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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 August, 2004, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Head-to-Head: The Vatican on women
The Vatican has published a document which calls for more respect and opportunities for women who work outside the home.

But the letter to Catholic bishops also accuses feminists of viewing men and women as enemies.

Avedon Carol and Cristina Odone debate the issues raised by the Vatican.

Avedon Carol, founder of Feminists Against Censorship

From the moment the Catholic Church declared that priests could not marry, it was sullying the concept of marriage.

The implication was that family life was an unsavoury distraction from the life of the spirit.

The Vatican's distance from the reality of our lives today is visible in its current attack on feminism.

Italian nuns with Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II: A born-again feminist?

Some of it might have been timely 20 years ago when some over-zealous women began suggesting that male sexuality was an enemy of women.

But then we might have wondered why the Church had failed to address this question for the whole of the last century, when this same position underpinned the traditional view of men, women, and sex.

The Pope is apparently concerned that feminism has led to questions about marriage, but this, too, comes a bit late.

The "meaning" of marriage has been a question since long before the advent of the women's liberation movement.

Was it for cementing relationships within or between communities? For advancing the social and economic status of a family?

For making strategic alliances? For providing heirs? For merging businesses, dynasties?

Feminism has joined the debate about the place and purpose of marriage, but that discourse had existed for hundreds of years.

Are men and women adversaries?

No, although the tensions between young people raised in enforced ignorance of each other can sometimes make us feel that way.

Perhaps the Church would serve us better if it discouraged that ignorance, rather than blaming feminism.

Cristina Odone, leading Catholic journalist and broadcaster

The fact that a man has written this document, a man who for much of his papacy has been condemned as anti-women, marks it as a historic u-turn.

This is the document that will mark the Pope as a born-again feminist.

This is a document that far from heeding the traditional role of women as seen by the church, argues that women should be present in the world of work, in the organisation of society, and that we should look to women for their innovative restructuring of organisations and society.

It has this incredible line which I've never read in a Catholic document that says that a woman should be respected whether she is fertile or not, whether she procreates or not.

It's a wonderfully liberating statement for the billions of women who may not have children, or who may have waited too long to have children.

A nun in St Peter's Square in Rome
Virginity is not necessary to be a good Catholic woman

I think it is a significant document and it should not be belittled because some of the great debates within the Catholic Church are not addressed, such as women priests and contraception.

This is not just a document addressing bishops, it addresses men and women as well.

You can hear it in the voice and tone.

The Pope argues that men should let women walk into the workplace and make it more accessible for them.

Make it easier for them to meet the specific challenge for women who want to work and be a mother.

It's a wonderfully moving testament to a man who is saying "we've got it wrong up until now, let us now begin a new age".

There are two strings of feminism, one of which views men as the enemy.

But this document doesn't demonise or silence feminists, it addresses them, finally.

It says virginity is a vocation, but that you can be a good Catholic woman without it.

It also says women should be welcome into places where they can head organisations, and indeed head society.

The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
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