Last week the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women concluded a two-week session which dealt with protecting women and girls against violence in the modern world. I was embarrassed to read in The New York Times that the Vatican delegation sided with Russia and several Muslim countries in blocking one of the declarations for women’s protection.
I am aware that the Vatican opposition is sometimes due to the wording rather than to the proposal itself. But I wish they could be more careful in their objections so as to avoid always appearing opposed to something which most people consider right and just. This is particularly true in regard to the rights of women, since the Church has the reputation of wanting to keep women in a subordinate role.
Unfortunately there is a basis for this reputation, beginning with the words of Saint Paul in his letter to the Ephesians where he wrote that wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything (5, 22-24). He continued along the same line in his letter to Timothy where he laid down rules about women’s hair-styles, and then forbade that women be allowed to teach or have authority over a man (1 Timothy 2, 9-12).
This basic teaching of women being subordinate to men was taken up in later centuries and put forward by Scholastic theologians as a reason why women could not be admitted to priestly ministry in the Church. This reason no longer has any acceptance, but the Church authorities continue their opposition to women priests on the basis of what the Popes now call “theological anthropology” (Angelus Domini Paul VI Jan 30, 1977; Ordinatio sacerdotalis John Paul II May 22, 1994).
Whatever about this new concept of theological anthropology, I am convinced that the Vatican delegations, which give the impression of opposition to women’s rights at international meetings, are not representative of the Catholic Church. They are called delegations of the Holy See which represents the Vatican City State at international meetings. The Vatican City State came into being in 1929 from a Papal agreement with the government of Italy.
The Holy See or Apostolic See is a term that came into use in the 4th century in reference to the diocese of Rome, the primary diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. Modern Church Law describes the Holy See thus: “The term Apostolic See or Holy See refers not only to the Roman Pontiff but also to the Secretariat of State, the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, and other institutes of the Roman Curia, unless it is otherwise apparent from the nature of the matter or the context of the words” (Canon 361). In other words the Holy See is not the Catholic Church, but the central administration which has shown itself to the world in recent times as totally dysfunctional with its in-fighting, corruption and intrigue.
In future I will console myself with the thought that the Holy See delegations at international meetings represent only the Vatican City State and not the Church founded by Jesus Christ who taught us that authority is given not to dominate or control but to share and to serve. Our new Pope Francis is showing the way.