Pope Francis has branded feminism as “machismo with a skirt” during a four-day summit at the Vatican in Rome.
The pontiff made the remark after hearing an address from a woman at landmark meeting that was held to combat sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis said: “Inviting a woman to speak is not to enter into the mode of an ecclesiastical feminism, because in the end every feminism ends up being a machismo with a skirt.
“No. Inviting a woman to speak about the wounds of the church is to invite the church to speak about herself, about the wounds she has”.
The 82-year-old was speaking after an address by Dr Linda Ghisoni who recalled how “a priest, a few days ago, exclaimed ‘Still? We continue talking about abuse! The church’s attention to this theme is exaggerated’.”
She added: “Even a practising lady told me candidly: ‘It is better not to talk about these matters, otherwise there will be distrust of the church. Talking about it obscures all the good done in the parishes’.”
Referring to priests who sexually abuse children as “howling wolves that penetrate the fold to scare further and disperse the flock”, she argued: “Becoming aware of the phenomenon and understand one’s responsibility is not a fixation”.
Almost 200 religious leaders gathered to discuss the clergy sexual abuse crisis that has rocked the Catholic Church for several decades.
A series of women chosen to address the summit forcefully condemned the catholic hierarchy’s culture of silence and accused their predominantly male audience of hypocrisy and unnecessary secrecy in dealing with the problem.
Only ten of the assembly of 190 catholics leaders who attended the summit are women.
Sister Veronica Openibo hit out at the church for failing to live up to the standards it champions in a fiery speech at the conference.
“How could the clerical church have kept silent, covering these atrocities?” she asked. “We must acknowledge that our mediocrity, hypocrisy, and complacency have brought us to this disgraceful and scandalous place we find ourselves as a church.”
Pope Francis was accused of recycling “tepid promises” as he closed the meeting. He promised to wage an “all-out battle” against sexual abuse in the institution, by confronting attackers with the “wrath of God” until the crime was “erased from the face of the Earth”.
Despite his rhetoric, campaigners were angered after the pope spent more than half an hour discussing statistics that showed the majority of sexual abuse of children takes place in families.
“We are thus facing a universal problem, tragically present almost everywhere and affecting everyone,” the pontiff said. “We need to be clear that, while gravely affecting our societies as a whole, this evil is in no way less monstrous when it takes place within the Church.”
Anne Barrett-Doyle, from the clergy abuse tracking group bishopaccountability.org, called the speech a stunning letdown.
“As the world’s catholics cry out for concrete change, the pope instead provides tepid promises, all of which we’ve heard before,” she said in a statement.
“Especially distressing was the pope‘s familiar rationalisation that abuse happens in all sectors of society ... we needed him to offer a bold and decisive plan. He gave us instead defensive, recycled rhetoric.”
Pope Francis promised new policies to tackle abuse in his closing remarks. He said that national guidelines on preventing and punishing the crimes would be strengthened and the church’s official definition of minors, in cases of possession by clergy of pornography, would be raised from the current age of 14.
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