The document, issued by the Vatican on Saturday, said modern feminism’s fight for power and gender equality was undermining the traditional concept of family and creating a climate where gay marriages are seen as acceptable.
Frances Kissling, president of the US-based Catholics for a Free Choice, said she thought she had “passed through a time warp” when she read the document.
“I thought for sure it was the 1960s and Archie Bunker had been appointed theologian to the Pope,” she said, referring to the character in an old American TV series whose bigoted views included opposition to any form of women’s rights.
In a 37-page document “On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World,” the Vatican said women should be respected and have equal rights in the workplace, but differences between the sexes must be recognised and exalted.
The document, which re-stated Catholic Church positions, including the ban on female priests, said that many women felt they had to be “adversaries of men” in order to be themselves.
It criticised feminism’s attempt to erase gender differences, saying it had inspired ideologies questioning the traditional family structure of a mother and a father and making homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent.
“Such observations could only be made by men who have no significant relationships with women,” Kissling said. Emma Bonino, a former European commissioner and current member of the European parliament, said the Vatican was writing about a world that no longer exists.
“This letter could easily have been written by an imam of al-Azhar,” she said, referring to Sunni Islam’s most respected institution of religious learning in Cairo.
Some women suggested that the Vatican was taking a patronising attitude that it would not take toward men.
“What continues to shock me is this teaching attitude that is always directed at women and never at men,” Chiara Saraceno, a professor of sociology at the University of Turin, told the leftist newspaper L’Unita.