Thursday, August 12, 2004

Rep. Hontiveros takes on Cardinal Ratzinger

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had it coming.

The author of the Vatican’s ``Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and the World’’ has shown once again how the powerful patriarchy in the Catholic Church views women’s struggle for equality and emancipation. How is the how? With suspicion bordering on paranoia, that’s how. Ratzinger, famous for being an archconservative, should expect a fallout.

Part of the fallout comes from Rep. Anna Theresia ``Risa’’ Hontiveros-Baraquel, a first termer from the Akbayan Party who delivered her maiden privilege speech (``Feminism is Humanism’’) in congress last Tuesday. Hontiveros tackled Ratzinger’s heavy treatise that warned against the rise of antagonism between the sexes, woman power, and other imagined abominations.

I imagine the Lord Jesus Christ, whom I believe to be a thoroughly masculine feminist, befuddled by all this anti-feminist to-do in the Vatican. Jesus posed a counterculture and defended and upheld women so many times. I don’t know why many modern-day high priests could not do the same without being patronizing and suspicious. (Ha, and what would Jesus say about their wearing jewelry and princely raiment embroidered in gold?)

Ratzinger rants: ``Recent years have seen new approaches to women’s issues. A first tendency is to emphasize strongly conditions of subordination in order to give rise to antagonism: women, in order to be themselves, must make themselves the adversaries of men. Faced with the abuse of power, the answer for women is to seek power. This process leads to opposition between men and women, in which the identity and role of one are emphasized to the disadvantage of the other, leading to harmful confusion regarding the human person, which has its most immediate and lethal effects in the family.

``A second tendency emerges…In order to avoid the domination of one sex over the other, their differences tend to be denied, viewed as mere effects of historical and cultural conditioning. In this perspective, physical difference, termed sex, is minimized, while the purely cultural element, termed gender, is emphasized to the maximum and held to be primary…According to this perspective, human nature in itself does not possess characteristics in an absolute manner: all persons can and ought to constitute themselves as they like, since they are free from every predetermination linked to their essential constitution. This perspective has many consequences. Above all it strengthens the idea that liberation of women entails criticism of Sacred Scripture.’’

Jesus H. Christ!

You can download the document from ZENIT News Agency, whose logo says, ``The World Seen From Rome.’’ Get a free online subscription if you want to eavesdrop on the Vatican.

Hontiveros now asks: ``In the spirit of sisterly correction, I ask why, in the latter years of a Pope who has meant so much to us in many of humanity’s struggles for democratization, social justice and a humanist culture and ecological healing, among others, the Vatican has seen fit to reaffirm its earlier, painful marginalization of the feminist movement…’’

Feminism, Hontiveros argues, is precisely a worldview that celebrates the feminine principle alongside the masculine in all of life and upholds the dignity, rights and responsibilities of women in that context. Again, she asks: ``Are these not positive energies that can propel the authentic advancement of women? Does the Cardinal not recognize women and feminist capacities for discernment and self-criticism in these matters?’’

Obviously not. While I was writing this piece, I entertained this thought: What might people like Ratzinger think when they read Mary’s Magnificat? Mary’s glorious words I have made the anthem of my life.

On the ``antagonism’’ issue, Hontiveros says: ``The adversity is precisely rooted in and exacerbated by these very conditions of subordination in our innermost selves and our most intimate relationships up to our societal institutions. How can we free ourselves if we did not recognize this truth? We seek, not another power over others, but power within ourselves and with others.’’

Ratzinger (surprise!) concedes somewhat: ``It is women, in the end, who even in very desperate situations, as attested by history past and present, possess a singular capacity to persevere in adversity, to keep life going even in extreme situations, to hold tenaciously to the future, and finally to remember with tears the value of every human life. Although motherhood is a key element of women’s identity, this does not mean that women should be considered from the sole perspective of physical procreation.’’

For Hontiveros, the most ``startling’’ part of Ratzinger’s thesis was the one about the liberation of women and criticism of Sacred Scripture and his saying that ``this tendency would consider as lacking in importance and relevance the fact that the Son of God assumed human nature in its male form.’’ There it is. It would be so Freudian, if it weren’t so Ratzinger.

Says Hontiveros: ``No feminist debates the fact that Jesus was born a man. Instead, we Catholic feminists cherish Jesus Christ as a feminist man and a sign of the feminine principle of God.’’

What do you make of a canonized saint (St. John Damascene) who said: ``Woman is a sick she ass…a hideous tapeworm, the advance post of hell’’? An Asian theologian I once interviewed remarked that such words (and surely, Ratzinger’s too) were ``evidence of deep mysogynist contempt and fear of women.’’