John Paul II: A Pope whose deeply ingrained views of women angered feminists Print E-mail

April 4, 2005


Pope's deeply ingrained views of women angered feminists

VATICAN CITY --  The late Pope John Paul II, who lost his mother at the age of nine and devoted himself to the Virgin Mary, had deep-seated views on the role of women that drew the ire of modern feminists.

While the pope's affection and respect for women marked a radical shift from the traditional arms-length attitude of Catholicism's all-male clergy, who are sworn to celibacy, the advancement of women was not on his agenda.

"A woman must give priority to her role as mother before any other public or professional activity," he wrote in an exhortation entitled "Familiaris Consortio" (The Christian Family in the Modern World).

"Her original mission, for which she cannot be replaced, is to stay at home to raise children," the document said.

John Paul II's 1998 letter "Mulieris Dignitatem" (The Dignity of Women) did little to appease those who objected to his rigid stance against abortion, divorce and the ordination of women as priests.

Three years earlier he wrote in a letter to women: "To remain celibate with serenity, the priest must develop for himself an image of the woman as a sister."

His rejection out of hand of the ordination of women was a source of deep frustration among many in the American Catholic Church, where the idea gained wide currency in the 1970s.

On Sunday the US-based Women's Ordination Conference said that it mourned the pope's death but grieved "for the actions [he] left undone for women's equality in the Church".

Joanna Manning, co-founder of Catholic Organizations for Renewal, for her part criticized the late pope for trying to reestablish humility and subordination as the traditional virtues of women.

"He introduced a whole new doctrine of femininity into the Church where women's role in Christianity was to be that of the Virgin Mary rather than Christ, which not only is a travesty of theology but it's also quite dangerous in the effects it can have on women's lives," Manning told CBC television in Canada.

The connection between John Paul II's views on women and his childhood loss is a matter of conjecture, but his single-minded devotion to Mary knew no bounds.

The motto of his papacy, "Totus Tuus", is a reference to the Madonna meaning "entirely yours".

The ailing pope invoked the motto following his February 24 throat surgery, scribbling a note to aides saying "I am forever Totus Tuus".

John Paul II was convinced that he owed his survival from the 1981 attempt on his life to Mary, who he said guided the assassin's bullet away from any vital organs.

In only one instance was the late pope's affection for a woman the source of wagging tongues.

The actress Halina Kwiatkowska, in a book entitled Wielki Kolega (The Great Friend), sought to lay to rest speculation of a romantic attachment with the future pope, who maintained a lifelong friendship with her.

The young Karol Wojtyla, who adored the theater and wrote several plays, once appeared on stage with Kwiatkowska as her fiancé and husband in the play Baladyna.

John Paul II visited the woman that he nicknamed "Kalinka" each time he traveled to Poland, and she paid several visits to the pope either at the Vatican or at the summer papal residence in Castelgandolfo, near Rome.

In her book published in 2002, she wrote: "I wanted to make things clear to put an end to the insinuations. Karol Wojtyla and I were partners as actors and that is all."

Kwiatkowska, now 84, was one of the leading actresses of her generation.