From The New Republic:
by Elizabeth Bruenig
Advocates of better parental leave policies have a new ally as of last week: Pope Francis. Speaking to the Christian Union of Italian Business Executives, Francis declared that working women “must be protected and helped in this dual task: the right to work and the right to motherhood." Francis went on to outline the responsibilities businesses have to their female employees, emphasizing that “the challenge is to protect their right to a job that is given full recognition while at the same time safeguarding their vocation to motherhood and their presence in the family.”
Francis’s emphatic support of maternity leave comes on the heels of a debate about state leave mandates partly prompted by House Speaker Paul Ryan’s insistence on family time for himself, and simultaneous rejection of leave mandates for others. On a recent installment of Meet the Press, Ryan, a practicing Catholic, explained that he opposes paid leave mandates because loving his own children does not require “taking money from hardworking taxpayers to create a brand new entitlement program.” Paid leave for those who can afford it, in other words, and no help from the government for those who can’t.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis’s position reflects not only a disagreement on policy particulars with Ryan and his supporters, but an entirely different way of imagining society.
“It sounds like Pope Francis was specifically talking about the responsibility of businesses to offer family leave,” Julie Rubio, professor of Christian Ethics at St. Louis University, explained in email to the New Republic. “However, he is echoing statements of other popes that have a broader context.” Rubio, whose research focuses on Christian family ethics and policy, noted that Francis’s remarks strongly resembled those of Pope St. John Paul II, who wrote in 1981 that:
“There is no doubt that the equal dignity and responsibility of men and women fully justifies women's access to public functions. On the other hand the true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role, by comparison with all other public roles and all other professions. Furthermore, these roles and professions should be harmoniously combined, if we wish the evolution of society and culture to be truly and fully human.”
Maternity leave, in other words, guarantees that women will not be forced to choose between work and family, but will rather be allowed to value both equally: this much is usually advanced in favor of fair leave policies. What Francis and his predecessor note is that businesses are not only wise to offer generous leave, but obligated to do so by their role in society.
Read the full article from The New Republic.