The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director.
Pope Francis’ shocked lament about schools teaching children they can choose their gender says more about the pope’s knowledge of LGBT issues than it does about the reality of gender identity.
His statement that “Today, in schools they are teaching this to children – to children! – that everyone can choose their gender” reveals a serious blind spot about educational systems and transgender people. The pope made this comment in a private conversation with Polish bishops during his recent meeting with them during World Youth Day events in Poland. The Vatican just made these remarks public yesterday.
Nobody chooses a gender identity. They discover it. Transgender people come to know themselves in a process is similar to the way that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people discover their sexual orientation. It is not a choice, but a given. In fact, heterosexual and cisgender people go through the same process. It’s just that in their cases, the wider culture and society approves and supports their discoveries, and so these self-revelations seem unremarkable.
Pope Francis claimed that this education about gender was happening because influential donors and nations were promoting such education, though the pontiff neglected to identify who he thinks these parties are. Because he did not identify them, it becomes very suspicious that the pope or the Vatican have any hard evidence to back the claim.
No reputable educational material would talk about gender identity in terms of choice because no reputable scientific source would subscribe to such a claim.
Moreover, most reputable scientific experts say that allowing children to transition in youth is both a physically and psychologically healthy thing for them to do in most cases. This idea, though, is worlds away from encouraging children to choose their gender. Accepting gender transition in youth is done for children who have consistently and persistently been aware that their true gender did not match their biological sex. These decisions are not whims, as Pope Francis’ comment implies, but true discernments by child, parents, and medical professionals. It would be great to add “pastoral counselors” to that list of people, if the Church would just encourage such involvement, as a British monsignor suggested last year.
Labeling this supposed educational material as “ideological colonization,” as Francis has done in the past and which he reiterated at his meeting with the Polish bishops, has the earmarks of fear-mongering, something that is below the higher standard that Pope Francis has established for the way church officials should lead.
Equally troubling were the pope’s endorsement of remarks shared with him by the retired Pope Benedict XVI. Francis told the bishops “God created man and woman, God created the world this way, this way, this way, and we are doing the opposite. . . .We must think about what Pope Benedict said — ‘It’s the epoch of sin against God the Creator.’ ”
How can such discovering and affirming one’s gender identity be a sin against God the Creator when what is really occurring is that the person in question is actually affirming and fully living the identity which God created?
The pontiff’s remarks are further evidence that church officials need desperately to educate themselves about the lives and experiences of LGBT people. Church leaders need to update their understandings of gender identity and sexual orientation. The best way they can do this is for the Vatican to establish a commission to look into these topics with an open and objective approach. The commission should include scientific and theological experts, but also LGBT people themselves so that they can share their stories of joy, struggle, and faith with church leaders. The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics has already called for such a commission, and New Ways Ministry endorses this idea. Pope Francis recently took the bold step of establishing a commission to examine the possibility of ordaining women as deacons. He can do the same for LGBT issues, too.
Pope Francis has remarked on ideological colonization or gender identity issues before. His strongest negative remarks about gender identity came in his encyclical on creation, Laudato Si, and his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. While this latest remark was not his first ill-informed comment, let’s hope it will be his last.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry