PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR CULTURE’S PREPARATIONS FOR PLENARY ASSEMBLY REFLECT THE PROBLEMS OF AN ALL MALE HIERARCHY
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The Pontifical Council for Culture is hosting a plenary assembly on the theme of “Women’s Cultures” February 4-7, 2015 in Rome. In preparation, the Council produced a video requesting input from women and published a working document and accompanying image for discussion. The serious flaws in these initiatives reflect the problem of an all-male hierarchy attempting to speak for and about women, while being representatives of an institution that excludes them.
The Council video featured an actress inviting women to send in short clips responding to questions such as: “Who are you?” “What are your strengths, difficulties?” What do you think about “your body?” “your spiritual life?” The English version of the video was removed in response to wide critique of its patronizing questions and format. The irony is that canvassing women would not be necessary if the membership of the Pontifical Council reflected the diversity of Catholic women in the church. The video concludes by telling Catholic women, “You, yes you are important!” – a further irony considering Catholic Church leadership does not consider women important enough to participate equally.
Aspects of the working document point to poverty and violence as global realities for women, but the discussion fails to acknowledge how Catholic Church leadership through centuries of patriarchy and sexism have contributed to these problems. The document states, “In the very discrimination and stereotypes tied to roles, violence against women sinks its roots even deeper”. Yet Catholic Church leadership discriminates against the full participation of women and holds fast to stereotypes of women in its teaching. The document asks why husbands abuse their wives and why women stay in abusive marriages but does not question what role the Catholic Church plays in instilling guilt over ‘failed marriages’ and urging forgiveness at the expense of women’s safety. The possibility of women priests is dismissed in the document with the unsubstantiated claim that “according to statistics, it is not something that women want.”
The image that accompanies the document on the Pontifical Council for Culture website is “Venus Restored” by Man Ray (1936). It depicts the naked torso of a headless woman, bound tightly with rope. Given that Man Ray objectified and sexually assaulted women and was a devotee of the Marquis de Sade, this image has no place at any gathering that supports women,
We call on the Pontifical Council for Culture to remove the image of ‘Venus Restored’ from its website. We urge the Council to ‘walk the talk’ of respecting the dignity of women by advocating for women’s equal participation at all levels of Church ministry and leadership. Anything less means that the male hierarchy of the Church corroborates in ‘tightening the bonds’ that oppress women globally.
(Pontifical Council for Culture outline document and image: