Catholic 'gender theory' document: clarity for a wounded, oversexed culture?

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Catholic commentators have welcomed a Vatican document warning that gender theory is a cultural and ideological revolution that undermines both human dignity and the right understandings of sexual difference and complementarity, though the document was not without its critics.

"There's a lot of confusion out there right now in regards to gender theory in education and this document provides much-needed clarity about the truth of the human person," said Dr. Joan Kingsland, a moral theologian and curriculum advisor for Ruah Woods, an Ohio-based organization focused on St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body.

The Congregation for Catholic Education's "Male and Female He Created Them" was released June 10.

"In the mainstream media no doubt there will be the typical ideological reaction against the Church for imposing an antiquated view of sexuality on its members; but others will be relieved that the Church is providing clarity about such an important aspect of the human person," Kingsland told CNA.

The American response to the document, she said, takes place in "the overall context of an over-sexualized culture that leaves many wounded and on the defensive," she added. "There are lifestyles which enslave the person and leave the person in darkness about the true good and real happiness."

The document comes as many parts of the country celebrate LGBT Pride Month activities. Many cities in the U.S. and Western Europe as well as corporate and NGO sponsors mark the month with a campaign of LGBT advocacy. Some Pride events and parades notoriously attract people who engage in public nudity, lewdness, and other acts. Many countries have increasingly embraced LGBT causes, and advocacy on behalf of self-identified transgender people has resulted in many controversial changes.

The new document also follows several years in which the Church in the US has once again come under fire for clergy sex abuse scandals that victimized minors of both sexes as well as adult men and women.

The document cited the need to reaffirm "the metaphysical roots of sexual difference" to help refute "attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature, from which the family is generated."

Such a negation "erases the vision of human beings as the fruit of an act of creation" and "creates the idea of the human person as a sort of abstraction who 'chooses for himself what his nature is to be'."

The text is signed by Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. It outlines the philosophical origins of the gender theory movement and notes the broad movement to enshrine its distinct view of human nature in policy and law.

Theories of gender, whether moderate or radical, agree that "one's gender ends up being viewed as more important than being of male or female sex," according to the document, which also reflects on the role of gender theory in education and speaks of a "crisis" in any alliance between the school and the family.

"Although ideologically-driven approaches to the delicate questions around gender proclaim their respect for diversity, they actually run the risk of viewing such difference as static realities and end up leaving them isolated and disconnected from each other," it said.

The document said that despite the challenges, dialogue remains possible. It also called for protection of human and family rights, decried unjust discrimination, and noted points of unity among people with different perspectives on gender ideology.

Father Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage International, told CNA the document deserves "careful study and reflection." On an initial reading, he said, "it is already clear to me that it is both insightful and useful for our constant efforts to 'speak the truth in love' (Eph 4:15) to the world about the Good News of God's plan for our lives."

Courage International is an apostolate for people with same-sex attractions who commit to strive for chastity.

Bochanski praised the document's structure of "listening, reasoning, proposing" for providing "a clear and solid framework for ministry" that accords with Pope Francis' advice that those in ministry "must accompany people starting from their situation."

"The document then lays out succinctly and clearly the anthropological and moral principles that are the foundation of our understanding of human sexuality, so that such a dialogue can assist each person to view his or her own desires and experience in light of the plan of God," he said. "And it courageously confronts trends of secular thought that are confusing or opposed to that plan, calling all people to conform their lives more completely to Christ."

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According to Kingsland, the proper context for speaking about sexuality is "love and the call of the human person to communion."

"We are made in the image of God who is a communion of love," she said.

Father James Martin, S.J., a media commentator and editor-at-large for the Society of Jesus' magazine America, criticized the document in a June 10 tweet.

"It rightly calls for 'dialogue' and 'listening,' but sets aside the real-life experiences of LGBT people. Sadly, it will be used as a cudgel against transgender people, and an excuse to argue that they shouldn't even exist," he said.

"The document is mainly a dialogue with philosophers and theologians, and with other church documents; but not with scientists and biologists, not with psychologists, and certainly not with LGBT people, whose experiences are given little if any weight."

Martin then shared with his 246,000 Twitter followers a New Ways Ministry Tweet which linked to its blog post and said:

"The Vatican's new document on gender will be used to oppress and harm LGBT people. It perpetuates false stereotypes that encourage hatred, bigotry, and violence."

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U.S. bishops' statements have said New Ways Ministry is not approved of or recognized by the Catholic Church and it is misleading to claim that it "provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice," then-U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Cardinal George said in a 2010 statement.

Kingsland said the Congregation for Catholic Education's document acknowledges confusion about the concepts of human nature and human freedom and sees the need to clarify these for "a correct and full vision of the human person." It is also important for concepts like "natural inclinations" to be understood rightly, and important to express a concept of human rights that does not undermine "the true good of the human person."

Kingsland noted the document's "clear continuity" between the past and present teaching of the Church. The document cites the teaching of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, she noted.
She welcomed the document's call to form individual teachers and to build up "an entire educational community," saying, "they are called to be witnesses above all."

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