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Does the Church Oppress Women? An Appreciation of the Feminine Genius

Here’s a criticism we hear all the time in one form or another: the Church has oppressed women throughout history—and continues to do so. When I say I think it’s the right moment to pay attention to women in a particular way, I’m only echoing the prophetic voice of the Church itself. Pope Paul VI, at the end of the Second Vatican Council, wrote these words:

Women, you do know how to make truth sweet, tender, and accessible. Make it your task to bring the spirit of this council into institutions, schools, homes, and daily life. Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world (Address to Women, 1965).

But it was his successor Pope St. John Paul II who most promoted women when he said, “Woman has a genius all her own, which is vitally essential to both society and the Church” (Angelus address of July 23, 1995, 2). I’m convinced that part of the reason we have barely made a dent in the New Evangelization is because we have a long way to go when it comes to the recognition not only of women’s dignity but of their feminine genius.

I would like to structure this article in the way St. Thomas Aquinas structured his Summa Theologica: by offering objections to our question and then answering those objections. So, the question I pose is regarding women, and the article is, “Does the Catholic Church oppress women?” We will answer it in a series of three objections.

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