I once heard Pope John Paul II spiritedly identify himself as the “feminist Pope.” He was addressing our group who were participating in a Vatican conference devoted to women’s health. Now many years later a Vatican CDF admonition arrives warning against “radical feminism.” It is addressed to some of the most admired women in America, the nuns of the LCRW. So then, what is Rome’s definition of “radical feminism?” Does it differ from previous Papal and Vatican II teachings affirmiing women’s equal dignity and discipleship?
I identify myself as a “gospel feminist,” a Christian feminist who aspires to the radical commitment that manifestd itself in abortion debates as “pro-life feminism,” and in just war arguments as a dedication to Christian nonviolence. And it is a given that gospel feminism adheres to Catholic social teachings on equal rights, dignity and justice for all.
Obviously too, gospel feminists judge statements by their conformity to esential scripture teaching. The command to love God and neighbor in action as well as in words, is crucial. Also central to the faith is the good news that “In Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.” All the baptized are to be united in, with and through Christ saving work.
Unfortunately, one disturbing aspect of JPII”s statement on women, which was printed and handed out at the conference, appeared in its final section. After an inspiring and stirring declaration of women’s equality and an affirmative call for women’s leadership in the world, an oddly inconistent ending appeared. The Pope set forth his belief that there exists in the church a Petrine ministry (male) and a divergent Marian ministry (female.) This approach seems to imply that possessing either a penis or a womb determines your Christian vocation and discipleship.
Try as I may, I cannot comprehend how one baptism, one call, and one union with the mind of Christ can be divided by gender. If nothing else, how could Christ's humanity lack any characteristic labeled as “feminine” or “Marian.” Only pagans and heretics insist that God possesses gender, so something seems askew and inconsistent in present rulings. We may grant the need of “evangelical correction”--- but in which direction and of whom?