Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Kaveny, Commonweal, & Complementarity

If you subscribe to Commonweal magazine, click here to read an insightful column in the March 28, 2008, issue by Cathleen Kaveny, a professor of law and theology at the University of Notre Dame, about the premises of Pope John Paul II's "new feminism." (If you aren't a subscriber, the web site probably won't let you read the article, at least not yet. Take the plunge: for 50 cents a week, you can buy yourself a regular infusion of "Religion, Politics & Culture" that far surpasses any mere blog.)

In Mulieris dignitatem (1988), John Paul defended two seemingly irreconcilable notions: the equal dignity of men and women, and the restriction of priesthood to men alone. Kaveny compares his apostolic letter with the article "Woman" from the 1912 Catholic Encylopedia and finds many similarities:
...both documents emphasize the equal dignity of women and men. Both underscore the importance of Christianity in bringing new insight and commitment to the transcendent value of women's lives. Both present the Virgin Mary as the ideal woman. Both emphasize the importance of maternal virtues for all women, not merely physical mothers. Both strongly defend a divinely ordained difference and complementarity between men and women. Consequently, both are worried about the baleful effects of blurred gender roles.
Kaveny is troubled by the conclusions drawn by the 1912 article: that women and men should not have the same vocational and educational opportunities, that women should not be directly involved in politics or even have the right to vote. John Paul did not share those restrictive views, she acknowledges, but we "don't know why he didn't. We know only that the premises of his anthropological argument are virtually identical to those in the encyclopedia."

"Complementarity" sounds good at first. "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). If the divine is best reflected by males and females together, not just males or just females, isn't it then obvious that each gender contributes something that the other does not?

Complementarity, however, can be used to exclude as well as to include. To John Paul, complementarity meant that only men can be priests, just as only women can be mothers. But complementarity could also mean that, just as a whole family includes both a father and a mother, a whole priesthood includes both male and female priests.

Wouldn't such a complementary priesthood be a more faithful reflection of God's image, which is male and female, than is today's all-male Catholic priesthood--few of whom have even had the normal male experience of being a husband and a father?