Man en vrouw schiep hij hen. Naar een dialoog over de gendertheorie in het onderwijs


Christian Anthropology

30. The Church, mother and teacher, does more than simply listen. Remaining rooted in her original mission, and at the same time always open to the contribution of reason, she puts herself at the service of the community of peoples, offering it a way of living. It is clear that if we are to provide well-structured educational programmes that are coherent with the true nature of human persons (with a view to guiding them towards a full actualisation of their sexual identity within the context of the vocation of self-giving), it is not possible to achieve this without a clear and convincing anthropology that gives a meaningful foundation to sexuality and affectivity. The first step in this process of throwing light on anthropology consists in recognising that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will”. [26Benedict XVI, Address at the Reichstag Building, Berlin, 22 September 2011.] This is the fulcrum on which to support a human ecology that moves from the “respect for our dignity as human beings” and from the necessary relationship of our life to “moral law, which is inscribed into our nature”. [27Francis, Encyclical Letter on Care for Our Common Home Laudato Si’, 24 May 2015, 154-155.]

31. Christian anthropology has its roots in the narrative of human origins that appears in the Book of Genesis, where we read that “God created man in his own image […] male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1,27) These words capture not only the essence of the story of creation but also that of the life-giving relationship between men and women, which brings them into intimate union with God. The self is completed by the one who is other than the self, according to the specific identity of each person, and both have a point of encounter forming a dynamic of reciprocity which is derived from and sustained by the Creator.

32. The Holy Scripture reveals the wisdom of the Creator’s design, which “has assigned as a task to man his body, his masculinity and femininity; and that in masculinity and femininity he, in a way, assigned to him as a task his humanity, the dignity of the person, and also the clear sign of the interpersonal communion in which man fulfils himself through the authentic gift of himself “. [28John Paul II, General Audience, 8 April 1981 in Insegnamenti, IV/1 (1981), p. 904.] Thus, human nature must be understood on the basis of the unity of body and soul, far removed from any sort of physicalism or naturalism, since “in the unity of his spiritual and biological inclinations and of all the other specific characteristics necessary for the pursuit of his end”. [29Veritatis Splendor, 50.]

33. This “unified totality” [30Veritatis Splendor, 50.] integrates the vertical dimension (human communion with God) with the horizontal dimension constituted by the interpersonal communion that men and woman are called to live. [31“Man and woman constitute two modes of realising, on the part of the human creature, a determined participation in the Divine Being: they are created in the ‘image and likeness of God’ and they fully accomplish such vocation not only as single persons, but also as couples, which are communities of love. Oriented to unity and fecundity, the married man and woman participate in the creative love of God, living in communion with Him through the other.” Educational Guidance in Human Love: Outlines for Sex Education, 26. See also Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love, 28 October 2013, 35-36.] One’s identity as a human person comes to authentic maturity to the extent that one opens up to others, for the very reason that “in the configuration of our own mode of being, whether as male or female, is not simply the result of biological or genetic factors, but of multiple elements having to do with temperament, family history, culture, experience, education, the influence of friends, family members and respected persons, as well as other formative situations”. [32Amoris Laetitia, 286.] In reality, “the essential fact is that the human person becomes himself only with the other. The ‘I’ becomes itself only from the ’thou’ and from the ‘you’. It is created for dialogue, for synchronic and diachronic communion. It is only the encounter with the ‘you’ and with the ‘we’ that the ‘I’ opens to itself “. [33Benedict XVI, Address to the General Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference, 27 May 2010.]

34. There is a need to reaffirm the metaphysical roots of sexual difference, as an anthropological refutation of attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature, from which the family is generated. The denial of this duality not only erases the vision of human beings as the fruit of an act of creation but creates the idea of the human person as a sort of abstraction who “chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him”. [34Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2012.]

35. Seen from this perspective, education on sexuality and affectivity must involve each person in a process of learning “with perseverance and consistency, the meaning of his or her body” [35Amoris Laetitia, 151.] in the full original truth of masculinity and femininity. It means “learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning […] Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognise myself in an encounter with someone who is different […] and find mutual enrichment”. [36Laudato Si’, 155.] Therefore, in the light of a fully human and integral ecology, women and men will understand the real meaning of sexuality and genitality in terms of the intrinsically relational and communicative intentionality that both informs their bodily nature and moves each one towards the other mutually.

The Family

36. The family is the natural place for the relationship of reciprocity and communion between man and woman to find its fullest realisation. For it is in the family that man and woman, united by a free and fully conscious pact of conjugal love, can live out “a totality in which all the elements of the person enter – appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will”. [37Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1643] The family is “an anthropological fact, and consequently a social, cultural fact”. On the other hand, to “qualify it with ideological concepts which are compelling at only one moment in history, and then decline” [38Francis, Address to Participants in the International Colloquium on the Complimentarity Between Men and Women Sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 17 November 2014, 3.] would mean a betrayal of its true significance. The family, seen as a natural social unit which favours the maximum realisation of the reciprocity and complementarity between men and women, precedes even the socio-political order of the State whose legislative freedom must take it into account and give it proper recognition.

37. Reason tells us that two fundamental rights, which stem from the very nature of the family, must always be guaranteed and protected. Firstly, the family’s right to be recognised as the primary pedagogical environment for the educational formation of children. This “primary right” finds its most concrete expression in the “most grave duty” [39Code of Canon Law, can. 1136; cf. Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches, can. 627.] of parents to take responsibility for the “well-rounded personal and social education of their children”, [40Gravissimum Educationis, 3.] including their sexual and affective education, “within the broader framework of an education for love, for mutual self-giving” [41Amoris Laetitia, 280.]. This is at once an educational right and responsibility that is “essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others”.[42Familiaris Consortio, 36.]

38. Children enjoy another right which is of equal importance: to “grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity” and “continuing to grow up and mature in a correct relationship represented by the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother and thus preparing for affective maturity”. [43Francis, Address to Members of the Delegation of the International Catholic Child Bureau, 11 April 2014.] It is precisely within the nucleus of the family unit that children can learn how to recognise the value and the beauty of the differences between the two sexes, along with their equal dignity, and their reciprocity at a biological, functional, psychological and social level. “Faced with a culture that largely reduces human sexuality to the level of something common place, since it interprets and lives it in a reductive and impoverished way by linking it solely with the body and with selfish pleasure, the educational service of parents must aim firmly at a training in the area of sex that is truly and fully personal: for sexuality is an enrichment of the whole person – body, emotions and soul – and it manifests its inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self in love”. [44Familiaris Consortio, 37.] Of course, such rights exist hand in hand with all the other fundamental rights of the human person, especially those concerning freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Wherever such things are held in common, those involved in education can find room for collaboration that is fruitful for all.

The School

39. The primacy of the family in educating children is supplemented by the subsidiary role of schools. Strengthened by its roots in the Gospel, “The Catholic school sets out to be a school for the human person and of human persons. ‘The person of each individual human being, in his or her material and spiritual needs, is at the heart of Christ’s teaching: this is why the promotion of the human person is the goal of the Catholic school’. This affirmation, stressing man’s vital relationship with Christ, reminds us that it is in His person that the fullness of the truth concerning man is to be found. For this reason the Catholic school, in committing itself to the development of the whole man, does so in obedience to the solicitude of the Church, in the awareness that all human values find their fulfilment and unity in Christ. This awareness expresses the centrality of the human person in the educational project of the Catholic school”. [45Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, 28 December 1997, 9.]

40. The Catholic school should be an educating community in which the human person can express themself and grow in his or her humanity, in a process of relational dialogue, interacting in a constructive way, exercising tolerance, understanding different points of view and creating trust in an atmosphere of authentic harmony. Such a school is truly an “educating community, a place of differences living together in harmony. The school community is a place for encounter and promoting participation. It dialogues with the family, which is the primary community to which the students that attend school belong. The school must respect the family’s culture. It must listen carefully to the needs that it finds and the expectations that are directed towards it”. [46Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools, 58.] In this way, girls and boys are accompanied by a community that teaches them “to overcome their individualism and discover, in the light of faith, their specific vocation to live responsibly in a community with others”. [47Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School, 19 March 1977, 45.]

41. Christians who live out their vocation to educate in schools which are not Catholic can also offer witness to, serve, and promote the truth about the human person. In fact, “the integral formation of the human person, which is the purpose of education, includes the development of all the human faculties of the students, together with preparation for professional life, formation of ethical and social awareness, becoming aware of the transcendental, and religious education”. [48Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in School: Witnesses to Faith, 15 October 1982, 17.] Personal witness, when joined with professionalism, contributes greatly to the achievement of these objectives.

42. Education in affectivity requires language that is appropriate as well as measured. It must above all take into account that, while children and young people have not yet reached full maturity, they are preparing with great interest to experience all aspects of life. Therefore, it is necessary to help students “to develop a critical sense in dealing with the onslaught of new ideas and suggestions, the flood of pornography and the overload of stimuli that can deform sexuality”. [49Amoris Laetitia, 281.] In the face of a continuous bombardment of messages that are ambiguous and unclear, and which end up creating emotional disorientation as well as impeding psycho-relational maturity, young people “should be helped to recognise and seek out positive influences, while shunning the things that cripple their capacity for love”. [50Amoris Laetitia, 281.]


43. An overall perspective on the situation of contemporary society must form a part of the educational process. The transformation of social and interpersonal relationships “has often waved ’the flag of freedom’, but it has, in reality, brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. It is ever more evident that the decline of the culture of marriage is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills that disproportionately affect women, children and the elderly. It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis”. [51Francis, Address to Participants in the International Colloquium on the Complementarity Between Men and Women Sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 17 November 2014, 2.]

44. In the light of all of this, the family must not be left to face the challenges of educating the young on its own. The Church, for its part, continues to support families and young people within communities that are open and welcoming. Schools and local communities are called, in particular, to carry out an important mission here, although they do not substitute the role of parents but complement it. [52Cf. Amoris Laetitia, 84.] The notable urgency of the challenges faced by the work of human formation should act as stimulus towards reconstructing the educational alliance between family, school and society.

45. It is widely acknowledged that this educational alliance has entered into crisis. There is an urgent need to promote a new alliance that is genuine and not simply at the level of bureaucracy, a shared project that can offer a “positive and prudent sexual education” [53Gravissimum Educationis, 1.] that can harmonise the primary responsibility of parents with the work of teachers. We must create the right conditions for a constructive encounter between the various actors involved, making for an atmosphere of transparency where all parties constantly keep others informed of what each is doing, facilitating maximum involvement and thus avoiding the unnecessary tensions that arise through misunderstandings caused by lack of clarity, information or competency.

46. Across this educational alliance, pedagogical activity should be informed by the principle of subsidiarity: “All other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization“. [54John Paul II, Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane, 2 February 1994, 16; cf. Pontifical Council for the Family, Human Sexuality: Truth and Meaning. Educational Guidelines in the Family, 8 December 1995, 23.] If they succeed in working together, family, school and the broader society can produce educational programmes on affectivity and sexuality that respect each person’s own stage of maturity regarding these areas and at the same time promote respect for the body of the other person. They would also take into account the physiological and psychological specificity of young people, as well as the phase of neurocognitive growth and maturity of each one, and thus be able to accompany them in their development in a healthy and responsible way.

Forming Formators

47. All who work in human formation are called to exercise great responsibility in the work of effectively implementing the pedagogical projects in which they are involved. If they are people of personal maturity and balance who are well-prepared, this can have a strongly positive influence on students. [55Cf. Educational Guidance in Human Love: Outlines for Sex Education, 79.] Therefore, it is important that their own formation includes not only professional qualifications but also cultural and spiritual preparedness. The education of the human person, especially developmentally, requires great care and ongoing formation. Simply repeating the standard points of a discipline is not enough. Today’s educators are expected to be able “to accompany their students towards lofty and challenging goals, cherish high expectations for them, involve and connect students to each other and the world”. [56Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Today and Tomorrow. A Renewing Passion, Vatican City, 2014, Chapter II, 7.]

48. School managers, teaching staff and personnel all share the responsibility of both guaranteeing delivery of a high-quality service coherent with the Christian principles that lie at the heart of their educational project, as well as interpreting the challenges of their time while giving the daily witness of their understanding, objectivity and prudence. [57Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in the Catholic School. A Mission Shared by Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful, 8 September 2007, 34-37.] It is a commonly-accepted fact that “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses”. [58Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, 8 December 1975, 41.] The authority of an educator is therefore built upon the concrete combination “of a general formation, founded on a positive and professional constructive concept of life, and of constant effort in realising it. Such a formation goes beyond the purely necessary professional training and addresses the more intimate aspects of the personality, including the religious and the spiritual”. [59Educational Guidance in Human Love, 80.]

49. When the ‘formation of formators’ is undertaken on the basis of the Christian principles, it has as its objective not only the formation of individual teachers but the building up and consolidation of an entire educational community through a fruitful exchange between all involved, one that has both didactic and emotional dimensions. Thus, dynamic relationships grow between educators, and professional development is enriched by well-rounded personal growth, so that the work of teaching is carried out at the service of humanization. Therefore, Catholic educators need to be sufficiently prepared regarding the intricacies of the various questions that gender theory brings up and be fully informed about both current and proposed legislation in their respective jurisdictions, aided by persons who are qualified in this area, in a way that is balanced and dialogue-orientated. In addition, university-level institutes and centres of research are called to offer their own specific contribution here, so that adequate, up-to-date and life-long learning on this topic is always made available to educators.

50. Regarding the specific task of education in human love, undertaken “with the aid of the latest advances in psychology and the arts and science of teaching”, [60Gravissimum Educationis, 1.] formators need to have “a suitable and serious psycho-pedagogic training which allows the seizing of particular situations which require a special solicitude”. [61Educational Guidance in Human Love, 81.] As a consequence, “a clear vision of the situation is required because the method adopted not only gradually conditions the success of this delicate education, but also conditions cooperation between the various people in responsibility”. [62Ibid., 83.]

51. The autonomy and freedom of teaching is recognised today in many legal systems. In such a context, schools can collaborate with Catholic institutes of higher education to develop a deepened understanding of the various aspects of education in sexuality, with the further aim of creating new teaching materials, pedagogic reference works and teaching manuals that are based on the “Christian vision of man and women”. [63Ibid., 22.] To this end, pedagogues, those who work in teacher-training and experts on literature for children and adolescents alike can all contribute to the creation of a body of innovative and creative tools that, in the face of other visions that are partial or distorted, offer a solid and integrated education of the human person from infancy onwards. Against the background of the renewal of the education alliance, collaboration at local, national and international level between all parties involved must not limit itself to sharing of ideas or useful swapping of best practice but should be made available as a key means of permanent formation of educators themselves.