Commentary by Marta Alves on

“Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church
on the Collaboration of Men and Women
 in the Church and in the World”
By the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
 Vatican -  July 31, 2004.


The Catholic Church in this document speaks on the active collaboration between the sexes precisely in the recognition of the difference between man and woman.

The letter reaffirms the Catholic belief that men and women were created to cooperate with one another.  It expresses concern on present tendency of society to make the differences in sex  “a mere effect of historical and cultural conditioning.”

The letter states that according to certain tendencies in today’s society: “human nature…does not possess characteristics in an absolute manner: all persons can and ought to constitute themselves as they like, since they are free from every predetermination linked to their essential constitution.”  That “calls into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent.”   This view of society fosters confusion.  Our world is a better place because man and woman in mutual cooperation have subdued it.  The love of God for His creation is such that God, over and over, says “Yes, I love you” to humanity, every time a baby is born.  The value of every human life is enhanced by the love of God for His creation.  Woman and man are like sugar and egg in a custard.  Can you separate them?  Can you say that one is more valuable than the other?  Each one has a specific function and value in life, and no one is like the other. 

“…when humanity considers God its enemy, the relationship between man and woman becomes distorted.  When this relationship is damaged, their access to the face of God risks being compromised in turn.”[1]

When we know the rules of the game, when we have a road map, when we know our boundaries, when we know what is expected of us, we are happy.  The uncertainty of not know what we are all about creates confusion detriment to society.

We are a society based on family.  We are relational people.  We are all different but “an ordered world is born out of differences, carrying with them also the promise of relationships.”

In a true balance marriage, we need to remember that “Man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God, equally so.”[2] “Their relationship needs to be lived in peace and in the happiness of shared love[3] with collaboration to building the kingdom of God, not fighting over their differences, but seeing how a relationship can be strengthened and enriched by its differences and how they can complement each other in their ways of looking at life.

A relationship between man and woman should not be marked by competition but by a relational approach. How do they view a situation? What to think…  There is value in every human being and the differences in sexuality are real and not created by outside influences. 

The value of a woman is undestimated when is limited to her IQ- A woman is especial in that God chose a woman to nest a new human being in her bossom for nine months before coming to light.  That gift should be appreciated and treasured by a society.  Maternal love is needed in every heart. 

“If Social policies – in the areas of education, work, family, access to services and civic participation -  must combat all unjust sexual discrimination, they must also listen to the aspirations and identify the needs of all.  The defence 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.”[4]

This letter also brings to light the need to value the work of women within the family. It states that “The harmonization of the organization of work and laws governing work with the demands stemming from the mission of women within the family is a challenge. The question is not only legal, economic and organizational; it is above all a question of mentality, culture, and respect. Indeed, a just valuing of the work of women within the family is required. In this way, women who freely desire will be able to devote the totality of their time to the work of the household without being stigmatized by society or penalized financially, while those who wish also to engage in other work may be able to do so with an appropriate work-schedule, and not have to choose between relinquishing their family life or enduring continual stress, with negative consequences for one's own equilibrium and the harmony of the family. As John Paul II has written, “it will redound to the credit of society to make it possible for a mother – without inhibiting her freedom, without psychological or practical discrimination and without penalizing her as compared with other women – to devote herself to taking care of her children and educating them in accordance with their needs, which vary with age.” [5]

In my opinion, this letter was written with the purpose of highlighting the value of womanhood and how a harmonious relationship between man and woman enriches society and strengthens families.

The Conclusion highlights the points covered in the letter:

In Jesus Christ all things have been made new (cf. Rev 21:5). Renewal in grace, however, cannot take place without conversion of heart. Gazing at Jesus and confessing him as Lord means recognizing the path of love, triumphant over sin, which he sets out for his disciples.

In this way, man's relationship with woman is transformed, and the three-fold concupiscence described in the First Letter of John (1 Jn 2:16) ceases to have the upper hand. The witness of women's lives must be received with respect and appreciation, as revealing those values without which humanity would be closed in self-sufficiency, dreams of power and the drama of violence. Women too, for their part, need to follow the path of conversion and recognize the unique values and great capacity for loving others which their femininity bears. In both cases, it is a question of humanity's conversion to God, so that both men and women may come to know God as their “helper”, as the Creator full of tenderness, as the Redeemer who “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16).

Such a conversion cannot take place without humble prayer to God for that penetrating gaze which is able to recognize one's own sin and also the grace which heals it. In a particular way, we need to ask this of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the woman in accord with the heart of God, she who is “blessed among women” (cf. Lk 1:42), chosen to reveal to men and women the way of love. Only in this way, can the “image of God”, the sacred likeness inscribed in every man and woman, emerge according to the specific grace received by each (cf. Gn 1:27). Only thus can the path of peace and wonderment be recovered, witnessed in the verses of the Song of Songs, where bodies and hearts celebrate the same jubilee.

The Church certainly knows the power of sin at work in individuals and in societies, which at times almost leads one to despair of the goodness of married couples. But through her faith in Jesus crucified and risen, the Church knows even more the power of forgiveness and self-giving in spite of any injury or injustice. The peace and wonderment which she trustfully proposes to men and women today are the peace and wonderment of the garden of the resurrection, which have enlightened our world and its history with the revelation that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16).[6]


Written by Marta – LEAP OF FAITH –

August 1, 2004


Original document can be viewed at


Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the collaboration of men and women in the Church and in the world (July 31, 2004)
[English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish]


[1] “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World,” Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, July 31, 2004.  Vatican.

[2] Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (August 15, 1988)

[3] “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World,” Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, July 31, 2004.  Vatican.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World,” Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, July 31, 2004.  Vatican. #17.


Links of Interest 


The Dignity of Women


Women are Essential to the Church


Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (15 August 1988)


Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (30 December 1988)


Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women (June 29, 1995)



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