By Ann Cowan, Guest Commentary
I trust that it is out of ignorance, not malice, that many people accuse the Catholic Church of being a harsh patriarchal religion with a disregard for women. In my experience, Catholicism not only upholds respect for women, it also celebrates the unique aspects of femininity.
It is often pointed out that the Catholic Church is built upon a hierarchy of men. However, what is often ignored is one of the most controversial practices of Catholicism: the veneration of Mary.
Distinct from other religions, Catholicism places Mary, a woman, in a special light, claiming that God blessed her more "than any other created person" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, p. 124) when he allowed her a very important part in the salvation of humanity by asking her to carry Jesus in her womb.
The veneration the Catholic Church gives to Mary is so intense that Catholicism has actually been (falsely) accused of worshipping her above God! How is that for respect for women?
Some argue that Mary's veneration in the church is based on two "demeaning" aspects: her servitude and her ability to bear children. While it is true that these two aspects do play a part in the Catholic Church's respect for Mary, they are by no means demeaning.
In the Catholic Church, obedience to God is highly thought of. According to the Church, "by her complete adherence to the Father's will, Mary is the Church's model of faith and charity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, p. 252)."
By saying this, Catholic theology is clearly stating that obedience to God is something desirable, not only in women, but in all members of the Church.
Some people seem to be under the impression that in order for women to be truly appreciated, we must be seen as the same as men. To say that to be respected, we must lay aside what makes us unique as women, is ultimately a continuation of the idea that men are the desired sex.
From this ideology springs the belief that having children is demeaning because it reduces women to "baby makers" and keeps them from being viewed as carbon copies of men.
It is my opinion that real feminism entails demanding the right to be seen as equal to but unique from men. Real feminism is to celebrate and respect not only what both men and women can do, but also the strengths that are exclusive to the female sex.
One of these strengths is the ability to bring new life into the world. One of the ways Catholicism shows its respect for the female sex is through its deep regard for giving birth.
The Catholic Church is often misconstrued as forcing women to be subordinate to men. It is through a deeper understanding of Catholicism and its intense respect for Mary and for human life that we can begin to understand the true regard the Church holds for women.
Ann Cowan is a senior nursing major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org