What Do Women Really Want?


June 1, 1988

The United States Catholic Conference has come out with a first draft of its “women’s pastoral,” entitled “Partners in the Mystery of Redemption.” While its 131 pages include some valuable insights, in general the letter is neither pastoral, nor primarily about the authentic needs of women. It is strongly feminist and almost entirely lacking in moral courage.

A paragraph from the letter’s conclusion gives a good example of characteristics that pervade the whole document:

In our times, there is a desire on the part of many to revise devotional representations that appear to propose Mary as a paradigm of passivity and submission to male authority, a woman valued chiefly for her virginity and maternity, a woman confined to domestic and familial roles. Similarly, some lament the fact that Mary has often been presented as so uniquely exalted and gifted, because of her privileges of grace, that she is beyond emulation. Such images do not reflect the gains women have made in terms of equality and co-responsibility (para. 242).

Passages such as this are bound to cause pain and anguish for women (and men) who honor and emulate Mary as she was, and is, rather than as the feminists would like her to be. But the pain and anguish which obviously means more to the drafters of this document is that of the feminists. The feminist perspective is so pervasive in this draft that it is difficult to remember that the letter is supposed to be from bishops to the flock. In substance, it is much more like an open letter from the Women’s Ordination Conference to the bishops. Many of the assumptions and assertions made about women and men are straight from feminist “theology.” For example, the bishops, who are very careful not to be judgmental in other matters, here assert that sexism is “a profound sin” (para. 37). For the uninitiated, the drafters of the letter provide a definition of sexism, as drafted by Bishops Balke and Lucker of Minnesota.

Sexism, directly opposed to Christian humanism and feminism, is the erroneous belief or conviction or attitude that one sex, female or male, is superior to the other in the very order of creation or by the very nature of things. When anyone believes that men are inherently superior to women or that women are superior to men, then he or she is guilty of sexism. Sexism is a moral and social evil (para. 39).

By this definition, sexism seems to be more of a heresy than a sin. It is also largely non-existent in civilized society, except among feminists. One gets the definite impression from this feminism-inspired letter that women are morally superior to men.

Perhaps this is just an excess of guilt for past sins of sexism on the part of the bishops, but while the document’s drafters feel free to generalize about the tendencies of men to leave their wives, avoid responsibility, oppress and demean women, etc., they are entirely uncritical of women. The failure of many women to conform to the teachings of the Church on contraception and sexual ethics is mentioned without comment, except to say that the Church must engage them in dialogue. Even the blasphemous “worship” services of radical Catholic feminists are mentioned only as an example the alienation caused to women by the Church’s teaching on ordination. There is not even a hint of other faults that such women as Edith Stein have noted as being common feminine failings.

The extent to which this whole document is warped by feminist ideology shows that feminists are right about one thing: our bishops do not deal well with women. The bishop-drafters treat women with kid gloves, as if we cannot be dealt with as rational adults. Women are to be pacified and placated, rather than challenged and convinced. Either the bishops do not think women are rational and capable of accepting truth, or, the more likely case, they are simply afraid of angry, alienated women.

If the “voices of alienation” from which so much is heard in this pastoral are the voices of real women, there is no doubt that a pastoral response to women’s concerns is needed. These women, and all of us women, need prophetic courage from our bishops, priests, and especially from other, faithful women, to show us how to live more faithfully according to the Gospel. The last thing we need is to have our faults and rebellions against that Gospel justified by blaming others. This document will need extensive revision, if not a total redrafting, before it adequately answers the real spiritual and moral needs of women.


  • Angela Grimm

    At the time this article was written, Angela Grimm was the director of the Catholic Center at the Free Congress Foundation.

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