Image of Bound, Headless Woman is Removed from Vatican Website

The following letter was sent by CNWE NWG on March 10 to the Pontifical Council for Culture:

Dear Cardinal Ravasi and members of the Pontifical Council for Culture,

We wish to acknowledge the removal of ‘Venus Restored’ by Man Ray from the website version of the Outline Document for the “Women’s Cultures” plenary session. We are hopeful that this action is in response to the numerous women and men around the world who found the image inappropriate and offensive.

We remain ever hopeful that the conversations generated by the Plenary Session and especially by the ‘Voices of Faith’ gathering at the Vatican this past weekend will be catalysts for change in our Church. We share ‘Voices of Faith’ participant Dr. Astrid Gajiwala’s dream for our Church: “I dream of a church where men and women would participate equally in all decision-making so that they both would contribute to the policies, the structures, the teaching, and the practice of the church. And both would engage in ministry.”


Cathy Holtmann, Mary Ellen Chown, Shirley Kindred, Denise Wiggins, Maire Goss and Anna Rowley
National Work Group
Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE), Canada

Press Release: Problems with the Pontifical Council for Culture’s Preparations for Plenary Assembly


Media inquiries:

Atlantic Canada: Cathy Holtmann, (506) 476-1080,

Central Canada: Mary Ellen Chown, (905) 330-1437,

Western Canada: Therese Koturbash, (204) 622-7000,

The Pontifical Council for Culture is hosting a plenary assembly on the theme of “Women’s Cultures” February 4-7, 2015 in Rome. In preparation, the Council produced a video requesting input from women and published a working document and accompanying image for discussion.  The serious flaws in these initiatives reflect the problem of an all-male hierarchy attempting to speak for and about women, while being representatives of an institution that excludes them.

The Council video featured an actress inviting women to send in short clips responding to questions such as: “Who are you?” “What are your strengths, difficulties?” What do you think about “your body?” “your spiritual life?” The English version of the video was removed in response to wide critique of its patronizing questions and format. The irony is that canvassing women would not be necessary if the membership of the Pontifical Council reflected the diversity of Catholic women in the church. The video concludes by telling Catholic women, “You, yes you are important!” – a further irony considering Catholic Church leadership does not consider women important enough to participate equally.

Aspects of the working document point to poverty and violence as global realities for women, but the discussion fails to acknowledge how Catholic Church leadership through centuries of patriarchy and sexism have contributed to these problems.  The document states, “In the very discrimination and stereotypes tied to roles, violence against women sinks its roots even deeper”. Yet Catholic Church leadership discriminates against the full participation of women and holds fast to stereotypes of women in its teaching. The document asks why husbands abuse their wives and why women stay in abusive marriages but does not question what role the Catholic Church plays in instilling guilt over ‘failed marriages’ and urging forgiveness at the expense of women’s safety. The possibility of women priests is dismissed in the document with the unsubstantiated claim that “according to statistics, it is not something that women want.”

The image that accompanies the document on the Pontifical Council for Culture website is “Venus Restored” by Man Ray (1936). It depicts the naked torso of a headless woman, bound tightly with rope. Given that Man Ray objectified and sexually assaulted women and was a devotee of the Marquis de Sade, this image has no place at any gathering that supports women,

We call on the Pontifical Council for Culture to remove the image of ‘Venus Restored’ from its website. We urge the Council to ‘walk the talk’ of respecting the dignity of women by advocating for women’s equal participation at all levels of Church ministry and leadership. Anything less means that the male hierarchy of the Church corroborates in ‘tightening the bonds’ that oppress women globally.

(Pontifical Council for Culture outline document and image:



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Where are the Families at the Catholic Synod on the Family?

When Catholic bishops from around the world gather at the Vatican to discuss the challenges facing Catholic families (October 5-14), Catholics who actually live in families will be sparsely represented. Of the 253 participants at the Synod, only 14 married couples have been invited and they do not appear to be representative of the diversity of Catholic families. As Mary McAleese, the former President of Ireland says, there is “just something profoundly wrong and skewed” about celibate males drafting guidelines about sexuality, marriage and family life. Furthermore, only 24 women will be at the Synod and they will not have any voting rights. This hardly reflects Pope Francis’ call for “a more incisive female presence in the Church”. Decisions in the Catholic Church, from electing a pope to offering moral guidelines, are made by ordained men – despite an abundance of qualified Catholic women and lay men. The Catholic church simply cannot live up to its call to be a beacon of justice when it is hiding the voices and the gifts of so many of its members ‘under a bushel’.

From the outset, a faulty process of information gathering has hampered the Synod. Despite the Vatican’s call for wide input from “local sources”, the questionnaire designed to capture this information was inconsistently disseminated by bishops and seriously flawed. The questions seemed to assume that with better instruction on Church teaching, (such as the ban on contraception, homosexual relationships, and the exclusion of divorced and remarried Catholics from communion) Catholics would embrace the rules. There are many Catholics who understand full well the Church’s teaching on issues of sexuality and marriage, however after discernment, they question or reject it. Many do so on the basis of a belief in the primacy of an informed conscience and respect for the dignity of all human persons. If the Vatican’s recently published working paper is any indication, the Synod may be an exercise in reemphasizing current teachings rather than reevaluating them.

It is disappointing that existing Church mechanisms for broader input were not utilized. Diocesan synods would have given families in parishes an opportunity to be heard. These discussions could then have continued with national synods being held in each country. The Church permits up to 50% of these gatherings to be comprised of ordinary Catholics, albeit their role is consultative only. Regarding Catholic families, Church leaders would do well to adopt a principle from the world of patient advocacy: “Nothing about us, without us.”

Given this state of affairs, faithful Catholics around the world have taken their own initiative to organize conversations about the challenges facing families. Catholic Church Reform International hosted regional gatherings, wrote letters, created petitions and developed position papers that they have shared with the Vatican. They will also host a public Forum on the Family in Rome, just prior to the Synod.

In Canada, the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality, (CNWE) held group conversations across the country, to reflect on our lived experience of faith formation, gender and sexuality, marriage and family life. These conversations revealed a rich diversity of Catholic experience and understanding and the summary report has been shared with participants, posted on the CNWE website and sent to Archbishop Durocher, the Canadian delegate to the Synod in Rome.

As a network of Canadian Catholics working for justice and equality for women in the Catholic Church and in the world for over 30 years, we know that our concerns often fall on deaf ears among our Church leaders. We continue our advocacy for change, however, because institutions that perpetuate sexism in the world are also complicit in perpetuating the oppression of poor and marginalized women, often with tragic consequences for them and for their children. Our solidarity with those around the world working for reform in the Catholic church gives us hope for human flourishing in the light of the Gospel. We work to recover the original Greek meaning of the word ‘synod’, which is “to walk the road together”. A broadly inclusive, accountable and collaborative Catholic church leadership will need to be the new path.

Mary Ellen Chown, Cathy Holtmann,

Members of the National Work Group,

Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (, Canada.