“Dear Father, I have seen several references to a recent Vatican document on gender theory but don’t know anything about it. Can you help me?”
The document to which you refer, Male and female he created them – towards a path of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education, was issued on 2 February 2019 by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education.
It intends to offer reflections on the issue to guide and support those working in the education of young people. It is a timely contribution since gender theory has taken the world by storm and has made considerable inroads in schools in this country.
What is gender theory? Quoting Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (2016), gender theory “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 Pope goes on to say that 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. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time” (AL 56).
The first part of the document is structured on the basis of three guiding principles to be borne in mind: to listen, to reason and to propose. In this column I will deal with this part of the document and in the next with the remainder, highlighting some of the key ideas.
The first outlook needed in dialogue with others is listening. Here we see how proponents of gender theory hold that a person can decide or choose their own gender, independent of their biological sex, and that this choice is fluid and can change over time.
As is obvious, this view is contrary to biological reality and to the nature of marriage between a man and a woman through which children come into the world.
Nonetheless, we can agree that there should be no unjust discrimination against those who hold to gender theory or who freely choose to change their gender.
Critiquing gender theory, the document notes that the theory is based on a dualistic view of the human person, with the body completely separate from the soul and the will being absolute and able to manipulate the body as it pleases.
This is contrary to reality where, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, “though made of body and soul, man is one” (GS 14).
This in turn leads to relativism, in which everything is of equal value, without any real order or purpose.
The basis of the family, formed by a man and a woman united in marriage with their children, is thus emptied of meaning. The second guiding principle is reasoning.
Reason shows that the sexual difference between men and women can be demonstrated scientifically by the fields of genetics, endocrinology and neurology.
It is not a social construct, something invented by man that can be changed or disregarded, but rather something deeply ingrained in the biology of the individual, indeed at the level of the cells.
Every cell in a male has the XY chromosome and every cell in a female has the XX chromosome. This stamps a person as male or female, with all the attendant characteristics that follow from their biological sex.
Moreover, the document notes that terms like “intersex” and “transgender”, in a self-contradictory way, actually presuppose the very sexual difference that they propose to deny.
Thus, for example, a boy wanting to be a girl or a woman wanting to be a man are in fact admitting the existence and desirability of being female or male. The third principle is proposing.
Here the Church proposes an educational program based on a proper anthropology, according to which “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will” (Pope Benedict XVI, Address 22 Sept. 2011).
This nature is seen in the book of Genesis which says that “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).
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, thereby undermining the basis of the family.
Also, only in accepting one’s masculinity or femininity can one recognise his or her identity in an encounter with someone who is different.