A Dutch cardinal has asked the Vatican for what is seemingly impossible to do. He wants the pope to write an encyclical or other high-end church document condemning so-called “gender theory.” The reason that this is impossible to do is that nobody really understands what church officials mean when they talk about gender theory. It’s like a monster under the bed. It sounds scary, but does it really exist?
In a recent interview with Catholic News Service, Cardinal Willem Eijk of Utrecht, Netherlands, said:
“It (gender theory) is spreading and spreading everywhere in the Western world, and we have to warn people.
“From the point of moral theology, it’s clear — you are not allowed to change your sex in this way.”
Of course, even though gender theory is a red herring, it’s obvious what the cardinal is referring to is gender transition. And it might be good for the Vatican to issue a document about gender transition, but it should be a document which supports it, not condemns it.
Like so many other church leaders in the past year, including Pope Francis, Cardinal Eijk reveals that he does not understand what gender transition is all about. For Eijk and others, they view gender transition as a choice, and what’s worse, they seem to consider it a frivolous choice.
The cardinal’s words reveal that he does not have a clear understanding of gender transition. The Catholic News Service article reported that Eijk wants to “counter the spread of the new theory that gender can be determined by personal choice rather than by biology.” The article further reported:
He said even Catholic parents were beginning to accept that their own children can choose their genders partly because “they don’t hear anything else.”
The problem with this line of thinking is that people are not choosing their genders. They are responding to self-discoveries where they come to realize that the gender they were assigned at birth, based on their genitalia, is not the gender that they recognize that they are. Instead of being a “choice vs. biology” situation, when a person decides to transition, it is often based on biological facts such as hormones, genetics, and psychological and emotion compositions.
Obviously, if the cardinal sees gender transition as a choice, and a frivolous one at that, he has not sat down and spoken with transgender people, and has not come to realize the often painful struggles they experience before reaching the fulfilling joy of living their true gender.
Eijk made his remarks in an interview before delivering the Anscombe Memorial Lecture at Blackfriars, a Dominican house of studies in Oxford, on the theme, “Is Medicine Losing its Way?”
Eijk’s further comments show that he thinks that people are not clearly understanding Church leaders. The article reported:
” ‘It is like euthanasia and assisted suicide,’ Cardinal Eijk continued. ‘When people first began to discuss them they were unsure,’ but many people have now become so acquainted with such practices they are now deemed ordinary.”
However, as with many gender and sexuality topics in the Church, people do understand the magisterium’s position clearly. They just don’t accept it because it does not account for more complex understandings of gender and sexuality which people have come to realize. More importantly, the teaching does not fit with people’s lived experiences. People aren’t believing “gender theory” the way they accept an academic theory. Instead, they have accepted “gender reality” because of the many ways they have come to see that newer ideas about gender and sexuality help them live more healthy and holy lives.
Eijk explained that even though the Church’s teaching may not be popular, he believes it should still be taught, and that the result will be, as in Pope Benedict XVI’s vision, a smaller, “purer” Church. Eijk stated:
“It will be a tiny church, but a convinced church, and it will be willing to suffer.”
The Catholic Church has historically been a “big tent” church, until prelates appointed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI started realizing they were losing “culture wars,” and opted instead for this minimized vision.
The 2014 and 2015 synods on the family brushed against questions of gender, but they did not take them up for a full examination. So, yes, I agree with Eijk that the magisterium should study this issue. But it should be a study which includes opinions on many sides of the issue, that takes into account new understandings of gender instead of immediately condemning such views before even knowing what they say. Most importantly, any study of this sort needs to listen to the voices of people who experience gender outside of what has been the traditional, and often stultifying, binary.
So many of the Church’s vexing discussions from a truly open and unbiased examination of gender.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 14, 2016