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Vatican issues bold statement asserting traditional gender roles

August 9, 2004

The Roman Catholic Church on July 31 took a bold step that evangelicals have not: it formally attacked feminist ideologies that seek to erase gender differences between men and women.

The Roman Catholic Church on July 31 took a bold step that evangelicals have not: it formally attacked feminist ideologies that seek to erase gender differences between men and women.

The magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, in a document approved by Pope John Paul II, accused feminists of "blurring the biological difference between man and woman."

The 37-page statement written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger-entitled "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World"-further asserted that the gender wars have resulted in a cultural milieu that encourages the blurring of gender distinctions and gender roles.

Feminist viewpoints erroneously seek "to avoid the domination of one sex or the other, their differences tend to be denied, viewed as mere effects of historical and cultural conditioning."

Overall, the article offers a damning critique of ideological feminism with the intent of instructing the church’s bishops on issues such as women, feminism and gender roles.

Feminism turns women into the "adversaries of men…leading to harmful confusion…which has its most immediate and lethal effects in the structure of the family," the document further reads.

The paper particularly excoriates those versions of radical feminism most often found in the West and which are especially present in the United States. The deeper motivation behind feminist ideologies is discovered "in the human attempt to be freed from one’s biological conditioning."

The statement charges feminists with attempting to create their own gender identity, denying both their gender and their God-ordained gender roles. The letter argues from Scripture that the male-female relationship is rooted in creation, though both sexes are equally created in the image of God.

Regarding the term "helpmate" in Gen. 2, the letter says, "The term here does not refer to an inferior, but to a vital helper. This is so that Adam’s life does not sink into a sterile and, in the end, baneful encounter with himself. It is necessary that he enter into relationship with another being in his own level. Only the woman, created from the same ‘flesh,’ and cloaked in the same mystery, can give a future to the life of man."

The letter continues by affirming specific gender roles as ordained by God and argues that women are unashamedly to fill a domestic role, being "significantly and actively present in the family."

Predictably, the Vatican’s statement quickly attracted criticism and vitriol from feminist commentators. Erin Pizzey, founder of the international women’s refuge movement, told the United Kingdom press, "I don’t think the Catholic Church, whose priests and bishops cannot marry, is in a position to make such statements. It is one of the most emotionally illiterate organizations I know, and it needs to put its own house in order first."

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., council member for The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, applauded the Vatican’s clear affirmation of biblical gender roles in his Aug. 4 weblog at

"Evangelicals should welcome this statement and the debate that is certain to ensue," wrote Mohler. "While evangelicals will differ with some aspects of the Catholic argument-especially a concluding section dealing with Mary-the letter itself should be welcomed as a serious and responsible argument against ideological feminism.

"With confusion over gender and sexuality threatening the very foundations of civilization itself, the Vatican’s statement is well-timed and courageous. In the midst of our present conflict, Evangelicals must respond to the challenge of ideological feminism with equal clarity and equal courage."

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