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  Was Pope John Paul II Anti-Woman? | Mary Beth Bonacci | "If you don't know the answer to this one, you don't know JPII"

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I'm tired of the bad rap JPII has been getting when it comes to the subject of women in the Church.

In the wake of his death, I saw very few mainstream media stories about him that didn't mention something about his "refusal" to ordain women, or his "mixed legacy" regarding women's role in the Church, or some other comment implying that he was less that supportive of women and their role in the Church.

The most disingenuous piece I saw was written by a well-known writer and nominal Catholic (who will remain unnamed for the moment).  He wrote about how John Paul II, in his writings, "limited" the role of women to either virgin or mother, and that women's destiny was controlled by their biology.  He said that, in the worldview of the Holy Father, women were to remain "barefoot and pregnant," having no real role in public life.


I call this particular writer "disingenuous" because no one who had actually read John Paul II's writings on women in any depth could possibly make such an absurd argument. 

JPII did write at great length about the differences between men and women.  He also wrote about how a woman's biology tells us a great deal about her soul and her psyche. But John Paul II was no "barefoot and pregnant" guy.  He was, in fact, a champion of women's rights.

In his Theology of the Body, the Holy Father wrote extensively about our creation.  He said that, in studying the way God created us, we learn about ourselves, about Him, and about our relationship with Him.  And our maleness and femaleness is an integral part of that creation.  Male and female, he said, are different ways of being human.  We are, of course, absolutely equal in dignity before God.  But we're, well, different.  Our bodies are different.  Our brain structures are different.  Our hormonal systems are different.  And those differences tell us a lot about ourselves.

He didn't spend a whole lot of time writing about that which is uniquely male.  Honestly, I wish he had.  But he did write extensively about that which is uniquely feminine.  He said that  "[W]oman has a genius all her own, which is vitally essential to both society and the Church…[She] is endowed with a particular capacity for accepting the human being in his concrete form." (Angelus Reflection, July 23, 1995)

Quite simply, he said that women's biology is oriented to the creation and the nurturing of new human life.  It's tough to argue with that.  Most of us are reminded of that fact every month.  He also said that our emotional gifts are oriented in that direction too.  We're more relationship oriented.  We're more intuitive.  We're more easily able to "read" another's emotions.  As he put it, "woman is endowed with a particular capacity for accepting the human being in his concrete form."  Not to stereotype, of course.  Some men are naturally intuitive, or sensitive to emotional cues.  But these are the exception, not the rule.  Look at our magazines.  Women's magazines are largely about relationships — how to understand each other better, how to look good to attract men, etc.  Men's magazines are about activities — boating, golf, cars.  (Or they're about sex — but as "activity," not "relationship.)  In fact, recent evidence shows us that structural differences between the male and female brain may go a long way toward explaining some of these differences.

So women tend to be more inwardly oriented, while men are often more outwardly oriented.  Women's gifts are, in many ways, about motherhood.  And John Paul II wrote at length about the importance of motherhood.  Apparently some people stop there and assume he meant that all women are "good for" is bearing babies.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In Mulieris Dignitatem, he wrote:

When women are able fully to share their gifts with the whole community, the very way in which society understands and organizes itself is improved, and comes to reflect in a better way the substantial unity of the human family. Here we see the most important condition for the consolidation of authentic peace. The growing presence of women in social, economic and political life at the local, national and international levels is thus a very positive development.

Yes, the family needs women's gifts.  But so does society.  So does the Church.  So does every aspect of human existence.

Not all women will be physical mothers. But all women bring those uniquely feminine gifts to whatever we do.  When we serve in public life, when we work in the business world, we do so as women, "endowed with a particular capacity for accepting the human person in his concrete form."

Yes, the family needs us.  But so does the rest of the world.

(This column originally appeared on the Real Love website on May 10, 2005.)

Ignatius Press books by Mary Beth Bonacci:

Mary Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and television programs, including several appearances on MTV.

Mary Beth has written two books, We're on a Mission from God and Real Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications. She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series, also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award for Best Youth Curriculum.

Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women of America for 1997.

Visit Mary Beth and Real Love Incorporated online here.

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