Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Beware, Feminists! The Pope Thinks Society Should Accommodate Women!

I've said before, and I'll say it again, I pity the Pope, who can't say a single thing without being misunderstood by a reporter who hasn't done his homework or being distorted by bizarre description or misquotation. I posted not long ago on the Pope's "apology" for the Crusades; so I might as well post on this gem of sloppy reporting from the Guardian, entitled, "Pope Warns Feminists".

And see this one at The Straits Times, entitled, "Vatican hits out at feminism".

These are very typical; a web search will turn up dozens more like them. So, it sounds like a very acidic speech, an attack by the Pope on the very nature of the women's movement. What was the topic of the Vatican document (which is not written by the Pope but merely approved by him)?

That men and women should not be considered adversaries, but should actively collaborate to make a better world; and that society, including the law and the labor market, should do more to accommodate women, and in particular the fact of maternity. You can find the letter here.

Wow! Who would have thought that this was "warning" to feminists! Feminists, the Pope (not even the Pope, but we'll set that aside) says darkly with glowering eyes and pointing finger, you people need to learn once and for all: society needs to accommodate the facts of a woman's life.

The harshest comment in the entire document is a criticism of views (shared by some, but not all feminists) that erode sexual distinctions of all kinds:

A second tendency emerges in the wake of the first. In order to avoid the domination of one sex or the other, their differences tend to be denied, viewed as mere effects of historical and cultural conditioning. In this perspective, physical difference, termed sex, is minimized, while the purely cultural element, termed gender, is emphasized to the maximum and held to be primary. The obscuring of the difference or duality of the sexes has enormous consequences on a variety of levels. This theory of the human person, intended to promote prospects for equality of women through liberation from biological determinism, has in reality inspired ideologies which, for example, call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality.

As I said, this is the harshest statement in the letter; and it presents no surprises, does it?

This wouldn't be a problem, except that as far as I can tell it is typical. I have never seen the Vatican accurately reported, even by Catholic news sources. The problem is not Catholicism per se; it's the state of religion journalism today - you'll find similar sorts of inaccuracies and misrepresentations in virtually any reporting on religious subjects. It's just more noticeable when they report on the Catholic Church, because the Vatican makes its documents easily available, and regularly puts out new documents on controversial subjects.

One wonders if religion is the only topic in which this happens....

--> Update: Hugo Schwyzer has some interesting comments on the letter at Cliopatria.

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