Posted on 24-03-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Two thousand years of imposing history surrounds the Vatican, the spiritual center for 1.2 billion Catholics. A new Pope was chosen on 12 March, 2013, but 600 million women Catholics had no voice in this exclusive male club. From among male candidates only, 115 male cardinals did the selection. This is another discriminatory example of injecting a dose of anesthesia, albeit a religious one, to keep women suppressed and under the control of men.

While agreeing that the church’s hierarchy is male-dominated, Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says women also take important lay positions in Catholic social and relief organizations. They staff Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable institutions. Other areas of visible involvement of women are the seamstresses who stitch the habits of the Vatican’s religious chiefs, the cooks and servers who feed them and the housekeepers who clean up afterwards. The highest position two women have reached is under secretaries in “superior” levels, but there’s no woman even in the matrimonial cases commission. It’s incredible that the world’s most powerful and oldest continuously practicing Roman Catholic institution has sustained without serious participation by women.

"Certainly the church is not a democratic society in the way civil society understands," said Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins of Portugal. "It’s a hierarchical church, therefore not everyone is equal." Yet according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Man and woman have been….willed by God…in perfect equality as human persons.” Neither the Vatican, nor any Catholic institution seems to recognize that. I’ve often heard several women in Europe being morally depressed over the misogynic behavior of men. Even Emperor Napoleon relegated women’s role to be mere baby producing machines. 

The Vatican continues to decide that women have no right over their bodies, that is, abortion is frowned upon. Women also have little right over Vatican administration, so can there ever be any chance of a Madam Pope in the near future? Actually a legend and myth about Pope Joan, a ninth-century Englishwoman already exists. As women in the Catholic Church, were not then and not now either, allowed to train to be priests, she disguised herself under lots of clerical robes and became one. She was so knowledgeable and committed that she overtook the men to be raised to a cardinal and then Pope. Later she “went into labor during a papal procession and the mob descended on her and her child, ending her reign.” Oxford University theologian and historian Diarmaid MacCulloch said Pope Joan’s story is satirical fiction. Perhaps in anticipation, two films have been made on Pope Joan.

When Karl Marx said religion is the opium of the masses he meant that faith makes people into blind, unquestioning followers. Religion seems to so completely obliterate every notion of justice and equality that opium is too mild a comparison. People can wake up from time to time with opium. So it’s actually permanent anesthesia that’s been injected into human society, both men and women. All religions of the world practice this form of anesthesia. When you’re born it’s transmitted into your body, mind and spirit in a way that you’ll find it tough to get rid of it. Even the non dogmatic, non converting Hindu religion has so many customs that smother women. Deep rooted anesthesia, from caste divisions to sati, widows as outcasts and general second or third class treatment, has engulfed women’s role crafted by men.

Speculation continues to be rife as to whether the high rise of allegedly masculine homosexuality and child abuse and conspiracies inside Catholic institutions was among the real reasons for Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. Cases of sexual abuse have been reported in Canada, Ireland, United Kingdom, United States of America, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and a few countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In 2004, the John Jay report tabulated a total of 4,392 US priests and deacons against whom sexual abuse allegations were made. Benedict XVI is the first Pope in some six centuries to step down rather than die in office. He’s set a new trend as though he’s the head of a corporate job, not a spiritual leader. There’s certainly scope for this never-before-done act to spread trends in newer areas, hopefully in favoring women too. Aside from becoming a Pope, can a woman priest become a mother?  

Several Catholic women from the US, UK and Australia gathered in Rome when the new Pope Francis was being selected, and let off small puffs of pink smoke to protest against women being continuously excluded from the priesthood. They were mimicking the puffs that are let out from the Sistine Chapel chimney when the cardinals decide on a new Pope. Miriam Duignan of  ‘Women can be priests’ Association said, “Jesus did not exclude women… So why do cardinals…make a point of actively excluding women? And of criminalizing anybody that speaks out in favour of women priests?”

Will there be gender balance in the Vatican in the near future? Is it not illogical that when the Catholic religion considers procreation as so important, the Holy See refuses to recognize the value of women female as a part of the Vatican?

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