Ever since the Women’s March in D.C. on Jan. 21, the topic of feminism is abuzz in both the mainstream media as well as the Church. But for the Church, the woman has always been essential, and especially since St. John Paul II’s pontificate, the conversation about her inherent femininity and her place in society has been prominent.
With the recent launch of the Hispanic division of Endow, the Aquinas Institute’s Great Debate tackling the topic, “Is the Church anti-woman?” on Feb. 23 and an upcoming women’s conference March 25, it’s evident that the question of who women are and what their role is in the Church is taking deeper root.
What is the proper way to understand true feminism, then, in light of the Church’s beautiful teaching on her dignity, worth and inherent gifts?
Endow, an origination that aims to facilitate conversation among women on their authentic femininity through small groups and is based on St. John Paul II’s teachings, offers the Church’s perspective. Denver’s Endow branch, which is where the organization originally started, recently launched its Hispanic division.
Sair del Toro, director of Hispanic Endow in Los Angeles, shared what this looks like.
“There is a complete confusion with the concept of ‘feminism.’ Today, people think that being a feminist means to have the same type of job, or the same salary as men and to work the same amount of hours,” del Toro said. “That is not a healthy feminism. The true feminism is to know what you were created for. The woman’s heart cannot be measured by the size of her salary…but it is measured based on how much they love.
“The true feminism is knowing how to behave in all the circumstances in which we live in this modern world. A woman now works, a woman now has commitments she didn’t have before. True feminism is to behave with the dignity that God gave us as women, to be an example of your faith. With our behavior and our example, a woman [changes many people],” del Toro added.
Pope Francis has recently taken measures to include women in the Church’s decision-making, saying that they are not simply here to “wash the dishes.” Del Toro agreed, saying that not only can a woman be a mother to her children and a wife to her husband, but she also continues her education and is in positions of leadership, “or even as the president of a corporation.”
“But the most beautiful thing about a woman is that she does not stop taking care of her family. She remains the heart of the family that transforms societies,” del Toro said.
Del Toro referred to St. John Paul II’s letters on women and how the dignity of woman was restored by Jesus, as he spoke to and healed many of them in a time and place where interaction with women was seen as taboo.
St. John Paul II wrote in his apostolic letter Mulieris dignitatem (“on the dignity of women”), “…The Church desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the ‘mystery of woman’ and for every woman…for the ‘great works of God,’ which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her. After all, was it not in and through her that the greatest event in human history — the incarnation of God himself — was accomplished?” (#31).
“We don’t have to fight to have a place,” del Toro said. “That place has been given. Christ gave it to us.”
Is the Church anti-woman?
It’s a question that the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought, an intellectual formation arm of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, took on at their 10th annual Great Debate on Feb. 23.
Dr. Mary Anne Case, a law professor at the University of Chicago, and Erika Bachiochi, a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, met on the common ground of feminism as the debate’s panelists.
The question is not new. People have long asked why the Church does not allow women to be priests, which then spurred this deeper debate question. Bachiochi, who describes herself as a Catholic feminist, holds that the Church does indeed support women. Case believes that while Catholic feminism exists, the institution of the Church, more specifically the hierarchy and the clerics, are anti-woman.
Dr. Case said that men and women shouldn’t have “fixed notions” concerning their roles.
Bachiochi said that she agreed with Case on several issues, and that the voices of women do need more of a platform in the Church. However, she said that demanding that women be allowed to become priests reeks of clericalism.
“I have no less authority than a priest as a baptized Christian,” Bachiochi said. “A priest has authority to represent Christ in a sacramental way, and I have the authority to represent Christ in every other area of my life.”
However, Dr. Case pointed out that men in the Catholic Church “have all of the opportunities, and then some. How can the church not be anti-women…if women are not part of the decision-making?”
Bachiochi agreed, and then referred to how the Pontifical Council of the Laity is a crucial branch of the Vatican. The council exists to assist the Pope in “all matters concerning the contribution the lay faithful make to the life and mission of the Church,” according to their website, and is a platform where the feminine has a say.
Bachiochi additionally noted that “Mary, the Mother of God, is heralded by the Catholic Church as the single greatest human that has ever lived,” and that several female saints are Doctors of the Church.
“The greatest among us are not the clerics, but the saints,” Bachiochi said.
The Debate proves that this is a timely opportunity, even a call, for women to unite with one another on their common beliefs — the dignity and equal rights of women — rather than divisive issues.
Drawing close to Mary
With so many talking about feminism and what it means to be a woman, it’s important to remember the greatest example of the “feminine genius” that ever lived: the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Angela Igielinski, co-chair of the Denver Catholic Women’s Conference, hopes that the event on March 25 will be a place where women rediscover their identity.
“The hope is to help women discover who they are in Christ…and to really continue our conversions to Jesus,” Igielinski said.
The retreat, which is a parish initiative, is titled, “Feminine Authenticity — The Perfect Yes!” The day will offer an opportunity for adoration, confession and talks and is expecting up to 200 women to attend. The theme will focus on Marian spirituality and Luke 1:38, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to your word,” to encourage retreatants to meditate on Mary’s “fiat” and apply it to their lives.
With Mary at the helm of heralding authentic femininity, all women can “model her humility and obedience to God,” as the conference’s website says, and remember that the most important way to change culture is first by prayer.
Only after praying will we be able to offer words of love, truth and compassion to both men and women in our culture.
“We have to talk to them, we have to be there, we have to pray,” Igielinski said.
For more information on the conference, or so register to attend, visit denvercatholicconference.com/about.
Carmen Elena Villa and Catholic News Agency contributed to this report.