Family Matters


The Catholic Church as the Great Liberator of Women

by John Pacheco and Mark Bonocore


The twentieth century has been a battleground on which a number of socio-political ideologies have sought to control and subjugate the human race. In the political realm, Communism sought to eliminate the distinction between the "proletariat" and "bourgeoisie" classes through total State control of private industry. This resulted in separating the fruit of man's work from the enjoyment of that fruit. And because of its atheistic ideology, not only did Communism seek to separate man from God, but it also provided the foundation for the destruction of the family. In 1847, Frederic Engels wrote the Principles of Communism which become, arguably, the defining document for the communist movement. In that paper, in answering a question on the influence of communist society on the family, he prophetically wrote:

It will transform the relations between the sexes into a purely private matter which concerns only the persons involved and into which society has no occasion to intervene. It can do this since it does away with private property and educates children on a communal basis, and in this way removes the two bases of traditional marriage -- the dependence rooted in private property, of the women on the man, and of the children on the parents. (21)

Engels' propagnda sought to separate the marital union from its divine conception in favour of a mere utilitarian ideal, devoid of any moral underpinnings. Indeed, his observation that Communism would reduce marriage into a "purely private matter" between citizens has been tragically accurate. Such a "purely private matter" has found its zenith with the legalization and widespread acceptance of same-sex "marriage". Russia, as Our Lady prophetically warned at Fatima in 1917, would spread its Godless and immoral errors throughout the world. Today, while Communism's government structure and economics may have collapsed as a result of the Cold War, its immoral tenets have infiltrated the West and conquered it. The devil is, after all, quite prepared to jettison the trappings of political and economic systems provided, of course, that the immorality fostered under those systems is allowed to flourish elsewhere.

By capitalizing on the divisive effects of original sin between the spouses, Engels was able to create a "foundation of oppression" which later would serve as the rallying cry for radical feminism in the twentieth century.

Thus when monogamous marriage first makes its appearance in history, it is not as the reconciliation of man and woman, still less as the highest form of such a reconciliation. Quite the contrary. Monogamous marriage comes on the scene as the subjugation of the one sex by the other; it announces a struggle between the sexes unknown throughout the whole previous prehistoric period...The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male. (Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, II, 4)

Precisely because of Engels' successful association of marriage with oppression, Communism and its amoral adherents in the West were successful in painting the Catholic Church as "backward" and "oppressive" because of Her defense of marriage and, in particular, the Church's teaching on the indissolubility and inherent goodness of it. In the past few decades, this idea of the Catholic Church being oppressive toward women has been further advanced by the new Communism in the West, otherwise identified through radical feminism. The adherents to this atheistic ideology drove the allegations of female oppression far beyond even marriage. Issues such as contraception, abortion, divorce, and women priests - and the Church's opposition to these ideas - further helped solidify feminism's impression that the Catholic Church oppresses women. Oppression, as defined by radical feminists, is a restriction on anything which may impede either their exercise of sexual license or their march to destroy any roles reserved on the basis of gender. Yet, irrespective of the morality of these current issues, it is quite clear that the Catholic Church has been the one of the greatest liberators of women in history. Indeed, the clamor to paint the Church as an oppressor has no real historical basis. Like the Inquisition and the Crusades, the popular media in the West have chosen to distort history on this issue and thereby further Communism's persecution and attack on the Catholic Church. As with all historical questions, the Catholic Church can be easily vindicated after an investigation into the historical record.

There are a number of areas where the Church has defended the dignity of women. For instance, the Church ended the practice of stoning women to death for committing adultery and other such offenses, which was the prescribed custom under the Mosaic Law. Because of Jesus' example, however, the Church did not do this with an adulteress, but respected her as a human being and called her to repentance. And this was merely a subset of the fact that Christianity regarded women as full human persons, and not as mere property to be used by selfish men, or, within the context of Communism, by the State. Before the advent of Christianity, of course, a woman held the role of an object in society - first owned by her parents, and then owned by her husband. But, Christianity recognized a deeper and truer dimension to a woman's identity. For example, Christianity, prescribed that husbands were not merely to "own" their wives, but had to love their wives "as they loved their own bodies," and to lay down their lives for their wives, even as Christ loved and died for the Church (Cf. Eph. 5). This was a revolutionary concept which simply did not exist before the time of Christianity; and it gave women rights, not only in Christianity, but in society in general. And why? Because it declared that women were full persons, to whom men had an intrinsic moral obligation. In Christ's time, therefore, the Church taught against the prevailing attitude that saw women as mere objects for a man's fulfillment. And this opposition to the debasement of women remained firm right up to the advent of Communism. Indeed, as the destructive political turmoil gripped the twentieth century, the Church did not waiver but consistently reminded us that Communism did not represent a victory for women but merely shifted the context of domination from ownership by men to ownership by the State.

And, indeed, as part of authentic emancipation, Christianity recognized that women had souls. Before the advent of Christianity, this was seriously debated in both Judaism and in Platonic Greek philosophy, the latter even having an influence on the Greek Christian fathers. However, both the witness of Scripture (which depicts women as among the most faithful and courageous of Jesus' disciples) and that of St. Augustine, who argues brilliantly in defense of a woman's spiritual nature, any lingering doubt that women had souls (that they were full and equal human persons with men) was driven out of the mindset of the Church. But while the Church was driving out the subjugation of women to men by insisting that both had equal dignity before God, the Communist State was busy stripping that dignity from both men and women by insisting that there was no intrinsic dignity in either of them. Since child bearing and Christian motherhood were not palpably seen as assets to the Communist State, it was essentially marginalized and ostracized. Not only was Communist Russia therefore aborting at an alarming rate - far surpassing all other nations in the world, the State was also destroying the feminine mystique inherent in all women. By effectively forcing them into roles and workplaces previously held by men, women lost much of their unique sense of nurturing, warmth, and receptivity. They became more like men as they sought to liberate themselves from their own femininity. Sadly their liberation came at their own expense as they sought to unsuccessfully muzzle the feminine consciousness within them. The result has been sadness, loneliness, and emptiness.

Unlike male-dominated Communism, the Catholic Church also recognizes that the greatest Christian, indeed the greatest human being, who ever lived is, not a man, but a woman - Jesus' mother Mary, who, unlike any man (with the exception of Jesus, of course, but He was a divine Person possessing a human nature) was free from the weakness and damage of original sin, and possessed mental and spiritual faculties that were superior to the rest of sinful humanity, including, suffice it to say, all men. Thus, Mary is our paragon, and the model for ALL Christians, both women and men, to follow. She defines what being a Christian is. She is our example; and her example hammers home the fact that, in Christianity, the proper spiritual approach of both women and men to Christ must be a female; that is, a receptive and cooperative approach. This is why the Church is viewed as Jesus' bride. In fact, the charges of Catholics being "oppressors" of women become a comical charges since we believe that salvation (i.e. Jesus Christ) literally comes through a woman!

Aside from Mary, from its earliest days, Christianity also celebrated the heroic achievements of saintly women who testified to the truth of the Faith, and whose witness arguably out-performed and out-numbered that of common men. For example, in the list of martyred saints in the Roman Liturgy, we find the names of Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, and Anastasia - all of whom were celebrated heroes of the early Church, and who enjoyed the devotion of both Christian men as well as women. And this tradition certainly did not stop with the ancient Church. Indeed, the Church continued to celebrate the witness of great female saints and to raise them up as examples for all Christians. Thus, we have a myriad of additional women saints like Catherine of Alexandria, Eudoxia, Monica, Sabina, Blandina, Clotilda, Bridget of Ireland, Ethelrieda, Dymphna, Winnefred, Clare of Assisi, Rita of Cascia, Catherine of Sienna, Clare of Montefalco, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Catherine Labore, Bernadette of Lourdes, Edith Stein. The list is seemingly endless. This devotion and appreciation for the spiritual achievements of women does not stop there. Indeed, the Catholic Church has also formally proclaimed numerous female saints to be "Doctors of the Church" - a distinguished title held by only the most brilliant of spiritual thinkers. Doctors of the Church, of course, set the example for us in terms of explaining and clarifying aspects of Catholic theology. Among the female Catholic Doctors of the Church are Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux, all of whom produced works which are almost essential to modern Catholic spirituality. The Church recognizes and celebrates this fact.

In opposition to this, Communism sought to blur the distinction between men and women by assigning them identical roles in society in order to allow women "equal rights" with men. But, as political commentator, Sam Vaknin, once wrote in his article, Women in Transition: From post-feminism to past femininity, (Jan.15. 2001), "in reality, it was a gender-neutral hell. Women under Communism were, indeed, encouraged to participate in the labour force. An array of conveniences facilitated their participation: daycare centres, kindergarten, day-long schools and abortion clinics, to name a few. Reality was much drearier. Women, however mettlesome, groaned under the 'triple burden' of work, marital expectations cum childrearing chores and party activism. They succumbed to the lure and demands of the (stressful and boastful) image of the Communist 'super-woman'...But the 'underslippers' (as brow-beated Czech men are disparagingly self-labeled) still had the upper hand. In short, women were now subjected to an onerous double patriarchy, both private and public (the latter propagated by the party and the state). It is not that they did not value the independence, status, social interaction and support networks that their jobs afforded them. But they resented the lack of choice (employment was obligatory) and the parasitic rule of their often useless husbands." Unlike Christianity which sought to respect, develop, and nurture not only the differences between individuals but sexes as well, including their respective roles, atheistic Communism viewed the female sex as merely another instrument of production in service to the State.

Before our extolling of the Blessed Mother and female saints is dismissed (as radical feminism tends to do) as the Church merely "giving a gold star" to the "good little girls" in its ranks, consider, if you will, any comparable examples from other world religions. Ah! But, there is the rub, because, there aren't any! Where, for example, are all the celebrated names of saintly or spiritually advanced women in Judaism, or Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism, or any other religion anywhere? Indeed, one would be hard pressed to name even four or five Jewish or Buddhist female saints, and totally unable to name any female spiritual geniuses. And, once this is appreciated, the revolutionary nature of Catholic Christianity's approach to women can vividly be seen. Under Communism, while women had their quota in parliament and climbed to the top of some professions, many positions were also simply inaccessible to them. Indeed, where were all of the major women political leaders and thinkers within Communism? After seven decades of Communist rule, can we remember even one woman who had a significant part to play in that political system? Even by its own standards of "equal rights" for women, can Communism (and by extension, radical feminism) be considered even remotely as successful as the Catholic Church has been in this regard?

Continuing with our list of other specific rights that modern women can thank the Catholic Church for, there is also the privilege of a woman having her own name. In Roman society, before the advent of Christianity, a woman simply did not possess a formal name of her own (a name that could be used on legal documents, etc.), but, in her early years, she merely held a female version of her father's name. Once she was married, she changed her formal name to a female version of her husband's name. Her personal identity, therefore, was always totally dependent on the primary male figure in her life. For example, if a Roman woman was the daughter of a man named "Julius", her formal name (and that of all of her sisters too) would be "Julia." Then, if she married a man named "Marcus", her named would be formally changed to "Marcia." However, in Christian society, because a new name was always taken at Baptism, by both men and women, women in the Church possessed their own names; and, once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, this practiced eventually carried over into the general scope of society. This is why women have their own exclusive names today, not being tied intrinsically to the identity of their fathers or husbands. How is that for women's liberation?! Communism, on the other hand, was successful in blurring the distinctions between men and women and expunging the unique personality that each contributes to the human family. As the West accepted the notion that men and women served as mere functional instruments for the State, the masculine and feminine qualities inherent in the sexes became blunted and suppressed. In 1937, Pope Pius XI warned us of the pernicious assault that Communism would have on the West. He called it "a pseudo-ideal of justice, of equality and fraternity in labor". "Communism", he wrote, "strips man of his liberty, robs human personality of all its dignity, and removes all the moral restraints that check the eruptions of blind impulse. There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity; no natural right is accorded to human personality, which is a mere cog-wheel in the Communist system...Communism is particularly characterized by the rejection of any link that binds woman to the family and the home, and her emancipation is proclaimed as a basic principle. She is withdrawn from the family and the care of her children, to be thrust instead into public life and collective production under the same conditions as man. The care of home and children then devolves upon the collectivity. Finally, the right of education is denied to parents, for it is conceived as the exclusive prerogative of the community, in whose name and by whose mandate alone parents may exercise this right. (Divini Redemptoris,10-11)

But lest our detractors insist on the Church "chaining" women to the matrimonial bond, it was the Church who supplied women with the choice to either marry or not. Indeed, from its earliest days, the Church gave any woman in its society the option to live a celibate life; and, since they would not have a husband, the Church financially supported these women if they chose to live such celibate lives. This eventually developed into the female monastic tradition, whereby women were free to devote their lives to both spiritual and intellectual pursuits - something that they would otherwise be unable to do within the normal scope of society, where women were expected to marry, keep homes, and raise children. In short, the Church was responsible for creating the first "career women" - monastic "islands" in an otherwise male dominated society, where women were permitted and encouraged to become theologians, philosophers, chemists, and physicians. Indeed, where else in the world, during ancient times or throughout the Middle Ages, could a woman pursue such things? Within the context of monastic life, some women became Abbesses; that is, heads of both local and international religious communities. As such, they were responsible, for not only maintaining the spiritual rule of their society, but for controlling and managing vast estates and other property that was literally worth millions in terms of modern dollars. In this, as early as the 6th Century, women wielded administrative and institutional authority comparable to that of a modern CEO of a Fortune 500 company! And so, again, where else, aside from the Catholic Church at the time, do we see women holding such levels of power and influence in society? Perhaps if one were a secular queen or duchess, this could be achieved, but that, of course, was based on inheritance or marriage, whereas an Abbess or Mother Superior might even come from the lower classes, and attained her position based on personal ability and intelligence, not on her family's wealth or her desirability as a mate.

In terms of unwed mothers, the Church also provided unprecedented advantages for women there in terms of social care. Before the days of Christianity, an unwed mother was completely on her own. However, the Church would care for such women and their children, giving them financial support. In fact, Christian society also considered the idea of bastard children disgraceful, and so it basically obliged a man to either marry his mistress (thereby giving her legitimacy and social rights) or to, at the very least, acknowledge and financially support his illegitimate children. So, we would have no sense of modern "child support" without the influence and moral leadership of the Catholic Church. On the other hand, Communism's solution to crisis pregnancies, which the West has gleefully adopted, was to offer abortion to women. Russia is currently estimated to have nearly 13 terminations for every 10 live births, and the highest abortion rate in Europe after Romania. One Russian woman, who has had seven abortions, her "emancipation procedure" this way: "You stand in line before the door of the operating room, seven or eight of you, waiting to be taken in. The clinic's staff is too busy to do anything but operate, so as each woman who's finished staggers out you take turns getting out of line for a few minutes, just to help her get to the resting room down the hall. Then it's your turn, and you go into a hall splattered with blood where two doctors are aborting seven or eight women at the same time; they're usually very rough and rude, shouting at you about keeping your legs wide open...if you're lucky they give you a little sedative, mostly Valium. Then it's your turn to stagger out to the resting room, where you're not allowed to spend more than two hours because the production line, you see, is always very busy" (Gray, Francine du Plessix, (1989) Soviet Women Walking the Tightrope. Doubleday, New York, p.19). This woman estimates that, by the end of her child bearing years, she will have undergone fourteen abortions, which she believes to be the national average. She knows women who have had twenty-five abortions.

In the Middle East, Christian bishops forbad native communities (such as the Nabathaean Arabs) from circumcising their daughters, seeing it as an unnecessary and inhumane thing to do. The custom, of course, was later resurrected under Islam. However, in Arab and African countries where female circumcision is practiced today, it is still rejected and condemned by the ancient Christian communities there (e.g. the Copts of Egypt, the Abbyssian Christians of Ethiopia, etc.). In this, abuse of women in any intentional form came to be regarded as cowardly and disgraceful; and so men were no longer permitted to strike their wives or daughters, or to verbally abuse them. Otherwise, these men would receive condemnation from the Church and from society in general - another revolutionary concept which is still a driving factor in the defense of women's rights today. Yet, today's pop apologists for women's liberation have nothing to be proud of. Since jettisoning its Judeo-Christian roots, western society has reached nearly epidemic proportions regarding domestic violence. And the first daughter of Communism herself, Russia, is no better. According to the Executive Director of the National Violence Prevention Center, it is estimated that 60 percent of the women murdered in Russia every year are killed by their husbands. Domestic violence occurs in 25 percent of Russian families. Yet it is rarely discussed. She reports that approximately 14,000 women die each year as a result of spousal abuse, while 3,000 women retaliate and kill their husbands.

Yet while Communism was responsible in removing any remaining vestiges of respect accorded to women by men, it is the Catholic Church today which still insists on the proper respect and deference be given to women. After all, the Christian Church was also responsible for the creation of chivalry, which is the origin of Western society's respect for, and deference to, women. In contrast to Islam, this difference was quite pronounced. Bernard Lewis, the great Middle East scholar, once remarked that the status of women is the single most profound difference between Christian and Muslim civilization. He noted that early Muslim visitors to Europe spoke with astonishment, often with horror of the incredible freedom and deference shown to Western women. In 1665, for instance, right at the peak of Muslim conquest in Europe, a Turkish writer and diplomat, Evliya Celebi, visited Vienna. In his report, he wrote:

"In this country I saw a most extraordinary spectacle. Whenever the emperor meets a woman in the street, if he is riding, he brings his horse to a standstill and lets her pass. If the emperor is on foot and meets a woman, he stands in a posture of politeness. The woman greets the emperor, who then takes his hat off his head to show respect for the woman. After the woman has passed, the emperor continues on his way. In this country and in general in the land of the [Christians], women have the main say. They are honored and respected out of love for Mother Mary."

As the aforementioned examples conclusively show, therefore, it is clear that the Catholic Church is not the oppressor of women but rather its authentic liberator. The true oppressor of women is Communism and its harlot-daughter, Radical Feminism. In 1920, Russia's law on abortion became one of the most barbaric in the world as Vladimir Lenin gave Russia divorce and abortion on demand. Since then, Russia and the world have been reaping the carnage of this hell-sent ideology. While Communism no longer has the political and economic infrastructure to attack the Church, it has been successful in infiltrating Western culture and working within its socio-political institutions to undermine Catholic influence. Today, it merely operates under a different name and peddles the culture of death and its anti-Catholicism within a capitalist system. Now and in the future, the Church and her children must be vigilant and militant in defending Her historical record against the calumny of radical feminism - a immoral movement whose genesis comes from atheistic Communism. Whatever the form of attack or the charge being levied against our holy faith, Catholics must become educated and rise to the challenge.

John Pacheco and Mark Bonocore
The Catholic Legate
September 23, 2004

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A shorter version of this article, authored by Mark solely, appeared on Catholic Exchange.