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The Vatican discusses women’s issues, but they’re not in the room

The Vatican discusses women’s issues, but they’re not in the room

The Vatican can’t seem to get it right: this week, the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture is holding a plenary assembly to discuss “Women’s Culture: Equality and Difference,” but as the Boston Globe‘s Crux points out,

[Cardinal Gianfranco] Ravasi said women were invited to make presentations on various issues to be taken up in the plenary assembly, but since the members of the council are all men, that’s who will talk things out behind closed doors.

Ravasi defined the process as “women directing the dance,” with men performing the steps.

Those steps have been missteps, writes Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín, as the assembly planning has caused controversy with a number of promotional decisions.

Sylvia Poggioli reports on National Public Radio:

In December, organizers released a promotional video that features Italian actress Nancy Brilli, tossing her hair, looking at the camera coquettishly and asking in a sultry voice for women to contribute 60-second clips of their lives to be broadcast at the conference.

“I am sure you have asked yourself many times,” the sexy blonde says, “who you are, what you do, what you think about your being a woman, your strength, your difficulties, your body and your spiritual life.”

The video was criticized as presenting a “sexist stereotype of the modern Western woman”:

What are they thinking at the Vatican?” asked Phyllis Zagano of Hofstra University, writing in the National Catholic Reporter.

“Sexy sell has long gone by the boards in developed nations, and is totally unacceptable in Muslim countries,” she wrote.

(Poggioli’s report as well as the video are both on NPR’s website.)

And on top of that, the choice of a 1936 sculpture by Man Ray, “Venus Restored,” for the assembly’s website has also prompted “sparks,” according to a headline also in the National Catholic Reporter.

According to Crux:

…the website of the general assembly is illustrated with an image of “Venus Restored” by artist Man Ray, a plaster cast of a headless Venus tightly bound in ropes.

The 1936 sculpture is intended to depict woman as a subjugated sex object, but also as a creature who rises above men’s depictions. Critics have questioned the wisdom of using such an image for a Vatican discussion of women, suggesting it may send the wrong signal about the Church’s support for female emancipation.

Micol Forti, director of the Contemporary Art collection of the Vatican Museum, said that the sculpture was chosen among other possibilities because it represents the past as an “anchor to generate new ideas.”

The Pontifical Council for Culture has material for the assembly online here.

Posted by Cara Ellen Modisett



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Emily Windsor

Patriarchy has no skills to discuss how women feel and think.

They are not competent to realize how right-brain dominance may suit God’s Will or enable or facilitate the resolution of conflicts and disputes.

They are clueless, those men.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.


Nick Porter

Just to make it perfectly clear, this was an idiotic move in my opinion. At the same time, women, lots of them and their families still choose to remain Roman Catholics at the end of the day. That’s for them to spread the word to the Vatican. Vote with your feet.

David Streever

Why can’t people stay with the Catholic Church and attempt to change it? Doesn’t the Vatican change policies, adopt new language, update, and modernize the Church?

What’s wrong with individual Catholics asking the Vatican to change certain policies and interpretations in certain ways?

Nick Porter

Women’s ordination is a no-deal. Contraception becoming acceptable is a no-deal. The jury is out about married clergy, but for the most part, trying to make the Roman church look like our precious Anglicanism? Not. Going. To. Happen. So yes, again I say, if they want to waste their precious time on earth,David, trying to scream at the magisterium, that is on them.

Rod Gillis

Right on! The church is slowly coming to grips with the fact that we don’t live in an andro-centric world. As with Copernicus, Darwin, and the like, implications take a long time to percolate. One thing the R.C. community has going for it is the range and depth of its intellectual tradition, and a community of dissidents who care enough never to say never.

Nick Porter

Hey, no one is telling them not to waste their precious time on earth trying to tell a bunch of RC bishops and cardinals what to do. If they want to yell in an empty bucket, by all means go for it. More comedy for me and the magisterium.

David Streever

It’s weird because so much does seem to be changing in the Catholic Church. Personally I don’t think anyone is wasting their time in working within their faith, and just thought your comment was quite strange. Clearly the Pope doesn’t agree with every position and theological interpretation in the Catholic Church, and reforms and changes are happening, so it seems like a great time for women to push and speak up.

Rod Gillis

@ Nick, “But if they expect to change their church’s teachings, their hope is in vain.” Actually, some Catholic feminist theologians would agree with you. Mary Daly is of the view that as a patriarchal institution the church cannot be redeemed. I don’t think she means just Roman Catholicism by the way. Notwithstanding, I’m not so willing to predict the future.

Nick Porter

And it’s their choice to remain. No one is keeping those who disagree with RC teachings there.

Rod Gillis

@ Nick, sure, they could convert to Anglicanism with its now bifurcated episcopate and male headship theology. ( : The one thing about the dissident Catholics i.e. the groups fighting for marriage for clergy, female ordination, women’s choice, and the like, is that they are a very large, richly diverse group, international in composition, and contain some of the brightest minds in the Catholic intellectual tradition. From that point of view, let’s hope they don’t vote with their feet.

Nick Porter

They can do whatever they want,Rod. But if they expect to change their church’s teachings, their hope is in vain.

Rod Gillis

Check out Bridget Mary’s blog,

“Another ill-advised move by the Vatican!This naked woman image put out by the Pontifical Council for Culture reflects the Vatican’s patriarchal, dysfunctional view that holds women in spiritual bondage. This image denigrates women’s bodies and souls and reflects a deep misogyny in need of healing and transformation. If we had women priests at the Vatican, do you think an image like this would see the light of day? “

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