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Pope Francis: Feminism Is ‘Machismo in a Skirt’

Pope Francis.
Franco Origlia/Getty Images
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

Pope Francis said Friday that the Church does not want “ecclesiastical feminism” since every form of feminism ends up being just “machismo in a skirt.”

The pope’s off-the-cuff remarks came in response to an address by Dr. Linda Ghisoni, the undersecretary of the laity section of the Vatican’s Department of Laity, Family, and Life. Dr. Ghisoni delivered her remarks to the participants in a major Vatican summit on clerical sex abuse.

“Listening to Dr. Ghisoni, I heard the church talk about herself,” the pope said. “That is, we all spoke about the church, in all interventions. But this time it was the church herself that spoke.”

“It is not just a matter of style,” Francis continued, “the feminine genius is reflected in the church that is a woman. Inviting a woman to speak is not shifting into the mode of an ecclesiastical feminism, because in the end every feminism ends up being machismo with a skirt.”

“Woman is the image of the church that is woman, she is married, she is mother,” the pontiff said, which is why Catholics refer to the Church as mother, rather than as an organization or a union.

“It is not a question of giving more functions to women in the Church – yes, this is good, but this does not solve the problem – it is about integrating women as a figure of the church into our thinking. And also thinking of the church with the categories of a woman,” the pope concluded.

Pope Francis has occasionally gotten himself into trouble for his comments on women that often ring off-key on modern ears.

“When he speaks about women, Francis can sound a lot like the (almost) 78-year-old Argentine churchman that he is, using analogies that sound alternately condescending and impolitic, even if well intentioned,” wrote journalist David Gibson of Religion News Service in 2014.

Gibson’s words came after the pontiff had referred to female members of the International Theological Commission as “the strawberries on the cake,” which a number of women found offensive.

In addressing the European Parliament, Francis said he perceived “a general impression of weariness and aging” in the European continent, which seemed to him like that of “a tired grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant.” These comments won the pontiff the ire of a number of grandmothers who found the comparison demeaning.

If history is any guide, his comparison of feminism to male chauvinism in a skirt is likely to cause similar consternation.

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