Machismo in a Skirt

In his “big interview” last week, the Holy Father used the provocative phrase “female machismo” (as it was translated into English – he actually said “machismo in a skirt” in Italian) to describe some of the solutions often proposed for affording women greater involvement in the Church’s decision-making structures. Here is an excerpt:

It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church. I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of “female machismo,” because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church.

Blessed Pope John Paul II did a great deal to advance this “theology of the woman” and I’m not sure that we need so much to develop such a theology as simply to rediscover and explore the implications of what he wrote – and go from there. His magisterium on this matter was also echoed in the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI.

Anyway, over the past couple of days it has been interesting to note a sort of resurgence in this “machismo in a skirt” of which the Pope speaks… presumably motivated by none other than his interview! (Since the media have framed it as totally revolutionary.) The machistas obviously didn’t read the whole thing!

At least two prominent journalists in Spain and Italy have published widely-read articles advocating for the admission of women into the Church’s cardinalatial ranks. One of these articles was even published in the Vatican’s official daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. (I would love to hear what my friend, Fr. Lambert, a former editor of the English edition, thinks about this!)

But… Isn’t this simply a rehashing of that old type of feminism (that the Pope now calls “machismo in a skirt”), which simply wants to see women doing everything that men do, as if there were no difference between the sexes? Isn’t this yet another confusion of dignity with power – i.e., only those who wield power in the Church (instead of service…) are persons of dignity, and those positions are to be desired above all?

The prominent vaticanist Andrea Tornielli rightly points these things out in his column today, commenting on the Holy Father’s words (above):

It’s as if [the Pope] is saying that the indispensable appreciation of women in the Church should not be the result of “clericalizing” them. To draw from [the Pope’s] observations the idea of “female cardinals” appears to be rather rash. In order for them to be valued in the Church and see themselves entrusted with responsibility, crimson attire should not be necessary.

(Article in English here. The above is my translation of the Italian original.)

It is clearly a complex matter. And a certain group is clearly emboldened at present to rehash old demands on the basis of a rash hope that they think now exists – also on the basis of a misunderstanding of the nature of power and authority in the Church, and of the fact that no matter how you cut it, men and women are not the same and cannot (and should not) always do the same things.

The idea that for someone to be important and of value in the Church, they must be a cleric (deacon, priest, or bishop), is simply false. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict both tried to help dispel this false understanding precisely by canonizing so many lay saints! To say nothing of their teaching about the lay state, about the dignity of women, and so forth.

In the present time it is not for us to reinvent the wheel. These issues have already been discussed; we need to study up on them, understand them, and then argue intelligently about them, being careful not to take for granted false underlying premises!

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