7 Examples of How the Catholic Faith is Pro-Woman
Before coming back to the Catholic faith, I bought into the lie that the Church doesn’t care about women. However, when I stopped to listen to what the Church was actually saying, I realized just how wrong I was. Instead of viewing women as inferior to men and oppressing them with arbitrary rules and regulations, the Catholic faith proclaims the dignity of women and seeks to free them to live out their authentic femininity. Here are just a few examples of how the Catholic faith is undeniably pro-woman:
1. The Book of Genesis
The first book of the Bible tells us that woman is created in the image and likeness of God and is very good (Genesis 1: 26-31). The Church has always acknowledged and affirmed the dignity of woman and her equality to man. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "'Being man' or 'being woman' is a reality which is good and willed by God… Man and woman are both with one and the same dignity 'in the image of God'" (CCC 369). Further, the Church doesn’t just claim that men and women are the same; it recognizes the special beauty of woman that makes her different from—but still equal in dignity to—man.
2. Jesus' love and respect for the women he encountered
Despite the fact that in first century Jewish culture women were seen as inferior to men, Jesus eschewed this notion, setting the standard for the rest of his Church. He spends time with the Samaritan woman at the well, a gentile who was cast out by her own people because of her scandalous past, and he commissions her to evangelize her entire village (John 4: 1-42). When the ritually impure hemorrhaging woman touches Jesus’ garment in the crowd, Jesus does not rebuke her as would have been expected. Instead, he looks her in the eyes, calls her ‘daughter,’ and tells her to go in peace, healed of her affliction (Mark 5: 25-34). When the Pharisees are about to stone an adulterous woman, Jesus steps in and defends her. He tells the woman that she is not condemned, and sets her free to live a life of purity, sinning no more (John 8: 1-11). Jesus spends time with his friends Martha and Mary, he allows women to travel with him and be his disciples, and he gives Mary Magdalen the unique honor of proclaiming his resurrection to the rest of the apostles. Time and time again, Jesus acknowledges the dignity of woman and the unique role she plays in the world.
3. The Blessed Virgin Mary
God could have saved us in any number of ways, but he chose to spend nine months in the womb of a woman and come to us in human form. For that reason, we revere our Immaculate Mother Mary as the holiest of the saints and ask her to help us on our own path to sainthood. The Church honors Mary with numerous feast days, like the Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary which we celebrated on Wednesday. There have been many noble men throughout the story of salvation history, but only Mary is given the honor of being Mother of the Church and Queen of the Universe.
4. The Church's teachings on abortion and contraception
The Church has always been and will always be pro-life—which is unquestionably pro-woman. Abortion does not empower women; not the tiny woman in the womb nor the mother who carries her. Not only does abortion make women more susceptible to mental health problems, it fosters a culture in which human life is not valued, sex is stripped of its sacred meaning, intimacy without commitment is expected, and fertility is viewed as a burden. This type of culture is not conducive to authentic feminism.
The Church’s teaching against contraception also seeks to push back against this culture. When we view sex as it really is—an act of self-giving love that makes manifest the love of the Trinity—we see that we cannot remove the sexual act from the loving commitment of marriage nor can we strip it of its procreative component. Instead of artificial contraceptives, the Church advocates for natural family planning, which uses the natural biology of the woman’s body to accurately and naturally space out pregnancies. For a more in-depth treatment of Catholic teaching on contraception, check out this article by Dr. Janet Smith.
5. The 784 women who have been canonized as saints
Canonized saints are holy individuals acknowledged by the Church for living a life of heroic virtue. Of the 784 women recognized by the Church as saints, four of those women are Doctors of the Church. When a priest chooses to pray the Roman Canon during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the highest form of prayer we can partake in, 7 female saints are invoked. Of course, there are surely millions more female saints who will never be known or officially recognized; but the fact remains that the Church openly reverences holy women. In this month of August alone, the Church highlights several saintly women like St. Edith Stein, St. Clare, St. Rose of Lima, and St. Monica. Just among these few women we see a glorious diversity; one was a former Jew, one a mother, one the first Latin American saint, one a scholar, and a few religious sisters. Our Church embraces women from all walks of life, reminding us that sainthood is attainable for every woman.
6. Pope Saint John Paul II's teachings
There is perhaps no other pope who has advocated for women as ardently as John Paul II did.
In his Letter to Women, he thanks every single woman “for the simple fact of being a woman!” He continues: “Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic…My word of thanks to women thus becomes a heartfelt appeal that everyone, and in a special way States and international institutions, should make every effort to ensure that women regain full respect for their dignity and role.” Throughout the letter, Pope John Paul II acknowledges that the world has been deprived by the oppression of women throughout history, and he calls for a renewed commitment to free women from "exploitation and domination."
Pope John Paul II also gave us the Theology of the Body, which is a set of teachings that unveil the beautiful truth about human sexuality. These teachings are a gift to a culture that, as mentioned earlier, often fosters the use and objectification of women. His vision for life and love as formed through the lens of the Gospel and summarized in his Theology of the Body teachings, is a great service to humanity and women in particular.
In his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II speaks about women’s dignity and coins the term, 'feminine genius': "The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine 'genius' which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness."
7. The Second Vatican Council
At this momentous council, Pope Paul VI declared these words: “…the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.”
On the precipice of a new era for the Church, Pope Paul VI acknowledged the important role that women play and will continue to play in the progress of the world.
If you've ever thought that the Catholic faith is not conducive to true feminism, I pray that these examples might begin to make you think differently. To all the women out there: God has created you in his image and likeness, endowed you with unfathomable dignity, and desires for you to live out your feminine genius in the unique way that only you can. And the Church is here to support you, empower you, and help you on your journey to sainthood.