Is the Catholic Church Against Women?

There have been injustices in history. The Church is made of human beings and human beings can make sinful mistakes. While the Church will say that its Dogma is infallible, it will never say its people are not indefectible. Quite often we judge the historical Church according to our 21st century understanding of human rights. Let's to look at it a little differently for a moment. Let us take each historical period since Jesus. Let us cast the Church in the culture of its time. Let's slice each period of time horizontally. If we look at the Church compared to every other social structure of the same time period; if we compare it to every other religion, every secular government, We will see that, age after age, the Catholic Church has consistently stood above the rest in its respect and honour for the dignity of women. And that includes middle ages, discussed in detail below.

I suggest we can apply that same test to the Catholic Church as it exists in the culture of today. Many of the issues in the secular political arena these days are very degrading to women, even though some women are fighting for them, and some even call it "freedom." For example:

  • women's magazines with anorexic models
  • widespread eating disorders
  • TV shows and web sites that objectify women
  • afternoon soft porn soap operas
  • Internet porn with 14 year old girls
  • widespread Prozac among women
  • sexual enhancement drugs
  • the "show your skin" approach to fashion
  • and the widespread outbreak of cosmetic surgery
  • piercing and tattoos

These are just a few ways that Madison avenue men are abusing women. Fourteen year old girls are being told by rock stars on the radio to "take off your clothes" and they are doing it. Pop songs say "off with your cloths, bend over and touch your toes" on prime time. Teenage girls have been tricked into giving away their precious sexuality and 25% of teenage girls have HPV genital warts which is a precursor to ovarian cancer. Planned Parenthood is making billions off abortions, while fostering a culture of "safe" sex, knowing that teenagers are about as good at practicing safe sex as they are at making their beds.

Christina Aguilera and Brittany Spears are puppets for male business executives who promise them fame and fortune to sell sex. Studies have shown 10% of business women are having sex at work, usually with their superior, sometimes while they have a family at home. Madison avenue men are creating ad campaigns of happiness and ecstasy for women in this new millennium. Their promises are empty. Pharmaceutical companies making mega-bucks off contraceptives, sex before marriage, same sex relationships, legitimization of the sex trade, and the "post divorce" dating game (especially on the internet) are other ways women are abused today without even knowing it. For many years, I bought the "rights" model but now I know this model of human rights is flawed.

The genesis of the modern human rights movement is based on Christian theological principles. Any concept of human rights that covers its ears to the voice of God is hollow, and ends in ruin. At Lourdes, France on Aug 15, 2004 the Pope said:

Our Lady of Lourdes has a message for everyone. Be men and women of freedom! But remember: human freedom is a freedom wounded by sin. It is a freedom which itself needs to be set free. Christ is its liberator.

In this we know we can count on Mary, who, since she never yielded to sin, is the only creature who is perfectly free. I entrust you to her. Walk beside Mary as you journey towards the complete fulfillment of your humanity!


I took this photo during a Catholic procession in honour of Mary. It happens every night at Lourdes. These Catholics are recognizing Mary as the greatest human (besides Jesus). And that doesn't mean we worship her as a goddess.

The Church calls Mary the greatest human who ever lived. And now in Heaven she is greater than any of the angels

On one hand we are evolving to new understandings about the value and contribution of women in society. On the other hand we have kids in day care growing up screwed up without mothers. "There's no easy way out" I don't know the answer.  Some men are better at home than women, why shouldn't they stay home? Probably they should. The Church has no objection.

The Second Vatican council empowers women

A woman wrote:

... is there freedom for a person to do something that perhaps wouldn't fit into the traditional Catholic mold, esp. being a woman? 

We responded "absolutely!" Many women Saints did not fit the "mold" of Catholic women of their day. There is a very important role for faithful holy women.

Here are a couple of examples of what young Catholic women are doing today:





Women have held important roles in the history of the Church:

In days gone by, Pinsent and Holden describe as "perhaps most surprising" the claim of Catholic civilisation to have produced many of the first women scientists. Trotula of Salerno is the credited author of a book on diseases for women in the Eleventh Century, Dorotea Bucca taught at the University of Bologna for over forty years, and Maria Agnesi, who died in 1799, was appointed by Pope Benedict XIV to become the first woman to become a mathematics professor at any university. Footnote 1

The Church understands this basic truth about human rights with respect to the role of women. The Church's current position on prolife, pro family, sexual morality, acknowledging differences in gender, etc., give far more honour to the dignity of women than the Madison Avenue model. Some current issues being forced on the Church are:

-Is the Church's prolife position anti-woman?
-Is the Da Vinci Code theory is true that Church rewrote the Bible against women?
-Is the Catholic position on gender differences archaic?
-Why can't women be priests?
-Did the Church ignore great women theologians?
-Did the Church burn millions of witches?
-What about Joan of Arc?
-Does the Church preach a male conception of God, is it a construction of the Church?
-Did the mystics of the middle ages constitute a woman's movement that the Church squashed?

I will examine all of these questions and present Mary as a great example of womanhood.

Is Prolife an anti-woman position?

In the last 30 years approximately 21,500,000 women have died violent deaths in the United States. They have had their arms ripped off, they have had their legs ripped off, they have had their heads cut off. These women were defenseless, they could not speak out to defend themselves. They remained silent as they were brutally murdered. These women were not fully grown. They were waiting to be born. These women died from abortion. We'll call the baby girl below Sara.

Used with permission

Sara will never learn how to tie her shoes or play hopscotch. She will not get a chance to vote, to go to university, develop a career or become a mother herself. All these things that women have worked so hard to achieve have been denied to Sara. She has been denied all these things because her mother denied motherhood, and the "doctor" denied Sara's personhood. Some choices are wrong. The male abortionist who took her life said he was all for women's rights. We do not think the Church's pro-life position is anti-women. We actually think the pro-abortion movement is anti-women. It is a male affront to women.

  • Most "doctors" who commit abortion are men. These doctors are making mega-dollars violating the bodies of women. They are making money off of scared vulnerable women, often in their teens.
  • It is an extremely invasive procedure and has on numerous occasions caused irreparable damage to the womb of the woman who is victim to this invasive procedure by a male who they never see before or after the procedure.
  • 95% of women who agree to have abortions do it to please someone besides themselves, usually a man (i.e., a boyfriend, their father, employer). Numerous studies have shown that if it was up to the mother of the aborted unborn she would almost always keep the baby.
  • Mothers of the aborted unborn often suffer greater long term psychological effects than the fathers, (however men suffer too, as I (Hugh) will attest.)

The abortionists say that they are in favour of women's rights and they say they shun violence against women. Obviously, they are not in favour of the rights of women in the womb.  There have been 43,000,000 abortions in the US since Roe Vs. Wade and statistically more than half of those were women.

Pope John Paul II writes:

The common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life is not defended with maximum determination.

It's my body I can do what I want with it

If the unborn baby is part of the body of the mother, I can't understand why the doctor has to count all of the little broken off arms and legs of the baby that are sucked out of the mother to make sure none are left inside. Half of women carrying babies have a little boy inside them with a penis. Is that a part of her body? The baby may have a separate blood type and its own DNA. Today, the most dangerous place on the planet to live is not Harlem or a Pakistan terrorist ghetto. It is in a mother's womb. It is a treacherous time in history to be an infant. More about abortion here.

Roles of Men and Women

Many great women saints have stood up for their gender and have spoken out boldly. Catherine of Sienna, went to the Pope after the office of the Holy See had re-located the Church of Rome to France. She told him to get the heck back to Rome. AND HE DID! (1) St. Thérèse de Lisieux, and St. Thérèse of Avila have become doctors of the Church and have influenced the doctrine of the Church immensely.

We have absolutely no problem with women who strive for the betterment of their gender. There is no doubt that men in history have often overstepped God's role for men and have abused power at various times. On the other hand women have done some pretty screwy things back to men using their God given sex instincts and seduction to gain positions of influence with kings and empires. We don't think men are superior, we just think men and women have different roles. For instance, as much as a man would like, there is no possible way that he will give birth to a child. We can fight for our human right to give birth but there is a natural law that forbids it. Men and women have different roles.

Before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:

... Recent years have seen new approaches to women's issues. A first tendency is to emphasize strongly conditions of subordination in order to give rise to antagonism: women, in order to be themselves, must make themselves the adversaries of men. Faced with the abuse of power, the answer for women is to seek power. This process leads to opposition between men and women, in which the identity and role of one are emphasized to the disadvantage of the other, leading to harmful confusion regarding the human person, which has its most immediate and lethal effects in the structure of the family.

A second tendency emerges in the wake of the first. In order to avoid the domination of one sex or the other, their differences tend to be denied, viewed as mere effects of historical and cultural conditioning. In this perspective, physical difference, termed sex, is minimized, while the purely cultural element, termed gender, is emphasized to the maximum and held to be primary. The obscuring of the difference or duality of the sexes has enormous consequences on a variety of levels. This theory of the human person, intended to promote prospects for equality of women through liberation from biological determinism, has in reality inspired ideologies which, for example, call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality.

While the immediate roots of this second tendency are found in the context of reflection on women's roles, its deeper motivation must be sought in the human attempt to be freed from one's biological conditioning. According to this perspective, human nature in itself does not possess characteristics in an absolute manner: all persons can and ought to constitute themselves as they like, since they are free from every predetermination linked to their essential constitution. This perspective has many consequences. Above all it strengthens the idea that the liberation of women entails criticism of Sacred Scripture, which would be seen as handing on a patriarchal conception of God nourished by an essentially male-dominated culture. Second, this tendency would consider as lacking in importance and relevance the fact that the Son of God assumed human nature in its male form.

In the face of these currents of thought, the Church, enlightened by faith in Jesus Christ, speaks instead of active collaboration between the sexes precisely in the recognition of the difference between man and woman.

The letter goes on to describe what this "active collaboration" might look like. The full letter is here.

What about Ecclesiasticus 22:3?

We got an email from an Evangelical woman who didn't like the "apocrypha" part of the Bible. She said:

"Ecclesiasticus 22:3 [says] "It is a disgrace to be the father of an undisciplined, and the birth of a daughter is a loss." Does God inspire being sexist."

I suggested that this is passage is being read out of context. The first part of 22:3 about an "ill taught son" and the second is about a "foolish daughter". Reading further, the next line talks about a wise daughter being a blessing.

22:3. A son ill taught is the confusion of the father: and a foolish daughter shall be to his loss. 22:4. A wise daughter shall bring an inheritance to her husband:

The section is not against women any more than it is against men. We always have to be careful to look at Scripture in context (and Ecclesiasticus isn't part of the Apocrypha, as she claimed, anyway).

What about Women's Ordination - Why can't women be priests?

When it comes to the ordination of women the Church has to approach this problem the same way it approaches every other important decision; with prayer, the Bible, the Tradition of the Church and the wisdom of theologians. The Church wants to know what God has to say about this, and she (the theological pronoun for the Church) believes God has an opinion on this. Pope Jean Paul II said

"Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

There is much theologically evidence that has led the Church to believe God has chosen a male priesthood. One of the main reasons is that Jesus himself chose 12 male apostles. There were many women available that he could have chosen, but he only chose 12 males. Some have said that is because the conventions of the time dictated that only men should have positions our power and therefore Jesus followed the conventions of the time. That statement is very problematic because Jesus was very quick to break conventions that were against God's law. For instance, he healed a woman on the Sabbath. He spoke with the Samaritan woman, which was forbidden to Jews. He dined with tax collectors. He welcomed a prostitute (Mary Magdalene) as one of his best followers and revealed his risen body to her first, He freed the woman caught in adultery from being stoned, He said the Roman soldier (a gentile) was more faithful than anyone among the people of Judea, and so on. So Jesus was clearly not afraid to break the conventions of his time. In fact, he was crucified because of that. Also, there were women performing similar roles to a priest at the time.

Fr. Mateo writes:

It is unhistorical and simply false to say that in Jesus' day priestesses would have been unacceptable to people at large. Our Lord never hesitated to violate cultural taboos (John 5:1-18). He spoke to women in public (John 4:4-42; 8:3-11). The first witnesses of his Resurrection were women (passim). Furthermore, the lands around the Mediterranean teemed with religions with priestesses. The famed Vestal Virgins of Rome were priestesses. There was a priestess functioning at Delphi. The Sybil was a priestess and the many temple prostitutes were priestesses.

There are those who argue that the Pope did not declare this from the Chair of Peter and therefore the statement was not "infallibly" made. Theoretically, that would open the question of women's ordination to future interpretation. We will leave that for the theologians to argue, but It is clear that the Pope intended it as a teaching statement and he made it binding on the whole Church. The Magisterium also stood behind him and there is 2000 years of unity among the Bishops on this. So in our lifetimes this is not an issue that will change.

Some may say the Pope is old, chauvinistic and conservative. Although he is old, It would be a difficult to say he's chauvinistic given that he has canonized more woman than all the other Popes in history combined. The very fact that there is a whole crowd of traditionalist Catholics who want to throw the Pope out because he is "too liberal" is a good argument against the charge that he leans too far right. He has also consistently stood up for women's rights in every instance where they did not interfere with the primary right to life. We believe his position on this issue is not about discriminating against women, but rather it is about following God's wish for the Church. Other denominations have discerned differently in order to stay "relevant" to our culture. They honestly thought that ordaining women would bring modern women back to Church. They are now on the brink of extinction.

Weren't there women priests in the early Church?

Some authors, such as Mary Ann Rossi and Professor Giorgio Otranto have pointed to Pope St. Gelasius around 494 AD. who came down hard against an area that was allowing women to serve at the altar. Ms. Rossi claims this proves precedence of female priests. This is not much different from situations today where people have abused the Eucharist and the Magisterium has had to step in. Nor is it different from when Saint Paul stepped in to correct mistakes in the administration of the Eucharist. (1 Corinthians 11:23-29)

This in no way indicates that the Church accepted women priests. This was never accepted by the Church and even the most militant advocates of female priesthood have not found one magisterial document approving the priesthood. In his Epistle 14: 26, March 11, 494AD. Pope Gelasius addresses a very specific area, Lucania, Bruttium, and Sicilia, which clearly demonstrates the limited nature of this abuse. The Pope sites earlier magisterial declarations against women at the altar. There was never an accepted order of female priests. This is a myth put forth by those who would like to undermine the Magisterium, and who would like to bring about what they call the French Revolution to Catholicism where the common people take the authority from the Magisterium, much like the Reform of the 1500s, the fruit of which is 33,500 different denominations. The Magisterium is necessary for unity, and Jesus knew that when he gave it full Magisterial Authority (Mat 16:18). More about the woman priesthood here.

The Church Fathers speak against women's ordination

Here are some documents that make it clear that the Early Church in no way endorsed a female priesthood. Tertullian, in The Prescription of Heretics 41, St. Irenaeus, Against Haereses 1. 31. 2 Firmilian, in Epistle 75. 1-5 to Cyprian, Origen, in a Fragment of his commentary on 1 Cor 14:34 St. Epiphanius, Against Heresies 79. 304  St. John Chrysostom, in On the Priesthood 2. 2, St. Augustine, On heresies 27.

A full discussion of this and the Pope Gelasius declaration:

The Da Vinci Code - Did Catholics re-write the Bible?

We realize that some women (and men) think that the male dominated early Catholic Church rewrote the Bible to suit themselves. The "New York Times Best Seller" the "Da Vinci Code" has made these theories popular. The book is questioning the integrity of men who died at the teeth of lions to protect the truth and the integrity of "the Word" (Bible) in the first centuries of Christianity.

Dan Brown got rich and famous rewriting church history in the "Da Vinci Code." Early Christian martyrs died penniless making Church history

Da Vinci fans are trusting a man, Dan Brown, who made millions of dollars and became famous from his theories and they are doubting early Christians had no reason whatsoever to stand behind Jesus or what he was saying. Jesus did not make them rich or famous. These martyrs died penniless (not at all like Dan Brown) so that we could hear the truth about Jesus. Jesus was not popular at the end. We cannot imagine these people putting their salvation at stake and the salvation of humanity at stake to cover up Mary Magdalene's "claim to the Papacy" like the Da Vinci Code claims. Dan Brown is making money off of women. There is a detailed article on the Da Vinci Code here.

Did the Church rewrite the Bible to subvert women?

If the Church rewrote the Bible to subvert the role of women, we doubt they would have confirmed the inclusion of the book of "Judith" at the Council of Trent in 1545 when the Protestants threw it out? Judith was a heroine who saved the Jewish people by cutting off the head of Holofernes, king of the Assyrians. (Jud 13:7) If the Catholic Church rewrote the Bible to subvert the role of women we doubt they would include the book of Ruth in the Bible. Ruth wasn't even a Jew yet she plays a key role in salvation history. Why did the Church not put whiteout to the book of Esther who saved the Israelites? And why did it not rewrite the story of Mary herself? And there are all the great women of the New Testament. There is Martha, Mary Magdalene, Anna in the temple (Lk2:36) described as a prophet, Elizabeth and dozens more.

The evidence makes it clear that the Catholic Church did not rewrite the Bible to subvert the role of women. Dan Brown, the author of the Da Vinci Code, re-wrote Church history to sell books, and it worked. Everybody loves to hate the Catholic Church. Mr. Brown has made millions of dollars selling these books to women but ironically, this book geared to feminists has been a terrible to disservice to women because it has turned them away from the Church which could help them so much.

Dan Brown ignores all the great Catholic woman saints like St. Thérèse de Lisieux, and St. Therese of Avila, who are doctors of the Church and have had a major influence on Catholic theology. There is Catherine of Sienna who gave the Pope a blast and told him to move his office back to Rome from France in the 1377, and he did. There is the Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich, the nun who lived from 1774-1824 who wrote the book that inspired Mel Gibson's Passion and hundreds more.

The Dead Sea Scrolls clearly demonstrate the integrity of the Church's transcription of the Old Testament. They were found by a Muslim and they predate the Church and Christ by 250 years and they blow away all the claims the Catholic Church wrote the Bible to suit itself. They are word for word what the Church transcribed from the Septuagint (Old Testament). Why would we believe that these men and women who died for the faith would put their souls in jeopardy by re-writing the Word of God. The Gnostic texts were messed up and that is not hard to understand considering all the convoluted versions of spirituality we see today That Da Vinci Code book makes us crazy.

What about the Witch Burnings - Genocide against Women?

I know this is going to shock some people who believe the popular press but virtually all reputable secular historians agree that:

The Inquisition was responsible for less than 500 witch deaths.

The other 40-60,000 deaths were in Protestant countries and local secular courts. Jenny Gibbons, a self-professed wiccan practitioner and wiccan historian, has written a very interesting article posted on a pagan web site called "Covenant of the Goddess." She has a Masters in medieval history and a minor in the Great Hunt. Her views about the nature of God and his plan for humans is completely different from my Catholic views, but we have a great respect for the integrity with which she reveals the truth about the Burning Times to her wiccan associates. Here are a few quotes:

When the Church was at the height of its power (11th-14th centuries) very few witches died. Persecutions did not reach epidemic levels until after the Reformation, when the Catholic Church had lost its position as Europe's indisputable moral authority. Moreover most of the killing was done by secular courts. Church courts tried many witches but they usually imposed non-lethal penalties. A witch might be excommunicated, given penance, or imprisoned, but she was rarely killed. The Inquisition almost invariably pardoned any witch who confessed and repented...

For years, the responsibility for the Great Hunt has been dumped on the Catholic Church's door-step. 19th century historians ascribed the persecution to religious hysteria. And when Margaret Murray proposed that witches were members of a Pagan sect, popular writers trumpeted that the Great Hunt was not a mere panic, but rather a deliberate attempt to exterminate Christianity's rival religion. Today, we know that there is absolutely no evidence to support this theory...

For many, the "Inquisition" and the "Burning Times" are virtually synonymous. The myth of the witch-hunting inquisition was built on several assumptions and mistakes, all of which have been overturned in the last twenty-five years...

When the trials peaked in the 16th and 17th century, the Inquisition was only operating in two countries: Spain and Italy, and both had extremely low death tolls...

...In the 1970's, when feminist and Neo-Pagan authors turned their attention to the witch trials, the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) was the only manual readily available in translation. Authors naively assumed that the book painted an accurate picture of how the Inquisition tried witches. Heinrich Kramer, the text's demented author, was held up as a typical inquisitor. His rather stunning sexual preoccupations were presented as the Church's "official" position on witchcraft. Actually the Inquisition immediately rejected the legal procedures Kramer recommended and censured the inquisitor himself just a few years after the Malleus was published. Secular courts, not inquisitorial ones, resorted to the Malleus.

We Neopagans now face a crisis. As new data appeared, historians altered their theories to account for it. We have not. Therefore an enormous gap has opened between the academic and the "average" Pagan view of witchcraft. We continue to use of out-dated and poor writers, like Margaret Murray, Montague Summers, Gerald Gardner, and Jules Michelet. We avoid the somewhat dull academic texts that present solid research, preferring sensational writers who play to our emotions ...

We owe it to ourselves to study the Great Hunt more honestly, in more detail, and using the best data available. Dualistic fairy tales of noble witches and evil witch hunters have great emotional appeal, but they blind us to what happened.

Jenny's academic integrity would not let her skew her findings to support her pagan beliefs. An article is here.

There is much speculation about the number of witches that died during those times. Among secular historians estimates range from 40,000 to 60,000. There are about 15,000 documented cases and the rest is achieved through extrapolation to areas that did not keep records. No serious historian exceeds those figures since the 1972 discovery that Lamothe-Langon forged many records in his book "Histoire de l'Inquisition en France" documenting the Inquisition in France. 

The Inquisition was directly responsible no more than several hundred witch deaths. The rest of the 40-60 thousand were in protestant countries and local secular courts.  In places where the Inquisition was the strongest there were the fewest numbers of witch burnings.  For example, in Spain here were very few witch burnings, which was also true for Italy. Although it is unconscionable to hand people over to secular authorities, we don't think even those several hundred deaths constitute a war on women. 20-25% of the sorcerers were men and many of the accusers of women witches were women.

It is important to understand that almost everyone back then believed in witchcraft. They believed witches were causing death and destruction. The educated theologians at the time scoffed at it, but the common people felt that someone practicing witchcraft was as dangerous to society as a serial murderer. People didn't know what caused the black plague, or the whooping cough which would kill infants in 2 weeks. People were looking for answers, sort of like modern society when it thinks unwanted babies (overpopulation) are the cause of our problems, so we murder them in the womb. Science was not developed.

95% were tried by secular tribunals rather than the Inquisition or Episcopal courts. Two inquisitors to put out a manual called "Malleus Maleficarum" (the hammer of witches) in an attempt to squash witchcraft in Germany, but the Bishops stopped them, and they didn't get very far. The book however was a very unfortunate piece of work. The secular courts got hold of this manual and used it to prosecute witches.

Although the inquisition did put witches on trial, witch prosecutions were scattered and The Inquisition itself was responsible for less than 500 deaths to witches. The main witch crazes were between 1580-1685 A.D. The reform was in full swing by then.

The Catholic Church had nothing to do with the Salem witch burnings in the US. That was a Protestant thing, as were the witch burnings in Scotland, England, and most of Germany. There were also many secular entities that burned witches. Again, 20-25% of witch prosecution were men.

The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology by Rossel Hope Robbins (New York : Julian Press, Inc., 1958. Encyclopaedia Britanica. Third Edition, 1970) has been a major influence on modern thinking about witches and the Inquisition. It predates the 1972 secular discovery that the "historical" book by Lamothe-Langon called "Histoire de l'Inquisition en France" documenting the Inquisition in France, was a forgery.  I've posted more information from a secular "pagan" historian about that here.

Although there were witches on trial during the Inquisition, there was no major "witch craze" before the Reformation. Martin Luther, Calvin and their followers cited the Bible as their reason for wanting witches burned. At any rate, it was an dark time for all of Christendom, Catholic and Protestant. It has been the cause of many people falling away from Christ. The Pope is right when he says the children of the Church must look upon that period with a spirit of repentance. Many of the accusers of women witches were women. We have posted more information on witches during the inquisition here.

What about Joan of Arc?

Joan of Arc is a great saint, but didn't the "Catholic Church" burn her at the stake? Does that not prove that the Church was against women?

To understand the situation of Joan of Arc, we need to draw some context. During the early 1400's there was civil war in France that erupted over two warring factions of the Royal family. This left the country vulnerable from attack by the British. The British just about gutted France.

From the age of 12, Joan had been getting visions from Saint Catherine of Sienna and St. Michael (who several years earlier was declared patron saint of the French army). At first the visions and voices just told her to go to Church and to protect her virginity. But when things got desperate for France the voices told her to lead an army against the British because God wanted Duke Charles of France to be the ruler and king of that country.

After much effort she got to see Duke Charles of France and won his confidence by telling him about his secret prayers.

In France, the greatest theologians told Charles that he could grant her [Joan] titular command of an army - an arrangement which was occasionally given to religious visionaries during the medieval period. One account written by a Venetian notes that her ability to hold her own against the learned theologians earned her a reputation as "another Saint Catherine come down to earth", and this reputation began to spread. ... (

The Duke Charles gave her a regiment and she lead a French battalion against the English and basically turned the whole war around. She succeeded in getting Charles crowned King of France.

Naturally this upset the other part of the French Royal family that were vying for the crown. They managed to betray her and she was captured. They sold her to the English who were very bitter about being beaten by the French. We must say that the English do not lose well, especially to a woman. Anyway, it was the English court that tried Joan under the auspices of an Inquisition. But it was basically a farce. The English wanted to put to death this French heroine who had defeated them. They tried many ways to convict her. They tried to prove she was a witch but Joan was inspired under questioning and the charges were dropped. Eventually they convicted her of cross dressing by removing her cloths in prison, attempting to rape her and then when she put on the cloths to protect herself they convicted her as a relapsed heretic.

The death of Joan of Arc was a rigged bogus Inquisition set up by the English to kill the French heroine that defeated them. It was not about heresy, it was not about the Church putting its thumb on women. In fact the French Church empowered her to lead the French troops as a religious visionary against the English.

This site tells the full story, including letters and the full trial. This is his explanation of the trial:

Some of these men [court officials] later admitted that the English conducted the proceedings for the purposes of revenge rather than out of any genuine belief that she was a heretic..

It would not be until the English were finally driven from Rouen in November of 1449, near the end of the war, that the slow process of appealing the case would be initiated. This process resulted in a posthumous acquittal by an Inquisitor named Jean Bréhal, who ironically had been a member of an English-run institution during the war. Bréhal nevertheless ruled that she had been convicted illegally and without basis by a corrupt court operating in a spirit of, quote, "manifest malice against the Roman Catholic Church and indeed even of heresy". The Inquisitor and other theologians consulted for the appeal therefore denounced Cauchon and the other judges and described Joan as a martyr, thereby paving the way for her eventual beatification in 1909 and canonization as a saint in 1920, by which time even English writers and clergy no longer showed the opposition that their predecessors had. During World War I, in the midst of the canonization process and a period of French-English detente, Allied soldiers would pay tribute to the heroine by invoking her name on battlefields not far from her own.

Joan continually appealed for her right to see the Pope, but the corrupt English court would not allow it because they knew the Pope would have set her free. This was not a Church crime, it was a crime of the English against the French, thinly disguised as a Catholic inquisition. But the court was anything but faithful to the Pope, and to the Magisterium. It is no wonder that England broke off to make their own Church 150 years later. Joan of Arc is one of our greatest Saints and we are proud of her.

Female Conception of God

Some women are upset at what they think is the lack of feminine energy in the Catholic concept of God.

Catholic teaching is not that God is a male. But that God is both male and female. Section 370 of the  Catechism says:

 In no way is God in man's image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective "perfections" of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband. (Cf. Isa 49:14-15; 66:13; Ps 131:2-3; Hos 11:1-4; Jer 3:4-19.)

God has made men and women differently. This is not hard to observe and has been well documented. Even popular books like "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" lay out those differences (i.e., women are more intuitive etc). The very fact that some women feel it necessary to relate to a female concept of God is an example that men and women are different. Otherwise there would be no issue with a "male" concept of God. Susan Fortin says:

The fatherly role is more fitting to God. To [radical feminists], gender does not exist. There are no gendered roles [to them]. The notion that a father has certain responsibilities and engages in certain behaviors is non-sense [to them].

God is like a Father, because he is the Lord of the Universe. A Father is the head of the household. In a sexual relationship, the man represents the active principle, the female the passive role. God is definitively not passive. Men can be nurturing, but this is secondary to their headship. Before God can even be known as "Love" he must be known as "Creator". St. Thomas Aquinas explains it better than I do. God is gendered through analogy.

I'm cool with men and women being different. When they embrace their differences they are complimentary. It is not beyond my reasoning that God would have different roles for the different strengths and weaknesses he gave them. Perhaps the next question is "what would these different roles be?" That's a big question that is beyond my humble musician learning. But it is not beyond my imagining that he wanted men to take care some things and he wanted women to take care of others. By the way any priest will tell you that it's not him who runs the Church. It's the little old ladies in the women's auxiliary.

We got an email that said:

I know theologians say God does not have a gender, yet they are very adamant about calling Her/Him/It "He", "Father", "King", etc. all the time. If they also called God Her, Mother, Queen, It, the Source of all Being, etc. We would believe their intent. But why do people cringe when you call God Mother and Her, if God doesn't have a gender? The problem is that although God doesn't have a gender, God is not only a personal but also personal and in order to address God as a person we have to use a gender. There's no easy way out of this. Then imagine it professed a Saviouress who was a woman, imagine all the ordained clergy were priestesses, men wouldn't be allowed to ordain. Would you buy that God has no gender?

This woman made a powerful statement. She said "There is no easy way out." We completely agree.

If Jesus was born a woman, let's say "Jessica," and if God used female terms in his Holy Word, and if God established the Church on 12 female apostles, then we hope that we would pray to "Jessica" and be obedient to the Church that God founded because we would be putting our salvation in jeopardy if we let our chauvinistic prejudice turn it around and refuse to worship "Jessica".

Why did Jesus say "Our Father in Heaven?" We don't know. Why did Jesus choose 12 male apostles? We don't know. Some have said it was because that was the cultural convention of the time as if Jesus paid any attention to cultural conventions on other matters. Why did Jesus talk to his "Father" in the Garden of Gethsemane? After Jesus returned from heaven he said "As the Father has sent me" He had already been in heaven and seen the face of the God and came back to earth talking about his "Father" We don't know. Some modernists (I.e., The Da Vinci Code) would say because the male chauvinist Church fudged with the Bible and shut women out. (more about that below.) Failing theories like those found in the Da Vinci Code, we have to throw Jesus out of God's plan for Salvation in order to get around it. Which modern Feminism has done. Modern feminism has done some good things but when we weigh the balance of what it has done to Jesus we have to question it.

We just can't hold with abortion rights which deny that a baby sucking its thumb in the womb is a person. We can't hold with free sex, gay sex, and many of the other principles endorsed by modern Feminism. And we believe that Mary, the lady who followed Jewish law to a tee, is totally crying over the sins of her children. I've done lots of those sins and they were just plain wrong. Forgive me Lord. This "anything goes" society is not freedom, it is bondage. Discipline is freedom. We believe the Church was right on these issues of morality.

Mary is a great example of womanhood and a great person to ask for help

We understand the feeling of the woman who wrote us saying "there is no easy way out [of the dilemma that God has a socially male connotation in the Catholic faith]" We agree. And we don't have an answer. The cool thing is that there is a very powerful female in heaven - Mary, the mother of Jesus. I (Hugh) give my testimony about Mary here. She is above all the angels. I suggest you give her a try, she kicks!

At Lourdes, France Aug. 15, 2004 the Pope said:

"Listen to her, young people who seek an answer capable of giving meaning to your lives. Here you can find that answer. It is a demanding one, yet it is the only answer which is genuinely satisfying. For it contains the secret of true joy and peace.

"This grotto also issues a special call to women. Appearing here, Mary entrusted her message to a young girl, as if to emphasize the special mission of women in our own time, tempted as it is by materialism and secularism: to be in today's society a witness of those essential values which are seen only with the eyes of the heart.

"To you, women, falls the task of being sentinels of the Invisible! I appeal urgently to all of you, dear brothers and sisters, to do everything in your power to ensure that life, each and every life, will be respected from conception to its natural end. Life is a sacred gift, and no one can presume to be its master."

She never refuses someone who asks her to pray. Mary was a humble Jewish woman under the law of the Old Testament. She placed herself under the law, not above it. She believed in the values of family. She didn't approve of gay sex and she took the direction from her husband Joseph. He decided they should leave for Egypt and she went along with it. He led her and protected her. Why didn't the angel warn Mary directly about the dangers of Herod? Perhaps it was because the Angel acknowledged Joseph's position as head of the household. We don't know. The angel's leading was constantly on the hand of Joseph.

Mary is not God but the best Christian who ever lived

Mary is not a Goddess nor is she the "female face of God" like a New Age woman wrote in an email to me. But Catholics think Mary is the highest angel in heaven. Many women Saints and mystics have called on her prayers for us and have asked her to pray for the world.

Mary is a Creation of God. She is not a Goddess. The Church's statement that she is mother of God is cool but it can only be understood in relation to her son. Genesis says "In the Beginning was the word." John completes that phrase thousands of years later to identify the "word" as Jesus "And the word walked among us" (John 1) The one who was and is to come. (Rev.)

The Church recognized the true greatness of Mary. No one else did. We are the only denomination and religion in the world that sees the truth about Mary's Immaculate Conception. To the Buddhists the idea is ludicrous because there is no heaven and no sin. To the Hindi's it is wrong because, Jesus wasn't the Saviour so his mother was just a woman. To the Muslim's Jesus was only a prophet so there was no reason why Mary would have to be "Immaculately Conceived" to be a vessel worthy of carrying him. To the New Agers, there is no sin, only ignorance so we are all immaculately conceived without sin.

One of the big problems some women feel in the Catholic Church is that they feel excluded.

In our article "Why do I stay Catholic" we explain that belonging to the Church runs a lot deeper than our gender and my personality or anything else. It transcends these things that would make us feel "apart from" the Church if we were not looking through spiritual eyes.

Women have an integral part of the Church. Many of the most influential Saints and mystics were women. Women drive the Church forward through prayer. My Church is full of women.

"God created man out of mud. God created women out of the rib of a rational creature."

Did the Church squash the women mystics?

We got an email that said: harassing and/or condemning many of my favorite mystics, like ...Angela of Foligno, the "Spirituals", i.e. the more strictly poor branch of the Franciscans in the 14th century, Marguerite Porete, etc. It persecuted the Beguines, a mystical movement of mostly lay women.

Women have a greater pre-disposition to mysticism perhaps because feminine energy is more ethereal. Many of the greatest mystics were women. It is a great gift that women have given to the Church. Of course there were many great male mystics and we don't think an unbiased secular historian would describe the Mystic movement as a women's movement. The Church's concerns with mysticism were with some of the ideas summed up by the "free Spirit" movement. Errors of Pantheistic mystics made it a lot harder for the mystics who were totally into the Church and who were totally into building the Church through their prayers and holiness and inwardness. we don't think sound scholarship will show an anti women agenda in the Church's caution with mysticism. They canonized many mystics both men and women.

Let's examine each of the groups and people mentioned in this woman's email in turn:

Angela of Foligno

We see no evidence that Angela of Foligno, was tried before the inquisition ; we've read a dozen synopsis of her life from Catholic, secular, and Gnostic sources, but no mention of a traumatic incident before the inquisition. We think if it was a significant hindrance to her spiritual path there would be some mention of it. It appears she died a full member of the Catholic faith surrounded by students and followers.

Marguerite Porete

Marguerite Porete was apparently a member of the "free spirit" movement led by the Muslim Sufi's. We found that here on a Muslim Heritage site:

So although I totally agree that it was completely wrong for the inquisition to hand her (or anyone else) over to the secular authorities, there is little doubt in my mind that her theology was anti Catholic. It was not a good time in history to be angry with authority and to be in their face about it, especially if the theology was clearly incongruent with the Early Church fathers (& mothers). Today it is much easier to hate the Church publicly but We have to bear in mind that the Church believed that eternal damnation was waiting for the heretic and that anyone the heretic taught would also be risking damnation also.

"Quite in accord with their Pantheistic principles, the Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit (thirteenth to fifteenth century) held that they who have reached perfection, i.e. complete absorption in God, have no need of external worship, of sacraments, or of prayer; they owe no obedience to any law, since their will is identical with God's will; and they may indulge their carnal desires to any extent without staining the soul."

The Beguines

The Beguines started out very faithful and devout, but started to stray into Pantheism. This is not surprising given that they did not come from educated backgrounds. They went through some hard times but came through it. They were condemned by the Council of Vienne (1312), but this sentence was mitigated by John XXII (1321), who permitted the Beguines, as they had mended their ways, to resume their mode of life. The Beghards were more obstinate. It is notable that you say the Beguines were "mostly lay women." The male counterparts of the Beguines were the "Beghards." In fact they underwent much more discipline under the Inquisition than the Beguines. We don't think it is good scholarship to look at condemnation of male and a female orders and to separate out the female order as being punished for being women mystics when the male counterparts went through much more severe punishment. We can certainly condemn the Inquisition for its harshness but we don't think this constitutes a systematic war on women. While the Beguines turned around and came into union with the Church again, the Beghards drifted further into Quietism.

(1) Catholic Encyclopedia 1377A.D.


Footnote 1

Return to footnote 1 referrer

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Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.