Tradition, progress at crux of Vatican talks on women

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VATICAN CITY- A draft document prepared ahead of a Catholic Church discussion on women demonstrates the questions the Vatican faces as it seeks to make the church more inclusive while not completely abandoning its traditional views on gender.

While the document states that the movement for female equality “was not, and is not, without problems,” the authors note that women between 20 and 50 years old rarely go to Mass, and propose making changes to open the doors for women.

One indication of the kinds of modern topics up for discussion is an entry about elective plastic surgery, which the document says “can be aggressive toward the feminine identity.” One woman quoted in the report said “plastic surgery is like a burqa made of flesh” — a description the document calls “harsh and incisive.”

The questions the paper sets out are not small: Is the Catholic Church going about its outreach to women all wrong? Is a Western woman in today’s culture repelled by the church?

The church should seek to open more doors to women, the report states.

“Every historical era is marked by conflicts and expectations, which today make it impossible to deny complementarity between men and women,” the report says. “It is difficult terrain to plow but one which will give fruit in abundance, even to the Church itself.”

But the paper also offers these questions for discussion: “What spaces are proposed to women in the life of the Church? Do we welcome them bearing in mind specific and changing cultural, social and identity sensitivities? Do we, perhaps, propose ways of participation based on schemes that are of no interest to them?”

All of these topics will be discussed during the Pontifical Council for Culture, which holds a plenary assembly every two or three years to reflect on how the church fits in with cultural issues in modern society.

The draft outline for the next plenary assembly, to be held this week, was posted on a Vatican website.

“Our plenary is engaged in discovering and understanding the feminine specificity in considering themes such as function, role, dignity, equality, identity, liberty, violence, economy, politics, power, autonomy etc.,” the report states.

The paper acknowledges that equality between the genders is the norm, but at the same time, traditional, rigid views of the church are still apparent.

According to the document, women today can “renounce” maternity, but argues that even women who are not mothers “are much more capable of tenderness and forgiveness than men.”

There are differences between men and women when it comes to problem-solving, perceptions and more, the document states.

“Canceling such differences impoverishes personal experience. In this sense it is right not to accept an imposed neutrality but to value difference.”

The goal of the upcoming meeting is to find ways for Christian communities to better listen to and understand how culture has shifted.