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Editor's note: This is a slightly revised version of a letter Leonard Swidler sent out on August 1 with copies to the Katholica mailing list.

Dear Joseph,

I am writing this as a man to man letter regarding your latest document concerning the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World.

We have known each other since 1964 when I published an article of yours promoting ecumenical dialogue in the very first issue of the new scholarly journal my wife Arlene and I launched, the Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Further, we were fellow faculty members of the Catholic Theology Faculty of the University of Tübingen in the late 60s, along with our mutual friend and colleague, Hans Küng.

I have to say that you made the most fundamental mistake possible in writing this letter, namely, in you, a male, writing it, telling women what they should and should not be.. One of the first things I learned from Arlene decades ago was that, because the essence of being human is the freedom, and responsibility, of defining oneself, that essence includes women - and paramountly so, because for eons they have suffered the oppression of being defined by men.

You get off on the wrong foot in your very first words. You write: “The Church, expert in humanity,...” And of course, by “The Church,” in this instance you mean Joseph Ratzinger. Joseph, if Arlene were not lost in the mists of Alzheimers for a dozen years, she herself would have told you that you are at most an expert on only half of humanity. Since she and I spent decades sharing each other's writings and thoughts, I will have to say for her what I know she would have added: Given our long history of thousands of years of male domination over women, even that half-expertise is distorted, just as a Master’s humanity is distorted because of slavery.

Joseph, you also write that you want your words to be “an impetus for dialogue with all men and women of good will.” That is good. If you truly wanted a dialogue, why didn’t you invite a group of the outstanding women we have in the Catholic Church to talk with you? In your Holy Office you have a whole staff of theological experts who provide you with the results of their research. As far as I can tell, none of them are women theologians - of which there is no dearth. Already back in 1977 - over a quarter of a century ago! - Arlene and I found a large number of expertly trained Catholic women theologians to contribute to our book Women Priests: Catholic Commentary on the Vatican Declaration. So, Joseph, no excuses about not having anyone to dialogue with before you made the mistake of writing this letter on your own!

Joseph, you made a second major mistake already in your third paragraph. You fault women for seeking power because they have been abused by power. That is a classic move of blaming the victim. Joseph, you are the power! You should not be shaking your finger at women, but should be asking them how you have abused them - and then write in response about how you are going to change and cease oppressing them.

But Joseph, in your section six you really shock me with your misreading of the second chapter of Genesis. It is almost as if you didn’t read Hebrew! You write, “God placed in the garden which he was to cultivate, the man, who is still referred to with the generic expression Adam.” You know perfectly well that in chapter one the text states that God “took some earth” (Hebrew: adamah), “breathed his spirit into the earth” (adamah) “and created ha adam” (“The Earthling”). In chapter two of Genesis it is not “the man” (I wonder, did you in German write der Mann [the male] or der Mensch [the human being]?), and surely it is not that guy Adam who is spoken of. It is ha adam, The Earthling (ungendered, as the rabbis recognized and discussed at length later) who is lonely, and hence Yahweh created all the animals and brought them to The Earthling. The Earthling (neither a she nor a he) names them one by one, but in the end finds them all a bit of a bore; ha adam is still lonely. Then comes the story, which you know almost all the scholars point out is one of many etiological stories (a story that explains the “origin,” “etios” of something) in the Bible - in this case, the origin of male and female. Thereafter it is correct to speak of Adam and of Eve, but not before.

Joseph, here I am still only at the beginning of your letter, and there are many faux pas. But you don’t really need to hear from me. You need to hear from women, all kinds of women, but if you are going to talk about theology, which is your job, you need to read and hear widely from the many excellent Catholic women theologians. Then you - with some women writers - might be in a position to write about the relationship between women and men.

Leonard Swidler
Professor of Catholic Thought, Temple University
Co-Founder (1980) and President of the
Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC)
Tel: 215-477-1080; dialogue@temple.edu

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