The London Times
September 10 1999


Pope praises ‘God the Mother’ to pilgrims


THE Pope, who this year said that God was not “an old man with a white beard”, went a step further yesterday and referred to “God the Mother.”

The Pope, regarded as dogmatically conservative and patriarchal, has surprised critics this year with uncharacteristically open-minded revisions of doctrine as part of his preparations for a Christian mission in the new millennium. He is keen to broaden the appeal of Christianity, his advisers say, and to ensure that no sections of society feel “left out of its all-embracing message.” The Pope has clashed with feminists and remains opposed to the ordination of women. But he praised the “vital role” of women in the Roman Catholic Church, and talks with reverence of his own mother, Emilia, who died when he was nine in Poland. The Pope is also a devotee of the cult of the Virgin Mary, although she is referred to as the Mother of God, and not as a God Mother, since she does not share the divinity of God and Christ.

The Lord’s Prayer opens with the words “Our Father, which art in heaven,” and in the Gospel of St Matthew, Jesus says: “Everything is entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows the Father but the Son” (Matthew xi, 27). But, speaking to pilgrims in St Peter’s Square, the Pope said God had both a male and female nature.

Reflecting on the forgiveness of sins, he said: “The hands of God hold us up, they hold us tight, they give us strength. But at the same time they give us comfort, they console and caress us. They are the hands of a father and a mother at the same time.” The Pope said the parable of the prodigal son reflected this dual nature, with the father in the story disciplining his son and even throwing him out, but later welcoming him back. The pontiff said the capacity to forgive those who repented was, if anything, more a female trait than a male one.

Theologians said that in admitting that God had a “feminine side” the Pope was conscious of a remark made by his predecessor, Pope John Paul I, who in 1978 astonished pilgrims by remarking that God was “the Father, but is also the Mother.”

The Pope’s latest remarks were welcomed by liberal theologians such as Dr Hans Kung, who was forbidden to teach theology 20 years ago after repeatedly defying Vatican edicts. He said that it was time to acknowledge that God “transcends the sexes.”