07/31/2004, 00.00
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Men and women: love and peace, not war

by Bernardo Cervellera

Letter of Cardinal Ratzinger to the Bishops on the collaboration of men and women in the Church and in the world  (commentary and full text)

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – By viewing relations between men and women in adversarial terms and reducing sex to a simple element of cultural choice, radical feminism and gender ideology are undermining men, women, the family and society.

Sounding the alarm, Cardinal Jozef Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, released today a "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World". It did receive the Pope's stamp of approval.

It is important to point out that the Letter is not some sort of obscurantist anathema flung at pernicious modern tendencies. It is instead an account of how to positively and creatively view physical love, men and women, and their commitment to society. In short, the Letter wants to demonstrate how men and women are not warring factions but partners in "active collaboration, [and] in recognition of [their] difference" (No. 1).

According to Cardinal Ratzinger, radical feminism has led women onto a path of self-destruction. It started as an attempt to free women from their "subordination" and it did so by adopting a "power seeking strategy" in which gender relations were seen as inherently antagonistic. It now threatens women's lives undermining the structures of the family.

Against this "solitary and sterile encounter with oneself" stands the biblical conception found in the Book of Genesis wherein God created humanity as both "male and female" overcoming the "original solitude." Cardinal Ratzinger evokes here the biblical theme of "nakedness" not as a challenge or showing off, but as "a vital difference . . . oriented towards communion and . . . lived in peace" (No. 6).

The Letter does not limit itself to the sterile anger of radical feminism but deals also with another issue, that of "gender", a notion that has become an important part in many a United Nations document on women and the family. Fearful that of gender supremacy, the "physical difference, termed sex, is minimised". Other differences are seen as irrelevant, homosexuality and heterosexuality are treated as virtually equivalent, suggesting that humans can choose their nature at will, free from "biological determinism", and evolve according to "a new model of polymorphous sexuality" (Nos. 2-3).

Here the Letter clearly responds to all the battles, especially in the Western world, that place heterosexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism, and transsexuality on the same level.

Here too, the Letter finds inspiration in the Book of Genesis, where the human body, marked by the "sign of masculinity and femininity", is seen as a sign of a person's destiny and "becomes a gift to the other" (No. 6).  Equal dignity for men and women as persons is realised, the Letter reads, "as physical complementarity . . .  [And] sexuality . . . cannot be reduced to a pure and insignificant biological fact, but rather is a fundamental component of personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communicating with others, of feeling, of expressing and of living human love" (No. 8).

Quoting various passages from the Bible, including some from the Book of Revelation, Cardinal Ratzinger explains that "man and woman are distinct, and will remain so for all eternity". Their relationship celebrates the "beauty of the human body and the joy of mutual seeking" and expresses "what is most human" and "most divine" in human history and the destiny of Man.

How did we get to this point? To a war of the sexes? To a sterile and faceless encounter with one self? Drawing once again from the Book of Genesis, Cardinal Ratzinger suggests the root cause of everything is atheism and the abrogation of the difference between "God and humanity".  When God becomes the enemy the relationship between men and women becomes perverse. Love moves away from giving oneself to the other towards selfishness. The sexes cease collaborating and seek dominion over one another. At the same time, Ratzinger writes: "When this relationship [between men and women] is damaged, their access to the face of God risks being compromised in turn" (No. 7).

The third chapter is an important part of the letter for it is dedicated to the urgent need to speak about feminine values in society. Through the "genius of women" children are born, not only in a biological but also in a moral sense for they experience love and respect. Through it, the "features of a people take shape". Through it society acquires the capacity to" persevere in adversity, . . . to hold tenaciously to the future" (No. 13). This feminine capacity to "live for the other" makes women's progress a way of humanising society and exposing it, men included, to feminine values. In this sense, women are the pre-eminent source of social good. Similarly, within the Church, women –with Mary as their model– are the true image of what Christians ought to be.  This image bears witness to the "secret of the love that is victorious".  From this perspective women are called to be "unique examples and witnesses for all Christians", including priests and bishops, "the heart of Christian life" even though they cannot be ordained" (No. 16).

To save our society from the hopeless violence that rules, Christians and men and women of good will must rediscover their original identity and the equal dignity and complementarity that render them in "the image of God". What's more, a "conversion" to the faith in Christ crucified and risen Christ is required. Otherwise, "the power of sin . . . [could] lead one to despair of the goodness of married couples". In faith, the Church finds "the power of forgiveness and self-giving in spite of any injury of injustice" (No. 17).

Contemporary society too must undergo a "cultural" conversion. It must find ways to empower women and allow them to reconcile family life and work, making the workplace more accommodating to their contribution. Indeed, "just valuing of the work of women within the family is required" (No. 13) thus acknowledging their social and economic worth.

For the full text of the Letter see:

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