Is the Vatican plenary asking the right questions about women?

religion | Feb 03, 2015 | By Stephanie Block

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture is holding a Plenary Assembly is focused on “Women's cultures: equality and difference.” It runs fFebruary 4-7, 2015.
 
It will be broken into four topics – “pastoral paths” – of consideration: 
 
·        Between equality and difference: the quest for an equilibrium – whose focus will be the condition of women in today’s varied cultures, particularly those women in difficult situations;
 
·        “Generativity” as a symbolic code – looking at “giving life” beyond maternity;
 
·        The female body: between culture and biology – which intends to touch on a wide range of issues, including freedom of choice, aggression against women’s bodies, domestic violence, and commercialization;
 
·        Women and religion: flight or new forms of participation in the life of the Church?- reflecting on the “roles” of women in the Church. 
 
By its nature, this would have promised to be a somewhat academic council…except for a promotional video released before Christmas, starring Italian actress Nancy Brilli.  In it, she invited video clips, photographs, and comments from women around the world, to be used in the Assembly’s opening audiovisual presentation, “Women’s Vision.” 
 
The video was ridiculed as a stereotypical “sexy sell” that was an inappropriate “way to ask for women’s input,” particularly ironic as one of the conference topics is the misuse of women’s bodies for marketing. 
 
An outline document for the Assembly explains while there has been an historical division of roles throughout the world that generally relegated to men the “responsibility, authority, and presence in the public sphere: the law, politics, war, power” and women to “reproduction, education, and care of the family in the domestic sphere,” the cultural situation has changed.  Often as a way to escape poverty, women are forced into the workplace, where, reasonably, they expect their labor to be rewarded – both in status and money – according to the same standards as men.
 
That said, there are important differences between the genders and ignoring them “impoverishes personal experience.”  Focusing particularly in the “generativity” of women – which has its physical expression in, but is not limited to, childbearing and nurture – the document asks if women’s gifts are sufficiently and properly recognized and “expressed” in society and the Church.
 
In the area of “body”, the document looks at contemporary pathologies - dysmorphophobia, eating disorders, domestic violence, selective abortion, forced marriage, marketing, sex trafficking, rape, and even “cosmetic” plastic surgery (“a burqa made of flesh”) – as forms of aggression that the Church must address.
 
Lastly, the document says that while women aren’t seeking “to wear a purple birretta,” they do “have sincere and painful questions. …. Why with their great presence have women had so little impact on the Church’s structures? In pastoral praxis, why are we giving women only those tasks of a somewhat rigid scheme, the fruit of ideological and ancestral left-overs?”
 
Coupled with Cardinal Ravasi’s announcement on February 2, two days before the conference’s opening, that a permanent panel of female consultants will be created in the Pontifical Council for Culture, to look at “the question of the female approach,” this promises to be an interesting plenary.  

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Spero News columnist Stephanie Block edits the New Mexico-based Los Pequeños newspaper and is the author of the four-volume Change Agents: Alinskyian Organizing Among Religious Bodies, which is available at Amazon.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.

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