Independent Women: Is There Room in the Catholic Church?

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When I was younger, I considered myself an independent woman. I didn’t need a man; I had no interest in marriage and children. My friends must have agreed.

One day, we were all hanging out and the song, Miss Independent by Kelly Clarkson came on the radio.

My friends unanimously decided that this song was my theme song. Little did they know that they would be right.

Falling in Love: Losing Independence

Fast forward to where I’m 21-22 years old. I did fall in love, yet it wasn’t a person, it was God. Before that time, I had been either a lukewarm Christian or an unbeliever. Yet right before my 21st birthday, I suffered a spinal cord injury. God used this event to speak to me.

Throughout my hospital stay, I would have radical encounters with God.

God began speaking to my heart. I found myself longing for marriage and children.

Yet I still wanted to be independent. I wanted to be the breadwinner.

Matt Fradd Interviews Timothy Gordon

For these reasons, I was challenged by Matt Fradd’s interview with Timothy Gordon.

During the interview, at 46:12 Gordon claims that married women shouldn’t work.

Admittedly everything in me rebelled against this notion.

Yet I knew that I wanted to respect the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. If Gordon is correct, then I needed to wrestle with the material myself.

Gordon’s Argument
Natural Law Argument

Gordon argues that throughout human history children needed an education. Likewise, throughout history, it was assumed the parents had the duty to educate the children. By staying home, the mother took on the responsibility of educating the children.

Appeal to Catholic Magisterium

Gordon insists that the teaching, “prohibiting married women from working” is part of the magisterium of the Catholic Church. He cites the Catechism of the Council of Trent (1545).

I’ll admit I didn’t know this existed. Like most Catholics, I am only familiar with The Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated by Pope John Paul II (1997).

My curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to compare marital duties in both Catechisms.

Marital duties
The Catechism of the Council of Trent

The Catechism describes the husband’s duties.

The husband should also be constantly occupied in some honest pursuit with a view to provide necessaries for the support of his family and to avoid idleness, the root of almost every vice. He is also to keep all his family in order, to correct their morals, and see that they faithfully discharge their duties.

Likewise, the wife duties are described

To train their children in the practice of virtue and to pay particular attention to their domestic concerns should also be especial objects of their attention. The wife should love to remain at home, unless compelled by necessity to go out; and she should never presume to leave home without her husband’s consent.

Thus, the Catechism of Trent sees the women’s duties revolving around the home. In fairness, the woman is still permitted to work if necessary and the husband has given consent.

1997 Catechism of The Catholic Church

The post-Vatican II Catechism also delineates the duties of the family. Rather than divide husband and wife, it is divided children versus parents. According to the Catechism,

The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. “The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute. The right and the duty of parents is to educate their children are primordial and inalienable. (CCC 2221)

Interestingly, the updated Catechism no longer sees women has the sole educators of the children. Both parents work together.

The Authority of the Catechism

So I find myself asking, how reliable is a Catechism anyway? At its most basic the Catechism is a collection of Catholic doctrine.

Doctrine cannot change, but it can develop.

We must ask ourselves, what is the core principle being taught?

In my opinion, what is being taught is not whether or not women should or should not work. The core principle is that domestic duties should not be neglected.

This aligns with scripture as well.

The Independent Woman of Proverbs 31

Scripture depicts a woman of worth in Proverbs 31:10-31. Here we find a woman, who works, “She brings him profit, not loss, all the days of her life.” (Proverbs 31:12). Yet she also takes care of her family; “She rises while it is still night, and distributes food to her household.” (Proverbs 31: 15).

The presence of an independent working woman in Proverbs 31 does not justify working married women. Yet I believe it offers context for how a balance between career and domestic duties may be achieved.

Final Thoughts on Marriage

Ultimately marriage is a sacrifice. My favorite scripture passage on marriage is Ephesians 5:22-24:

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

Why do I like it?

It reminds me that I have to put away my pride and listen to my future husband. I don’t need to provide or be the breadwinner. Rather I allow myself to be loved by my future husband and in turn, I grow in my appreciation for Christ.

While I may be more open-minded about married women working, I am grateful to Gordon. His argument challenged me to look at my notion of married life. It taught me that I need to be willing to die to self for the stake of a family.

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9 thoughts on “Independent Women: Is There Room in the Catholic Church?”

  1. I’ve been married to the same man since 1974. We raised two kids. You can believe me or not, but it does not work to designate one person as always anything–breadwinner, head of household, educator of children, giver of orders, or obeyer of orders. You will both take on many roles, you will trade back and forth on earning and spending, you will follow each other’s lead depending on circumstances. You will learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and allow this knowledge to inform your decisions. If you are smart and loving you will encourage each other to realize your dreams as much as possible. Please don’t bind yourself and your future husband to some rigid notion of decreed male and female roles that will only frustrate and impede the development of a happy family life.

  2. Pingback: SATVRDAY EXTRA – Big Pulpit

    1. For some reason my reply to Sarah didn’t get posted. It made the point that Catholic teaching has changed, fro the time Aquinas said a wife must submit to his husband’s demand for sex (even if she is ill and bedridden). So it’s going too far to say Catholic women are supposed to be doormats.

    2. Lol My husband is supposed to treat me as Christ treats the church. I doubt Christ would beat me. Obedience is required, but it is also earned. Also, I agree with CAPTCRISIS below that the teaching has changed. The core principle was that the parents are responsible for domestic duties.

    1. Hey CaptCrisis,
      Thanks for reading. I think the answer depends on what you mean by independent. No Christian can be truly independent because, as Christians, we are called to die to self. In this piece, I’m using independent to mean the modern working woman. I think my answer was a little more nuanced than a straight no. My answer is, “In my opinion, what is being taught is not whether or not women should or should not work. The core principle is that domestic duties should not be neglected.” So yes there is room for the modern working independent women as long as she channels Proverbs 31 and takes care of her family too.

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