Following the election of Pope Francis an excellent initiative has sprung up: a new blog called Catholic Women Rising. I don’t see these two events as coincidental. We have a new Pope and thus a fresh and distinctive way of expressing the ancient pontifical role; this in turn will give impetus to other novel ways of articulating the truth, beauty and goodness of God in his Church.
Caroline Farrow of Catholic Voices began this blog “as a place where faithful, practising women may register their support for Catholic doctrine regarding women, in particular issues relating to sex, contraception, abortion, marriage and the male priesthood”. She goes on to emphasise that the blog is “for women who accept that the teaching of the Catholic Church was revealed to us by Jesus Christ and handed down by the apostles, expressed in sacred Scripture and tradition and is therefore not able to be modified or deleted. This is a place where women can joyfully testify to the freedom from oppression that accompanies an authentic, God-given expression of sexuality and chastity.”
Caroline asks those who agree with this initiative to register their support in the comment box under the statement, “I am a faithful practising Roman Catholic woman who attends Mass at least once a week and who believes in and practises the Church’s teachings, specifically pertaining to matters on sexuality, contraception, abortion, marriage and the ordination of women. I believe that the Roman Catholic Church is sympathetic to and representative of the needs and concerns of women and their children, wherever they may be in the world. I would like to offer our new Pope Francis my prayers and support and thank him for his continued protection and support of mothers and their unborn children. I fully endorse Church doctrine in relation to women’s issues.”
So far the blog has received 95 comments of endorsement (including a supportive husband) and none of dissent. This is because Farrow wisely suggests that those who do not assent to the blog’s statement – and there will always be Catholic women who don’t – should raise their concerns elsewhere, rather than start arguments on this website. She believes her blog could be a great opportunity to promote a “New Feminism” as she describes it. This has prompted a (somewhat) critical question from the comment box: “Is there a need for a “New Feminism?” I see where this question is coming from: to use the word “feminism” at all might be thought of as playing into the ideological hands of those feminists who are hostile to the Church’s teaching about the “genius of women”, as John Paul II described it. Personally I think the phrase worth using for the simple reason that the Church has always displayed its own genius in taking up the words and concepts of the world and transforming them into their supernatural counterparts. Why not explain to women who are confused about their role and who view the sexes in term of a battle for their own “rights” against male “patriarchy” and “oppression”, that the Church has always supported their intrinsic dignity as women, complementary to men and in no way inferior to them?
Farrow writes that women “run schools, abbeys, charities, and Church departments all round the globe”. She adds a useful list of the women working in Vatican departments – though I am sure this august institution could always employ more of them – and reminds us that John Paul II included Ss Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (the former Edith Stein) as new patrons for Europe, while Pope Benedict VXI made Hildegard of Bingen a Doctor of the Church. As Hildegard was in danger for a time of being taken over by the old feminists for their own purposes I am very glad that Benedict has thus rescued her from their herbarium.
While on this question of women and their authentic place in the Church, I note that Pope Francis has again introduced his own papal style, this time in his mode of greeting. Twice in the last week during official functions he has given women a formal and respectful peck on the cheek – something I don’t ever recall seeing a Pope do before now; once to the very elderly mother of a Latin American dignitary who was presenting her to him (and which struck me as a beautifully human and endearing moment), and once to the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Apart from being a traditional, natural and gracious greeting, I think this last gesture was a significant act of charity on the part of the Holy Father, for the president has been his implacable enemy in many areas of the Church’s moral teaching back home. Indeed, an Argentinian friend who has relatives in Buenos Aires tells me that Kirchner has avoided going to Mass in the cathedral there so that she wouldn’t have to encounter the former cardinal archbishop Bergoglio; echoes here of Henry II and Thomas à Becket.
If it were not Monday in Holy Week we would be celebrating today the feast of the Annunciation. The Preface for this Mass tells us that “the Virgin Mary heard with faith that the Christ was to be born among men and for men’s sake by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit. Lovingly she bore him in her immaculate womb, that the promises to the children of Israel might come about and the hope of nations be accomplished beyond all telling.”
A Church that thus celebrates the Mother of God will always cherish and champion the dignity of women: good for Caroline Farrow’s new blog.