The Man’s ‘Ideal’ Role?

Contrary to M. Cathleen Kaveny, in “Defining Feminism” (2/28), it does not seem that Pope John Paul II truly respected women—not real women. Instead, he valued his personal image of what he perceived as the “ideal” woman, Mary. Perhaps the loss of his own mother at a young age led to his idealization of motherhood and his desire to limit women to that role. The all-male officialdom of the church seeks to define women according to its male preferences. So women in parishes can arrange flowers, iron altar cloths, teach the children and support the male clergy as office managers and housekeepers. They may not preach, however. They may serve in high administrative roles in chanceries but not have decision-making authority.

Rome says motherhood is the ideal role, but it does not speak similarly to men about fatherhood. It does not tell men they can be doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses and fathers but not priests. Women hold the family together in crisis when men have abandoned them either for war or because they don’t want the responsibilities of husband and father. Is the church abandoning its responsibility for telling men their most important role is that of husband and father? You don’t often hear that from the men who run the church outside the Father’s Day homily.

Anne Chapman

Los Angeles, Calif.

Motherhood Not for All

Feminism is a difficult issue to deal with in society at large and in the Catholic tradition. M. Cathleen Kaveny, in “Defining Feminism” (2/28), presents both sides of the issue but falls short in pointing out the uniqueness of each person regardless of gender. No one will argue against the anatomical differences between male and female. But I, a woman, would argue that motherhood is not a call for all women who have been gifts to the world and even to Catholicism. Were not St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Joan of Arc—and many like them who were not Catholic saints—feminists acceptable to the church and secular society? Limiting the role of women in society to motherhood ignores their inner strengths that go far beyond nurturing. A career woman who studies how to serve the marginalized and poor and gives up motherhood is responding to God’s call too.

Cody Serra

Plano, Tex.

Cover Girls

I almost didn’t read M. Cathleen Kaveny’s “Defining Feminism” because I was so transfixed by the cover art. If we take a statistical approach toward the semiotics of the illustration, the following can be said of the 51 female figures. Thirty-one wear high heels (61 percent), 14 seem to be doing a runway catwalk (27 percent), and 12 are wearing miniskirts (24 percent). Women wear eye-popping colors of clothing, but have no other distinguishing characteristics, nor do they seem engaged in any activity other than gesticulating or modeling fashions. Talk about objects rather than subjects! Is this America’s picture of feminists, anti-feminists or women in general, or just a lapse?

Ruth Russo

Walla Walla, Wash.

No Free Pass

After reading Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s “Pass It On” (2/28), I was surprised—and, truth be told, disappointed—by the free pass the cardinal awards himself and his fellow members of the hierarchy in accounting for the widespread failure to “embrace discipleship and become active followers of Christ.” As has been made so painfully and patently clear by the appalling facts of the sexual abuse crisis, the crisis of discipleship rests, at least in part, on the tragic and pervasive failure of leadership. At some point, the bishops will either start hearing and considering the concerns of present-day Catholics—women and gays among them—or they will end up talking to themselves.

Peter Quinn

Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Which Gospel Message?

Cardinal Donald Wuerl (“Passing It On,” 2/28) either does not understand the Gospel message or does not understand our youth, when he states that the majority consider prayer and spirituality important, but the message of the Gospel has been eclipsed. Many of our youth are deeply concerned with the Gospel message. They care about social justice; they are against war and the killing of innocent victims of war; they are for equality for all humans; they are concerned about the plight of the poor in the United States and across the globe; they are concerned about gun violence. Perhaps if these Gospel messages were not eclipsed by the church, the youth would find their way back to the pews.

Catherine Williams

Everett, Wash.

Coming to a Boil

In Of Many Things (2/21), Drew Christiansen, S.J., concludes that in the Arab world popular resistance may offer an alternative to despots but that there seems no alternative in sub-Saharan Africa. I disagree. The southern African alternative will come from the same quarter as in Tunis and Cairo.

I teach media, reportage and filmmaking in Eastern Congo to talented young men and women from all social strata. My former students now work in international news and aid organizations; they have set up businesses and run charities and are contributing members of the middle-class intelligentsia. When they reach critical mass, their percolation will bubble up unavoidably. The lava in the volcano never stays down long.

Carlton Anthony Chase

Brentwood, Tenn.

Recently in Letters