Do women enjoy equality in the Catholic Church?

miriam_duignanThe official position of the Catholic Church at the moment is that women are truly equal to men.

This has not always been the case. Moreover, in fact women are still not treated equally to men. In traditional Catholic households and Catholic communities old prejudices still affect women. And when it comes to leadership in the Church, women are excluded from key positions. Most administrative posts are still held by men. And – worse still – women are banned from spiritual leadership. They are not allowed to function as deacons, priests, bishops or the Pope.

On this website we list the various prejudices. We examine their origin. We analyse the reasons that are claimed to give them their validity. We document which prejudices have been overcome, and to what extent.

“Women are inferior by nature”

scrubbing Until about the 18th century, everyone in Western Europe was convinced that women were physically ‘incomplete’. They were born as women through an accident, a mishap at birth. This was the view of the ancient Greeks, of church fathers, medieval scholars and church authorities.
This view is no longer officially held. But the prejudice has influenced church doctrine and  church practice in the past. Unfortunately the discrimination based on this prejudice still endures in its after effects. more3


“Women are not even human beings”

In 1595 a booklet was printed in Germany that claimed that women were not really human beings.

The booklet was probably meant as a joke, to demonstrate that, if you want to, you can prove anything from Scripture. But unfortunately it led to many publications and public discussions at universities that caused pain and embarrassment to women.

The idea that women are not fully human was never officially accepted by the Church. And today no one would dare to defend it. This prejudice is dead.more3


“Women are impure because of their monthly periods”

Until recently, Christians in the West believed that women were unclean during their monthly periods. This was due to Jewish, Greek and Roman sources.

As a consequence, church law in the Catholic Church excluded women from approaching the altar. After child birth, mothers had to be ‘purified’ before they could receive holy communion. And women were totally banned from becoming deacons, priests or bishops.

In traditional Catholic communities the notion of ‘uncleanness’ still haunts women.

Moreover, the official Church still maintains its ban on women’s ordination.more3


“Women may never use contraceptives”

africanmother Catholic authorities still forbid the use of contraceptives in any circumstances. They believe that such use goes against the law of nature and is intrinsically evil. This applies even to women in poor families with many children, or to women in danger of being infected with AIDS by their husbands.
Although the official prohibition is directed against all parents, it is women who are the main victim. They suffer most from the often intolerable human agony that follows. more3


“Women are less intelligent than men”

For almost 18 centuries of the Christian era women were believed to be less intelligent than men. This was due to a cultural prejudice, but also to the fact that early church leaders thought women had not been created ‘in the image of God’, as men are.

This opinion rested on a misunderstanding of Genesis 1,27.

This prejudice has been largely overcome. The problem is that church authorities still do not realise  that this prejudice was one of the main reasons why women were excluded from leadership positions in the past. Then why exclude them now?more3


“Wives are totally subject to their husbands”

The Early Church was greatly influenced by Roman law, and according to that law the ‘Father of the family’ held complete authority over his wife.
The discrimination was reinforced by a number of scripture texts that were not properly understood. Church law enshrined the presumed rights of the husband.
While in the West most Catholic women now enjoy full equality with their husbands, men still dominate in some traditional Catholic households. And the official Church at times reinforces an image of the ‘wife’ and the ‘mother’ that smack of the old prejudice. Domestic violence also occurs in Catholic families. more3


“Women are denied the diaconate”

phoebe During the first millennium of the Church’s existence, women were routinely ordained deacons in the Eastern, Greek-speaking, part of the Catholic Church. There were thousands of them. Their ordination was fully sacramental. The practice met with more opposition in the Western, Roman-dominated, part of the Church. But here too women deacons existed, and their ordination was as sacramental as that of their male counterparts.
The diaconate of women declined from the 11th century mainly because of the fear of menstruation (see above). Present Church authorities are blocking the diaconate ordination purely for church-political reasons. They are afraid it will increase demands for women to be admitted to the priesthood too. more3


“Women are excluded from the priesthood and episcopacy”

womanpriest Greek philosophy held women to be physically and mentally inferior to men. Roman law treated women as second-class citizens. It was in this cultural environment that the Christian Church decided not to admit women to the leadership positions of the priesthood and episcopacy. The diaconate was an early exception, but even this was discontinued after the tenth century. The exclusion of women from holy orders was subsequently justified by scripture texts that were not properly understood.
The exclusion of women from holy orders is a form of discrimination that still continues in the Catholic Church today. This in spite of the fact that there are no valid reasons to support the ban. more3