Dear Pope Francis,
In your interview, A Big Heart Open to God, you called for “a profound theology of woman”. I’m not exactly sure what would make a theology of woman profound, but this line certainly got me thinking. So much so, that I decided that I needed to do some research about what the Magisterium had actually said about women in the past, and wrote a paper about it for one of my classes. I am by no means an expert on the topic, but I have to say, I found it more inspiring than I had expected.
So often, I run into the stereotype that women don’t have a place in the Church (I actually wrote my very first letter about why I disagree with that!), and that the teachings only reinforce the idea that women belong in the home. This was certainly the point that Pope Pius XI made in Casti Conubii, when he wrote:
“…[an emancipated women] is rather the debasing of the womanly character and the dignity of motherhood, and indeed of the whole family… this false liberty and unnatural equality with the husband is to the detriment of the woman herself, for if the woman descends from her truly regal throne… she will soon be reduced to the old state of slavery… and become… the mere instrument of man” (Casti Con nubii, 75)
When I first read this quote as part of my research, I burned inside. It made me very angry that someone, let alone a pope, would write something like that. However, as I reflected more about his words, I realize there is some truth in his words.
Please, let me explain. By no means do I think that it a woman will be enslaved by men if she has a life outside of her home, and I certainly don’t think a woman who is emancipated is an abomination. I do think what he has right is that being a mother is truly important. Gaudium et Spes summarizes it best for me: “the mother, too, has a central role in the home, for the children, especially the younger children depend very much on her; this role must be safeguarded without, however, underrating woman’s legitimate social advancement” (Gaudium et Spes, 52). Women aren’t to be excluded from the public sphere, but they do need to be respected for their unique role as a mother.
I’m not a mom yet (maybe someday!), but I do have a mom, and I have friends who are moms now. I have an immense amount of respect for them. I certainly don’t think that women should be forced to give up their social lives and careers in order to become mothers, but I do think that being a mom is really important. Like I said, I’m not a mom, and maybe things look a little rosier from where I stand, but there is something foundational about everything my mom taught me, like how to tie my shoes, and cross the street safely, both practical things that I still use to make sure that I’m safe. She also taught me about the importance of self-respect and self-worth. And on the days that I forget about these things, she reminds me for the umpteenth-million time.
I don’t wish for a second that my mom stayed home more, because I learned about the importance of family because we were her top priority, so I did spend a lot of time with her. I also learned about the importance of friendship by watching her make time to spend with her friends (even if she took my sisters and I with her). I learned how to be a hard worker by watching her go to work, and come home to cook supper, help with homework and clean up. I learned about the importance of making time to play and be silly.
So, while I may not agree with everything the Pope Pius XI wrote about women, I do think that women have a very important role in their homes, as mothers, and that this role needs to be respected. And part of that respect is that they are allowed to pursue their own interests and goals.