Miracles and Evidence Index
By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics
Former Instructor St. John's University, New York City

The Respect of the Catholic Church for Women
is Miraculous

Outside of the Catholic Church the greatest heroes, the Beethovens and Mozarts of music, the Darwins and Einsteins of science, are all men. Sure women win a few Nobel prizes. They give Nobel prizes out almost every year, so someone has to win. If Nobel prizes were given out once a decade, it might be exclusively a male club, and even so the Nobel laureates are mostly men. More generally there are many successful women, whose accomplishments are honored by the world at large, but the top level of honor is an almost exclusively male club.

In the Catholic Church it is very different. The greatest heroes are frequently women. For example, other than the popes, Mother Theresa has been the greatest Catholic hero of recent decades. No man is even close.

A number of years ago I read or heard a news report which claimed Mother Angelica, the foundress of EWTN, was the most influential women in the American Catholic Church. True, but more importantly she was the most influential person of either sex in the American Catholic Church.

Saint Therese of Lisieux is widely believed to be the most popular saint of modern times and Pope Pius X declared that she was the greatest saint of modern times. Note not the most popular or greatest female saint, the most popular and greatest person of either sex.

The greatest American Catholic social activist was Dorthy Day. The greatest American Protestant social activist was Martin Luther King.

What is a bit weird is that Joan of Arc may well be the greatest Catholic war hero. Granted there was also Don John of Austria, the hero of Battle of Lepanto, and El Cid, the hero of the Spanish Reconquista, and others. Still we seem to focus a lot of Joan of Arc. War heroes are almost exclusively male, yet in the Catholic Church the most respected may well be a woman.

The First of Either Sex

Outside the Catholic Church we frequently read about the first woman who achieved something. Inside the Catholic Church the first person to achieve something is frequently a woman. Saint Rose of Lima was the first person from the New World to be canonized, declared a saint. Mother Cabrini was the first American citizen to be canonized, and Mother Seton was the first native born American citizen to be canonized.

Since the women's liberation movement took off in the late sixties and early seventies there has been a big emphasis in the secular world on women's accomplishments outside of the home. By way of contrast the Catholic Church was paying great respect to women's accomplishments outside the home many centuries before women's liberation, or even women's suffrage became issues. St. Rose of Lima, as mentioned above, was the first person canonized from the New World. She was canonized in 1671, long before the modern women's movements.

Note that in all of this I am not discussing the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, St. Ann, mother of Mary, St. Helen mother of Emperor Constantine, or St. Monica the mother of Augustine. All of these women are known largely for being the mother or grandmother of a Christian hero. Nevertheless, their accomplishments are tied to their male relatives. My point is that the Catholic Church has long had many female heroes whose accomplishments were not connected to the men.

Before returning to women whom the Catholic Church respects for their work outside the home, it should be emphasized that unlike the secular world, the Catholic Church respects women's accomplishments both inside and outside the home. This is illustrated by Mary, Ann, Helen, and Monica, who are honored for their roles as mothers, as well as Mother Theresa, Mother Angelica, St. Rose of Lima, Mother Cabrini, Mother Seton, and Dorthy Day who honored for their accomplishments outside the home.

The Cities Game

One way to appreciate how early the Catholic Church was in showing respect for women is to look at the names of cities. As cities, particularly big well established cities, were named a long time ago their names represent the attitudes of when they were named, generally long before women's liberation or suffrage became issues.

I have a little game. I name cities in California named after female heroes, heroines, of the Catholic Church, while the other person names cities anywhere in the world named after the heroines of any other church or religion. Obviously I can rattle off Santa Rosa, Santa Clara, Santa Barbara, Santa Anita, Santa Ana, Santa Clarita, Santa Maria, Santa Monica, and that only includes the cities with more than 85 thousand people. Usually, the other person can not name even one city named after a heroine of any other religion.

Note that only one in five religious people on Earth is Catholic and only one in two hundred people live in California, so if everything was random there should only one city named after a Catholic heroine in California for every eight hundred cities anywhere in the world named after the heroines of other religions.

Yet the closest thing to an exception I have heard to an exception is Fatima, the tiny Catholic village in Portugal, that was named after a princess, who was in turn named after the daughter of Mohamed. Of course the village of Fatima is only known to the world as the site of a famous visitation of the Virgin Mary. So the exception is in a Catholic country, and is only famous because it is a site of famous Catholic miracles.

Me Thinks They Protest Too Much

It is widely argued that the Catholic Church does not respect women because priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes are exclusively men. Other Catholics seek to defend the Catholic record on women. I am much more radical. I have argued that the Catholic record is so much better than other institutions that it is flat out miraculous. The respect of the Catholic Church for women, not just now, but centuries ago, is still more evidence that the Catholic Church is the true Church founded by Christ.

It is more generally my suspicion that beneath many criticisms of the Catholic faith is evidence that the Catholic faith is the true faith. I suspect that the critics protest too much.

The Exceptions, That Prove the Rule

There is one other massive religious movement that like the Catholic Church shows exceptional respect for women, the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. The Pentecostal movement is massive, about one quarter of all Christians are Pentecostals. Many of the greatest heroes of the Pentecostal movement were women: for example Aimee Semple McPherson, Kathryn Kuhlman, and Agnes Sanford. What is interesting however is that just as most Christian denominations have accepted that the Pentecostal movement is authentic, the Catholic Church has also accepted the Pentecostal movement. In the Catholic Church the Pentecostal movement is called the Charismatic renewal. So the exception to the rule is a religious movement that the Catholic Church decided was an authentic manifestation of God. Apparently God is a feminist, or at least more feminist than most religious traditions.

But just as the Pentecostal movement is an exception to the rule that the greatest respect is only given to men outside the Catholic Church, the liberal Catholics are an exception to the rule that the greatest respect is shared between men and women inside the Catholic Church. The liberal Catholics constantly berate the Catholic Church for its treatment of women, but strangely all of the top liberal Catholic heroes, like Karl Rahner, Charles Curran, Hans Kung, Edward Schillebeeckx, Andrew Greeley, are men. The liberal Catholics are certain that they represent a future in which women are respected yet their respect for women is nowhere close to that of the medieval Catholic Church.

This whole pattern is so far removed from what one would normally expect that I believe it is miraculous.

My index page for more miracles and evidence.

The essay on typology and Old and New Testament names is particularly popular.

Last updated July 12, 2015

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