Feminism: A Catholic perspective

I’d like to begin by making a very controversial statement: I believe in women’s rights.

That wasn’t very controversial, was it? Here, maybe this will do it: I disagree with many folks as to what “rights” do and do not belong to women. Please know that the same is true of men.

I’ll start with what “rights” I fully agree with. I, as well as the Catholic Church in their catechism, believe that  “respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature.”

The core principle of all Catholic teaching on the relationships between people is “the dignity of the human person.” Whether that relationship is between husband and wife, between parent and child, between employer and employee or whomever else have you, it starts with the dignity of the human person.

Fun fact: The go-to document when talking about human rights, the United Nations’ “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” was in large part written by Jacques Maritain, who was a devout Catholic.

Working from this principle, a Catholic is able to look at an issue like sex-based wage inequality, wherein one person (usually a woman) is paid less than another (usually a man) for the same work because of the person’s sex, and rightly call it stupid and unjust. Heck, the Catholic Church was in the business of defining social justice and workers’ rights in the late eighteenth century, well before it was trendy.

The Catholic Church is, in a way, a mother to all the faithful Catholics in the world. Like any good mother, she gives us what is good for us, even though we may want something else. She is not, to borrow a term from the movie “Mean Girls,” a “cool mom;” nor is she—and I literally thank God for this—a democracy.

Therefore, no demonstration in support of a thing which harms human dignity, regardless of the popularity or trendiness of the issue, will ever cause the Church to change her teaching. The Church must reject those “rights,” including “women’s rights,” which are damaging to the dignity of human persons.

Let’s look at an example of a popular “women’s right” that the Church opposes. The dignity of every person means that no person has the right to arbitrarily end another person’s life. Nor does any person have the right to arbitrarily define when exactly a life becomes “human.”

A woman may desire to end the life of her child. A man may desire for the woman who bears his child to end the child’s life. Neither desire makes it acceptable to act in a way which directly ends the child’s life; therefore, the Catholic Church will always teach that no person has the “right” to abort a child.

I unfortunately don’t have space to address other contentious areas of Catholic sexual ethics, but I encourage any curious parties to start by checking out parts of the churches catechism: 1601-1666 and 2331-2400.

The Church also rejects the idea that a person’s fundamental dignity is or should be tied to his or her position, power or influence. If the Church believed that a person’s dignity corresponds to his or her power or authority, denying women “the right to be priests” would truly be unjust. I won’t go into the theology of the priesthood here, as fascinating as it is.

However, because the fundamental dignity of the Pope is the same as that of any Catholic laywoman sitting in the pew, the situation is not at all unjust.

Besides, it’s not as though we Catholics hate women in the first place: Have you even seen the pile of titles we heap on the Holy, Immaculately-Conceived, Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God?

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