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For centuries, indeed it would be more correct to say for millennia, women have been judged by the use they made, or more often than not that others made, of their bodies. Since for a man the certainty of fatherhood depended on the faithfulness of his wife, on her being true to her word, any behaviour that might give rise to suspicion in this regard was harshly sanctioned. Not only was a single transgression condemned but from it stemmed the overall condemnation of the woman who had committed it and from that moment she became a fallen woman. 

This also happened if the infraction of the moral laws had not occurred by choice but by violence. To this habitual practice too Christianity made all the difference; since according to Jesus’ words what counts is the intention, it was no longer possible to condemn a woman who was the victim of rape. Rather, it was necessary to help her. And the help also had to be extended to the woman who had sinned, for sin could always be forgiven, just as Jesus forgave sins in the Gospels. Hence the affirmation of Christianity had to mean the end of the condemnation of the women who had erred and the affirmation of their possibility of being accepted and redeemed. Even though in a situation of patriarchal power this possibility was never total or given freely – let us think only of the disrepute which several decades ago, even in Christian circles, still oppressed unmarried mothers – in the Church’s history projects to save fallen women multiplied. And Christian communities have always had monasteries for converted women – almost always called after Mary Magdalene – and homes for unmarried mothers and former prostitutes who wanted to change their lives. The attention and charity with which Jesus listened to and loved prostitutes – or at any rate women who, like the Samaritan Woman, had transgressed for love – could not be set aside, even in societies in which Christianity tended to present itself as a rigid and indisputable morality. Still today, when the sexual revolution has swept away figures such as that of the unmarried mother or the woman guilty because she transgressed, there is still a generalized lack of interest in women who suffer rape or are forced into prostitution in the warmer zones of the earth. There are too many of them, they are hard to organize – their own families often reject them – and if they do not want abortions they have the problem of giving birth to children of the enemy. In these difficult, painful and dramatic situations it is almost always the Church, or rather the missionary sisters, who take care of them and their children and offer them a chance to be saved. It is a gigantic effort but one which bears good fruit and makes a crucial contribution to improving the condition of women throughout the world. (lucetta scaraffia)

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St. Peter’s Square

Aug. 20, 2019

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