Tuesday, June 11, 2011
New Document on Gender Theory from a Vatican Office Published on June 10
About mid-day on Monday, June 10, the Vatican Press Office sent an email to all Vatican journalists with a long, 30-page text attached in pdf files in several languages. The text was to be kept under “embargo” until later that same afternoon, then published at 3:30 p.m., Rome time.
And so the longest official text on gender by a Vatican office is now in the public domain.
On the one hand, this is a good thing.
The text clearly states that the traditional teaching of the Church on gender is true: that there are two genders, male and female, given by nature, and that, consequently, the modern “gender theory” that sees gender as merely a “fluid” product of “social conditioning” and “individual choice” is not true.
But spending so much time and so many pages to stress the need to “dialogue” with the proponents of this modern “gender theory” is in some ways worrisome.
It shows the surprising power and influence of the proponents of “gender theory” and suggests that the profound harm done by at least some forms of “gender theory” to many susceptible young people is still — unfortunately — underestimated by Church officials.
That some forms of “gender theory” can lead young people into profound confusion about their gender, and then, eventually, into choices that serious observers characterize as abusive and catastrophic, is implied in some passages of this document, but is not stated as explicitly as it should be.
In fact, confusion sparked by “gender theory” and its proponents in the medical field has caused some young people years and decades of profound misery, so much so that true Christian love for them would seem to demand that everything possible would be done to prevent them from entering into that whirlpool of confusion.
In this regard, there is a brief video that seems worth noting.
Walt Heyer is an American author and public speaker who formerly identified and lived as a “transgender” person. Born in 1940 as a boy, after his grandmother in 1944 dressed him in a girl’s dress at age four and told him how nice he looked, Heyer chose to try to become a woman named “Laura” in 1983, then, after nine difficult years, in 1992 chose to return to his original gender again. Heyer is the author of several books, and through his website, SexChangeRegret.com, he raises public awareness about those who regret gender change and the tragic consequences suffered as a result.
In this video, from a Washington D.C. conference at the Heritage Foundation on April 4, 2019, about two months ago, Heyer shares his story and warns against implementing radical hormonal and surgical interventions for gender dysphoric children.
He maintains that our modern medical and psychology establishment is tragically “manufacturing” transgender kids.
One wishes that the Vatican’s document might have contained some statement of more profound concern and alarm over the abuse many children may potentially suffer from the effects of some forms of modern “gender theory.”
Here, again, is a link to the video of Heyer’s talk: link.
And here is a brief Rome Reports video on the matter.
The new Vatican document, entitled “Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender in Education,” was signed by the Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, and written as a guide for Catholic schools, teachers and educators. (It is, therefore, not a document written or signed by Pope Francis.)
Essentially, the document makes two points: that the Church should be willing to “dialogue” on the modern theory of gender, but should defend the traditional Christian belief that gender in nature is a “given” and not simply a “social construct.”
In particular, it is addressed to Catholic schools and to those who, inspired by a Christian vision, work in other schools; to parents, students, and staff; but also to bishops, priests, and religious, as well as ecclesial movements and associations of the faithful.
The Congregation for Catholic Education, which prepared the text, speaks of “an educational crisis,” in particular on the themes of affectivity and sexuality, in the face of “challenges emerging from varying forms of an ideology that is given the general name ‘gender theory,’ which ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman,’” and considers them as “merely the product of historical and cultural conditioning.”
Gender identity would then “become the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.”
The text speaks of an anthropological disorientation that characterizes the cultural climate of our time, contributing to “the destabilization of the family.”
Quoting Amoris laetitia, the document says that, among other things, this ideology “leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female.”
The document makes a 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.”
Citing Pope Francis, it notes that “while the ideologies of gender claim to 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,’ and thus preclude dialogue.”
Nonetheless, scientific research has been carried out which seeks to deepen our understanding of the differences between men and women, and how those are experienced.
The document therefore explains that “it is in relation to this type of research than we should be open to listen, to reason and to propose.”
A website called the “Friendly Atheist” saw the document as an “anti-Trans” document (link).
The story headline read:
Vatican Releases New Anti-Trans Document Trashing the Concept of “Gender Theory”
Written by Hemant Mehta, the June 10 story begins this way: “In a stunning document that confirms the anti-LGBTQ stance of the Catholic Church, the Vatican took a position on gender identity that effectively dismisses the very existence of intersex and transgender people, calling those labels ‘provocative’ displays against ‘traditional frameworks.’ As if people who are trans are just doing it to be rebels.”
“A Harmful Tool”?
A statement form the pro-LGBT “New Ways Ministry” website was sharply critical of the new document, saying its critique of modern “Gender Theory” shows that “the Vatican remains in the dark ages.”
Here is the statement (link):
New Ways Ministry Responds to New Vatican Document on Gender Identity
The following is a statement from Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry:
The Vatican’s new document on gender identity, “Male and Female He Created Them,” is a harmful tool that will be used to oppress and harm not only transgender people, but lesbian, gay, bisexual people, too. The document associates sexual and gender minorities with libertine sexuality, a gross misrepresentation of the lives of LGBT people which perpetuates and encourages hatred, bigotry, and violence against them.
The document, from the Congregation for Catholic Education, will confuse those who sincerely struggle with questions of gender identity and sexual orientation. Such confusion leads to self-harm, addiction, and even suicide. The misinformation the document contains will cause families to reject their children, and it will increase alienation of LGBT people from the Church.
The only truth that the document reveals is that the Vatican remains ill-equipped to discuss gender and sexuality in the modern world. By ignoring new scientific understandings of gender identity, and by refusing to engage in dialogue with LGBT people about their lived experiences of self-understanding and faith, the Vatican remains in the dark ages, promoting a false teaching that relies on myth, rumor, and falsehoods. Because they have not consulted science or people’s experiences, the Vatican’s theology on gender is deficient and flawed. It relies on categories of male and female that were shaped centuries ago in oppressive and repressive cultures.
The Vatican maintains the idea that gender is determined solely by visible genitalia, which contemporary science has shown is and incorrect and harmful way to categorize people. Gender is also biologically determined by genetics, hormones, and brain chemistry – things not visible at birth. People do not choose their gender, as the Vatican claims: they discover it through their lived experiences. The Church should respect and encourage this process of discovery, because it is a process by which individuals discover the wonderful way that God has created them.
Although the Vatican calls the Church to dialogue and listen to people, dialogue and listening are thwarted and useless if church leaders have already determined that the people they are listening to are influenced by ideology. Dialogue requires mutual respect, which this document does not exhibit or promote.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 10, 2019
“Let the dialogue begin”?
Jesuit Father James Martin, writing in the magazine of the American Jesuit Order, America, had a mixed response to the document. He praised it for calling for “dialogue” on “Gender Theory,” but criticized it for restating traditional Catholic teaching on human sexuality.
Here is is piece (link):
Listen to the L.G.B.T. person: a response to the Vatican’s gender theory document
By James Martin, S.J.
June 11, 2019
In recent years the Vatican (including popes, congregations and dicasteries) have expressed concern over “gender theory” and “gender ideology.” The latest document from the Congregation for Catholic Education, titled “Male and Female He Created Them,” is the most comprehensive treatment of the topic yet. As America’s Vatican correspondent, Gerard O’Connell, reports, the document comes from a Vatican Congregation and was not signed by Pope Francis, so it is not intended as the “final answer” on the topic.
Gender theory is a notoriously slippery term. Broadly, it refers to the study of gender and sexuality and how those two realities are determined naturally (that is, biologically) and/or socially (that is, culturally). Usually it includes the study of the experiences of gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, and all those who identify as “queer,” another often-ambiguous term that can mean (but does not always mean) a decision to identify oneself outside of categories like male or female, or gay or straight.
The congregation’s new document is an explicit call for dialogue, which all should welcome.
For some critics, gender theory also represents an “ideology” that seeks to impose itself on others, “encouraging” or “forcing” some people, especially youth, to question and restate their own sexuality and gender. In some church circles, especially in the developing world, it is often linked to a form of “ideological colonialism” that seeks to impose Western ideas of sexuality and gender on developing nations. Pope Francis has several times adverted to this belief.
The congregation’s new document should be praised for its call for “listening” and “dialogue.” The subtitle is important: “Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education.” It is an explicit call for dialogue, which all should welcome. It speaks of a “path,” which indicates that the church has not yet reached the destination. It focuses on the “question” of gender theory in education, which leaves some degree of openness, and is thus addressed mainly to educators and “formators,” including those responsible for the training of priests and members of religious orders.
Another positive aspect of this document is its clear call to “respect every person in their particularity and difference” and its opposition to “bullying, violence, insults or unjust discrimination.” It also praises “the ability to welcome all legitimate expressions of human personhood with respect.”
The document’s conclusion speaks of the path of dialogue, which includes “listening, reasoning and proposing.” As such, it leaves open room for further developments and also avoids some of the harsh language of other Vatican pronouncements on sexuality and, especially, on homosexuality.
This traditional view, however, is contradicted by what most biologists and psychologists now understand about both sexuality and gender.
Let me, then, engage in the respectful dialogue called for, as someone who ministers to L.G.B.T. people.
What does the congregation propose? Essentially, and unsurprisingly, its document restates the traditional Catholic view of sexuality: Men and women are created (as heterosexuals) with fixed sexual and gender roles. This traditional view, however, is contradicted by what most biologists and psychologists now understand about both sexuality and gender. These contemporary advances in understanding human sexuality and gender have been set aside by the congregation in favor of a binary understanding of sexuality. Even the term “sexual orientation” is put into quotes in the document, as if to call that very notion into question.
The crux of the congregation’s argument is in this understanding of gender: “This separation [of sex from gender] is at the root of the distinctions proposed by different ‘sexual orientations’ which are no longer defined by the sexual difference between male and female, and can then assume other forms determined solely by the individual, who is seen as radically autonomous.”
One objection to that proposition is that it ignores the real-life experience of L.G.B.T. people. In fact, the document’s primary partners for conversation seem to be philosophers, theologians and older church documents and papal statements—not biologists or scientists, not psychiatrists or psychologists, and not L.G.B.T. people and their families. If more people had been included in the dialogue, the congregation would probably find room for the now commonly held understanding that sexuality is not chosen by a person but is rather part of the way that they are created.
If more people had been included in the dialogue, the congregation would probably find room for the now commonly held understanding that sexuality is not chosen by a person but is rather part of the way that they are created.
In fact, for a document that relies so heavily (albeit implicitly) on natural law, it ignores what we increasingly understand about the natural world, where we see men and women attracted to the same sex, men and women feeling a variety of sexual feelings throughout their lifetimes, and men and women finding themselves more on a spectrum than on any fixed place when it comes to sexuality and, occasionally, even gender.
The congregation also suggests that discussions about gender identity involve an intentional choice of gender by an individual. But people who are transgender report that they do not choose their identity but discover it through their experiences as human beings in a social world.
Again, the document largely neglects to engage in discussions about new scientific understandings and discoveries about gender. It relies mainly on the belief that gender is determined solely by one’s visible genitalia, which contemporary science has shown is an incorrect (and sometimes even harmful) way to categorize people. Gender is also biologically determined by genetics, hormones and brain chemistry—things that are not visible at birth. The congregation’s document relies heavily on categories of “male” and “female” that were shaped centuries ago, and not always with the most accurate scientific methods.
The document relies mainly on the belief that gender is determined solely by one’s visible genitalia, which contemporary science has shown is an incorrect (and sometimes even harmful) way to categorize people.
The document is also undergirded by the notion of “complementarity,” which means that based on their gender (male and female), men and women have separate roles. In a sentence sure to raise eyebrows the congregation writes, “Women have a unique understanding of reality. They possess a capacity to endure adversity…” Not men? Such ideas reinforce stereotyping and prevent both men and women from rising above precisely those cultural constructs that the Vatican often rightly decries.
The most unfortunate aspect of this document is the way the congregation understands transgender people. (Oddly, in a document about gender and sexuality, the words “homosexual” or “homosexuality” are absent.) Consider this passage: “This oscillation between male and female becomes, at the end of the day, only a ‘provocative’ display against so-called ‘traditional frameworks’, and one which, in fact, ignores the suffering of those who have to live situations of sexual indeterminacy. Similar theories aim to annihilate the concept of ‘nature’ (that is, everything we have been given as a pre-existing foundation of our being and action in the world), while at the same time implicitly reaffirming its existence.”
In this formulation, transgender people are being “provocative” and are either consciously or unconsciously trying to “annihilate the concept of ‘nature.’” Friends and family members who have accompanied a transgender person through their attempts at suicide, their despair over fitting into the larger society, or their acceptance that God loves them will find that sentence baffling and even offensive.
Perhaps the most thoughtful response to this approach comes from a Catholic deacon, Ray Dever, who has a transgender child and wrote about his family’s experience in U.S. Catholic. As he writes, “Anyone with any significant first-hand experience with transgender individuals would be baffled by the suggestion that trans people are somehow the result of an ideology. It is a historical fact that long before there were gender studies programs in any university or the phrase gender ideology was ever spoken, transgender people were present, recognized, and even valued in some cultures around the world.”
The most likely short-term result of “Male and Female He Created Them” will be to provide ammunition for Catholics who would deny the reality of the transgender experience, who would label transgender people as simple ideologues, and who would deny their real-life experiences. It will most likely contribute to a greater feeling of isolation, a greater feeling of shame and a greater marginalization of those who are already marginalized in their own church: transgender people.
Let us return to the more positive aspect of this document, which could be the long-term result: the call for listening and dialogue. The congregation seems sincere in its invitation. The church, like the rest of society, is still learning about the complexities of human sexuality and gender. The next step, then, could be for the church to listen to responses from those that this document most directly affects: L.G.B.T. people themselves.
Let the dialogue begin.
[end James Martin article]
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