Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pope Benedict: Let's get rid of the veil...

[re-posted from late Saturday...]

[pix: H/T Paulson at the Globe, see below]

This is just embarrassing... and no, I have no desire to feature the picture of Michelle Obama with a veil.

Let's think about this. First of all, we note that, in the past, it was customary for Roman Catholic women to wear some kind of veil, often lace, to mass. I did this as a child.

In some traditionalist parishes, this custom is now revived and enforced. Fine. Whatever.

But to have as part of "official" Vatican protocol that women should cover their hair -- their hair?

Check out the pix, from Michael Paulson's blog at the Boston Globe... HERE ... the only one that doesn't look TOTALLY DORKY is the Queen, and she's not wearing a veil, but a hat with some net (plus she's the Queen, she signed up for this kind of thing). But the rest ... well, what's the point here? The veil adds nothing to the dignity of the occasion and, as it's obviously worn under duress, it just gives the impression that the Pope needs to manipulate the women that come into his sight, even the foreign dignitaries.

Having a dress code is not the problem, the point of protocol is to show respect for the office of the figure you are visiting.

It is certainly appropriate to dress conservatively when officially visiting religious figures or houses of worship, and to observe their religious customs to the extent that this is reasonable, thus the removal of shoes in some situations. It was also appropriate, for example, for Hilary Clinton to wear a headscarf when visiting a mosque in Cairo. [pix: New York Daily News]

But for a Vatican visit with a papal audience, does mandating that women wear the veil add ANYTHING to the story? (I know, for Michelle Obama, wearing a veil simply means that she doesn't want what she wears to be the story, she'd wear polka dot scrubs and a clown wig if it would keep the fashionista chatter from overwhelming the administration's message.)

In other words, a woman wearing a veil to the Vatican is simply saying "I'm going along with the program." But, and here's the big point:
I don't think Benedict has a "program" here, in terms of veiling women. In fact, I wonder if he might welcome the chance to say something important about Christianity -- and women -- by quietly letting it be known that he does not consider the veil to be necessary.

So contact your Vatican connections, and let's get the memo to the top: women are beautiful and we see no need to veil them. Pope Benedict, let's send a serious message about the Christian story about the dignity of women, made as they are in the image of God. This is the religious story we claim, let's make it visible.

UPDATE: Melinda Henneberger weighs in, at Politics Daily, in favor of the veil. I'm not persuaded, but read it anyway... HERE.

UPDATE #2: Speaking of which, here's Michelle Gonzalez (she will speak at Fairfield University in Spring 2010) reviewing a new collection edited by Jennifer Heath, The Veil: Women Writers on its History, Lore and Politics, in the National Catholic Reporter. Link HERE.