The Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education has issued a document on the question of gender theory, which, while containing no new doctrinal elements or developments, seeks to present the Catholic Church’s position on the question in a non-polemical manner and expresses the need to dialogue on the subject.
The text is signed by the prefect and secretary of the congregation, respectively, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi and Archbishop Angelo Vicenzo Zani. But nowhere is it said that Pope Francis has seen or approved the document. This would suggest that the text is meant to serve as a basis for dialogue and discussion for those involved in the field of education and is not meant to be seen as a final answer on this controversial subject.
Cardinal Versaldi, in a presentation released to the press with “Male and Female,” explains that bishops worldwide have been attentive to the question of gender over this past decade. During the congregation’s plenary assembly in February 2017, “the ideology of gender” emerged as “an emergency issue” in the educational sector, so the assembly decided that the congregation should write a document to help those working in the field of Catholic education. Cardinal Versaldi said the various Vatican dicasteries provided input, but he did not say if the members of the board of the congregation (that is bishops and cardinals from around the world) were consulted.
The 31-page document, which is being sent to the presidents of all bishops’ conferences, bears the title “Male and Female He created them.” It was released by the Vatican press office on June 10 and is subtitled “Towards a path of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education.”
The text explains that “gender theory” expresses an ideology that “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family.”
The text notes points on which the Vatican and gender theorists find agreement and sources for dialogue, like “a laudable desire to combat all expressions of unjust discrimination.”
It says this ideology “leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female” with the consequence that “human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time,” as Pope Francis explains in his apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia” (No. 56).
While recognizing that this ideology contrasts with the Christian vision of anthropology, the document says that “if we wish to take an approach to the question of gender theory that is based on the path of dialogue, it is vital to bear in mind the distinction between the ideology of gender on the one hand, and the whole field of research on gender that the human sciences have undertaken, on the other.”
The document recalls that Pope Francis indicated that while the ideologies of gender respond “to what are at times understandable aspirations,” they also seek “to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised,” so precluding dialogue.
“Other work on gender has been carried out which tries instead to achieve a deeper understanding of the ways in which sexual difference between men and women is lived out in a variety of cultures,” the statement points out. “It is in relation to this type of research than we should be open to listen, to reason and to propose.”
The document provides a brief overview of the “cultural events” of the 20th century, “which brought new anthropological theories and with them the beginnings of gender theory.” It says these theories “were based on a reading of sexual differentiation that was strictly sociological, relying on a strong emphasis on the freedom of the individual,” and, in mid-century, “studies were published which accentuated time and again the role of external conditioning, including its influence on determining personality.”
This led to the problem of “the separation of sex from gender...seen as dependent upon the subjective mindset of each person, who can choose a gender not corresponding to his or her biological sex.”
“When such studies were applied to human sexuality, they often did so with a view to demonstrating that sexuality identity was more a social construct than a given natural or biological fact.”
According to the document, “At the beginning of the 1990s, its focus was upon the possibility of the individual determining his or her own sexual tendencies without having to take account of the reciprocity and complementarity of male-female relationships, nor of the procreative end of sexuality. Furthermore, it was suggested that one could uphold the theory of a radical separation between gender and sex, with the former having priority over the latter. Such a goal was seen as an important stage in the evolution of humanity, in which ‘a society without sexual differences’ could be envisaged.”
All this led to the problem of “the separation of sex from gender,” according to the document, which added, “the concept of gender is seen as dependent upon the subjective mindset of each person, who can choose a gender not corresponding to his or her biological sex, and therefore with the way others see that person (transgenderism).”
“The propositions of gender theory converge in the concept of ‘queer,’ which refers to dimensions of sexuality that are extremely fluid, flexible, and as it were, nomadic. This culminates in the assertion of the complete emancipation of the individual from any a priori given sexual definition, and the disappearance of classifications seen as overly rigid.”
The text continues: “The duality in male-female couples is furthermore seen as conflicting with the idea of ‘polyamory,’ that is relationships involving more than two individuals. Because of this, it is claimed that the duration of relationships, as well as their binding nature, should be flexible, depending on the shifting desires of the individuals concerned. Naturally, this has consequences for the sharing of the responsibilities and obligations inherent in maternity and paternity. This new range of relationships become ‘kinship,’” which are “based upon desire or affection, often marked by a limited time span that is determined, ethically flexible, or even (sometimes by explicit mutual consent) without any hope of long-term meaning.”
The text explains that the church clearly has problems with this vision of sexuality, identity and relationship, but it also notes points on which the Vatican and gender theorists find agreement and sources for dialogue, like “a laudable desire to combat all expressions of unjust discrimination” and that “forms of unjust discrimination have been a sad fact of history and have also had an influence within the Church.”
“This has brought a certain rigid status quo, delaying the necessary and progressive inculturation of the truth of Jesus’ proclamation of the equal dignity of men and women, and has provoked accusations of a sort of masculinist mentality, veiled to a greater or lesser degree by religious motives,” the text acknowledges.
Another important point of agreement is “the need to educate children and young people to respect every person in their particularity and difference, so that no one should suffer bullying, violence, insults or unjust discrimination based on their specific characteristics (such as special needs, race, religion, sexual tendencies, etc.).”
The document then goes on to outline the Christian anthropology, which, it says, “has its roots in the narrative of human origins that appears in the book of Genesis, where we read that ‘God created man in his own image...male and female he created them.’”
It says, “These words capture not only the essence of the story of creation but also that of the life-giving relationship between men and women, which brings them into unity with God.”
The congregation’s document argues that “there is a need to reaffirm the metaphysical roots of sexual difference, as an anthropological refutation of attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature, from which the family is generated.”
Drawing on the teaching of Benedict XVI and Francis, it says, “The denial of this duality not only erases the vision of human beings as the fruit of an act of creation but creates the idea of the human person as a sort of abstraction who chooses for himself what his nature is to be.”
It continues: “Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him.”
The document concludes by saying that “Catholic educators are called to go beyond all ideological reductionism or homologizing relativism by remaining faithful to their own gospel-based identity, in order to transform positively the challenges of their times into opportunities by following the path of listening, reasoning and proposing the Christian vision, while giving witness by their very presence, and by the consistency of their words and deeds.”
It adds, “The culture of dialogue does not in any way contradict the legitimate aspirations of Catholic schools to maintain their own vision of human sexuality, in keeping with the right of families to freely base the education of their children upon an integral anthropology, capable of harmonizing the human person’s physical, psychic and spiritual identity.”