The Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education released a document on 10th June 2019, Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a path of dialogue on the questions of gender theory. Quest has issued the following response to the document:
Response of Quest to “Male and Female He Created Them”
It does not happen often that a magisterial document, like the declaration “Male and Female He Created Them”, published by the Congregation for Catholic Education on 10 June 2019, presents itself in its subtitle as “a path of dialogue”, in this case “on the question of gender theory in education.” The introduction lays out the methodology as the three-step “to listen, to reason and to propose,” and the headings of the three major sections follow this scheme. This is a hopeful beginning. After the document further distinguishes the “ideology of gender” from the research on gender that the human sciences have undertaken, it seems certain that the life experience of transgender, intersex and non-binary people, and the scientific research that reflects on it, will finally be heard in the teaching of the church!
Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear that no listening has actually taken place. Almost all of the 68 footnotes reference earlier papal or magisterial pronouncements – and the only exception refers to a book by Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II! Not a single human scientist, psychologist or biologist is heard, nor even any philosopher or theologian. The document presents the “gender ideology” that it opposes only through the descriptions of it that previous popes have given. It thereby repeats mis-characterisations that have already been corrected many times.
The true nature of human sexuality and gender identity cannot be derived by philosophical or theological reflection. As the document itself warns, quoting Pope Benedict XVI, the dialogue between faith and reason is reduced to a sterile intellectual exercise if it does not “begin from the present concrete situation of humanity and from this develop[s] a reflection that draws on the ontological metaphysical truth”. This present concrete situation is encountered in the lives of trans, intersex and non-binary people and in the body of scientific research that describes and reflects on their lives. By skipping this encounter in favour of metaphysical speculation, the Congregation loses its ability to speak to LGBT+ people in a pastorally responsible manner and to offer them spiritually fruitful guidance and support.
Foundational to the critique of “gender ideology” is the notion that it is based on an excessive view of human freedom, in which every person “chooses for himself what his [sexual] nature is to be”. This is not how most people experience their gender identity. Rather, they discover this identity over time, often against strong internal and external resistance. It is the denial of this discovery, not its affirmation, that attempts to extend human freedom beyond its natural boundaries.
We acknowledge that the Congregation’s rejection of “gender ideology” is rooted in a concern for “the family”, which in turn arises from the intention to help young people grow into mature Christian adults who, with the help of God’s grace, live lives of love and self-giving. We are in complete agreement with this intention. However, many of us know from personal experience that these foundational Christian values can be lived in families that include members of various gender identities and sexual orientations. Far from being helpful, a rigid insistence on binary gender roles will entrap young people whom these roles do not fit well. It poses a grave risk for their mental and physical well-being.
We do not think that “Male and Female He Created Them” represents the teaching office of the church at its best. Countless priests and bishops, and indeed Pope Francis himself, are increasingly in dialogue with LGBT+ people and with organisations like Quest. All these pastors listen to the experience of LGBT+ Catholics in order to provide pastoral care to them and their families, beginning from the concrete situations in which they find themselves. We await the day when the church will reflect on its own best practice and will allow the fruit of genuine dialogue to inform its teaching.
Topics relevant to the theme of “Male and female He created them” will be discussed at upcoming Quest events:
- Accompaniment, Discernment, Conscience: a day conference. Saturday 29 June 2019, London
- Family Matters: Quest annual conference 9– 11 August 2019, University of Winchester.
Ruby Almeida, Chair of Quest, commented, “Having given several talks in schools over the past few years as a Stonewall Role Model, I appreciate how it is imperative that all schools, particularly faith schools, embrace the opportunity to introduce sex and relationships in a considered and thoughtful manner. This should be done in a way that acknowledges and respects the diversity of the children’s cultural backgrounds and the complex and vibrant society that they inhabit. Learning about the other and how each one fits into a cohesive and accepting society is a huge learning landscape for all children and something that faith schools must help children navigate. Quest will continue to work with Catholic schools in this area.”