More than 260 people, representing nearly 50 countries, participated in a Vatican congress Feb. 7-9 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter on the dignity and vocation of women . Organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the event emphasized the enduring relevance of Pope John Paul II’s insights in Mulieris Dignitatem, which was published Aug. 15, 1988.
Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson – whom John Paul II appointed to the council for laity in 2002 – and his wife Dorian were among the partcipants. Presenters at the congress, which was titled “Woman and Man: The ‘Humanum’ in its Entirety,” underscored various themes: the equal dignity and complementarity of man and woman, cultural problems such as pornography and chauvinism, and the deeper theological meaning of sexual difference.
Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, observed that there are cultural tendencies to see woman as “the antagonist of man” and to assert that sexual difference is meaningless or socially constructed.
In contrast to these views, Pope Benedict XVI told participants, “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.” Complete text
Masculinity and femininity, he explained, are central to what it means to be human, created and called to bear “a certain likeness to divine communion” (See Gen 1:27, Mulieris Dignitatem, 7).
John Paul II reiterated these ideas in his 1995 Letter to Women. He later inspired the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, to publish a letter to bishops on the collaboration of men and women in 2004.
In the face of hostility and confusion with regard to the Catholic understanding of sexuality, marriage and family, the Church continues to reflect and place great emphasis on what Pope Benedict calls “the fundamental anthropological truths of man and woman.”