Leading Article: Mary, Mary, once contrary

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"All generations will call you blessed," Mary, mother of God, was told, and no generation has blessed her quite as much as this one. Apparitions have increased to record levels, as have pilgrims worshipping at her shrines. Now the Pope, her most loyal follower, is considering an appeal by 4 million Catholic petitioners asking him to have her declared Co-redemptor. Such a move would place her alongside the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost and regroup them as a Holy Quartet. If John Paul II goes ahead and increases Mary's standing, it will be a blow to the ecumenical movement. Protestants have always mistrusted Marian devotion, and many Catholics will see the move as an affront to Christ's unique standing through his redemptive death.

But for women everywhere, such a declaration would be very bad news. The cult of Mary, adapted and shaped by pagan obsessions with fertility and chastity, has already made a fetish of virginity and motherhood. Turning a lowly, naive Jewish girl into Co-redemptor would strengthen the church's demands that women be as passive and self-sacrificing as its presentation of Mary. John Paul II runs a clerical patriarchy which offers women little recognition of the right to control their fertility and none at all of equality.

But whatever her more recent killjoy image, she did once demonstrate that she knew what makes a party go with a swing - when she urged Jesus to turn water into wine at the Cana wedding. Perhaps those disaffected members of the Roman Catholic Church could ask Mary to intercede now, and make their church a place that embraces all "poor banished children of Eve" in equal measure.