Pontifical Council for Culture: Women’s (In)equality and Difference

A ViewPoint by Ashley Cason

Recently, the Pontifical Council for Culture met in Rome (February 4-7, 2015) to consider “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference.” Previously EEWC-CFT members have responded to this assembly on other websites.  We hope you’ll take the time to read “Vatican Council on Women Would Be Funny Were It Not so Insulting” by Mary E. Hunt on Religion Dispatches, and “Feminist Boot Camp for the Catholic Hierarchy” by Peg Conway on her blog, Sense of the Faithful.

On the ViewPoint blog, we’re pleased to publish this personal reflection by member and student presenter at the 2014 EEWC-Christian Feminism Today conference in St. Louis, Missouri, Ashley Cason.

The #LifeOfWomen Promotion

In case you missed the video that the Women’s Consultation Group at the Pontifical Council for Culture released in December to promote this assembly (the #LifeOfWomen promotion), you can watch it here or jump to YouTube.

The video started appearing in my Facebook news feed just a few days before the event. After viewing the content, I couldn’t remember the last time I was spoken to so condescendingly. For a message meant to convey to women that their voices matter and that the Catholic Church is listening, the Vatican not only missed the mark, they missed the whole planet!

In the video, the beautiful blonde Italian actress speaks into the camera saying: 

“At what point are we today as women? I am sure you’ve asked yourself many times who you are, what you do, what do you think about your being a woman, your strengths, your difficulties, your body, and your spiritual life?” 

As an active member in the feminist community I constantly consider “at what point” we are “today as women.” I think often about how, as a woman, I am not allowed to be a full participant in the Roman Catholic Church.  I feel stigmatized.

On a daily basis, I also think of what I do.  I think about my dedication to social justice. I began my advocacy work after a family member came out as LGBTQ and I saw the hatred she was forced to deal with from the church.

On a daily basis, I think about being a woman as well.  Being a woman is wonderful. I enjoy my life and I am successfully making my way to creating the life I desire!

As a young woman in my twenties I often wonder if I am strong enough to reach all of my goals, or deal with the daily struggles of my life in transition to adulthood. I often worry if I am taking care of myself well enough physically and spiritually.

But most people think similar thoughts.

Although what I think about myself as a woman in society is important, there’s also the matter of how the church and society treat women. When institutions like the church blindly embrace a culture of patriarchy, being a woman tends to cultivate a lifetime of self-doubt, a pervasive sense of otherness, and a feeling of being a second-class member of society.

The Assembly Sessions

Here is a web page that briefly discusses the four sessions offered at the Pontificate assembly.  The Council outline is posted online here. There were four sessions listed:

1)  Between equality and difference: the quest for an equilibrium

I think that an assembly session titled “Between Equality and Difference” indicates that I am not seen as an equal member of the church, but rather a different type of member.  A type of member to be condescendingly tolerated.

2) “Generativity” as a symbolic code

Insinuating that generativity is a symbolic code in women’s lives indicates to me that I should come second, even in my own life, and put the care of others before all else. It implies that my identity and personal worth should be dependent on how other people view me.

3)  The female body: between culture and biology

The third session, “The female body: between culture and biology,” indicates the church feels the exploitation of women’s bodies through violence and commercialization is unacceptable, but the exploitation and deconstruction of women’s spirits is of no importance.

4)  Women and religion: flight or new forms of participation in the life of the Church?

The session “Women and religion: flight or new forms of participation in the life of the Church” was further defined on the website as looking “at the spaces proposed to women in the life of the Church, and if women are made to feel welcome…” So the purpose or this session was for the men in power to evaluate if the women felt welcome in the church. What?  Perhaps the women could answer for themselves.  This one feels the most like a slap to the face.

The Basis for the Assembly

If the men of the Vatican feel that in order to understand a woman’s life, purpose, place, and participation in the church they need a special Plenary Assembly (of almost all men), an international media campaign, and a specific committee dictated to women’s culture, I think it’s probably safe to assume that the women in the Roman Catholic church are currently marginalized and their gifts are not appreciated or welcomed.

I will be the first to admit that addressing “women’s issues” can be daunting and overwhelming. In doing so one is working against a world culture that does not value women or support their efforts to live into their full potential. I wish I could give the church a round of applause for this “groundbreaking” meeting, but I cannot.

A room full of men talking behind closed doors about female identity and female experience is NOT ground breaking.

The ridiculous assumption is that the entire culture of female identity can be explored in four days and a few tweets.  It strikes me that the church may be operating under the misconception that there is only one female cultural experience, and not a myriad of individual women’s experiences across innumerable cultures.

The Vatican’s ill-informed and poorly executed attempt at trying to make me feel welcome and important leaves me more than a little broken hearted. It’s long past time for the Roman Catholic Church to commit to becoming an inclusive domination committed to gender equality.

Along those lines I’d like to offer the following suggestions:

•  Make women a part of the conversation in all church operations, not just some side show.

•  Women of the church need to be welcomed into all of the continuing conversations, not just be the topic of a one-time spectacle.

•  Stop the use of stigmatizing, degrading, and patriarchal language.

•  Understand that there is no such thing as a perfect woman of the church. Every woman is a woman of Godde. The church community must support and encourage the spiritual life of every member, regardless of whether they fit into any preconceived notions that the church leadership may hold.

Once again, instead of providing women with a reason to feel hopeful, the Roman Catholic Church disappoints.  This daughter of Godde is left, sadly, still secure in the knowledge that her decision to leave the church was the right one.

© 2015 by Christian Feminism Today


Ashley Cason
Ashley Cason graduated from the University of Central Missouri in 2013 where she earned her B.S. in Women’s and Gender Studies with a focus on human sexuality. The time she spent organizing events and rallies on campus to address topics of gender, class, and sexuality gave her the tenacity and tools to branch out of advocacy work and into academia. Ashley is currently earning a M.A. degree in Sociology and is using the discussions between Sociology and Feminism to develop sexuality education programs. Ashley’s passion for social justice and progress drives her dream to become a director of a non-profit organization. She was a student presenter at the 2014 EEWC-Christian Feminism Today Gathering in St. Louis, Missouri.


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