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Church seeks to open doors to women

Updated: 2015-02-02 07:49
By Agencies in Vatican City (China Daily)

A new Vatican outreach initiative to listen to women hit a sour note before it even got off the ground: The sexy blonde on its Internet promo video came under such ridicule that it was quickly taken down.

But the working paper for the Pontifical Council of Culture's plenary assembly on "Women's Cultures: Equality and Difference" speaks about opening the church's doors to women so they can offer their skills "in full collaboration and integration" with men.

It denounces plastic surgery as a form of "aggression" against the female body "like a burqa made of flesh". And it acknowledges that the church has for centuries offered women "ideological and ancestral leftovers".

Few people doubt the seriousness of Francis' pledge to appoint women to key Vatican decision-making jobs, nor do they question his sincerity.

But, as Vatican commentator David Gibson recently pointed out, Francis can also sound an awful lot like the 78-year-old Argentine churchman that he is - "using analogies that sound alternately condescending and impolitic, even if well-intentioned."

The latest initiative comes courtesy of Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who has no fear of courting controversy as he raises the Vatican profile in sport, art and even atheist circles at the helm of the Vatican's Culture Ministry.

Ravasi's first major foray into women's issues, however, was a flop - at least in the English-speaking world.

Just before Christmas, his office launched a crowdsourcing initiative to promote the plenary meeting set for Wednesday through Saturday, and invited women around the globe to send in a 60-second video of their lives for possible inclusion at the "big meeting of cardinals and bishops" next week.

In the video, Italian actress Nancy Brilli - buxom albeit in a modest blue top - earnestly asked her viewers how often they ask themselves, "Who are you? What do you do? What do you think about yourself as a woman?"

The criticism was swift and harsh.

"What were they thinking at the Vatican?" wrote Phyllis Zagano of Hofstra University in the liberal National Catholic Reporter.

"Aside from the obvious - sexy sell has long gone by the boards in developed nations and is totally unacceptable in predominantly Muslim countries - the fact of the matter is that highlighting a stereotypical spokeswoman is not the way to ask for women's input."

Critics said that the women the Vatican might most want to hear from - those suffering from poverty, violence or war - might not have a smartphone at hand to send in a clip. Others noted that the two-week deadline - at the height of the Christmas holidays - worked against any widespread response.

In the end, about 250 videos were sent in.

Consuela Corradi, a sociologist at Rome's Catholic Lumsa university, was one of 15 women who advised Ravasi on the initiative. She complained that criticism of the video was unfair.

Xinhua - Reuters


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