Tuesday, April 15, 2008



Written back on August 2, 2004



There is in the current domain now a Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World. First dated May 31, 2004, it was released through Vatican Information Services two months later on July 31, 2004, over the signatures of two principals of the most important Dicastery of the Roman Curia, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF): Joseph Card. Ratzinger, Prefect, and Archbishop Angelo Amato, SDB, Secretary. Pope John Paul II approved the document and ordered its publication.

The term Collaboration comes from the New Catholic Catechism, 378 which reads in full:
"The sign of man's familiarity with God is that God places him in the garden (cf.Gen 2:8). There he lives 'to till it and keep it' Work is not yet a burden, (Gen 2:15; cf. 3:17-19) but rather the collaboration of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation."

The Index to the Catechism shows 9 more uses of collaboration, all of which are irrelevant as they deal with man's collaboration with God and not with women. One of those sections, however, offered the grace to submit this criticism of the Letter. Number 2238 - The Duties of Citizens states:

Their loyal collaboration includes the right, and at times the duty, to voice their just criticisms of that which seems harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community."

I respectfully submit, as a lay person, that the letter is harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community. It is, further, an embarrassment for the Roman Catholic Church and must be withdrawn, with appropriate apologies immediately.


The term, although the very title of the document, is used but three times, never defined, never applied, never explained. There is no development of the history of other attempts at collaboration, whether men and women do collaborate or having attempted to do, have discarded it, Without a definition, we are left without any understanding of what the cardinal and the CDF is talking about. Is Rome proposing courtship, marriage, polygamy, monogamy, patriarchy, matriarchy, free sex, prostitution, homosexuality in order to understand heterosexuality, heterosexuality in order to understand homosexuality, biological determinism, or solitary enjoyment of one's own body via self-induced orgasmic events and the teaching of the same to others of the opposite sex? What is the CDF writing about?

Here the three references, each one qualified by "the differences between men and women."

  1. Second paragraph: "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 difference between men and women in the Church and in the world.


  1. Par. 4: "4.In the face of these currents of thought, the Church, enlightened by faith in Jesus Christ, speaks instead of active collaboration between the sexes precisely in the recognition of the difference between man and woman,"


  1. Near Par. 13: "Placed within Christ's Paschal mystery, they no longer 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."


Fine, for Cardinal Ratzinger, but what is this difference which has him so apoplectic that he spends years writing and issuing a letter to all the bishops in the world? What does he mean by collaboration? In what does he want men and women to collaborate? Is such collaboration really from "recent times"; "certain currents of thought which are often at variance with the authentic advancement of women"; "some current conceptions of human nature?"

These are, as the reader will easily recognize, the very three phrases with which he belabored us in the opening of that long letter. What are they? Who are they? Where are they? When are they? Why are they? Nameless, unknown, yet recent and current, the cardinal says? Truly? Does that make them so? Even if he is the Prefect of the mightiest Congregation in the Curia, the CDF? When he speaks, do not nations tremble, all bishops bow, the pope himself applauds?

Pardon his reverence, but he is bombasting nothing, absolutely nothing, just pompous empty words. The visible head on earth of a Vox et praeterea nihil – A voice and besides that, nothing."

Let me remind him also, as the Cardinal Prefect that he is, that collaboration is undoubtedly the poorest possible word he could have used for the relationship between men and women. We men and women among the people of God do happen to like and love each other, the Cardinal's warped view of us notwithstanding. The last time the term collaboration was prominent was at the end of WW II when the Free French rounded up the collaborateurs who had been so helpful to the Nazis during the occupation of France.


Unless I misread the letter entirely, it has something to do with feminism, at least in the tendencies – the cardinal's word – of accentuating differences and reaching for power, or of minimizing them and seeking equality between homo- and hetero- as prefixes for sexuality, or as he put it polymorphous sexuality. By which he is taken to mean the exclusion of bestiality, sadism, masochism, and sexual abuse of minors by clergy? If polymorphous, why get so upset? These are merely tendencies. They may not even be real.

The American Heritage Dictionary says that polymorphous means the occurrence of different forms, stages, or types in individual organisms or in organisms of the same species, independent of sexual variations. If we were to stick with definitions we understand, the cardinal's terms are as meaningless as his title on collaboration, leading to the same conclusion: he just does not know what he is talking about, does he?

Proof of this lacuna in his thinking is the heading of this second section of his letter -- I. The Question. I've read that section 25 times now and haven't yet found The Question. Does he have one? Where is it? Here is what I came up with from topic sentences in each paragraph.

  1. New approaches to women's issues. First tendency is subordination.


  1. Second tendency is to deny differences.


  1. Human attempt to be freed from one's biological conditioning.


  1. Patriarchal conception of God nourished by an essentially male-dominated culture.


  1. In the face of these currents of thought, the Church speaks instead of active collaboration between the sexes precisely in the recognition of the difference between man and woman.


  1. To understand better the basis, meaning and consequences of this response turn briefly to Sacred Scriptures.


As the six paragraphs in the section, where is the question? What are the new approaches to women's issues? Any examples, names, places, leaders, authors? What did he mean by attempts to be freed of biological conditioning? Castration? By currents of thought is he actually saying feminism? If so, why not say it – F-E-M-I-N-I-S-M?

There is a long and readily accessible article in the Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catechism, which talks clearly about Mary Wollstonecraft's book on A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792, and notes The First Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Not quite current, or recent, but classic nonetheless. Did the cardinal know from his office at the CDF inside the Vatican that Feminism is perhaps the most important movement in the world today, bar none, and ranges over every human activity, including churches? Just read this quote from Harper Collins at p. 523:

Feminism may be liberal, radical, romantic, or socialist. Liberal feminism emphasizes legal and political equality for women; radical feminism analyzes patriarchal structures for the purpose of liberating women from them. Romantic feminism aspires to bring so-called feminine values to bear on the public order, while socialist feminism focuses on the sexual division of labor, production, and reproduction and the connection between class, race and gender in oppressive systems.

If this is what the cardinal is attacking, why not be clear about it. Which type of feminism? All of them? Just the Radical ones? If not, is he really attacking women in general? For the last time, with some exasperation, I ask, WHAT IS THE QUESTION?


With all due respect to myself, there is no intention of trying to discuss Scripture with the cardinal. He is the Cardinal Prefect of the CDF. I'm an old layman, but I studied Classical and Koine Greek from the age of 10 to 25, and am now refurbishing it to read the NT in its original language. What I read doesn't talk to me the way it does to the CDF. My dictionaries apparently do not agree with theirs. The cardinal and I could spar a little for a while, but he would succeed in the last round with a knockout blow, were I to last that long.

In his section on Basic Elements of the Biblical Vision of the Human Person there were citations to the OT 20 times, and to the NT just 5. They were what any lay person would expect just from being in Church on Sundays, and a lot of them were general references to the ecclesiological theory of the Church being the bride of Christ. Most of the man/woman cites were the few from the Creation story in Genesis: 8 of them. That's all.  I imagined that some young student was given the job to come up with cites, as young lawyers are when the senior partner wants a law memo salted and peppered with legal references. Whoever did it, ran terms like woman, bride, virgin, man, and started at two minutes before closing time, printing out the egregiously few grains he came up with. Then, the cardinal signed it. Just for fun and by contrast, I ran Biblical Nature of Man and Woman in Google and got 314,000 hits in 0.41 seconds. Women in the Bible, got 4,200,000 hits in 0.17 seconds. For Women in the Church the number of hits was astonishing at 7,000,000 in just 0.68 seconds.

So, let me just say that the research assistants who were to find relevant scriptural references for the salt and pepper in the letter, left out a lot of important ones. If they had gone to Google, they would have come up with more than just the standard old stuff out of Genesis, with a couple of smatterings from the rest of the OT and the NT under whatever term they used to find citations. Looks like they mixed up sex with ecclesiology, too, paying more attention to the Church being the bride of Christ, rather than to the Collaboration of Men and Women in the World and in the Church – which is after all the title of the letter and the topic they are supposed to be developing in this teaching of the Magisterium to all the Bishops in the world. Right? Could the cardinal have fallen asleep and forgot what he was doing when he awoke, even over the years this document was in the drafting stages?

I just can't resist this assessment, as a former teacher of freshmen English Composition at Sophia University, Tokyo. This letter is the worst piece of amateurish writing I have seen in a long time. It deserves an F and its author would most likely have flunked the course.

It is poorly conceived, illogically laid out, purports to be feinting at a "straw woman", who is so "strawy" that she can't even be seen, and in the final analysis is all stressed out on sin and sex. The most laughable idiocy in the whole thing is that the heavenly reward is going to be celibacy for all, leading me to imagine the look on the cardinal's face when St. Peter welcomes him and introduces him to the woman who is to be his wife for eternity: Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Ratzinger. an eternal collaboration.


This is a very important part of the Letter, insofar as it manifests what the CDF and Cardinal Ratzinger see when they behold women in our society in this third millennium, not only here in America, but in Europe and throughout the world, in all those places where the Catholic Church has a presence. As in other sections of the letter, the quickest and simplest way to approach such profound insights is to line up the topic sentences of the eight paragraphs constituting the section.

  1. Women in society have a "capacity for the other".


  1. Women's physical capacity is to give life in motherhood.


  1. Virginity refutes any attempt to enclose women in a mere biological destiny.


  1. The role of women in all aspects of family and social life involving human relationships and caring for others is irreplaceable.


  1. The interrelationship between the two activities of family and work has characteristics different from those in the case of men.


  1. Femininity is more than a simple attribute of the female sex. It designates the fundamental human capacity to live for the other and because of the other. And, we concede, so do men.


  1. The role of women within society is understood and desired as a humanization accomplished through those values. And also for men.


  1. The defense and promotion of equal dignity and common personal values 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.


What I get in this section is living for the other because of the other, at first for women only, then by an aside, for men also, to show "attentive recognition of the difference and reciprocity of the sexes."

What I do not see is conflict, enmity, opposition, struggle, nor do I see collaboration to overcome them. I also do not see why it took years to draft this part. It looks real nice and is, I assume, the way that most happy and contented people are living their lives these days, together. But, what is the point? Where are we going in the letter? Does its author know? Why does it need a letter to all the bishops?



After seeing the heading, I wasn't looking for anything vapid or cloying, but that is what I saw and got. There were six paragraphs in this section, kind of sweet and nice, but not anything novel, new, or even important for the collaboration of men and women in society, that is to say in their homes, where they shop, the places of work, vacations that are too short. The topic sentences of the paragraphs sum up the section, but leave one wondering why it took years to write it. Topic sentences in a row, with running comments in brackets below:

  1. Woman as a "sign" is more than ever central and fruitful.
    1. [And so she always has been, my cardinal.}


  1. The existence of Mary is an invitation to the Church to root her very being.
    1. [But, of course: beginning with her Fiat and lasting to her standing at the foot of the Cross.]


  1. It is from Mary that the Church always learns the intimacy of Christ.
    1. [Not only the Mother of God, but also Mary of Magdala and Christ's other women friends]


  1. To look at Mary and imitate her does not mean, however, that the Church should adopt a passivity inspired by an outdated conception of femininity.
    1. [The cardinal is correct in leaving Total Woman" as a caricature of the past, one created by men.]


  1. 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. In Jesus and through him, these attributes become the vocation of every baptized Christian.
    1. [These 6 dispositions -- 1.listening, 2. welcoming, 3. humility, 4. faithfulness, 5. praise and 6. waiting – all seem, however, to clothe the woman in the cardinal's imagination, and while nice qualities, do not comprise a full description of the women of our times. Taken alone, all 6 together, are a Ratzinger reverie. A lot of guys I know have all six qualities, too.]


  1. The reservation of priestly ordination solely to men does not hamper in any way women's access to the heart of Christian life.
    1. [Of course it hampers women. It is rank discrimination born out of hatred for woman. Celibate cardinals and the popes slithering from their circle, in abject, craven fear of women, ignore and deny the Word of God that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.]


Typical churchese from those who think they are church. So-so, but cloying. Women are good. They should be like Mary, the Mother of God, to be seen and not heard. Refusing them the priesthood is fine, the men who run the Church say, for women can love the bridegroom of the Church, making some of us men feel a little out of place in such an analogy.

Before I get to the Conclusion, has anyone noticed that there is almost nothing so far devoted to men? No discussion of their role in society or in the church. Nothing about their basic qualities. Precious little as to whether they even have a biblical nature or not. Sort of quirky male pride in noting that Jesus came as a male, forgetting that he is, so far, the only male every conceived in the union of a virgin girl with the Holy Spirit. None of us males can make, dare make, such a claim, meaning that Jesus is not so much male as he is unique among all human beings.

And if it is taken one step further, since we are all created in the image and likeness of God, there really is no distinction between us, men and women, and since Jesus is God, we, men and women, are created in his image. Why, then cannot women, created in the image of God and like unto Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, be priests as well as men?

This is, after all, a response to a letter indicating that there is something amiss or awry in our world and church concerning the Collaboration of Men and Women. Almost Cardinal Ratzinger's entire letter is about women, with precious little comment about men. Why?



Forgive me, my friends, for being so consistent, but once again, I must resort to the topic sentence routine. It is the only way in which we can see the inanity of this letter which purports to be an urgent and world-shaking statement of Catholic teaching due to recent events. It was years in the drafting and writing. It comes from the CDF, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by the most powerful cardinal of all cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger, and commanded to be published by our elderly pope, John Paul II. The conclusion is not a conclusion to the letter; it does not conclude. It makes no reference to any part of the letter at all. It is a few paragraphs of spiritual sounding phrases, tossed together like a salad, light and frothy and holy, as if it were being offered to third graders at a mid-afternoon recess.


Like the rest of this confounding letter, I have read the Conclusion 25 times now. Here is what I think the Cardinal is saying to all the Bishops in the whole wide world as the new way for the collaboration of men and women in the world and in the church.

Jesus makes all things new and is triumphant over sin.


Thus, man's relationship with woman is transformed in converting to God who loved us so he gave us his Son.


We must humbly pray to the Blessed Virgin who showed us how to love.


The Church knows the power of sin can almost lead to despair but the power of forgiveness leads to peace, because "God is love."


The Pope has read this document and approves of it.


And that, my friends, is it. If you can garner anything from it, you are better than I. I struggled with this letter for three full days, trying to find out

  1. What is he saying?
  2. Why did he say it?
  3. What does it mean.


I came up with answers for each of those three questions:

  1. Nothing.
  2. I don't know.
  3. Nothing.


Besides, if you look at the topic sentences in 1-5 again, I think you'll agree that the bishops of the world already knew that.

What did Cardinal Ratzinger write that I failed to mention? Check out the 20 footnotes: 19 references are to letters written by John Paul II. Of the rest, 2 are from the CDF, and 1 each from 3 Saints. Not one Academic paper is cited. No scholarly articles are mentioned. Obviously, no research at all was conducted.

What did Cardinal Ratzinger leave out? Everything that a competent scholar and teacher would have included on such an important document from such an important source. There is absolutely no mention of one, single woman theologian or scholar, not one. He made no contact with scientists, theologians, doctors, academic deans, professors emeriti, learned scholars, government experts, authors, poets, ordinary men and ordinary women. He examined no sources in Philosophy, Theology, Sociology, Psychiatry, Family Studies, Women's' Studies, Men's Studies, Anthropology, Fertility, the History of Civilization. There is no treatment of Inalienable Rights of the Dignity of the Human Person, be she Female or he Male; Common Courtesy; Decency; Respect; Love.

The recommendation is to withdraw it from publication as soon as possible with an abject apology that it was probably lost with the composition notebook of a high school sophomore and got found in a bundle at the Vatican Press printing house. Then, the CDF should retain a woman theologian or woman scholar from another discipline to help them open their eyes and see what is directly in front of them: the people of God. Some of us are men. The rest are women. We are equals. We love each other and share with each other. A lot. Each of us is very comfortable with Jesus as Our Lord, as He is with us. We are real people, gentlemen, real people. We are the Church. We are the People of God.

The cardinal and his CDF should be told, simply, directly, that this letter of theirs is the poorest piece of writing a lot of us have ever seen. We are quite worried about the CDF and its other activities. For a Church beset from within by the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, the criminal conduct of bishops and other hierarchs, the filing of bankruptcies, the grip of litigation, both civil and criminal; the stonewalling silence of Ordinaries to the people in their dioceses; sexcapades in their seminaries and rectories and convents and monasteries all over the world; the competition among bishops to see who can exclude more from the Eucharist; the drill instructor commands that lay ministers sign documents of Agreements or resign; this letter on collaboration by men and women is an abomination.

The letter is harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community.


The grade for the letter is F.


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