Sexism accusation a misunderstanding

By The Beacon | February 14, 2012 9:00pm

The true natures of men and women as viewed in the Catholic Faith do not portray sexism

Margaret Persing (The Beacon)

By Margaret Persing, Guest Commentary

Sexism has plagued society since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This can be seen in the devaluing of motherhood in our culture, the tendency to place men in positions of power and the statistically proven income-gap between men and women.

This issue is often blamed in part on the Catholic Church. On the contrary, it has no place in the Church, and has never been condoned nor encouraged. Rather, Church teaching, specifically in regard to priestly ordination, reflects what we believe about the complete equality of the sexes.

I believe the accusation that the Church itself is sexist is the fault of misunderstanding the true natures of men and women as they are viewed in the Catholic faith. In the second creation story recorded in Genesis, Adam is portrayed as lonely, despite overwhelming abundance in the Garden of Eden. As an answer to his loneliness, God creates Eve.

Although equal to Adam, Eve is "embodied in a different way," as Mary Healy says in "Men and Women are from Eden." Before the Fall, they possess the fullest expression of love as completely equal yet entirely different and complementary.

It is only after the Fall that the perception of inequality arises. When God confronts them in the Garden, he tells Eve "your desire shall be for your husband, but he will dominate you" (Gen 2:24).

According to Blessed Pope John Paul II, this is often understood as a reference to a "‘reduction' of woman in comparison to man. But there is no reason why one should understand this reduction as social inequality." Rather, the inequality describes a "lack of full unity" in the context of their marriage.

They have lost the perfect love God created for them in the beginning. This perception of inequality points to the societal tendency toward sexism as a result of the Fall.

The creation story brings up an important issue: vocation. Marriage, seen in the union of Adam and Eve, is the primary life to which people are called. However, the Church recognizes single, consecrated, monastic and priestly life as legitimate and equally important callings.

Some people take issue with the fact that the Church does not allow the ordination of women to the priesthood as this is perceived as sexism, but its foundation originates in Christ's own life. In choosing his Apostles, Jesus chose 12 men. His own mother, Mary, who is regarded more highly in the Church than any other human being besides Christ Himself, was not one of the 12.

Christ's decision to choose only men as priests has been questioned throughout the ages, but the Church has remained steadfast in its tradition. The Catechism states "the Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason, the ordination of women is not possible."

This teaching does not diminish the value of women than the fact that men cannot bear children diminishes their value. The ability to bear children is a gift and a vocation that God designed exclusively for women. Likewise the priestly vocation is specifically reserved for men.

To blame the Church for societal issues is, at best, unfair. The inequalities that we see everyday in society, like sex-selective abortions (especially in places like India where male children are preferred) and sexism in the workplace, have never been the fault of the Church.

These are issues that show up regularly in society, but the Church has upheld the dignity of women from the beginning.

This can be seen most clearly in John Paul II's Apostolic Letter, "On the Dignity of Women" (Mulieris Dignitatem). "A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God ‘entrusts the human being to her,' always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself."

This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them ‘strong' and strengthens their vocation."

This is not to say that motherhood is the only available vocation for women, but rather that it is an essential and dignified vocation. The trust that God puts in womankind of continuing the human race is vital to the dignity of women.

JP II continues on to say "this concerns each and every woman, independently of the cultural context in which she lives, and independently of her spiritual, psychological and physical characteristics, as for example, age, education, health, work and whether she is married or single."

I hope this provides an alternate point of view on sexism in relation to the Catholic Church.

Margaret Persing is a freshman nursing major. She can be reached at