Vatican criticizes `lethal effects' of feminism
Movement undermines concept of family, letter argues
Toronto archdiocese's Scorsone defends papal document
Aug. 1, 2004. 01:00 AMDANIEL WILLIAMS AND ALAN COOPERMAN
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
ROME—The Vatican issued a letter yesterday attacking the "distortions" and "lethal effects" of feminism, which it defined as an effort to erase differences between men and women — a goal, the statement said, that undermines the "natural two-parent structure" of the family and makes "homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent."
The sharp critique was contained in a document issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a chief adviser to Pope John Paul II and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department in charge of laying out Roman Catholic orthodoxy. The 37-page document outlined the Vatican's formula for relations between men and women, calling for "active collaboration between the sexes" and rejecting subjugation of women.
The statement was the latest Vatican salvo against trends it regards as undermining its teachings on sexuality and the family. Vatican officials have assailed abortion and contraception, politicians who support abortion through legislation, and legalized same-sex unions. The Pope approved the document issued yesterday, which is titled "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and the World."
Catholic feminists in the U.S. said the letter presented a caricature of feminism as antagonistic toward men and trying to deny any difference between the sexes.
"The demonization of feminism is most disturbing," said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for Free Choice, an advocacy group.
"It takes extreme positions that may have been historically held by five people and casts them as if they were held by every woman," she said. "The feminism I know is all for partnerships and is all for empowering both men and women. The feminism I know does not ignore the fact there are sexual differences."
Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, a feminist theologian at Harvard Divinity School, said the document restated positions the Vatican has taken many times and the only surprise was its timing. Church leaders, she said, may be feeling some urgency to combat same-sex marriage.
Suzanne Scorsone, spokesperson for Archbishop Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic of Toronto's Roman Catholic church, said yesterday the document emphasizes that differences between men and women should not be erased, but should be affirmed, documented and supported.
"The biochemistry (of men and women) is different and that's good," she said. "Everybody's got testosterone and estrogen but the levels, there's a difference in the levels."
Scorsone said "most people in the West ... would agree with the principle" that human rights for men and women should be equal. But, she said there is other more extreme thinking stemming from feminism that, as the document states, isn't necessary.
For example when feminism came about the ideology that human rights for men and women should be equal evolved. "Most people in the west and today would agree with the principle of that," she said.
However, there are other more drastic thoughts that came from feminism that aren't necessary, she said. "Somewhere down the line, the thinking became a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. The thinking became that male and female relationships became all about the domination of one of the other. For women to get married was like they wimped out."
She said that this way of thinking could have been what led to many homosexual relationships.
Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said on Vatican Radio the aim of the letter was to critique two current strands in feminism: one that emphasizes "a radical rivalry between the sexes" and the other that seeks to "cancel the differences between the sexes.''
With files from Priya Ramanujam