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EXTRA: LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE COLLABORATION OF MEN AND WOMEN IN THE CHURCH AND IN THE WORLD

7/31/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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Made public today was a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World." Dated May 31, 2004, feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Letter was published in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Portuguese. The Holy Father approved it during an audience granted to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the congregation, and ordered its publication.

The 37-page Letter consists of an Introduction, four Chapters and a Conclusion. The chapters are entitled: I: The question: II. Basic elements of the biblical vision of the human person; III. The importance of feminine values in the life of society; and IV. The importance of feminine values in the Church.

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LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE COLLABORATION OF MEN AND WOMEN IN THE CHURCH AND IN THE WORLD

INTRODUCTION

1. The Church, expert in humanity, has a perennial interest in whatever concerns men and women. In recent times, much reflection has been given to the question of the dignity of women and to women's rights and duties in the different areas of civil society and the Church. Having contributed to a deeper understanding of this fundamental question, in particular through the teaching of John Paul II,1 the Church is called today to address certain currents of thought which are often at variance with the authentic advancement of women.

After a brief presentation and critical evaluation of some current conceptions of human nature, this document will offer reflections inspired by the doctrinal elements of the biblical vision of the human person that are indispensable for safeguarding his or her identity on some of the essentials of a correct understanding of active collaboration, in recognition of the difference between men and women in the Church and in the world. These reflections are meant as a starting point for further examination in the Church, as well as an impetus for dialogue with all men and women of good will, in a sincere search for the truth and in a common commitment to the development of ever more authentic relationships.

I. THE QUESTION

2. Recent years have seen new approaches to women's issues. A first tendency is to emphasize strongly conditions of subordination in order to give rise to antagonism: women, in order to be themselves, must make themselves the adversaries of men. Faced with the abuse of power, the answer for women is to seek power. This process leads to opposition between men and women, in which the identity and role of one are emphasized to the disadvantage of the other, leading to harmful confusion regarding the human person, which has its most immediate and lethal effects in the structure of the family.

A second tendency emerges in the wake of the first. In order to avoid the domination of one sex or the other, their differences tend to be denied, viewed as mere effects of historical and cultural conditioning. In this perspective, physical difference, termed sex, is minimized, while the purely cultural element, termed gender, is emphasized to the maximum and held to be primary. The obscuring of the difference or duality of the sexes has enormous consequences on a variety of levels. This theory of the human person, intended to promote prospects for equality of women through liberation from biological determinism, has in reality inspired ideologies which, for example, call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality.

3. While the immediate roots of this second tendency are found in the context of reflection on women's roles, its deeper motivation must be sought in the human attempt to be freed from one's biological conditioning.2 According to this perspective, human nature in itself does not possess characteristics in an absolute manner: all persons can and ought to constitute themselves as they like, since they are free from every predetermination linked to their essential constitution.

This perspective has many consequences. Above all it strengthens the idea that the liberation of women entails criticism of Sacred Scripture, which would be seen as handing on a patriarchal conception of God nourished by an essentially male-dominated culture. Second, this tendency would consider as lacking in importance and relevance the fact that the Son of God assumed human nature in its male form.

4. In the face of these currents of thought, the Church, enlightened by faith in Jesus Christ, speaks instead of active collaboration between the sexes precisely in the recognition of the difference between man and ...

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