At the Conclusion of the Vatican World Congress on Women
The World Congress on Women, held at the Vatican February 7 to 9th, 2008, concluded with an address on February 10th by Pope Benedict XIV. We bring you a translation of the words he spoke to the participants and we are including an address given at the Congress by Helen Alvare the former pro-life spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops’ conference. She titled her speech “Female Objectification Not All Fault of Men” and in it she highlights woman’s complicity.
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
With true pleasure I welcome all of you who are taking part in the international conference on the theme “Man and Woman: The ‘Humanum’ in Its Entirety,” which has been organized on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the publication of the apostolic letter “Mulieris Dignitatem.” I greet Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and I am grateful to him for being the interpreter of shared sentiments. I greet the council’s secretary, Bishop Josef Clemens, and the members and the collaborators of this dicastery. In particular I greet the women, who are the great majority of those present, and who have enriched the conference’s proceedings with their experience and competence.
The question on which you are reflecting has great contemporary relevance: From the second half of the 20th century until today, the movement for women’s rights in the various settings of social life has generated countless reflections and debates, and it has seen the multiplication of many initiatives that the Catholic Church has followed and often accompanied with attentive interest. The male-female relationship, in its respective specificity, reciprocity and complementarity, without a doubt constitutes a central point of the “anthropological question” that is so decisive in contemporary culture. The papal interventions and documents that have touched on the emerging reality of the question of women are numerous.
I limit myself to recall those of my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II, who, in June 1995 wrote a “Letter to Women,” and in Aug. 15, 1988, exactly 20 years ago, published the apostolic letter “Mulieris dignitatem.” This text on the vocation and the dignity of women, of great theological, spiritual and cultural richness, in its turn inspired the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In “Mulieris Dignitatem,” John Paul II wanted to delve into the fundamental anthropological truths of men and women, the equality in dignity and their unity, the rooted and profound difference between the masculine and the feminine and their vocation to reciprocity and complementarity, collaboration and communion (cf. “Mulieris Dignitatem,” No. 6).
This dual-unity of man and woman is based on the foundation of the dignity of every person, created in the image and likeness of God, who “created them male and female” (Genesis 1:27), as much avoiding an indistinct uniformity and flattened-out and impoverished equality as an abysmal and conflictive difference (cf. “Letter to Women,” No. 8). This dual-unity carries with it, inscribed in bodies and souls, the relation with the other, love for the other, interpersonal communion that shows that “the creation of man is also marked by a certain likeness to the divine communion” (“Mulieris Dignitatem,” No. 7). When, therefore, men or women pretend to be autonomous or totally self-sufficient, they risk being closed up in a self-realization that considers the overcoming of every natural, social or religious bond as a conquest of freedom, but which in fact reduces them to an oppressive solitude. To foster and support the true promotion of women and men one cannot fail to take this reality into account.
Certainly a renewed anthropological research is necessary that, on the basis of the great Christian tradition, incorporates the new advances of science and the datum of contemporary cultural sensibilities, contributing in this way to the deepened understanding not only of feminine identity but also masculine identity, which is frequently the object of partial and ideological reflections.
In the face of cultural and political currents that attempt to eliminate, or at least to obfuscate and confuse, the sexual differences written into human nature, considering them to be cultural constructions, it is necessary to recall the design of God that created the human being male and female, with a unity and at the same time an original and complementary difference. Human nature and the cultural dimension are integrated in an ample and complex process that constitutes the formation of the identity of each, where both dimensions — the feminine and the masculine — correspond to and complete each other.
Opening the work of the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate last May in Brazil, I recalled how there still persists a macho mentality that ignores the novelty of Christianity, which recognizes and proclaims the equal dignity and responsibility of women with respect to men. There are certain places and cultures where women are discriminated against and undervalued just for the fact that they are women, where recourse is even had to religious arguments and family, social and cultural pressures to support the disparity between the sexes, where there is consumption of acts of violence against women, making them into objects of abuse and exploitation in advertising and in the consumer and entertainment industries. In the face of such grave and persistent phenomena the commitment of Christians appears all the more urgent, so that they become everywhere the promoters of a culture that recognizes the dignity that belongs to women in law and in reality.
God entrusts to women and to men, according to the characteristics that are proper to each, a specific vocation in the mission of the Church and in the world. I think here of the family, community of love, open to life, fundamental cell of society. In it, woman and man, thanks to the gift of maternity and paternity, together play an irreplaceable role in regard to life. From the moment of their conception, children have a right to count on a father and a mother who care for them and accompany them in their growth. The state, for its part, must sustain with adequate social policies all that which promotes the stability of matrimony, the dignity and the responsibility of the husband and wife, their rights and irreplaceable duty to educate their children. Moreover, it is necessary that it be made possible for the woman to cooperate in the building-up of society, appreciating her typical “feminine genius.”
Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you once more for your visit and, while I wish you complete success in the work of the conference, I assure you of a remembrance in prayer, invoking the maternal intercession oof Mary, that she help the women of our time to realize their vocation and their mission in the ecclesial and civil community. With such vows, I impart to you here present and to your loved ones a special apostolic blessing.