When Pope Francis criticizes “gender theory” or “gender ideology,” what does he mean? Where are such issues going in the Catholic Church? What will be needed to find a reconciling way forward?
John Allen, editor of Crux, raised these questions after a mid-March conference in Rome which included a paper on gender theory that, in Allen’s words,” was a deft presentation of the state of affairs in Europe, and the Church’s current thinking about it.”
Canon law professor Vincenzo Turchi prepared the paper, which was then read at “The Right to Education and to Teaching” conference hosted by Santa Croce University, an Opus Dei school in Rome. Archbishop Georg Gänswein, a close aid of former Pope Benedict XVI and Prefect of the Papal Household, chaired the panel during which the paper was presented. Allen offered this analysis:
“In general, when Vatican personnel over the years decry the rise of ‘gender theory,’ they’re not really referring to a specific theory associated with a given thinker. Instead, they mean a broad intellectual and cultural push, which they see as posing three interrelated risks:
- Eroding the idea that sexual identity and orientation are given in nature, proposing that orientation, and, by extension, sexual behavior, isn’t bound by objective moral norms but rather the result of contingent historical and cultural choices.
- Encouraging the state to promote such a vision of gender in schools, thereby threatening the right of parents to be the primary educators of their children.
- Under the guise of avoiding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, stigmatizing traditional religious and moral views and ending up becoming itself a form of discrimination. . .
“Gender theory, Turchi said, is based on ‘well-known philosophical and anthropological concepts,’ beginning with ‘the primacy of culture over nature.’ According to this view, he said, natural data are seen as ‘marginal,’ so sexual differences are ‘inessential and changeable,’ to be shaped on the basis of ‘individual self-determination.'”
Turchi also said that efforts to curb discrimination and bullying against LGBT youth go beyond these goals to promote marriage and adoption rights for same-gender couples. In education, gender theory is “being spread without speaking about it openly” and “anyone who objects is labeled as racist or discriminatory.”
But in response to these dire warnings, Allen’s own commentary was moderated and recognized the need for dialogue:
“As a footnote to the March 12 discussion, it seemed clear that resolving the tensions posed by gender theory involves a complicated intersection of law and policy, and probably will require having everyone with a stake in the discussion sit down and try to figure things out.
“In that regard, it was striking that the lineup for the conference not only was composed almost entirely of male clerics, but it didn’t seem to include anyone who might be sympathetic to some of the ideas behind gender theory. Probably this wasn’t the venue, but one suspects that eventually, that conversation will have to take place.”
Allen joins the growing number of Catholics who recognize that what is needed on questions about gender identity and LGBT equality more generally is not further harsh condemnations or apocalyptic warnings, but deep listening and authentic dialogue. That Allen, who is editor of a moderate-to-conservative news outlet, is comfortable making such a call, is a sign that such a recognition may not be limited to LGBT advocates alone. For the good of the Church as well as LGBT people, it is time for leaders to start dialoguing with a variety of voices on gender issues so that they can be educated about newer understandings of gender identity.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 22, 2018