Safeguarding the human being, created as man and woman


John Paul II wrote his Letter to Women in 1995, the year in which the Fourth World Conference on Women took place in Beijing. Blessed John Paul II did not want this important occasion to pass without the voice of the Church being heard. On numerous occasions during the year he had reflected on the dignity and vocation of women, such as in the World Day of Peace message, during the Angelus addresses and Wednesday general audiences, the Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday, his personal message to Mrs. Gertrude Mongella, secretary general of the Fourth World Conference on Women and his address to members of the Holy See delegation attending the conference. Taken all together, these contributions make 1995 a significant milestone in the recent papal magisterium on the theme of women.

The Holy See sent its own delegation to the Beijing Conference, the last of its kind to be held. Now, fifteen years later, the legacy of that Conference, with its confused anthropological assumptions and unanswered questions, presents us with challenges that deserve closer study. Our times are seeing growing anthropological confusion and there is a great need for guidance in this area. The Church is an expert in humanity[1] and must give the world the diakonía of truth about human beings, male and female, and proclaim and present it as the way to true progress in the world today.  

It is for this reason that the Pontifical Council for the Laity invited a group of women to reread John Paul II’s Letter to Women and to comment, in light of current challenges, on the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. They were asked to give their opinion on the contents of the Letter that deserve greater recognition, e.g. the foundation of the dignity of man and woman, the recognition of “feminine genius”, etc. Regarding the Beijing Conference, they were asked to consider its results and to examine the influence that “gender ideology” has exerted since 1995. The people we approached for this task are women who work with our Council as members or consultants and who follow issues facing the women of today from a Christian perspective.[2] We take this opportunity to wholeheartedly thank those who sent us their contributions which are certainly of great quality and depth. They all reflect a common desire to work together to build a better future for the women and men of our time.

Here we give a summary of the contributions received by the Pontifical Council for the Laity in response to the consultation. The main text gathers and synthesises insights from these contributions, and some key passages are quoted in separate paragraphs. This material is intended as a tool for further reflection. It incorporates different voices that are mutually enriching, and it aims to help determine the status quaestionis on the vocation and mission of women in the Church and society. This is an instrument that we hope can inform lay people and pastoral workers about a topic that is important in our times. It is an open instrument because we are aware that we have consulted a limited number of women about an issue that goes beyond confessional boundaries and concerns everybody who seriously confronts the issue.

[1] Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio on the development of peoples, 13; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and the World, Vatican City, 31 May 2004, 1.

[2] List of experts who have collaborated, in alphabetical order:

Mayé Agama Sánchez, Peru, member of the Marian Community of Reconciliation and head of corporate communication of the Community; she gives workshops on gender ideology to young people

Helen Alvaré, United States, university law professor, consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Laity

Ángela Aparisi, Spain, professor of Legal Philosophy at the University of Navarra, and author of several publications on man-woman complementarity and on gender ideology.

Paola Binetti, Italy, expert in bioethics, member of parliament for the UDC party

Nuria Calduch-Benages MN, Spain, professor of Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Gregorian University

María Eugenia Cárdenas Cisneros, Mexico, university professor, coordinator of the Human Rights Centre University of Anahuac, a member of the Mexican delegation to Beijing +10 and Beijing +15

Blanca Castilla de Cortázar, Spain, PhD in theology and a member of the Royal Academy of Doctors in Spain

Giulia Paola Di Nicola, Italy, professor at the University of Chieti

Aura Escudero, Chile, member of Regnum Christi, involved in youth formation

Pilar Escudero de Jensen, Chile, member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity

Anne Girault, France, president of Femina Europa, international representative for WUCWO at UNESCO and the Council of Europe.

Christiana Habsburg-Lothringen, Austria, member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity

Katarina Hulmanova, Slovakia, member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity
Karen Hurley, United States, president general of the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations (2006 – 2010)

Marguerite Peeters, Belgium, director of the Institute for Dialogue Dynamics

Danuta Piekarz, Poland, consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Laity

Marta Rodriguez, Spain, director of the Istituto di Studi Superiori sulla Donna, Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, Rome

Giorgia Salatiello, Italy, professor of philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University

Lucienne Sallé, France, former head of Women’s Section at the Pontifical Council for the Laity

Sandra Sato, Peru, member of the Marian Community of Reconciliation and president of the Asociación Cultural Círculo de Encuentro

Catherine Soublin, France, president of Caritas France, member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity

Maria Voce, Italy, president of the Focolare Movement, consultant of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

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