THE Pope is at the centre of a new controversy after church campaigners accused him of demeaning the role of women in Jesus’s life in a children’s book, The Friends of Jesus.
Pope Benedict XVI is described by the Vatican Information Service as the author of the 48-page book about Jesus’s 14 friends who are listed as Peter, his brother Andrew, James the older, John, Thomas, Matthew, Philip, Bartholomew, James the younger, Simon, Judas Thaddeus, Judas Iscariot, Matthias and Paul.
The book, thought to be the first written for children by a pope, came under attack because no mention was made of Mary Magdalene or any other female friends of Jesus. The hardback edition, which was published in Italian by Piccola Casa Editrice and is available in bookshops near the Vatican, brings together passages from the Pope’s teachings.
The role of women in the life of Jesus is regarded by scholars as being of increasing significance. Jesus has three important conversations with women in the Bible, including with a Samarian woman who is often held up as proof of Jesus’s support for minorities. After speaking to him, the Bible says, the woman became a disciple. It is Mary Magdalene who discovers Jesus’s empty tomb and tells the disciples of his resurrection.
Valerie Stroud of the Catholic organisation We Are Church, a support group for Catholics, said: “In giving children the idea that Jesus only favoured men, Pope Benedict sends a very strong message that women are second-class citizens in the Christian religion. This was never Jesus’s intention. The Supreme Pontiff completely abandons the modern idea of equality within relationships.”
The book was criticised in comments on the website of the influential US National Catholic Reporter. Jacob R wrote: “Oh dear . . . how profoundly disappointing. Can this really be true that he edited out Mary Magdalene, the first ‘friend’ to see the risen Lord?”
Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope’s spokesman, said the book was put together by an editor but admitted that the Pope had sanctioned the use of his name, Benedetto XVI, on the cover. “The Pope has done explicitly a catechism about the many women in the service of the Gospel who were disciples of Jesus and helped him in his life,” he said.
The book went on sale on July 22, the Feast of Mary Magdalene.