The Roman Catholic Church has released its first extensive document on gender theory, reiterating the church’s position that gender cannot be chosen or changed, and continuing to assert its opposition to same-sex relationships.
It is in keeping with statements made by Pope Francis opposing the idea of gender mutability, although he has taken a more conciliatory tone toward LGBTQ people than his predecessors and even met privately in 2015 with a transgender man from Spain who later said he found Francis to be “kindness personified.”
The Vatican document, Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education, denounces “calls for public recognition of the right to choose one’s gender, and of a plurality of new types of unions, in direct contradiction of the model of marriage as being between one man and one woman, which is portrayed as a vestige of patriarchal societies,” as quoted by The New York Times.
Released Monday and signed by Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, the document is intended to be a guide for Catholic schools and their staff. It was dated February 4, but the rationale behind the timing of its release — during LGBTQ Pride Month — is unknown, according to the Times.
It says recognition of transgender or intersex identities make masculinity and femininity “ambiguous.” “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,” the document reads.
And also contends that acceptance of LGBTQ identities has created confusion that “had destabilized the family as an institution, bringing with it a tendency to cancel out the differences between men and women, presenting them instead as merely the product of historical and cultural conditioning.”
The document does say the church should have a dialogue with believers in gender theory and should not discriminate against people who identify their gender differently from what they were assigned at birth.
Advocates for greater acceptance of LGBTQ people by the church expressed disappointment with the message.
“The congregation’s call for listening and dialogue about gender is a positive step; however, it seems that the congregation is listening only to philosophers and theologians rather than to LGBT people who would share their real-life experiences if asked,” Rev. James Martin, a priest and author of Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, told the Times.
“LGBT people are usually not responding to a theory or ideology but their own inner feelings and their own desires,” he added. Indeed, most transgender people would say their gender identity is not a choice, just as gay people say sexual orientation is not chosen — and medical procedures to make a trans person’s outward gender match their inner sense of gender are not change but confirmation.
“Anyone who thinks that being transgender is a response to ideology,” Martin pointed out, “has not spoken to many transgender people.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a group that advocates for LGBTQ equality within the church, also objected to the document. It “is a harmful tool that will be used to oppress and harm not only transgender people, but lesbian, gay, bisexual people, too,” he said in an online statement. “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.”
“It relies on categories of male and female that were shaped centuries ago in oppressive and repressive cultures,” he continued. It also ignores “contemporary science” that shows gender is not determined solely by genitalia, he said.
“Gender is also biologically determined by genetics, hormones, and brain chemistry — things not visible at birth,” he said. “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.”