Catholicism and Feminism


About twelve years ago, I gave a paper at a conference on “Women’s Health and Human Rights” at the Vatican. A highlight of the event was a special audience for the conference participants with Pope John Paul II. To the surprise and delight of his listeners, he benignly proclaimed “Io sono il Papa feminista”— “I am the feminist pope.” And Pope John Paul II meant it. He repeatedly called for the development of a “new feminism” which would honor and celebrate the “feminine genius” in all walks of life. At the same time, it is safe to say that many people don’t share the late Pope’s easy association of feminism and the papacy.

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Grandfather Knows Best

I wish I could have had the privilege of meeting Shahla Haeri’s late grandfather. He sounds like he was a wonderful man. In a way, he reminds me of my own grandfather. On the surface, of course, these two men would have very little in common. Her grandfather was a Shi’i ayatollah who lived in Iran; my grandfather was a Roman Catholic layman who lived in New England. But both men loved their granddaughters. And both were willing to rethink conventional restrictions on the roles of women that would prevent their granddaughters from flourishing.

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