During a speech in Rome this February, Benedict reiterated John Paul's message: "In the face of cultural and political currents that attempt to eliminate, or at least to obfuscate and confuse, the sexual differences written into human nature, considering them to be cultural constructions, it is necessary to recall the design of God that created the human being male and female, with a unity and at the same time an original and complementary difference. Human nature and the cultural dimension are integrated in an ample and complex process that constitutes the formation of the identity of each, where both dimensions -- the feminine and the masculine -- correspond to and complete each other."
John Paul the Great and the former Cardinal Ratzinger have not been reinventing a women-hating church. They have been reiterating what Christ taught and what's at the very heart of the Catholic Church. The Gospel tells us that the people left standing at the foot of Christ's crucifixion were women -- no weaker sex, but stalwart supports. Women are building the foundation, which is carved into the walls of the Church. When I recently toured St. Peter's Basilica for the first time, my group of traveling American female commentators noticed the overwhelming presence of women in the home of St. Peter and his papal successors. Female saints and virtues portrayed as women: Charity, Truth, Prudence and Justice. Charity is presented as a mother nursing a baby, with additional children at her feet. I thought of the many stay-at-home moms doing the grassroots work of civilization-building. Perhaps the most famous work of art in St. Peter's is the "Piet," a moving tribute to a mother's sacrificial devotion and love, depicting the Mother of God with her dying child in her arms.
To take the conventional feminist view of the Catholic Church in relation to how it views women is to miss the real message of new feminism it offers: a prayerful ode to the important differences between men and women, the obscuring of which has gotten our broader culture into loads of trouble over the last few decades. To state that "In the face of one closed door after another, Catholic women have been innovative, courageous and faithful to the church," as the women of the Women's Ordination Conference do, suggests they've never been to St. Peter's, where the doors are open and full of celebration for an essential part of God's creation: women.