On Sunday, Il Messaggero published Pope Francis’ first ever interview with a female journalist. The interview covered a wide range of topics, and I recommend reading it in its entirety here.
It is what Francis said toward the end of the interview that deeply perturbed me.
When Franca Giansoldati asked Francis what place women occupy in the Church, he responded:
Women are the most beautiful thing God has made. The Church is a woman. Church is a feminine word. We cannot do theology without this femininity. You are right, we don’t talk about this enough. I agree that we have to work more on the theology of woman. I said it and we are working on it.
Giansoldati then asked if Francis sees a certain “underlying misogyny,” to which he responded:
The fact is that woman was taken from a rib… (he laughs heartily). It’s a joke, I’m joking. I agree that we have to study the feminine question more deeply, otherwise we cannot understand the Church herself.
She then followed up by asking Francis if we may expect any historical decisions from him such as “a woman head of dicastery,” to which Francis laughed and said, “Beh, many times priests end up under the authority of their housekeepers.”
As a woman, I feel the need to make a response. (Please not I do not intend to speak for all women.)
I am a woman. I am not the “most beautiful thing God has made.” Like everyone else, I have flaws. Simply because I am a woman, I do not as Pope Francis has suggested in his most recent encyclical, possess “sensitivity, intuition, and other distinctive skill sets… more than men.” My gender does not define me. Like all of the saints throughout the history of Christianity, I have a unique story, one that sometimes affirms and sometimes defies common stereotypes about my gender, age, race, religion, etc. This is why we do not need another “theology of women,” but rather “more women doing theology.” Its about time that our voices are heard and our stories find listeners who take them seriously. I am not some beautiful moral exemplar, but a tried and true HUMAN BEING who has a body that can image Christ and can preach a thought-provoking homily. Like everyone else, I have wisdom to impart to others. I also at times need to be challenged by others to be a more loving, inclusive person.
I get it. Pope Francis was “only joking.” But misogyny is no joke. Neither is racism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, or any other type of oppression. As a heterosexual woman, if someone asked me if a certain one of my viewpoints or a certain situation was an example of homophobia, I sincerely hope I would not respond with a joke, especially given that I will never know first-hand what it is like to experience the discrimination faced by LGBT persons all over the world each day.
I get. The suffering I experience as a woman pales in comparison to that suffered by women who are impoverished or who have been the victims of sexual abuse. But, it is important to note that earlier in this interview, Giansoldati asked Francis how he feels in the face of “moral decline,” citing for example the fact that “on the streets of Rome, you can see girls as young as 14 forced into prostitution amid general neglect.” Francis replied that “the exploitation of children makes me suffer,” that the men who do this to young girls are pedophiles, and that “these problems are resolved through good social politics,” such as “social services that help families get out of difficult situations.”
We need more than a change in laws and policies. We need a change in the culture of the Church. As the example given by Giansoldati illustrates, women are still treated very much like “objects” to be used for pleasure, who are supposed to sacrifice for others to the point of self-negation (notice the automatic association of women in the Church with the term housekeeper). At first glance, it may seem endearing to be called “the most beautiful thing God as made.” But we are not “beautiful things.” The statements of a celibate male hierarchy cannot fully capture our human experience. As Edward Schillebeeckx said, “the hierarchy does not have control over the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is constantly working through all people, calling them to a variety of ministries, She does not discriminate based on gender, race, sexual orientation, or other factors. It is about time we take women’s thoughts seriously, and recognize the work of the Holy Spirit within them. We women do not need to be told we are “beautiful” and “necessary” and “morally superior to men.” We should not be held to a male-imposed standard of “femininity.” Women can and should be given the opportunity to define who we are and what our vocation as Christians should be. This is why I do feminist theology.
Please note, I do not intend for this post to be a bashing of Pope Francis or the Catholic Church. I am not angry, I am just disappointed in the remarks made by a leader whom I still respect and admire.