I would love to have been a mouse in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office when she read the latest statement from Pope Francis. At his general audience April 29, Francis came out publicly and unequivocally in favor of equal pay for women and men. No ifs, ands or buts … equal pay for equal work. To quote him: “The disparity is a pure scandal." Period.
Great statement — as far as it goes. It gives me hope.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation to strengthen our legislation on pay equity, is pending in Congress. I can imagine Nancy Pelosi — a Catholic — confronting John Boehner — also a Catholic and Speaker of the House —with the news that the pope is on her side!
But, politics aside, I found Francis’ statement interesting in many ways. It’s not that I think he’s on the verge of becoming a feminist, but this is his first statement on gender equality that truly heartened me. I have long wondered how someone like Francis — who clearly has a heart for the poor — could not see that the vast majority of the world’s poor are women and the children in their care. This is the first sign I’ve seen that he knows that and he cares.
But it also raises a lot of questions. Christians around the world, he said, "must become more demanding" in the quest for equality.
OK … let’s try it. If women are “radically equal” to men, then why not women priests and bishops? When did you say you would be appointing women to lead offices in the Curia? Francis’ rhetoric almost begs people to ask him such questions. Does this “radical equality” stop at the church door?
He also made one huge historical error. He spoke of the “radical equality” of husbands and wives in marriage and said that Christian teachings, from the earliest times of the faith, helped defeat an inequality between men and women, where it was once "the right of husbands to repudiate wives, even for false and humiliating reasons."
Now, really, I want to say to Francis: have you read your history on this one? The Catholic church has NOT always preached gender equality down through the ages … in marriage or elsewhere. History does not support what you say. To name one example: I’ve heard St. Paul quoted about wives being subject to their husbands too many times. (I know now that most Scripture scholars do not believe that the Epistle to the Colossians, where that passage is found, was actually authored by Paul.) And that is often followed by a sermon that today would send me running out of church.
That said, this is a start. I don’t know what prompted Francis’ statements … but I hope he keeps talking about gender equality. Sooner or later, he will have to face the many ways the practices of the church contradict the principles he is espousing publicly.