Sunday, 1 September 2013

Satan the sexist

Every so often, someone says something that is, in one word, rubbish! A recent pronouncement by a Rome-based priest, who describes himself as a theologian and exorcist, declared that because the Devil lost his battle against Mary, he decided to take revenge by attacking and working through women. "I am quite familiar with Satan’s hatred toward Mary and therefore, toward women in general on account of Mary," declared Fr Joseph Iannuzzi. "[Satan] is like a mad man. He can’t get to Mary; she’s confirmed in grace, she defeated him. So he looks for other women", he added.

In other words, we have the same old story: men are virtuous and called to dizzy heights of sanctity whereas women are, as ever, the cause of humanity’s downfall. The priest concerned, naturally, made no mention of the weakness and extreme vulnerability of men if the mere sight and sound of a woman is their first step on the road to perdition. Presumably he also counted his own mother and sisters amongst the few women who succeeded in escaping from Satan’s grasp? If he did not, then I would love to be a fly on the wall when he next visits his family!

Perhaps Fr Iannuzzi intended to imply that the vast number of women who have achieved holiness through the centuries is proof positive that they have a great and unparalleled inner strength that withstands the unending onslaught of ‘the Prince of Demons’?

Writing that "women’s rights seem to trace their roots to something hardly human" and not “putting the blame fair and square on women because of some intrinsic flaw”, the same priest infers that abortion is all the proof needed to show Satan’s preference for women, particularly those who are "young and pleasing in appearance." Has he never noticed that men cannot have an abortion, although they are well able to play a part in its procurement and enactment?
Coincidentally, the offending remarks, dressed up in theological terms and included as a news item in a respected publication, appeared one or two days after the sentencing of the murderer of 5 year-old April Jones and on the same day that the big-name Internet providers met with various Government representatives in an attempt to reduce the abundance and availability of online pornography.

Similarly, his comments came a few days after an excellent interview on Radio 4 stunned an interviewee to silence when Eddie Mair asked how the man’s late wife would have reacted to his current frequent recourse to prostitutes. The man concerned had evidently never previously considered the question as he spoke of his “needs” and of the way he provides for the pleasure, support and requirements of those he visits. He blustered and said that his wife “understands”. I wonder!

One of my colleagues has recently spent a considerable amount of time and effort preparing for the First Holy Communion of her elder son. Dissatisfied with some of the catechesis he had received at school, she took on the job at the point where his teachers finished, with the result that little Joseph must be the best instructed First Holy Communicant in world history! His big day was one that he will never forget, but for all the right reasons. When Joseph approached the altar, he knew exactly what he was doing.

An American mother wrote, "It’s my son, Alex. He just made [his] First Holy Communion and received money for the occasion. He decided to donate all of it to the local Ecumenical Kitchen. He is very inspired by Pope Francis and said to me, ‘If we don’t help the hungry, who will?’  He donated $465 (£298) and fed about 350 people. We spent the afternoon with the patrons and Alex (and his brother Gabriel) ate with them. It was just beautiful." The child’s concern for others is exemplary, but perhaps the same could be said for his parents whose inspiration and guidance enabled the 8 year-old to perform an act of outstanding generosity and concern for others.

Interestingly, the comments of Fr Iannuzzi do not seem to echo those of the Pope. Far from seeing women as the threat to humanity, he wrote, “The woman has [a] function in Christianity, reflected in the figure of Mary. It is the figure that embraces society, the figure that contains it, the mother of the community. The woman has the gift of maternity, of tenderness; if all these riches are not integrated, a religious community not only transforms into a chauvinist society, but also into one that is austere, hard and hardly sacred.”

Pope Francis celebrated his first Mother’s Day as head of the Catholic Church by announcing that he has nominated every mother in the world for sainthood. “My advisers tell me that they probably will not be able to make a billion new saints, but I had to at least make the effort.” He later explained that “Mothers do so much for us, they give us life, they protect us, they love us, and most of all, they put up with us.  They deserve to be recognized as the saints that they truly are... I had no ulterior motives here, however.  I truly believe that all mothers are saints, so I just wanted to make it official.  I understand that Church policy might prevent that from actually happening, but I wanted the mothers of the world to know how I feel.” That is a far cry from judging women to be hastening humanity on its slippery slope downwards!

The Pope has also shown a degree of compassion towards unmarried mothers who rejected an abortion, an attitude far removed from any warnings of impending doom: saying that “your baby is welcome for baptism”. During a recent homily at Mass, Francis said, “A girl-mother goes to the parish to ask for baptism for her child and hears ‘a Christian’ say, ‘No, you can’t have it, you’re not married.’ Look at this girl who had had the courage to carry her pregnancy to term and not to have an abortion. What does she find? A closed door... This is not good pastoral zeal, it distances people from the Lord and does not open doors. So when we take this path…we are not doing good to people, the People of God. Jesus instituted seven sacraments, and with this approach we institute the eighth, the sacrament of the pastoral customs office.”

Of course women are not sinless. Men and women are probably equally susceptible to a few tempting suggestions whispered into their ears by the Devil whom Fr Iannuzzi labours hard to dispel from people’s lives. Yet there is hope.  As Pope Francis recently pointed out, the woman, a sinner, who anointed Jesus’ feet, “felt understood, loved, and she responded by a gesture of love: she let herself be touched by God’s mercy, she obtained forgiveness and she started a new life.” It is really not too difficult to find women who are outstanding in goodness. They might never be officially recognised and made saints, but they are more than ‘worthy of imitation’. Satan might be sexist, but women are far from being his willing tools!