Fury over Vatican blaming feminism for breakdown of family

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A Vatican document blaming feminism for the breakdown of the family and the advent of homosexual marriage pro-mpted a furious debate yesterday as it was lampooned by opponents and welcomed by the Roman Catholic Church's traditionalists.

The deeply conservative, 37-page document, On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World, was drafted with the full approval of Pope John Paul II by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department defining church orthodoxy.

Cardinal Ratzinger said the "subordination" of women had provoked them to "make themselves the adversaries of men", with "its most immediate and lethal effects in the structure of the family". And attempts to downplay the differences between the sexes had inspired ideologies "which call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent".

Cardinal Ratzinger restates the traditional opposition to female clergy while calling for equal rights in the workplace.

The Cardinal is no stranger to controversy. Scorned by the left, he is idolised by some, even having his own unofficial "fan club" and merchandise.

But Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, said: "Such observations could only have been made by men who have no significant relationships with women and no knowledge of the enormous positive changes the women's rights movement has meant for both men and women."

Emma Bonino, a former European commissioner and current member of the European parliament, said the Vatican was writing about a world long gone:"To be fair to the Catholic Church, no religion is a great friend of women. They pay you a lot of compliments but they ask you to stay in your place,"

Malcolm McMahon, the Bishop of Nottingham, described the report as "welcome and timely".

Catholic author and translator Helena Scott denied the document was anti-women. "Specific differences between men and women need to be understood and valued, not made the subject of conflict.

This document stresses equality and difference. Just as women need male values so men need female values."