December 10-16, 2001
volume 12, no. 161

The Egalitarian Revolution    part ten

How the Post-Conciliar Church Supports Feminism

    Now, knowing the sound Catholic teaching of the past about the role of woman in society, one would have expected that the traditional role of the woman would have found a radical defense from ecclesiastical authorities. One would have expected that a council convened to deal with the problems of the day would have aimed at reestablishing in the family that hierarchical principle indispensable for unity, happiness and a sound spiritual life.

    One would have hoped for an affirmation of the divine plan, as presented by Leo XIII in his Encyclical Arcanum:

    "The husband is the chief of the family and the head of the wife. The woman because she is flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, must be subject to her husband and obey him; not indeed, as a servant, but as a companion, so that her obedience shall be wanting neither honor nor dignity. Since the husbands represents Christ, and since the wife represents the Church, let there always be, both in him who commands and in her who obeys, a Heaven-born love guiding both in their respective duties." (1)
But, no, the Vatican II documents and the post Vatican II papal teachings say absolutely nothing about the man as head and the woman as subject, of the husband who commands and the wife who obeys. After Vatican II, these became taboo words. What was spoken of, stressed and explained was social equality: equal pay, equal opportunities in the workplace, partnership in marriage, and the complementarity of the sexes - two equal parts that complete and make a whole.

    Vatican II, "so rich in implications," as feminists were quick to point out, provided the base for the Church to become one of world's most energetic champions of freedom of women in the workplace. Gaudium et Spes (par. 31) spoke warmly of the idea that political and economic orders should aid both women and men to "develop their gifts" in accordance with their innate equality.

    In their "Closing Message," the Council fathers proclaimed: "The hour is coming, in fact it has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved."

    We know how this has been interpreted inside the Church in the last forty years: women as lay and Eucharistic ministers, lectors, heads of chancelleries, seminary professors, and even altar girls. Lay and religious women were appointed by Bishops and Popes to pontifical councils and academies. As Pope John Paul II stated in his 1988 Apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, every masculine role in the Church, save priesthood, "must be open to women."

    The Church in effect accompanied the secular world in its first phase of "furious feminism" with the calamity that struck the religious orders of sisters, who were once revered as models of spirituality and virtue, and today have the reputation as the most rebellious group within the Church. Vatican Council II mandated that all religious orders renew and adapt themselves to modern times.(2)

    I have spoken with sisters who have told me that overnight, their orders threw out common prayer, religious garb, community life, a hierarchical structure - no more rule or Mother Superior, with little or no response from the ecclesiastical authorities or Rome.

    Many of these religious became active in women's' liberation movement, New Age and eco-feminism movements, and even new feminist theologies that exalt pagan goddesses. Others have been in the forefront of the movement that wants to replace the so-called machista language of Scriptures and the Mass with "inclusive" language. That is, they want to abolish all the references in Scriptures that refer to God or humankind as "man" or "he."

Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.


  • (1) - Encyclical Arcanum of Feb. 10, 1880.
  • (2) - Perfectae Caritatis, the Decree on the Appropriate Renewal of Religious Life, was is-sued toward the close of Vatican II on October 28, 1965. It expanded on Chapter Six of another Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium. In its name, a "period of experimentation" began, during which the majority of female religious orders, in their eagerness to embrace the modern world and abandon supposedly stifling traditions, soon transgressed the Code of Canon Law. But, the sisters argued, since the code was being revised, it was appropriate to disregard the old one. No one corrected them. By the time the first five-year period of experimentation was over, religious life had been "destroyed at its foundation," as one sister noted. (Ann Carey, Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women's Religious Communities, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1997), p. 43

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    For past columns by Dr. Horvat, see Archives of Echoes of True Catholicism

    December 10-16, 2001
    volume 12, no. 160
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