The Thinking 
Housewife
 

The Pope on Homosexuality and Women

July 30, 2013

 

pope on a plane

 

THE media around the world has proclaimed that Pope Francis approves of homosexuality because of remarks he made to reporters on a plane returning to Rome from Rio. The New York Times has the story on the front page with this headline, “On Gay Priests, Pope Francis Asks ‘Who Am I to Judge?” thus suggesting that open homosexuals will be welcomed into the priesthood.

On the one hand, this is blatant distortion. The Pope did not come close to saying that homosexuals would be admitted to seminaries. On the other hand, the Pope’s remarks are disturbing, not least because he used the euphemistic label “gay” — the first time a pope has ever done so publicly — and because his words suggest that homosexuality is a permanent “orientation.”

Thetimann at the blog St. Louis Catholic has a reasonable summary of the incident:

 What did [Pope Francis] say? Well, it goes without saying that His Holiness cannot, and did not, change any Church teaching on the grave immorality of sodomy, or habitual sodomy. He reaffirmed this teaching. But he unfortunately did give fodder to the Church’s enemies by inexact language.

He is quoted as having said, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them?” Well, of course if this is understood in a certain way, it makes sense. The problem is that every person who would in fact understand this remark in the correct sense doesn’t need to be told it, yet so many– the vast majority, in fact– who hear or read this will take it as an indication that the teaching on sodomy has changed or will change or can change.

It can confirm persons in sin; it tends to discourage the faithful under increasing attack from the world. Particularly, it can discourage those persons with temptations to that particular sin to wonder whether they need to continue to resist. Already the story is reported that the Pope won’t judge “gay people”, and some are reporting it as “gay priests”.

Thus, these comments seem quite inopportune. The only real question is whether the Pope made them innocently, or intentionally. I don’t know which is worse. Popes and airplane press conferences don’t seem to go together.

According to the Catholic Catechism, homosexual acts are acts of “grave depravity.” At the very least, the Pope’s remarks failed to affirm this truth.

To make matters worse, the Pope also made confusing statements about women.  He said:

A church without women would be like the apostolic college without Mary. The Madonna is more important than the apostles, and the church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a mother. The role of women doesn’t end just with being a mother and with housework …we don’t yet have a truly deep theology of women in the church. We talk about whether they can do this or that, can they be altar boys, can they be lectors, about a woman as president of Caritas, but we don’t have a deep theology of women in the Church. On the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no. John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed.

Notice his words “just with being a mother.” At a time when women need to be reaffirmed in that role, the Pope suggests it is somewhat lacking. The idea of a “truly deep theology of women” is revolutionary language because it implies that women have been excluded in the past, which, as Pope Francis also points out, is not true. At The Washington Post, Ashley McGuire hails the Pope’s words:

[Many] of us want to play a role in the church but just aren’t quite sure how. We can find a smattering of contradicting perspectives on these topics, but when we look to the church herself, we can feel a bit lost.

A bit lost? Women dominate much of parish life, playing a prominent role in parishes and Catholic organizations. McGuire herself is a senior fellow at the Catholic Association. Many of these organizations are crying out for volunteers. Women in many parishes also overwhelmingly dominate the liturgy. A “deep theology for women” smacks of feminist self-centeredness.

 

— Comments —

[Note: The following comment came in before this entry was posted. The Pope has not altered the Church’s stance on homosexuals in seminaries, but the reader’s comments are still germane and interesting.]

B. C. writes:

I was dismayed to see Pope Francis has indicated an openness to gay men becoming priests. While homosexuality is a delicate subject and those who experience same-sex attraction need God’s healing love, the matter of gay priests should not require much nuance.

I would like to explain merely one aspect of the issue. Allowing gay men into the seminary presents many difficulties. As a former seminarian, even the decision to attend was challenging. The seminary being open to homosexuals would have been a serious impediment for me. Few if any of those seeking to be a man after God’s own heart want to be associated with an institution open to those with such inclinations. Even some of my friends and family wondered how a red-blooded male could remain abstinent; many negative assumptions would be greatly amplified if the Church’s stance were to change.

Additionally, seminary can be a vulnerable time for the men attending as they consider sacrificing their desire for a wife and family to become a priest and acting in persona Christi to the faithful. For in becoming a priest, one puts on a fundamentally different identity, and this process opens one to great struggles. Having others who are wrestling with a separate and very basic problem of identity, would only make it that much harder.

Finally, seminarians (and priests, too) rely on their brother seminarians (and priests) for community and friendship. I became very close to several during seminary, and they encouraged me greatly during my struggles, and I them. Having that overshadowed by a fear of homosexual corruption would destroy those bonds and isolate those most in need of others.

I fear these consequences only would be the beginning if the Church’s stance against gay priests is changed. Let us pray for Pope Francis.

Rob writes:

What struck me about Pope Francis’s “Who am I to judge” comment is how the media skews its reporting depending on the perceived political bona fides of the speaker. Appear to pay homage to an important liberal piety (in this case advancement of homosexuality) and critical thought goes out the window.

After all, the Catholic Church has been castigated by the same media for years for not being judgemental enough about homosexual paedophile priests.

 Bartholomew writes:

Quoting the Pope, you wrote,

“Notice his words “just with being a mother.” At a time when women need to be reaffirmed in that role, the Pope suggests it is somewhat lacking.”

I would have expected you to take umbrage with his words, “just…with housework”, rather than motherhood. Why should a woman be any more satisfied with motherhood alone than a man would be with fatherhood alone? Neither is a work role; both are relational roles. Every person needs to do some kind of work.

His words “just housework” are troubling because they imply that the very real work of keeping a house is somehow a lesser kind of work, though I’m not sure in comparison to what.

It’s an odd juxtaposition–housework in a discussion about ecclesiastical duties. Housework is the work of keeping a house. It doesn’t have anything to do with the work of keeping the Church, which seems to be the topic of discussion. If he wanted to disparage women’s traditional work in the church, I would have expected him to say something like “The role of women doesn’t just end with being a parishioner and with saying the rosary,” etc. (I’m not Catholic; I don’t know what all women are encouraged to do there).

Laura writes:

Feminists often emphasize housework, the most menial of women’s responsibilities, without ever mentioning their more exalted tasks. By mentioning it, the Pope seems to be responding to this line of thinking without really rebutting it.

The Pope seems to be saying that the Church has always recognized the primary importance of motherhood, the work in bearing and raising children (motherhood is more than relational role), but that’s not all that women do. It’s true that motherhood and housework do not constitute the whole of life for any woman. But the Church has always recognized that. This was precisely Christ’s point to Martha. Her housework wasn’t the most important thing. He told her to put her chores aside and pay attention to spiritual reality.

So the Church has always recognized this. The great mystical works and teachings of the Church are not just meant for men. By saying we need a “deep theology of women,” the Pope is saying that these works did not address women and denying the very universality of these teachings and spiritual works.

Bartholomew writes:

You did not answer my questions, but instead restated your position: “primary importance of motherhood, the work in bearing and raising children (motherhood is more than relational role)…”

Work is most properly defined as the things we do to sustain ourselves materially. This is why Paul exhorts Christians in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 to “work with their hands that [they] might not lack anything.” Work, in other words, is what you do to satisfy your own needs. Full stop. Satisfying one’s own needs is simply not what motherhood, fatherhood or any other relationship is about. That kind of attitude toward a relationship is actually an excellent way to ruin it.

Anyway, if you’re going to call motherhood “work,” I have no idea why you’d stop there. We might as well talk about the very difficult work of second cousinhood or something.

Laura writes:

You did not answer my questions, but instead restated your position: “primary importance of motherhood, the work in bearing and raising children (motherhood is more than relational role)…”

Then let me try to answer the only question I find in your comments, which is this:

Why should a woman be any more satisfied with motherhood alone than a man would be with fatherhood alone? Neither is a work role; both are relational roles. Every person needs to do some kind of work.

Traditionally (and certainly for the Pope), motherhood is a work role in a way that fatherhood is not. (I am taking the definition of work you mention into account.) Firstly, a woman typically does support herself through her work as mother. She does so indirectly through her husband’s wages. I would probably never have left paid employment if not for the necessary work of motherhood. Child-rearing — or being a mother — involves the daily hands-on care of children and a household for many years. It is traditionally much more time-consuming for the mother than for the father. To compare the relationship of a mother and her children to that between cousins does not make sense. One involves work. Another does not. If someone asks a woman with children at home what she does, a simple “I am a mother” is enough of an answer.

Bartholomew writes:

You wrote, “Traditionally (and certainly for the Pope), motherhood is a work role in a way that fatherhood is not.”

How so and according to whose tradition? My Old Order relatives share child-rearing, particularly of the boys. Once the boys are old enough to work (after age 8), they spend more and more of the day with their father, not their mother, working. Unless you consider 8 year old boys adults, this arrangement means the fathers have taken over the child-rearing, at least where the boys are concerned.

The daughters spend the day with their mother doing housework. I don’t think there’s a more traditional (by which I mean pre-modern; after all pre-modern traditions vary one to another significantly) lifestyle than theirs in present-day America.

“Firstly, a woman typically does support herself through her work as mother. She does so indirectly through her husband’s wages.”

Are you saying that a woman who works outside the home ceases to be a mother? That’s strange. In or out of the home, she is the mother of her own children. We have a separate word to describe a mother who also tends her children and her home, and that word is “housewife” Thus, a woman who supports herself through housework and child-rearing is called a housewife, not merely a mother.

“It is traditionally much more time-consuming for the mother than for the father.”

Motherhood is traditionally more time-consuming than fatherhood? According to whose tradition? In early American agrarian arrangements, the father had at least as much to do with (and therefore spent as much time in) child-rearing as the mother, but it was within the male world rather than the female one. That’s still the case today among the Amish and Mennonites.

It’s not directly germane to our discussion, but it’s probably why on a gut level I so strongly disagree with you: Men should have much more to do with raising their sons than they do now. Actual traditional arrangements involve a lot of close contact between the men and their sons throughout the day, working. It’s how traditionally boys were educated in the things they’d need to know to become men.

“To compare the relationship of a mother and her children to that between cousins does not make sense. One involves work. Another does not.”

I’ll grant you that that was a stretch. I meant to point out that in any relationship–even in those as distant as that of second cousins–lessons are imparted by one party to the other. Those lessons are difficult. Their successful imparting is rewarding. That does not make them work.

“If someone asks a woman with children at home what she does, a simple “I am a mother” is enough of an answer.”

No, it isn’t. A career woman could justifiably answer, “So am I, and so are the millions of women currently on welfare. What I asked you was what do you do with your time?” One proper answer to the question would be, I tend my children and my home, or simply, I’m a housewife.

Mrs. Wood, your blog is called The Thinking Housewife, not The Thinking Mother. Why is that?

Laura writes:

You are accusing me of stating that men are marginal in the raising of children and it doesn’t matter if they are around or are very involved or not. And I have not said that or implied it. Frankly I feel that you are baiting me to say that. I entirely agree that it is best than men have a great deal to do with raising their children, both sons and daughters.

Of course, a “housewife” is a better general term for a woman at home but it is perfectly reasonable for a woman at home to explain what she is doing by saying she is a mother. If you think that’s an outrageous thing to say because it marginalizes men, so be it. When children are young, a mother’s role involves more hours, and is more of a job, which is not to say a father’s role is insignificant or any less important, for heaven’s sake. Would I like to see men spend as many hours with their children as mothers do, yes, that would be great. But since we no longer live in an agrarian culture, and men must work to support their families, that is a very difficult thing to realize. In any event, in the early years of life, a father simply cannot do — and usually does not want  to do — all the things a mother does in the way of feeding, tending and caring for children. But at all ages, the father’s role is central. And other male figures are important as well, though not as important as a father.

Share:Email this to someoneShare on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest0Share on Google+0