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Saturday, July 31, 2004


VATICAN CITY, JUL 31, 2004 (VIS) - 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.

  Archbishop Angelo Amato, S.D.B., secretary of the congregation, explained the purpose and content of this document in an interview with Vatican Radio:

VATICAN RADIO.  After "Mulieris Dignitatem" (August 15, 1988) and the "Letter to Women (June 29, 1995) of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, what is new in this document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

ARCHBISHOP AMATO. What is new is the response given to two tendencies which have become quite strong in contemporary culture.

  The first tendency focuses on women's subordination and advances the idea that women, to be truly themselves, must make themselves the opponents of men. It posits a radical competition between the sexes in which the identity and role of one are emphasized to the disadvantage of the other.

  A second current, seeking to avoid this kind of confrontation, tends instead to deny the differences between the sexes. Physical difference, termed "sex", is minimized and held to be the mere effect of social and cultural conditioning. The purely cultural difference, on the other hand, termed "gender", is given maximum importance. From this, the institution of the family is called into question, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and the equivalence of homosexuality and heterosexuality is asserted, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality.

VR. What is the root of this second tendency?

AMATO.  This perspective arises from the premise that human nature does not possess characteristics determining it in an absolute way as either man or woman. Therefore, every person, free from all biological determinations, can shape himself or herself as he or she pleases.

  Faced with these erroneous ideas, the Church is reasserting some essential aspects of Christian anthropology which are based on the revealed truth of the Holy Scriptures.

VR. What does the Bible say about this?

AMATO. The longest part of the Congregation's document is dedicated precisely to a meditation of the Biblical passages on the creation of man and woman.

  The first text, Genesis 1:1-2:4 describes God's creative power, which acts to make distinctions in the original chaos (light/dark, sea/land, plants/animals), finally creating man: 'in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them'.

  The second creation account, in Genesis 2:4-25, confirms the essential importance of sexual difference. God places the first women next to the first man, created as she is, from his very flesh and shrouded in the same mystery.

VR. What does this mean?

AMATO. The Biblical texts offers three important insights. 

  In the first place, human beings are persons, men and women, equally so. They exist in a reciprocal relationship.

  Secondly, the human body, marked as male or female, is called to exist in communion and mutual self-giving. For this reason, marriage is the first and fundamental dimension of this vocation.

  Thirdly, these original determinations, made by God he Creator - even if they have been upset and obscured by sin - can never be abolished.

  The Biblical vision of the human person suggests that problems related to sexual difference, whether on the public or private level, should be addressed by a relational approach and not by competition (no. 8)
VR: Are there other biblical indications?

AMATO: The Congregation's Letter also offers some theological considerations regarding the spousal dimension of salvation. In the Old Testament, for example, a salvific history takes shape in which both male and female participate through the metaphors of bridegroom-bride and covenant.  We find a nuptial language that orients the reader toward the male figure of the suffering Servant as well as toward the feminine figure of Zion.

  These prefigurations find their fulfillment in the New Testament.  On the one hand, Mary, the chosen daughter of Zion, sums up the condition of Israel/Bride waiting for the day of her salvation.  On the other hand, Jesus embodies in his person God's love for his people which is described as the love of a bridegroom for his bride.

  Saint Paul develops this nuptial sense of the redemption by seeing Christian life as a nuptial mystery of Christ and the Church, His bride.  Drawn into this mystery of grace, Christian spouses, notwithstanding sin and its consequences, are able to live their union in love and mutual faithfulness.

  The consequence is that man and woman do not see their difference in terms of rivalry and opposition, but in terms of harmony and collaboration.

VR: What is the contribution of femininity in the life of society?

AMATO: Woman, distinct from man, has her own charism, which has been called "the capacity for the other."(n.13)  It is an intuition linked to her physical ability to give life and orients her to the growth and protection of others.  This is the "genius of women" which allows her to acquire maturity early on, and gives her a sense of responsibility, a respect for what is concrete, as well as a significant capacity to persevere in adversity.  This storehouse of virtue leads women to be actively present both in the family and in society, through the proposal of innovative solutions to economic and social problems.

VR: How can a woman's role in the family be reconciled with her work?

AMATO: This is an important question.  Society should give proper value to the work done by women within the family and in bringing up children, with recognition on both the social and economic levels.

VR: What kind of contribution can women make in the life of the Church?

AMATO: In the Church, woman as a "sign" is more than ever central and fruitful.  From the beginning of Christianity, the Church has understood herself to be a community joined to Christ in a relationship of love.  In this, the Church, as a bride of Christ, has always seen Mary as her mother and her model.  From Mary, the Church learns certain fundamental ways of acting, in receiving the word of God in faith and in experiencing deeply the intimacy of Jesus and his merciful love.

  The reference to Mary, with her dispositions of listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting, places the Church in continuity with the spiritual history of Israel. These attributes are common to every baptized person. In reality, however, it is a characteristic of maximum importance in the Church's life by becoming witnesses and models for all Christians of how the bride ought to respond to the love of the bridegroom (n.16).  In so doing, women contribute in a unique way to revealing the face of the Church as the mother of believers.

VR: A concluding word?

AMATO: The are two concluding words: rediscovery and conversion.  Rediscovery of the common dignity of men and women in mutual recognition and collaboration.  Conversion of both men and women to their original identity as "image of God," each according to his or her own grace. 

  The Introduction of the Letter says:

    "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, 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 different 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."

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