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Women's Primary Role Is Bearing and Educating Children, Pope Says

September 20, 1987|United Press International

SAN FRANCISCO — Pope John Paul II was urged once again Friday to grant Catholic women a wider role in the church, but instead he reminded them of their traditional role of "begetting and educating their children."

The Pope's speech to 3,000 Catholic laity on the ninth day of his 10-day, 9-city tour of the nation yielded not an inch to the beseechings of the nation's 52 million Roman Catholics, many of them increasingly estranged from the Vatican.

Following the exchange of speeches at St. Mary's Cathedral, the Pope offered Mass at Candlestick Park before setting out for Detroit, the last stop on his U.S. tour.

"It is my hope that today we may walk together," Donna Hanson, bishop's secretary for social ministries in Spokane, Wash., told the Pope.

In a blunt representation of the dissatisfaction rampant among American Catholics, Hanson spoke of the questions she had learned to ask through the immigrant experience of her grandparents and her encounters with anti-Catholic bigotry.

"Today my culture compels me to keep questioning those in leadership positions," she said.

'When I come to my church, I cannot discard my cultural experience. Though I know the church is not a democracy ruled by popular vote, I expect to be treated as a mature, educated, responsible adult. Not to question, not to challenge . . . is to deny my dignity as a person and the rights granted to me both by church and society," Hanson said.

"Can we reach out and be more inclusive of women, our inactive clergy, homosexuals, the divorced, and all people of color?" she asked the pontiff.

She said she and other members of the laity feel they are not often heard by the church.

"Accustomed as I am to dialogue, consultation and collaboration, I do not always feel that I am heard. In my cultural experience, questioning is generally not rebellion nor dissent. It is rather a desire to participate and is a sign of both love and maturity."

Dr. Patrick Hughes, in another presentation, accused the church of outright sexism.

"Still, sexism remains a major issue among those who work for the church. We believe that sexism must be rejected because it is sinful," he said.

"Furthermore, promotion of the role of women in the church is not simply for the sake of women. The church needs the feminine dimension if it is to bring the full power of God's creative energy to bear on the needs of our world," he said.

John Paul offered no satisfaction on any of those grounds and, indeed, some of his words seemed likely to provoke further estrangement. He was especially firm on the matter of childbearing as a duty and the ban on artificial birth control.

"The love of husband and wife . . . constitutes the first way that couples exercise their mission" as laity in the world, John Paul said in a speech that offered little to those seeking changes in the church's view of the laity.

"The service of life rests on the fact that husband and wife cooperate with God in transmitting the gift of human life, in the procreation of children," he said.

Birth Control Stand

"In this most sacred responsibility, the service of life is united to the service of love in the one conjugal act, which must always be open to bringing forth new life," he said.

He was equally firm on the issue of divorce and remarriage.

"Although, in fidelity to Christ and to his teaching on Christian marriage, the church reaffirms her practice of not admitting to Eucharistic communion those divorced persons who have remarried outside the church, nevertheless, she assures these Catholics too of her deep love," he said.

John Paul praised the contribution of women to the life of the church--especially their role in having children.

Women's Role

"In speaking of the role of women, special mention must of course be made of their contribution, in partnership with their husbands, in begetting and in educating their children," he said.

He said women's gifts "are needed in an ever-increasing measure" in the life of the church, which "hopes for their fuller participation in her (the church's) activities."

"Precisely because of their equal dignity and responsibility, the access of women to public functions must be ensured," he said.

John Paul went so far as to quote from "Humanae Vitae," Pope Paul VI's 1967 denunciation of birth control generally considered to be the single most significant document in the estrangement of the American church.

It called upon Catholics to "conform their activity to the creative intention of God, expressed in the very nature of marriage and of its acts and manifested by the teaching of the church."

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