WASHINGTON (July 31, 2004) -– Belleville Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, called a newly released document of the Holy See on the collaboration of men and women "a timely reminder of both the equality of men and women and also of the distinctive difference between them with which God endowed them in creation."
The document, released today in Rome by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, is a "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World."
The document reminds its readers of the fundamental equality between men and women as human persons. It also draws attention to trends in contemporary thinking that question the fundamental nature of the distinction between men and women or seek to diminish it.
The Letter presents the Church's perspective, first of all, by examining the biblical understanding of the human person, starting with the Genesis creation accounts and continuing through the teaching of Jesus Christ recorded in the Gospels and other New Testament writings.
The Letter states that "placed within Christ's Paschal mystery," men and women do not see their difference "as a source of discord to be overcome by denial or eradication, but rather as the possibility for collaboration, to be cultivated with mutual respect for their difference" (# 12).
The Letter notes that the Genesis narrative of the creation of woman contains a spousal dimension that reveals how woman exists "for the other." Thus, in discussing "the importance of feminine values in the life of society," the Letter notes that "women preserve the deep intuition of the goodness in their lives of those actions which elicit life, and contribute to the growth and protection of the other" (# 13).
While this intuition is linked to women's physical capacity to give life, the Letter points out that women should not be considered "from the sole perspective of physical procreation." The vocation to virginity "refutes any attempt to enclose women in mere biological destiny" (# 13).
The document also recognizes that the feminine values it describes are also human values to which women have shown themselves especially attuned (# 14).
"Without prejudice to the advancement of women's rights in society and the family," the Letter states that "the proper condition of the male-female relationship cannot be a kind of mistrustful and defensive opposition. Their relationship needs to be lived in peace and in the happiness of shared love" (# 14).
The Letter states that while "social policies…must combat all unjust sexual discrimination," the promotion of equal dignity "must be harmonized with attentive recognition of the difference and reciprocity between the sexes where this is relevant to the realization of one's humanity, whether male or female" (# 14).
The Letter invokes the figure of Mary, since her existence is "an invitation to the Church to root her very being in listening and receiving the Word of God, because faith is not so much the search for God on the part of human beings, as the recognition by men and women that God comes to us…"(# 15).
Bishop Gregory urged all persons of good will to read and discuss the Letter.
"This relatively brief document is filled with concepts that are essential for our society today to take seriously and to live by. The Letter well rewards thoughtful and careful reading and discussion," he said.
Full Text of Letter (.pdf format)