Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Does the Church want Catholic men to be weeds?

This blog post purportedly about the 'traditional Catholic wife' quickly degenerates into 'man up' man bashing, and now I've started noticing this phenomenon I think I ought to attack it, especially since it creeps into traddy blogs and FB feeds.

My challenge to people who write like this is simple. Are you man enough to say what the Church actually teaches about the role of the father in the family? If you aren't, I suggest you stop writing on the subject.

Here's a post from my recent series of posts on the subject, in February this year. Click on the labels 'masculinity' and 'patriarchy' to see more.


In some of the earlier posts of the series, I referred rather vaguely to things being said by Catholics about these matters which I thought unhelpful, so it behoves me to give some detail.

All kinds of things can be found in the more marginal sources (in which category I place this blog, for example). Looking at the more mainstream sources - blogs, bishops' statements, magisterial documents and the like - we find, in the more conservative ones, a pattern.

First, there is here and there a recognition that there is a problem of manhood. The Tablet had a minor breakdown when Cardinal Burke made his statement about the loss of men to the Church, and the underlying social causes, but the observation has been made before. The bare fact of male absence is lamented in Pope St John Paul II's 1988 Christifideles laici. In 2014 Mgr Charles Pope, in a much-linked to blog post, explicitly links the problem with feminism.

After years of radical feminism, men are shamed for seeking to take up leadership and authority in their families and in the Church. It starts early. Any normal boy is full of spit and vinegar, is aggressive, competitive, and anxious to test his wings. But many boys are scolded, punished, and even medicated for these normal tendencies. They are told to behave more like girls and to learn to be nicer and to get along, etc. It will be granted that limits are necessary, but the tendency for boys to roughhouse is normal. The scolding and “socializing” to more feminine traits continues apace into early adulthood. And then there are other cultural phenomena such as the slew of “Men are stupid” commercials, etc.

Last year Bishop Olmstead said something similar in a widely-publicised statement, and the 'New Emangelization' organisation has provided lots of statistics on the subject.

Naturally, Catholic schools and parishes are, with a few exceptions, a long way from taking any notice of these statements, but at least they are opening up a debate on the subject.

Second, we need of course a response: what should we do? What should men be like? It is here that these sources get rather hesitant and vague, if not completely silent.

In Christifideles laici, we hear of men that: 'some ... abdicate their proper Church responsibilities'. The implication that they shouldn't do so is, of course, correct, but not terribly helpful.

Cardinal Burke says lots of good things, but despite remarking 'First of all, the Church must make a concentrated effort to evangelize men by delivering a strong and consistent message about what it means to be a faithful Catholic man', he doesn't say anything about men having a leadership role in the family. To be fair, the interview was about the other side of the coin - feminisation.

Mgr Charles Pope tells us that Catholic men should be 'vigorous moral leaders and teachers in their families, parishes, and communities.' Not only does this statement obscure the teaching about male headship by linking it to areas of life in which men do not in fact have any special authority (eg teaching catechism in the parish), this is all the Mgr Pope says about it.

Bishop Olmstead says: 'A father’s role as spiritual head of the family must never be understood or undertaken as domination over others, but only as a loving leadership and a gentle guidance for those in your care.' Again, this is the only reference to headship or leadership in the document, and you can practically hear Bishop Olmstead's unease about the whole idea.

The New Emangelisation website has one article which uses the word 'complementarity': mirroring the case of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is wheeled out to condemn same-sex relationships, despite playing no role in any discussion of heterosexual relationships. Mentions of 'authority' and 'leadership' are limited to a page reproducing Pius XI's Quas Primas about the authority of Christ. There is one occurance of the phrase 'head of their family': amazingly, it is a quotation from a survey response.

So let me get this right: the Emangelization people think that it is grist to their mill that Catholic men responding to a survey say that priests should 'Start teaching men to start being men and the head of their family once again!', but don't have the cojones actually to talk about the concept themselves?

Maybe it is the leaders of the 'men's movement' who need to 'man up', before they invite anyone else to do so.

These are among the most conservative voices which can be regarded as other than completely marginal. Other currents of opinion in the Church are of course far more hostile to, or at least tellingly silent about, the traditional masculine ideal. We find, most notably, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1605) and the Novus Ordo Marriage Rite ('acknowledging her as his equal': Nuptial Blessing A) emphasising the equality of the sexes in exactly the places where you might expect some reference to their differences, and to male headship. In the context of this hostility, it is clearly essential that anyone wishing to defend that ideal should do so clearly, explaining in some detail what it means and defending it from objections, and not simply cower behind euphemisms.

There is an additional problem, which is the way a lot of secular discussions go. It is only a slight exageration to express the message found in a lot of books and in journalism like this: men are pathetic, men are lazy, men are committment shy, so they should be shamed (not incentivised in any other way) into 'manning up' and get married (/ hold down a demanding job etc.) despite the fact that the available women have spent the flower of their youths in promiscuity, have no intention of giving their husbands any respect or attending to their domestic comforts, and retain the right to end the marriage at a moment of their choosing, without giving up the family home, the custody of the children, or a slice of the husband's pay-packet. (I discussed a version of this found in The Economist here.) Without attributing this view to any of the Catholic sources quoted above, the pervasiveness of this narrative is bound to influence the way that their own statements are heard.

Thus, when Pope John Paul II says that men are not fulfilling their responsibilities, it is very easy to read that in light of the 'man up' narrative to mean that, first, men are to blame for the situation (and see here), and, second, they should go back to performing their traditional duties without any thought of challenging the withdrawal of their traditional prerogatives. In other words, they should allow themselves to be exploited.

If Mgr Pope, Bishop Olmstead or anyone else wants to avoid being understood in this way, they need to make it clear. Looking over the fence at the rather more explicit debate going on among the 'conservative Evangelicals', it turns out that the 'manning up' narrative is exactly what many people mean when they talk about complementarity, 'servant leadership' and the other contorted terms they have come up with in order to avoid saying that they are 'traditionalists' or in favour of 'patriarchy'. (The Evangelical blogger Dalrock gives all the links and analysis.) What it comes down to it, they do not want to roll back the 'gains of feminism'. They have made too much concession to the secular ideology of the moment to be able to offer men a convincing reason to bear the extremely heavy burdens of the traditional masculine ideal.

Those burdens, remember, were the hard work once characteristic of boys at school and young men at university and in their early careers; the taking on of the more demanding and highly paid subjects and careers; the shouldering of society's most physically demanding and dangerous jobs; and the willingness to suffer and if necessary die in defence of the family and the nation: all these things, without an expectation that women share in these burdens. In addition, men today have before their eyes the sacrifice of promiscuity in favour of marital fidelity.

The next question I suppose is whether Patriarchy is, for all this, oppressive to women, for that is the thought which is preventing a clear affirmation of the traditional masculine ideal within the Church.

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  1. Three years ago I decided to figure out what in the world Catholics meant when they said men and women were complementary. What are the differences between them, and what implications do they have? I scoured the “theology of the body” addresses, Mulieris dignitatem, the documents of Vatican II, the Catechism, etc. I found nothing. They spilled a vast amount of ink but danced around the question.

    I found my answers in tradition, clarifying experience. But it’s a tradition that modern Catholics are at war with. And it’s also, unfortunately, a tradition that many otherwise-traditional Catholics are at war with. It’s the problem of default liberalism. How many lovers of St. Thomas, for instance, are quick to throw him under the bus or reinterpret him when he starts to speak about women? How many advocates of traditional sex roles defend woman suffrage with even greater zeal?

    It’s folks like you who can challenge that narrative. Thank you for these posts.

  2. What does God want Catholic women to be? Let's assume we've moved beyond the traditional "barefoot, pregnant, at the kitchen sink." How can men and women of today in today's Church mutually support and encourage each other without domination?

    Tradition must look forward as well as back. The role of women in society at large is changing rapidly. Mutuality will demand some adjustments from everyone. I nearly wrote "on both sides" but "sides" is exactly what we don't want. Nor do we want weeds and dormats.

    1. This tired old canard has to die its overdue and long-awaited death. Please tell me where in Holy Tradition it says that I am to keep my wife perpetually "barefoot, pregnant, at the kitchen sink." She is or has been all of these things at times. She is my wife and we keep a home and raise a family together and this random soundbite no more characterises her life than does some feminist fairy tale. Be thankful it's me responding to this and not her - she's a lot less gentle when picked on!

    2. C&M you wrote: " The role of women in society at large is changing rapidly." Is that something that we all have to follow and approve?

    3. Answer: Saints (full stop)

  3. Amerio, R. (1985). Iota Unum - a study of changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century. Kansas City, MO: Sarto House.

    Ch. IX ‘The Church and Women’; para. 93: ‘The subordination of women in Catholic tradition; P.211


    From the religious point of view, both the equality and the subordination of the two sexes have a supernatural aspect to them. According to the account given in Genesis (2:21-2) and referred to by St Paul (1 Cor., 11:8) woman is derived from man to take away his feelings of loneliness, so that emerging from the sleep sent upon him by God, he found himself ‘man and woman’. Woman thus is second to man in creation. She is subject to man, but not because he is the end for which she exists. The end is the same for both and superior to both. St Paul says forcefully that with respect to that end ‘there is neither man nor woman’ (Gal., 3:28), just as there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free. Not that all these do not exist with their different qualities, but that all the baptised have put on the same Christ and to that extent all their differences have been taken away. There is no distinction between persons in the order of grace. All have been made members of Christ and filled with the same life. St Paul nonetheless says (Col., 3:18) women should be subordinate, thus taking on what had been laid down in Genesis: 'Mulieres, subditae estote viris sicut oportet in Domino (Wives, be obedient to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord)', where the original word would be perhaps better translated by a reflexive verb than by a participle used as a noun, since the meaning of the Greek is rather of yourselves subject yourselves (*). It is important that the text also provides the manner and limit of this subjection, which is to be in Domino, that is it is to have as its rule the service due to the Lord which is a liberating service. The connection of in Domino to subditae estote thus provides the ultimate reason for subjecting oneself to a husband, and that reason is certainly not the husband himself, but the First Principle of all obedience.

    (*) Nor should it be forgotten that Ephesians 5:21 calls spouses ‘subject to one another’, as John Paul II noted in his speech of 3 August 1982.


    1. This is an old bugaboo of mine. The Latin word Ephesians 5:21 uses is "subjecti" -- hence it's translated as "be subject to."

      But in the very next line (Eph. 5:22), when it exhorts wives to something-something with respect to their husbands, it uses a rather different set of words: "subditae sint." Commonly this is translated also as "be subject to," but, while I'm no Latinist, this seems to have a different connotation than "subjecti." It sounds rather like "be subdued by," which is, obviously, a lot stronger.

    2. Bellarmine wrote in The Art of Dying Well, “these words of God, ‘It is not good for man to be alone,’ cannot properly be understood, unless they have relation to some means of propagating the human race.” I am suspicious of this account that marriage was instituted because of man’s feelings of loneliness for female companionship.

      “that reason is certainly not the husband himself, but the First Principle of all obedience.”

      Ridiculous. “The man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man.”

    3. Nicholas, it’s a brave man who takes on Amerio (fitting for this thread though). As one of his most controversial passages it’s obviously a challenge to the Modernist mindset, if not complete effrontery.

      You seem to have taken a different objection from a Traditional viewpoint. However, I really don’t see any clash between Amerio, the Bellarminian reflections, the Pauline lessons and Genesis. I only see harmony across all.

      If Amerio’s use of “loneliness” is your central objection (he’s certainly not alone in using it, no pun, for, prompted by your response, I was interested to see where else it is used and spotted that the Catholic Encyclopaedia also employs it; see “Eve") then I believe it is easily overcome. Especially using the Bellarminian reflections you give.

      I don’t necessarily take it that “loneliness” to depict Adam’s state, pre-Eve, exclusively indicates the emotional (how could Adam, a man with God, be “lonely” in the negative way we understand it?). In any case, it would be unlike Amerio, for the lack of emotion is a hallmark of his, save for his general distress concerning the post-conciliar Church. I rather take his use of “loneliness” as a balance between some emotional state (but only in a positive way of yearning, certainly not a negative lament over some Divine deficiency) and his physical and locational state of being stand-alone amongst the other creatures he has just named. The beautiful poetry of Genesis is striking; Adam surrounded by Creation. It is also keenly structured and ordered. Adam is learning, growing in experience and glorious appreciation of God’s works. He sees the complementarity of the completed animal kingdom (reason tells us that the males and females were evident). Bellarmine is (of course!) right to draw the immediate connection between the Divine thought that it was not good for man to be alone, and the means of human propagation. But it is surely a gradual revelation to Adam, from God, of the always intended Divine plan here, which Scripture perfectly captures in unfolding sequences. God knew His plan was for Eve, Adam could not; God then reveals the completed animal kingdom, showing Adam all that must have been obvious to him both in terms of propagation and his duties of protective stewardship; Adam then must surely have sensed a glory yet to come: Eve (though he could not have imagined the sheer beauty and distinction). Again the dual lesson to him, upon Eve’s arrival, is surely both his duty to propagate and protect. As steward. I think that is the key to Adam’s “at last": not that he’s been moping but that he’s realised he is alone and the glorious possibility to come. He will have known that with God, in Whom he trusts, all things are possible. Then comes the big sleep and awakening to flesh from his flesh, knowing instantly that God has filled that crowning final part of creation he had pre-sensed – both in yearning and locational “loneliness” – would surely be provided. It is all purely positive. I don’t see how to reach a negative view of “loneliness”.

      Amerio is perfectly in tune with Scripture, St Paul and Bellarmine, by stressing that woman is second to man in creation and the natural order in Domino: God, man, woman. His reference to the “First Principle of all obedience” is surely correct. He also finds the key to the often deliberately skewed (by the agenda masses) Pauline texts concerning subjection, by referring to both the “manner and limit”. The only more nuanced question being, as Sean W outlines, what is implied linguistically in Ephesians.

      The marital aspect of that Genesis account is intriguing, especially given the previous thread in this series re: arranged marriages. Without wishing to re-stir that pot, it is clear that Adam and Eve was the ultimate arranged marriage - blueprinted by God Himself (but I go no further!).

      You conclude with: “The man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man.”

      Yes. That’s why I don’t see your issue with Amerio. I don’t see any discord arising from him.  

    4. Loneliness: I still think it’s a poor expression if not simply wrong. I won’t deny Adam feelings, though they must be perfectly rational ones. But how could woman have been created *primarily* because of Adam’s feelings? (“to take away his feelings of loneliness,” he says.) If Adam had these feelings, they were only consequences of the objective incompleteness of creation up to that point. It is like saying - God created woman for Adam’s pleasure. But pleasure, like his feelings, is totally derivative from the actual reason, the suitability of human nature.

      The reason of obedience: It is true that all authority proceeds from God, and therefore the reason for all conscientious obedience is God’s authority. There are no independent authorities, anywhere in creation. But this is a given. Once that is admitted, it’s clearly true that the reason women subject themselves to their husbands is in the husband himself. Appearing to deny that is favorable to those who would deny St. Paul’s words, that the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man.

      To a pagan it might have been necessary to emphasize the dignity of the woman, etc., but in modern times this requires almost no attention. Today, leaving aside those who deny the subjection entirely, we have a great mass of people who pay only lip service to it, while believing the husband should not actually command or correct his wife, as it would violate her dignity. So it is necessary to make clear the great extent of the subjection.

  4. My (US) archdiocese required me to go through a marriage prep course. It was largely catechetically solid, not shrinking at all from hard teachings on contraception, marriage as the union of man and woman, the general impermissibility of divorce, etc. The one exception was the section on male headship, a gratuitous three-paragraph dodge of the issue, referencing only three sources:

    1) St. Paul,

    2) as clarified by John Paul II,

    3) as interpreted by Christopher West.

    The West contribution was rich. What does it mean that women are to submit to their husbands? His answer was to say, basically, let's consider the word "submission." "Sub" means under, and mission means, well, mission. So women "submit" to their husbands by placing themselves "under" their husband's "mission." And what is the husband's mission? To love his wife of course (St. Paul says so!), which he does by being attentive and responsive to her needs. In other words, women submit to their husbands by graciously letting their husbands serve and obey them. And of course it definitely DOES NOT mean "domination."

    This is a program developed in good faith by strong Catholics as a protest of otherwise usually awful marriage prep programs, and used in several dioceses.

    1. God in heaven, what an extreme absurdity.

    2. Oh yes I've heard that interpretation. Insane.

  5. Thanks, Dr. Shaw. Those who call for men to "man up" without also providing a deep and detailed criticism of feminist dogmas are indeed misunderstanding how a man is a man in this culture. I don't think our priests and bishops are up to the task, sadly, and it will fall to the laity to work these ideas out. I think it's actually worse than you describe; it's one thing for a tradition minded churchman to exhort men to fulfill the traditional obligations, it's another thing entirely when one hears a homily following Mark Chapter 10 that is all about domestic violence (including verbal and attitudinal "violence"), with nothing at all about the permanence of marriage (while women statistically file for divorce at 2 or 3 times the rate of men). This was what I heard, with my teen son, at my progressive American parish. Father set aside the gospel in favor of a double dose of man-shaming and feminist catechesis. Ugh.

    So the laity -- and it will have to be men -- will need to lead the Church on this, I think, strange as that sounds. Thanks for your series of posts on this.

  6. There is a certain evasion - I do not like to say lack of manliness - in the discussion above. The blog post to which the Chairman and commenters respond states;

    'Gentlemen, it has become very clear from the responses I’ve heard repeatedly from bright, beautiful, devoted Catholic women that you would be making a big mistake were you to announce you wanted a “traditional Catholic wife.”

    What young women hear when you say a “traditional” Catholic wife is that you want a woman who will stay home, cook, clean, and take care of the babies, while you work all day. To put this another way, you want your mother. And the one thing most bright, devoted Catholic women don’t want (especially the ones who want plenty of children) is to be some grown man’s mother.'

    No-one above is saying that this description of a traditional Catholic wife is in fact accurate, and that such a wife is a woman who will stay home, cook, clean, and take care of the babies; and that if Catholic women are repelled by this idea, then they are repelled by the Catholic conception of marriage. Nor is anyone pointing out that if a wife follow the Church's teaching on contraception and is normally fertile, then staying home to cook, clean, and take care of the babies will absorb all of her time and energies - and that doing anything more will be a crushing burden.

    The author's claim that men who want such a wife want their mother is of course idiotic. If they are lucky in their mothers, in wanting a wife of this kind they want a wife who is like their mother; they do not want a wife who acts as a mother to them - they want a wife who acts as a mother to their children.

    1. Agreed, John L. Very important and I’m glad you’ve laid it out.

  7. A propos of this debate this link from an Evangelical Protestant blogger might be of interest: http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/02/22/your-husband-doesnt-have-to-earn-your-respect/