Dismantling Vatican Style Complementarity:  Promoting Full Equality for Women in the Catholic Church  

The Vatican doctrine on complementarity, the Catholic “Separate but Equal Clause” heralds equality for women but works vigorously to keep them separate and without the means to govern and shape their destinies within the institution. The subordination it imposes not only affects women within the Church, it also supports, albeit implicitly, social, economic, and political systems that see women as second class citizens without rights equal to their male counterparts.

On November 1, 2016, on a plane back to Rome immediately following a momentous meeting with the Lutheran primate of Sweden – a woman – Archbishop Antje Jackelen, Pope Francis confirmed the ban on ordaining women as priests.

While Francis has made many positive statements about women’s equality, railing against unequal wages and inequality in marriage, it is also clear that he operates from a patriarchal framework where assumptions about women’s lesser status are clearly at play, if hidden from his awareness.  From time to time, Francis seems to sense that this invisible but powerful script is inadequate for today’s world and church. His suggestion that the church needs a theology of women may well point to his dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Still, to understand the logic and framework for the subordination of women that still operates within the institution, one must understand the history and development of the patriarchal concept of complementarity.

Complementarity is a relatively modern invention – a contemporary iteration of an age-old bias that reinforces male institutional power and authority.  Tragically, it has been promoted by the hierarchy as “the new Catholic feminism.”

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