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Posted August 3, 2004

Vatican says battle of sexes not part of God's design

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

The battle of the sexes and, particularly, the subjugation of women are the result of original sin and not of God's original design for creation, said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Attempts to advance the cause of women by seeing men as enemies to be defeated or by claiming that no real difference exists between male and female have had "lethal effects," particularly on the family, the congregation said.

The congregation's "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World" was released July 31.

Rather than compete for power or ignore the God-given differences between men and women, "the church, enlightened by faith in Jesus Christ, speaks instead of active collaboration between the sexes," said the document.

The letter was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the congregation, and by Archbishop Angelo Amato, congregation secretary, after approval by Pope John Paul II.

In an interview broadcast July 31, Archbishop Amato told Vatican Radio that the letter was meant to offer a Christian criticism of two current trends: that of emphasizing "a radical rivalry between the sexes" and that of trying "to cancel the differences between the sexes."

From a Christian perspective, he said, men and women were created with differences precisely in order to enter into a partnership and a relationship of self-giving that would bring new life into the world.

"The consequence is that the man and the woman no longer see their differences in terms of rivalry and opposition, but in terms of harmony and collaboration," he said.

Collaboration is needed in the world, particularly in formulating political and social policies to help the poor and advance the cause of peace, the document said.

The church, too, needs collaboration in order to bring "feminine values" of listening, faithfulness, humility, understanding and caring more to the forefront, it said.

While reaffirming church teaching that only men can be ordained priests, the doctrinal congregation said the role of women in the church is not "a passivity inspired by an outdated conception of femininity."

The Blessed Virgin Mary, held up in the document as an example of discipleship for all Christian women and men, is a model of the proper power of femininity, it said.

The document said attempts to convince people that differences between men and women are simply cultural have inspired ideologies "which, for example, call into question the family in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father."

The affirmation that differences are only social constructs also "make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent in a new model of polymorphous sexuality," it said.

The central part of the document -- taking up 16 of its 37 booklet-size pages -- is devoted to a survey of biblical statements about man and woman, male and female.

From the very beginning, it said, God's work of creation involved making "distinctions" out of the original chaos, creating sea and dry land, day and night, fish and birds, male and female.

With the sin of Adam and Eve, however, power and manipulation entered into the world, disrupting their relationship with God and with each other, the document said.

Under the influence of sin, it said, the relationship between man and woman "will be a relationship in which love will frequently be debased into pure self-seeking, in a relationship which ignores and kills love and replaces it with the yoke of domination of one sex over the other."

But in Christ, "the rivalry, enmity and violence which disfigured the relationship between men and women can be overcome and have been overcome," it said.

Originally created as male or female, individuals will continue to be male or female even in the next life, "although the temporal and earthly expression of sexuality is transient and ordered to a phase of life marked by procreation and death," a phase that does not continue in heaven, it said.

The doctrinal congregation also said that although potential motherhood is a key part of a woman's identity, "this does not mean that women should be considered from the sole perspective of physical procreation," an attitude which often is "accompanied by dangerous disrespect for women."

By upholding the vocation of virginity, it said, Christianity "refutes any attempt to enclose women in mere biological destiny."