Dear Holy Father,

Initially, I was excited to know about your trip to Washington. This is likely to be my only opportunity to see a pope. I made transportation plans and discussed events with my friends.

Then I heard that women would be kept in their "proper place" during your Mass. My initial reaction was, "that stands to reason." I have been raised to think a woman has a "proper place" in the church.

Then, Madalyn Murray O'Hair announced she was going to challenge the legality of having Mass on the Mall, a public property. I was furious at her attempt to prevent me from exercising my right to religious freedom of expression. This anger began to fester and finally manifested itself in its true light. My anger was not at her, but at the church. I began to see what I have been denying for years. The church has been stopping me from having a more basic right than freedom of religion. The church has denied me equality on the basis of my sex.

I know that it is true that God loves me. My questions were and are not ones of belief in God, Christ or the Holy Spirit. And that belief has given me the courage to face the real problem and to question the human establishment of the Catholic Church.

So, I ask you, Holy Father, what is a woman's "proper place"? Is not Mary, the mother of our Lord, in her "proper place"? Of course she is. And it is at God's right hand.

Why then are women so oppressed in the church? Are we to believe that God created man and woman equal, but that He created man more equal than woman? An intelligent person cannot be expected to believe that any more than that God created white more equal than black. Prejudice is man's doing, not God's.

One argument given for this suppression of women goes back to the book of Genesis, which tells us that woman was created after and from man, to be his companion. We are told how a woman sinned and brought the man into sin, thus causing the two to be thrown out of the garden. Also at this time, the woman was "cursed" with menstruation and labor pains as penalties for her sins.

But the creation saga is a parable. Science has shown that evolution did occur, even if we haven't solved all the mysteries of our past.

Therefore, it stands to reason that, as the human race evolved, it evolved male and female simultaneously. Otherwise evolution could not have occurred because procreation could not have occurred. Menstruation and labor pains were not cast upon women as a "curse" from God, but were simply inherited from other animals. God certainly would not have "punished" woman that way and then subsequently done the same to all other female animals.

The Biblical story was only a way of trying to explain the mystery of creation to the people of the time period in which the story was written. It can't be used as a legitimate argument today, in view of the knowledge we now have.

Another argument given is that Christ himself did not choose any women as his disciples. Based on Webster's definition of disciple -- "one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another" -- wasn't Mary Magdalene a disciple? And what about the woman at the well or the adultress? These women were all instrumental in spreading the word of Christ. Christ did not choose a woman to be among his 12 because, at the time, a woman's place in society would not have allowed her such a leadership position. She simply would not have been listened to or respected.

Things are different today. Not only are women respected and listened to, they are governing countries and setting world policy.

Another excuse for keeping women in their "proper place" was told to me by a priest while I was in high school. At that time, women were not allowed on the altar as lectors or as servers. When I asked the priest why this was, he told me that if women were on the altar, the men in the congregation would not be able to control their lustful thoughts! The ability to control oneself is not biological. Any sex researcher will tell you that men and women have the same desires and drives sexually. Society, however, reinforced by the church, has deemed any such desires in women as indecent. Women are taught not only to control, but also to suppress, their desires. Men, on the other hand, are told that their desires are natural and cannot be controlled. It is the double standard, and God didn't start it.

But what I think bothers me the most is seeing the church calling for freedom for the oppressed people of the earth and at the same time being so oppressive and discriminatory toward women. You, Holy Father, are from a land where religious freedom and other basic human rights are denied. You, more than any other, should appreciate the plight of women. What right is more basic than equality?

It is time for women to make their stand and demand equal rights from the church. The goal is not to divide or destroy the church, but to simply help put the church on the right track.

Holy Father, you are in a position to correct almost 2,000 years of injustice in the church. You are in the position to be our liberator and to bring the church to a place God wants -- one of full equality for everyone, no matter what their color or national origin or sex.

So again I ask you: can you go to face judgment before God, knowing that you have allowed this injustice to go on? I pray that you will be enlightened and that you will harden not your heart to our plea.

Sincerely in Christ, Deborah Fratta