Skip to main content Accessibility help

Renewal or Repatriarchalization? Responses of the Roman Catholic Church to the Feminization of Religion

  • Christine E. Gudorf (a1)


This article will outline a feminist interpretation for responses of the Roman Catholic Church to particular events in modern history, and sketch feminist proposals for solving the resulting problems of the Church today. The first section interprets the Church's initial response to scientific and philosophic discoveries and movements of the late Renaissance and the Enlightenment period as responsible for the feminization of the image of Roman Catholicism in the secular mind. The second section interprets the Church's response to liberalism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as confirming for the secular, and increasingly popular, mind this feminine image of Catholicism. The third section depicts Vatican II as a contemporary attempt to create a more masculine image for the faith by moving the Church's sphere of action from the feminized private sector to the public world characterized by masculine rationality and technology. The final section sketches some ways in which modern feminist scholarship and its perspective can be a major and necessary contributor to the eradication of this feminine view of religion through the elimination of public/private dualism.



Hide All

1 Short surveys of patristic and medieval attitudes toward and understandings of women can be found in Rosemary Ruether, “Virginal Feminism in the Fathers of the Church” and McLaughlin, Eleanor, “Women in Medieval Theology” in Ruether, , ed., Religion and Sexism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974).

2 Latourette, Kenneth, A History of Christianity, Vol. II (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), pp. 692–93, 982–87.

3 Ibid., pp. 1099-1101.

4 Latourette, p. 1105; Chers fils, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 42 (1950), 639;Dequelle consolation, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 43 (1951), 784;Se a tempere, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 32 (1940), 362;Divini Redemptoris, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 29 (1937), 100.

5 Encyclical Matrimonii, 1741 to Polish bishops; letter Deessemus Nos, 1788 to the Bishop of Mottola; Apostolic Constitution, Dei miseratione, 1741; Apostolic Constitution, Apostolicii ministerii, 1747. Sources of translations of papal documents not otherwise identified: Papal Teachings: Matrimony, ed. Benedictine Monks of Solesmes, tr. Byrnes, Michael J. (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1963);Papal Teachings: Woman in the Modern World, ed. Benedictine Monks of Solesmes (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1958).

6 Apostolic Constitution, Ad Apostolica servitutis, 1742.

7 Encyclical Satis vobis, 1741; encyclical inter omnigenas, 1743 to the Bishop and people of Serbia.

8 Encyclical Magnae nobis, 1748 to Polish Bishops; Apostolic letter Quantopere, 1763; letter to Archbishop of Malines, Exequendo nunc, 1782; letter, Gravissimam, 1789 to Archbishop of Prague; letter, Litteris tuis, 1789 to Bishop of Agra.

9 Apostolic Constitution, Auctorem fidei, 1794.

10 Letter, Etsi fraternitatis, 1803 to Bishop of Mainz; encyclical Traditi humilitati, 1829; encyclical Commissum divinitus, 1835 to clergy of Switzerland; Apostolic letter, Ad Apostolicae Sedis, 1851; letter, La Littera, 1852 to King Victor Emmanuel; Consistorial allocution September 27, 1852 on civil matrimony in New Granada; the Syllabus of Errors #65-74; letter Tuae litterae, 1875 to Bishop of Ghent; encyclical Inscrutabili, 1878; encyclical Quod apostolici, 1878; letter Ci siamo, 1879 to episcopate of Turin, Vercelli, and Genoa; encyclical Arcanum, 1880; letter Les evenements, 1883 to President of French Republic; encyclical Humanum genus, 1884; encyclical Quod multum, 1886 to Bishops of Hungary; encyclical Dall'alto, 1890 to Italian episcopate; encyclical Rerum novarum, 1891; letter Il divisamento, 1893 to Italian episcopate; letter Quam religiosa, 1898 to Bishops of Peru; encyclical Annum ingressi sumus, 1902; letter Dum multa, 1902 to Bishops of Ecuador; letter Afflictum propioribus, 1906 to Bishops of Bolivia; encyclical Ubi arcano, 1922; letter Ci si e domandato, 1929 to Cardinal Gaspari.

11 Encyclical Casti connubii, 1930; Dilectissima nobis, 1933, to Spanish episcopate; encyclical Divini Redemptoris, 1937; Apostolic letter Con singular complacencia, 1939 to Philippine episcopate.

12 Casti connubii, 1930; encyclical Summi Pontificatus, 1939; 1941 allocution to Sacred Roman Rota; Radio Message to the World, May 13, 1943; allocution to Biological-Medical Union of St. Luke, 1944; allocution to French journalists, April 17,1946; radio message to Swiss people, 1946; allocution to Congress on European Unity, 1948; allocution to Bureau International du Travail, 1949; speech to International Union of Family Organizations, 1949; speech to International Congress of Catholic Doctors, 1949; speech to Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, November 2, 1950; speech to Fathers of Families, 1951; speech to midwives, 1951; speech to Association of Large Families, 1951; allocution to First Symposium on Genetic Medicine, 1953; speech to 26th Congress on Urology, 1953; speech to 2nd World Conference on Fertility and Sterility, 1956; allocution to 7th Congress on Hematology, 1958.

13 John in Mater et Magistra, #188-195; Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, #17,23; John Paul II in January 28, 1979 address at Puebla, III, 5.

14 Immortale Dei, 1885, Acta Sanctae Sedis, 18:167–68.

15 Arcanum, 1880, Acta Sanctae Sedis 12:389.

16 Natalis trecentesimi, December 27, 1917, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 10 (1918), 57.

17 October 21, 1919 speech.

18 Bonum sane, June 25, 1920.

19 October 21, 1919 speech.

20 Casti Connubii, 1930.

21 Ibid.

22 September 10, 1941 speech to newlyweds.

23 Divini Redemptoris, 1937.

24 October 21, 1945 address to Italian Women.

25 October 24, 1955 speech to Italian Education Association.

26 September 21, 1948 speech to International Association for the Protection of the Girl.

27 Ibid.

28 October 21, 1945 address to Italian women.

29 February 25, 1942 speech to newlyweds.

30 Ci e gradito, Osservatore Romano, December 8, 1960.

31 Shannon, Thomas and O'Brien, David, “Introduction to the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” in Renewing the Earth: Catholic Documents on Peace, Justice and Liberation (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977), pp. 171–72.

32 Gaudium et Spes, 43 in Gremillion, Joseph, ed., The Gospel of Peace and Justice: Catholic Social Teaching Since Pope John (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1976), p. 278.

33 The second draft of the U.S. Bishops' pastoral letter on war and peace, for example, oscillates between old style demands (“Catholics must…” to men and women in the military) to more basic recognition of basic autonomy in conscience.

34 Much of the opposition to the U.S. bishops' letter on war and peace both at the local level (as seen in newspapers and radio talkshows) and at the national level (the formation of the American Catholic Committee) comes from people who still resent Vatican II as a disruption of their religious certainty and consequent security.

35 The New Code of Canon Law continues this situation virtually unchanged—as is to be expected since it was drawn up within the present center of power.

36 These decisions were not, of course, finally made until the late Middle Ages. The fact that Thomas Aquinas felt obliged to deal with such questions in the Summa attests to their real presence in the Church of his time.

37 See, for example, Merchant, Carolyn, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980);Zaretsky, Eli, Capitalism, the Family and Personal Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1976);Dinnerstein, Dorothy, The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and the Human Malaise (New York: Harper & Row, 1976);Martin, Del, Battered Wives (San Francisco: Glide Publications, 1976);Pleck, Joseph and Sawyer, Jack, Men and Masculinity (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974) and Pleck, Joseph H., The Myth of Masculinity (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1981);Donzelot, Jacques, The Policing of Families (New York: Random House, 1979); and Scott, Hilda, Does Socialism Liberate Women? Experiences from Eastern Europe (Boston: Beacon, 1974).

38 Especially of heart attack and stroke. Many corporations are offering workshops for their employees on ways of integrating work and family to cut down on the costly medical effects of job-related stress and its pressures on the home and health.

39 Rubin, Lillian Breslow, Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working Class Family (New York: Basic Books, 1976).

40 Martin, , Battered Wives, pp. 5455.

41 Piven, Frances Fox and Cloward, Richard A., Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (New York: Random House, 1971);Wallace, Michele, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (New York: Dial, 1978).

42 Many feminists advocated suffrage on the grounds that the greater morality of women would eliminate corruption and evils (such as war) in the public sphere when women were granted political power.

43 Lk 2:49; Mt 12:46-50; Lk 8:19-21; Mk 3:31-35.

44 Lk 14:25-29; Mt 10:37-38; Lk 9:59-62; Mt 8:19-22.

45 See Hauerwas, Stanley, A Community of Character: Toward the Construction of a Christian Social Ethics (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), p. 190.

46 Strangers and Guests, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 4625 N.W. Beaver Drive, Des Moines, Iowa 50322.

47 Timothy O'Connell's treatment of traditional moral method and the revisionist position in Principles for a Catholic Morality (New York: Seabury, 1978) makes this point well.

48 The second draft of the U.S. Bishops pastoral letter on nuclear war ends with this acknowledgment.

49 Octogesima adveniens, 3-4

50 Russell, Letty, “Changing Language and the Church” in Russell, Letty, ed., The Liberating Word (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), pp. 8788.

51 See ibid., pp. 92-94.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0360-9669
  • EISSN: 2050-8557
  • URL: /core/journals/horizons
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed