Vatican Calls Plastic Surgery ‘a Burqa Made of Flesh’

The Pontifical Council for Culture is picking up on Pope Francis’ call to highlight the role of women in the Church, focusing its plenary meeting on women’s role in culture and the Church.

Pope Francis has called for more women in the International Theological Commission, even after tripling the number of women on the team this past September. “In the ever more diverse makeup of the Commission,” he said, “I want to see a higher presence of women.”

The Pope also said recently that it is chiefly women who pass on the faith, and urged men to listen to women more and not be so “macho.” He said that men often don’t allow enough room for women while “women are capable of seeing things with a different angle from us, with a different eye.”

Echoing the Pope’s concerns, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture has chosen the topic of women in culture for its international assembly in February.

The 12-page working document for the meeting, titled Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference, outlines the topics to be discussed, including gender identity and inequality, female poverty, violence against women, complementarity, generativity and the female body.

Tackling both Third- and First-World problems, the text takes an especially dim view of plastic surgery.

“Plastic surgery,” the text states, “can be counted as one of the many manipulations of the body” and “is like a burqa made of flesh,” citing one of the women participating in planning meetings. Women can be placed under so much stress in the contemporary world “as to provoke pathologies (dysmorphophobia, eating disorders, depression…) or ‘amputate’ the expressive possibilities of the human face which are so connected to the empathic abilities,” the document says.

“Plastic surgery that is not medico-therapeutic,” the draft continues, “can be aggressive toward the feminine identity, showing a refusal of the body in as much as it is a refusal of the ‘season’ that is being lived out.”

The outline also highlights what planners see as deep-seated difficulties that must be overcome for women in society and in the church.

“The terrain, as we know, is plagued by prejudices and preconceptions from ancient positions,” the text reads, “and is rendered more inflammable by the fire of tradition and an excess of male presence often afraid of any encounter.”

Organizers of the event insist that it is “not a question of bringing about a revolution against tradition.” They do not wish to “tear away the jobs and positions from men,” or start wearing miters.

“A realistic objective,” they say, “could be that of opening the doors of the Church to women so that they can offer their contribution in terms of skills and also sensitivity, intuition, passion, dedication, in full collaboration and integration with the male component.”

So far the initiative has drawn mixed reviews. A promo video for the event featuring Italian actress Nancy Brilli had to be taken down from the Vatican website after a wave of complaints. Critics expressed consternation over the Vatican’s choice to feature a “sexy blonde” in its promotion of women.

Not everyone agreed. Sociologist Consuela Corradi from Rome’s Lumsa university, one of 15 women who advised Cardinal Ravasi on the initiative, complained that criticism of the video featuring the 50-year-old Brilli was unjust.

“If we had chosen an ugly woman, would that have changed the message? I don’t think so,” she said.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.


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