Among Catholics, “what the pope meant to say” often means “what I wish the pope had said, even though he didn’t”. I’m guilty of such wishful thinking from time to time, and on the matter of women in the workforce, I’m afraid Mrs. Wood and her corresponders have interpreted the pope’s statements more honestly. Reading the passages they cite, a patriarchist has no choice but to admit that JPII and BVI have been on this matter seriously misleading at best.
When Caritas in Veritate was first released, Allan Carlson noted a related omission in the new Catholic social teaching–the family wage has disappeared.
…on one matter, the encyclical letter is ambiguous about a long-standing principle of Catholic social justice: the principle of a “family wage” resting on distinctive social and economic roles for men and women.
In his great encyclical “Rerum Novarum” (1891), Pope Leo XIII declared it “a most sacred law of nature that the father of a family see that his offspring are provided with all the necessities of life.” For their part, mothers were “intended by nature for the work of the home […] the education of children and the well-being of the family.” Consequently, Leo argued the principle underlying all employer-worker contracts must be that the wage be at least “sufficiently large to enable [the worker] to provide comfortably for himself, his wife, and his children.”
In “Quadragesimo Anno” (1931), Pope Pius XI termed it “an intolerable abuse […] to be abolished at all costs” for mothers to be forced by their husbands’ low wage to work outside the home, thereby neglecting their natural responsibilities, “especially the training of children.” He added that “[e]very effort must therefore be made” to insure “that fathers of families receive a wage large enough to meet ordinary family needs adequately.” He rendered “merited praise to all, who with a wise and useful purpose, have tried and tested various ways of adjusting the pay for work to family burdens.”
In contrast, “Caritas in Veritate” seems to assume that mothers will be in the workforce (No. 63). It makes no mention of the special work of women in the home, while acknowledging “the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family.” In discussing “decency” in regard to work, Benedict XVI describes “work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community; work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination; work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for their children, without the children themselves being forced into labor.” Earlier Popes would have added “and mothers” to that last phrase; Benedict XVI seems to have quietly accepted the two-earner or two-career family as the new social and economic norm.
Carlson notes that this jeopardizes the entire Catholic understanding of the family:
This may be a case of simply acknowledging current reality. In the developed world (and starting in the late 1960s), capitalism’s hunger for the labor of adult women broke though the legal and cultural barriers created over the prior 100 years to protect the mother in the home. In the developing world, women’s labor is now simply assumed. To progressive eyes, the mother in the home is at best an antiquarian curiosity.
However, this potential shift raises troubling questions about the nature of the Catholic family. Has the rich concept of complementarity — men and women being equal in dignity but different in function — been deemphasized? Has the Christian Democratic defense of the full-time mother subtly given way to the Swedish model of gender equality in the workplace?
Benedict XVI has spoken about the dignity of motherhood in many other settings, but the silence in this encyclical concerning familial roles has created an ambiguity that could undermine the very institution the Pope is strenuously trying to protect. Perhaps a future apostolic letter will clarify these points.
I suspect the last line is just diplomatic. The muddle almost certainly extends to BVI’s mind. Perhaps our best hope is that he won’t clarify these points, thus leaving a benign interpretation tenable.