August 8, 2004
Ms. Emily Bell
Editor in Chief, The Guardian Unlimited
Re: "Proposal to Curb Free Abortions Angers Italy."
Dear Ms. Bell:
I am writing in regard to the story, run for August 9, 2004, "Proposal to Curb Free Abortions Angers Italy." In the course of the story your reporter, Sophie Arie, took the occasion to refer to a Vatican document on gender in the following terms: "The proposal has angered politicians from other parties and women's rights advocates barely a week after the Vatican reiterated the Catholic church's stance that a woman's mission is to stay at home and breed."
If the "reiteration" in question is the recent Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on July 31, 2004, then I am at a loss to understand the reference in Ms. Arie's report. The word "breed" does not appear in the Letter, and after twelve years of Catholic life I do not recall ever hearing the Church speak of motherhood in that way. In fact, the Letter contains the following text which is exactly contrary to your newspaper's description of Catholic teaching:
Although motherhood is a key element of women's identity, this does not mean that women should be considered from the sole perspective of physical procreation. In this area, there can be serious distortions, which extol biological fecundity in purely quantitative terms and are often accompanied by dangerous disrespect for women. The existence of the Christian vocation of virginity, radical with regard to both the Old Testament tradition and the demands made by many societies, is of the greatest importance in this regard. Virginity refutes any attempt to enclose women in mere biological destiny. Just as virginity receives from physical motherhood the insight that there is no Christian vocation except in the concrete gift of oneself to the other, so physical motherhood receives from virginity an insight into its fundamentally spiritual dimension: it is in not being content only to give physical life that the other truly comes into existence. This means that motherhood can find forms of full realization also where there is no physical procreation.In short, and without going into elements of Catholic theology that are likely to further enrage the Guardian's apparent hostility to the Church, Catholicism finds those true elements of "self-control" and "freedom from exploitative stereotypes" -- elements which are mistakenly sought by secular society in contraception and abortion -- in the idea of virginity as a consecrated state in life. Whether or not a woman is called to that state, the very fact of its existence forbids characterizing women as "stay-at-home breeders."
I realize that many parts of our society dislike the Catholic Church. I will not tire you with the Catholic explanation for this phenomenon, which is much more charitable than you might suppose. Suffice it to say that neither you nor your reporters need to describe the Catholic Church as she herself does; simple good manners and a desire for reportorial accuracy would be enough to deter you from such derisive misrepresentations of the faith of nearly one billion people. Ms. Arie and your paper owe an apology to the Church whose tenets you have misrepresented and to the women who were, thereby, derisively described as staying at home and ‘breeding.' I'm sure that, if given sufficient time to reflect, Ms. Arie and the Guardian's editorial desk can accept that such terms are inappropriate, even if the women in question are Catholics, and that an apology will be forthcoming.
Very truly yours,
Thanks to The Curt Jester for informing me about this story.