How does the Catholic Church view the role of women in relation to that of men?

How does the Catholic Church view the role of women in relation to that of men, especially their husbands? Many Bible verses state that wives should be subject to their husbands, should not speak in church but remain silent and should be subordinate to men and ask their husbands later if they have any questions. The Bible also states that women should not braid their hair or wear gold, pearls or expensive clothing:

Ephesians 5:22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

1 Corinthians 14: (As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)

Colossians 3: 18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.

1 Timothy 2: 9 also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.

St JPII wrote Mulieris Dignitatem and this is a good place to start, there are many others which will help you understand the position of Women in The Church.

If you wanted a simple short answer, I think this is a good summary from Pope (EM) Benedict XVI
“It is theologically and anthropologically important for woman to be at the center of Christianity. Through Mary, and the other holy women, the feminine element stands at the heart of the Christian religion.”

Hope the resource is helpful to you.

Thank you Nolite for the link to the document “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women”, although it doesn’t say anything about the verses in the epistles. I was raised Southern Baptist and many of them are very literal in their interpretation of those verses. For example, Richard Land, the president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, wrote, "The only restrictions we find in Scripture are, that for whatever reason women are not to be in charge of a marriage and women are not to be in charge of a church.” Now what it means for the man/husband to be “in charge of a marriage”, I’m not certain. Many Baptists believe that the main role of women should be as mothers and housewives.

On the other hand, many women in Baptist churches seem to think that it is OK to wear jewelry, expensive clothing, etc. and to ignore the verse in 1 Timothy which prohibits this.

Am I correct in thinking what you are actually after is the churches definition to the role of women in the family and marriage then?

Or are you looking for someones interpretation of the your referenced verses?

A good catholic bible commentary will explain the true meaning of Paul in the context of the audience to whom it was addressed.

Briefly, the Timothy passage is directed to specific women in Ephesus who were teaching heresy and distracting from the true worship by trying to draw attention to themselves. There is no “general prohibition” on women wearing jewelry or nice clothing other than a general and prudential admonition that IN CHURCH people should dress modestly.

With respect to roles of husband and wife, I think you need to read them in context also. See Eph. 5:21.

Deacon Jeff is absolutely correct.

The same is true for 1 and 2 Corinthians. One of the issue at hand was disorder in worship and everyone speaking out of turn. While Paul says that women are not to speak, in the very next verse he says that only two or three men are to speak and the rest are to remain silent.

After all of the comments about what women should or shouldn’t do and what they should or shouldn’t wear, Paul says that their husbands should serve them, minister to them and even give up their lives for them.

This is why a good Catholic Bible study is so very important. Taking verses by themselves is how people get into trouble when reading the Bible. There is a strict unity to scripture, all of it.


From Casti Connubii


Your background is interesting with the Southern Baptist influence.

Much is said within Protestant circles about Catholics “not knowing their Bible”, too often meaning that Catholics do not have passages memorized.

Many Protestant denominations put a tremendous emphasis on memorization. They also have a very strong tendency towards literalism and selective quoting.

Opposite that is the Catholic Church, which is a contextualist in approach; meaning that the whole of the passage and it’s related material need to be taken together, and understood in terms of time and place, so as to not conflate issues. And not every phrase or passage which may be popular with some or many denominations will have as specific formal analysis by the Church; but as the deacon noted, it helps to have a Catholic commentary nearby when researching.

None of which is to suggest the questions are inappropriate, but rather to understand that as we are not literalists, it may cause a bit of confusion unless you understand how we approach Scripture.

I am reminded of the comment: “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” to those who seem to think that men, being head of the household expect that “the little lady” will have no opinions.

Anyone being married should be familiar with the dynamics and flow of decision making, and if they are male, honest enough to understand that often it is the women who determine the direction of the family and the household. Particularly if they are married to a bright one, who is seriously adept at making the man think he came up with the idea.


What is your source for this assertion that the passage is directed to specific women?


This order includes both the primacy of the husband with regard to the wife and children, the ready subjection of the wife and her willing obedience…and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband’s every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife.

So what about those families where the wife is the breadwinner and the husband is a stay-at-home father? Does the husband in that case still have the primacy? Also, can a husband forbid his wife to work and must she subject herself to her husband’s decision and be obedient to him on this question?

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The grace of the sacrament of Matrimony

1642 Christ is the source of this grace. "Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony."149 Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to** “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,”**150 and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb:

Pope Benedict XVI


1 JANUARY 2007

  1. Similarly, inadequate consideration for the condition of women helps to create instability in the fabric of society. I think of the exploitation of women who are treated as objects, and of the many ways that a lack of respect is shown for their dignity;** I also think —in a different context—of the mindset persisting in some cultures, where women are still firmly subordinated to the arbitrary decisions of men, with grave consequences for their personal dignity and for the exercise of their fundamental freedoms**. There can be no illusion of a secure peace until these forms of discrimination are also overcome, since they injure the personal dignity impressed by the Creator upon every human being.

[quote=]28. Again, this subjection of wife to husband in its degree and manner may vary according to the different conditions of persons, place and time. In fact, if the husband neglect his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family. But the** structure of the family and its fundamental law, established and confirmed by God, must always and everywhere be maintained intact **.

The way in which this works itself out will change from family to family, circumstance to circumstance. Generally speaking, the husband and wife should work together to decide what works best for their family. They should defer to one another, consider the gifts and talents of each other, and come to a conclusion together. The fact that the wife is bringing home the paycheck doesn’t change the fundamental order of things at all.

As to the second question, I think that the husband can “forbid” his wife from working and she should be obedient to him. As with everything else, though, this shouldn’t come as a dictate from him, but as a decision made, preferably mutually, after long discussion considering the pros and cons of various options. If there is an impasse, he should make a decision based on all the circumstances and she should graciously submit to his decision, even if she thinks he’s wrong, as long as he’s not asking her to do something immoral or something that violates her conscience.

Now, if the husband is not supporting the family and he wants his wife to stay home with him while they live off welfare, because he’s jealous and controlling and doesn’t want her out of his sight and is afraid of losing his status as the man of the house, I think she would be justified in getting a job in spite of his demands. In my opinion, this would be different because he would be asking her to do something immoral.

In real life, frankly, at least in my family, this rarely comes up. Sometimes I defer to him, sometimes he defers to me. Frequently, it depends upon who feels more strongly about the situation. In 13 years of marriage, we have rarely come to an impasse that requires my submission on something that I feel strongly about. We talk things through. Occasionally, we fight about it. We defer (submit) to one another. We try to make each other happy. If somebody asks me to make plans, I nearly always say that I need to run it by my husband before I commit. If I want to go somewhere and he asks me to just stay home with him, I stay home. For the first several years of our marriage, I wanted to attend the Byzantine Catholic parish of my childhood (a 25 minute drive) and my husband wanted to attend the local Latin Rite parish. We went to the parish he preferred, occasionally visiting mine. We are now very happy at my preferred parish, but it was his decision, for which I am very grateful.

It sounds simple, but it is certainly not easy. I’m really not nearly as good as it as the above paragraph makes it sound, but it is a work in progress, as is my obedience to Christ. If we (human beings) do not submit to authority out of our own free will, it is meaningless. Nobody can compel a wife to submit to her husband, just as nobody can compel honesty, hard work, diligence, perseverance, or any other virtue. It is up to us to cultivate the virtue, and obedience is most definitely a virtue.

What would you say to those women whose husbands always refuse to defer to them?


Paul VI Audience Hall
Tuesday, 29 August 1995

Dear Mrs Glendon and Members of the Delegation of the Holy See
to the Fourth World Conference on Women,

As you prepare to leave for Beijing, I am happy to meet you, the Head of the Delegation of the Holy See to the Fourth World Conference on Women, and the other Members of the Delegation. Through you, I extend my best wishes and prayers to the Secretary General of the Conference, to the participant nations and organizations, as well as to the authorities of the host country, the People’s Republic of China.

My wishes are for the success of this Conference in its aim to guarantee all the women of the world “equality, development and peace”, through full respect for their equal dignity and for their inalienable human rights, so that they can make their full contribution to the good of society.

Over the past months, on various occasions, I have drawn attention to the positions of the Holy See and to the teaching of the Catholic Church on the dignity, rights and responsibilities of women in today’s society: in the family, in the workplace, in public life. I have drawn inspiration from the life and witness of great women within the Church throughout the centuries who have been pioneers within society, as mothers, as workers, as leaders in the social and political fields, in the caring professions and as thinkers and spiritual leaders.

The Secretary General of the United Nations has asked the participating nations at the Beijing Conference to announce concrete commitments for the improvement of the condition of women. Having looked at the various needs of women in today’s world, the Holy See wishes to make a specific option regarding such a commitment: an option in favour of girls and young women.

Therefore, I call all Catholic caring and educational institutions to adopt a concerted and priority strategy directed to girls and young women, especially to the poorest, over the coming years.

It is disheartening to note that in today’s world, the simple fact of being a female, rather than a male, can reduce the likelihood of being born or of surviving childhood; it can mean receiving less adequate nutrition and health care, and it can increase the chance of remaining illiterate and having only limited access, or none at all, even to primary education.

Investment in the care and education of girls, as an equal right, is a fundamental key to the advancement of women. It is for this reason that today:

– I appeal to all the educational services linked to the Catholic Church to guarantee equal access for girls, to educate boys to a sense of women’s dignity and worth, to provide additional possibilities for girls who have suffered disadvantage, and to identify and remedy the reasons which cause girls to drop out of education at an early stage;
– I appeal to those institutions which are involved in health care, especially primary health care, to make improved basic health care and education for girls a hallmark of their service;
– I appeal to the Church’s charitable and development organizations to give priority in the allocation of resources and personnel to the special needs of girls;
– I appeal to Congregations of Religious Sisters, in fidelity to the special charism and mission given to them by their Founders, to identify and reach out to those girls and young women who are most on the fringes of society, who have suffered most, physically and morally, who have the least opportunity. Their work of healing, caring and educating, and of reaching to the poorest is needed in every part of the world today;
– I appeal to Catholic Universities and centres of higher education to ensure that, in the preparation of future leaders in society, they acquire a special sensitivity to the concerns of young women;
– I appeal to women and women’s organizations within the Church and active in society to establish patterns of solidarity so that their leadership and guidance can be put at the service of girls and young women.

As followers of Jesus Christ, who identifies himself with the least among children, we cannot be insensitive to the needs of disadvantaged girls, especially those who are victims of violence and a lack of respect for their dignity.

In the spirit of those great Christian women who have enlightened the life of the Church throughout the centuries and who have often called the Church back to her essential mission and service, I make an appeal to the women of the Church today to assume new forms of leadership in service and I appeal to all the institutions of the Church to welcome this contribution of women.

I appeal to all men in the Church to undergo, where necessary, a change of heart and to implement, as a demand of their faith, a positive vision of women. I ask them to become more and more aware of the disadvantages to which women, and especially girls, have been exposed and to see where the attitude of men, their lack of sensitivity or lack of responsibility may be at the root.

Once again, through you, I wish to express my good wishes to all those who have responsibility for the Beijing Conference and to assure them of my support, as well as that of the Holy See and the institutions of the Catholic Church, for a renewed commitment of all to the good of the world’s women.



New York
Thursday, 8 March 2007

Empowerment of women refers to increasing their social, political, economic and spiritual strength, both individually and collectively, as well as to removing the obstacles that penalize women and prevent them from being fully integrated into the various sectors of society. Concretely, it means addressing discriminatory practices that exclude women from decision-making processes, oftentimes caused or aggravated by discrimination based on a woman’s race, ethnicity, religion or social status. That women in society must be involved in decision-making is not only right for reasons of equality, but also for the specific insights that women bring to the process. This “feminine genius” will prove most valuable, as women increasingly play major roles in the solution of the serious challenges the world is facing. Empowerment of women also means equal pay for equal work, fairness in career advancement, and equality of spouses in family rights. Likewise, it means that women who choose to be wives and mothers are protected and not penalized.

I would say that the world is full of sin and marriage is rarely the ideal mirror of the relationship between Christ and the Church.

I would say that the woman ought to seriously consider whether or not her marriage is abusive. Both parties ought to seek marriage counseling to learn about the whole “give and take” of marriage. The woman should consider what about this man and his way of decision making was attractive to her in the first place. This dynamic works for some couples, and if she has changed, or grown up or developed some self-confidence that was lacking before, they can both use some counseling to help learn a better dynamic in their marriage.

I would tell the wife that she should not to submit to the request or demand of her husband if that request would put her in physical or moral danger or put her children in such danger. She is not required to violate her conscience and she is also responsible for the protection of her children.

Outside of such a situation, though… I would encourage her to do everything morally possible to let him lead and be won over by her love and desire to follow Christ.

And what of a husband who complained that his wife absolutely refused to submit to him, ever? I wouldn’t tell him that it is ok for him to make his decisions based on selfish desires, rather than based on the needs of his wife and children. I would tell him that he should try to win her over by showing her Christ’s love, over and over again and allowing her to learn to trust that he will always sacrifice his own desires for her good.

Well said. Sadly, too many families get to counseling when things have been at the crisis stage for some time; and all too many don’t start the counseling until the papers have been filed. Too often either pride or fear, or both, keep people from seeking the help they need.

Women/Wives are not children. to be led. If a husband refuses to defer to his wife, then there is no give and take in that marriage, then that is not a true Christian marriage. As St JP II said, the dominance of men over women is the result of the Fall and sin.

I think you’re confusing the idea of leadership with that of dominance. They are not the same thing. Also, this isn’t about the idea of male dominance over women, but about the idea of a husband exercising leadership in his family and the wife graciously and freely choosing to allow him to do so, through her willing compliance. In our culture, the ideas of submission and obedience have very negative connotations, but they don’t have to. Each of us is called to submit to somebody else’s leadership in our lives; a boss at work, our pastor, our confessor, our bishop, elected officials, a police officer directing traffic, a religious to his or her superior, etc. Do some people abuse positions of authority? Absolutely! Is it sometimes necessary to stand up against the abuse of authority? Of course. But these exceptions don’t change the principle that leadership and authority contribute to the good order of society.

As for whether or not a marriage is a true Christian marriage, I’ll leave that to a tribunal to decide, but if failure to live up to the ideal of Marriage as an image of the relationship between Christ and the Church makes a marriage not a true Christian marriage, then I’m afraid we’re all in trouble.

Of course, all this has to be looked at through the lens of the absolute dignity and equality of both men and women, husbands and wives. These two concepts are really not incompatible, though our culture seems to tell us that they are.

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