“Male and female he created them”. Towards a path of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education
Congregation for Catholic Education (for Educational Institutions)
Vatican City, June 10, 2019
1. It is becoming increasingly clear that we are now facing with what might accurately be called an educational crisis, especially in the field of affectivity and sexuality. In many places, curricula are being planned and implemented which “allegedly convey a neutral conception of the person and of life, yet in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and to right reason”. [1: Benedict XVI, Address to Members of the Diplomatic Corps, 10 January 2011.] The disorientation regarding anthropology which is a widespread feature of our cultural landscape has undoubtedly helped to destabilize 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.
2. The context in which the mission of education is carried out is characterized by challenges emerging from varying forms of an ideology that is given the general name ‘gender theory’, which “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. This ideology leads to educational programs 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”. [2: Francis, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, 19 March 2016, 56.]
3. It seems clear that this issue should not be looked at in isolation from the broader question of education in the call to love, [3: Cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 22 November 1981, 6; Cf. John Paul II, Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane, 2 February 1994, 16; Cf. John Paul II, General Audience, 8 April 1981 in Insegnamenti, IV/1 (1981), pp. 903-908.] which should offer, as the Second Vatican Council noted, “a positive and prudent education in sexuality” within the context of the inalienable right of all to receive “an education that is in keeping with their ultimate goal, their ability, their sex, and the culture and tradition of their country, and also in harmony with their fraternal association with other peoples in the fostering of true unity and peace on earth”. [4: Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decl. On Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis, 28 October 1965, 1.] The Congregation for Catholic Education has already offered some reflections on this theme in the document ‘Educational Guidance in Human Love: Outlines for Sex Education’. [5: Congregation For Catholic education, Educational Guidance in Human Love, Outlines for Sex Education, 1 November 1983.]
4. The Christian vision of anthropology sees sexuality as a fundamental component of one’s personhood. It is one of its mode of being, of manifesting itself, communicating with others, and of feeling, expressing and living human love. Therefore, our sexuality plays an integral part in the development of our personality and in the process of its education: “In fact, it is from [their] sex that the human person receives the characteristics which, on the biological, psychological and spiritual levels, make that person a man or a woman, and thereby largely condition his or her progress towards maturity and insertion into society”. [6: Congregation for The Doctrine of the Faith, Persona Humana, Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, 29 December 1975, 1.] As each person grows, “such diversity, linked to the complementarity of the two sexes, allows a thorough response to the design of God according to the vocation to which each one is called”. [7: Educational Guidance in Human Love, Outlines for Sex Education, 5.] In the light of this, “affective-sex education must consider the totality of the person and insist therefore on the integration of the biological, psycho-affective, social and spiritual elements”. [8: Ibid., 35]
5. The Congregation for Catholic Education, as part of its remit, wishes to offer in this document some reflections which, it is hoped, can guide and support those who work in the education of young people, so as to help them address in a methodical way (and in the light of the universal vocation to love of the human person) the most debated questions around human sexuality. [9: Cf. Ibid., 21-47, in which the Christian vision of sexuality is set out.] The methodology in mind is based on three guiding principles seen as best-suited to meet the needs of both individuals and communities: to listen, to reason and to propose. In fact, listening carefully to the needs of the other, combined with an understanding of the true diversity of conditions, can lead to a shared set of rational elements in an argument, and can prepare one for a Christian education rooted in faith that “throws a new light on everything, manifests God’s design for man’s total vocation, and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human”. [10: Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 7 December 1965, 11.]
6. If we wish to take an approach to the question of gender theory that is based on the path of dialogue, it is vital to bear in mind the distinction between the ideology of gender on the one hand, and the whole field of research on gender that the human sciences have undertaken, on the other. While the ideologies of gender claim to respond, as Pope Francis has indicated, “to what are at times understandable aspirations”, they also seek “to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised”, [11: Amoris Laetitia, 56.] and thus preclude dialogue. However, other work on gender has been carried out which tries instead to achieve a deeper understanding of the ways in which sexual difference between men and women is lived out in a variety of cultures. It is in relation to this type of research that we should be open to listen, to reason and to propose.
7. Against this background, the Congregation for Catholic Education has seen fit to offer this text to all who have a special interest in education, and to those whose work is touched by the question of gender It is intended for the educational community involved in Catholic schools, and for all who, animated by the Christian vision of life, work in other types of school. The document is offered for use by parents, students, school leaders and personnel, bishops, priests, religious, ecclesial movements, associations of the lay faithful, and other relevant bodies.