direction of a career. Executive positions require a greater commitment of time and energy—an obvious and major clash with motherhood. In addition, under normal circumstances women do not possess the qualities, in particular leadership qualities, that men do that make them better suited to lead companies and organizations (although under the feminist regime women in general have come to emulate men in this regard). Both these realities are grounded in the Church’s teachings about the difference and complementarity of the sexes, and about the subjection of women to men. Given St. Paul’s words it seems only logical that there would be more men in leadership positions, and given the fact that women are mothers, that women would be busy taking care of their children. Even with daycare and nannies, the influence of motherhood on a woman’s life makes her career path different from a man’s. Our feminist-driven society tries to diminish this difference as much as possible, but it can never get rid of it completely.
Pope Francis elaborated on this passage from Evangelii Gaudium in his general audience of April 15, 2015:
There is no doubt that we must do far more to advance women, if we want to give more strength to the reciprocity between man and woman. In fact, it is necessary that woman not only be listened to more, but that her voice carry real weight, a recognized authority in society and in the Church…We have not yet understood in depth what the feminine genius can give us, what woman can give to society and also to us.
Each sentence in this passage is problematic. The first, because it would seem that the opposite is true—the traditional scenario of woman as homemaker and man as breadwinner is the perfect reciprocity of man and woman, rather than both man and woman trying to fill the same roles at the same time. The second, because it seems like a veiled rejection of St. Paul’s teaching on the subjection of women as well as the authority of the Catholic Church resting solely with men. The third statement is untrue and I addressed this earlier—that in fact, women may have had a better position, more authority, more contentment, etc. when her main role was in the home, in which “she used to reign as queen.”
As for the “gender wage gap” that Pope Francis spoke about in his audience of April 29, 2015 (St. John Paul II also called the gender wage gap wrong), at least in developed countries of the world this has been shown to be a myth. Also, why is it important to mention the “disgrace” of this so-called gap in the context of a talk about marriage, which the April 29th audience was about? What does how much a man or a woman is paid have to do with the sacrament of marriage?
The Christian seed at the root of equality between spouses must bear new fruit today. The witness of the social dignity of marriage shall become persuasive precisely in this way, the way of a testimony which attracts, the way of reciprocity between them, of complementarity between them.
For this reason, as Christians, we must become more demanding in this regard. For example: firmly support the right to equal pay for equal work; why is it taken for granted that women should earn less than men? No! They have the same rights. This disparity is an absolute disgrace!
The Pope may have been referring to a UN report that came out in March 2015 that stated in the past 20 years: “A large gender pay gap hasn’t narrowed much, with women still earning on average 23 per cent less than men.”
In his 2005 book Why Men Earn More, Warren Farrell introduced research that shows the real reasons for the gender pay gap. This is what he said about it in a 2006 Forbes article:
After more than a decade of research for my book, Why Men Earn More, I discovered that men and women make 25 work-life choices that actually create a wage gap. Men make decisions that result in their making more money. On the other hand, women make decisions that earn them better lives (e.g., more family and friend time).
But what happens when women make the same lucrative decisions typically made by men? The good news–for women, at least: Women actually earn more. For example, when a male and a female civil engineer both stay with their respective companies for ten years, travel and relocate equally and take the same career risks, the woman ends up making more. And among workers who have never been married and never had children, women earn 117% of what men do. (This factors in education, hours worked and age.)
What Farrell found is that it is not discrimination against women that leads to men making more money than women; it’s the life choices they make. Feminist organizations try to diminish this fact but even they in their research have to admit to this phenomenon.
A Forbes article in March 2015 titled, New Data on Just How Bad the Gender Pay Gap Is, discussed a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) on the gender pay gap. The new data found that women still earn less than men and that progress on closing the gap has supposedly stalled. However, the Forbes staffer who wrote the article noted:
While the IWPR report is carefully researched, using swaths of government data, it doesn’t purport to account for potentially important specifics like hours worked and levels of experience within professions, and, perhaps most important, the professions that women choose. It notes, for instance, that women’s participation in the high-paying STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields still lags men’s. According to the report, women make up only 28.8% of STEM workers. It also doesn’t account for hours worked. A 40-year-old female software developer who leaves every day at 5:45pm to pick up her kids at daycare may not get paid as well as a man in the same job who works until 10pm while his wife handles childcare and cooking. Critics of gender wage gap evidence say these kinds of details are crucial.
The Pew Research Center published a report on the gender pay gap in April 2015 that said the gap is narrowing, but still exists. They found that women make 84% of what their male counterparts make, but for younger women the gap shrinks to 93%. Further, PEW says:
In spite of its narrowing, the gender pay gap persists. Why is this? In our survey, women were more likely to say they had taken career interruptions to care for their family. And research has shown that these types of interruptions can have an impact on long-term earnings. Roughly four-in-ten mothers say they have taken a significant amount of time off from work (39%) or reduced their work hours (42%) to care for a child or other family member. Roughly a quarter (27%) say they have quit work altogether to take care of these familial responsibilities. (Fewer men say the same. For example, just 24% of fathers say they have taken a significant amount of time off to care for a child or other family member.)
The pope, however, thinks that the remaining gender pay gap is a “disgrace.” How should this be solved, then? Should women ignore the fact that they themselves are best suited to nurture their newborn child and to take maternity leave (or more) while their husbands continue to work? Should employers become so accommodating to women’s work/life balance that a female surgeon can take breaks from open heart surgery to nurse her infant who lies in a nursery in an adjoining room to where she operates? Why not set up cribs and nursing stations right in the rooms where governments meet to debate legislation so mothers can tend to their babies and have power too? The truth behind the myth of the gender wage gap gets at the heart of what feminist ideology is driving at: a complete leveling or equalizing of men and women to destroy the right ordering of the relationship of men and women that God set down at the time of Creation. Feminism is by nature anti-Christian and anti-Catholic. Pope Francis appears to fail to recognize this.
The continued outrage about the gender pay gap on the part of feminists underscores what is at the heart of feminism—a denial of reality and the truth. Women are mothers. Women’s nature does restrict her in a way that man’s does not when it comes to being active in the world since she has been chosen by God to bear children. Thus, in a very physical sense, but also in a moral one—she must restrict herself to the home and put her career aside to care for her family. The Church always stood by this rather obvious reality—it is only now that Church leaders are giving way to the full onslaught of feminism and its lies.
Unfortunately, the pope’s overall message about women is seemingly at odds with a truly Christian perspective. The pope seems to be working from a feminist paradigm, rather than from Catholic teaching and tradition. In Alice Von Hildebrand’s The Privilege of Being a Woman, she discusses how “the glorification of strength and the denigration of weakness…has become the shallow core of modern thought and feminist belief”:
Our first parents’ minds were darkened by sin, their wills were weakened, their judgment became distorted. The hierarchy of values being upset, male accomplishments became overvalued. Physical strength became glorified and weakness was looked down upon…
…As women are weaker than men, and as they do not bask in the limelight as much as men do, as they are less “creative” than the strong sex, they are bound to be the victims of this distorted hierarchy of values. That women have been victimized by this distortion of the hierarchy of values is deplorable and sad indeed; but that feminists have endorsed this inversion is still more pitiful. Imprisoned in the spiritual jail of secular categories, they fail to understand that their true mission is to swim against the tide and, with God’s grace, help restore the proper hierarchy of values….
…the “weakness” of the female sex, as far as accomplishments and productivity are concerned, can be more than compensated by her moral strength when she lives up to her calling. That is, when she loves. The influence that she can exercise over her male partner is great indeed when it manifests itself not by issuing commands but by example and gentle persuasion. On the other hand, when she betrays her mission, she can indeed be man’s downfall…
…Indeed, there can be no reconciliation between an ideology that advocates power and success and the one whose core demonstrates that the way to God is the humble acceptance of one’s helplessness…
In this brief passage Alice Von Hildebrand has stated the source from which the woman question arises—“the glorification of strength and the denigration of weakness”—as well as an interesting answer to it—restoring “the proper hierarchy of values.” While she advocates a turning away from an ideology that advocates power and success and encourages women to exercise influence by example and gentle persuasion, Pope Francis takes a different approach—advocating for women to advance to positions where their voices carry more weight and they have more authority.
What is clear from a survey of the progression of what popes have said on the woman question since the late 19th century is that the pontificates of St. John XXIII and Paul VI began to open the Church’s doors to feminism, but their statements on the woman question were brief—they were an inkling of what was to come. St. John Paul II truly ushered in the Church’s new position on the woman question. He wrote and spoke at length about women, even calling for a “new feminism.”
The new support for women’s “emancipation” and the constant celebration of her very being introduced by St. John Paul II was a reaction to feminism, not the Tradition of the Church or something that grew organically from that Tradition. We find evidence for this in the dramatic break between what earlier popes said about women and what popes of the latter half of the 20th century and early 21st century said.
In the face of the feminist onslaught, St. John Paul II attempted to mesh feminism and Catholicism, while earlier popes such as Pius XI kept them separate and instead stated the Church’s traditional teaching about women, which was held as more than an adequate answer to the woman question. No embellishments were needed for the Church already had the answer. This is the crux of the difference between the pre- and post-Vatican II popes.
The post-conciliar popes, upon seeing the entrenchment of feminism (“women’s changing roles”) in the latter part of the 20th century, announced that they too had something to say about women—their nature and roles. Unfortunately, while officially distinguishing the Church’s views on women from the views of liberal feminism (and certainly from the views of radical feminism) the post-conciliar popes at the same time unofficially incorporated the views of liberal feminism, in order to “dialogue” with the world on the woman question. The popes’ position on the woman question changed in a fashion that suggests discontinuity rather than continuity, and the influence of ideology rather than Tradition.
The question to be asked is: did the change in position of the vast majority of the Church’s leaders on the woman question after Vatican II represent continuity of Tradition and the truth that the Church has always held, or was it essentially a reaction to the influence of an ideology’s hold on the world? The similarity of the thoughts and words of St. John Paul II’s new feminism with feminism itself leads one to think it is the latter—a reaction. St. John Paul II attempted to assimilate feminism into Catholicism, but in doing so introduced the opposite dynamic, that the traditional Catholic position on the woman question would be obscured by the secular ideology of feminism. Feminism though, is flawed to its core and propagates myths about women and men, and the truth cannot be reconciled with lies.
At first the Church stood firm against feminism, then, her leaders tried to accommodate it, muddying our idea of the true role and dignity of woman. Now, Catholics do not have a clear idea of what a woman should be. We have a Catholicized version of the ideal woman created by feminism. How sad that popes no longer present to us a wholly Catholic ideal of womanhood, completely independent of the ideal created by feminism—to guide us as men and women.
The Church has always held up Mary as a role model for women—but the post-conciliar Church hierarchy does not seriously suggest that Catholic women emulate her. Why? Because her modesty cannot be lived out if women are competing with men (and other women) in the modern workplace or in a public office. In then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2004 letter to bishops about women he says “To look at Mary and imitate her does not mean, however, that the Church should adopt a passivity inspired by an outdated conception of femininity.” In this strange sentence Cardinal Ratzinger is calling women to imitate Mary but also suggesting some aspects of her example are “outdated.” The way of Mary is an outdated conception of femininity by the world’s new secular standards, the standards that the Catholic Church’s leaders, since Vatican II, have tried to meet and mingle with. Do we care though, as Catholics, about fitting in with the ideals of secular liberalism (of which feminism descended from)? Or, is not precisely just that—to be “outdated”—which our faith requires of us in the secular society in which we now live?
“…who can describe how, from day to day, in her more brightly shone her virtues; charity, modesty, humility, silence, mortification, meekness?” says St. Alphonsus in The Glories of Mary. Pope Francis and his immediate predecessors overturn this model when they claim “it is necessary that woman not only be listened to more, but that her voice carry real weight, a recognized authority in society and in the Church” and that “women should have access to positions of responsibility which allow them to inspire the policies of nations and to promote innovative solutions to economic and social problems.”
St. Louis de Monfort wrote in True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin that in answer to her prayers, Mary remained “hidden, poor and lowly” during her life on earth. The Church needs to rediscover this vision of woman that it has always had—unchanged and unchangeable—the greatest and best answer to the woman question, and one which the world desperately needs.