Catholic bishops, including those in Vatican offices, are not exactly the most credible authorities on issues pertaining to sexuality these days. Few people would disagree with this, except – maybe – bishops themselves. And, of course, those who are trying hard to be named bishops. The lack of credibility on sexual morality is not just because of the hierarchs’ disastrous mishandling of the still-unfolding clergy sex abuse pandemic.
Neither is it the fact that the bishops are unmarried men, who have promised to renounce sexual intimacy and any genital expression of it.
But genitalia are exactly the focus (or mis-focus) of the latest document from the almost exclusively cleric-led Congregation for Catholic Education. It’s called, “Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a path of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education.” It was released out of the blue on June 10 with no advanced notice or warning.
The congregation’s stated intention by issuing this 31-page text is to help “guide Catholic contributions to the ongoing debate about human sexuality, and to address the challenges that emerge from gender ideology.”
Who’s the guy that wrote this document?
It’s not clear who actually wrote this. But it probably was not Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, the congregation’s 75-year-old Italian prefect, or the other thirty-some cardinals who are members of the congregation.
Maybe the author was one of the other 21 people (mostly priests) who officially work in Versaldi’s office at the Vatican. Only three of them are women.
But two of these women are merely technical staff, which means they have nothing to do with shaping policy or contributing to the content of documents.
It could be that the person who wrote this new text is one of the 26 “consultors” of the Congregation for Catholic Education.
They include two bishops, 10 priests, 10 laymen, a laywoman and a religious sister. Is it likely an expert on so-called “gender theory” is hidden in their midst?
Or perhaps it was Marguerite Peeters? The Belgian journalist and conservative culture warrior is a favorite author and supporter of Cardinal Robert Sarah.
A professor at the Pontifical Urbanium University in Rome, she has long been the Vatican’s go-to expert on “gender ideology.”
Peeters is not a consultor of the Congregation for Catholic Education, but she has such a role at the Pontifical Council for Culture and was also a consultor at the former council for the laity.
No mater who wrote this new document, there is nothing in it that marks a change from the Vatican’s up-to-now piecemeal treatment of the issues it addresses.
Can we talk?
But there is one truly remarkable thing about “Male and Female He Created Them.” It is the document’s call for dialogue, which is put forth in its very title.
The author or authors state “the path of dialogue, which involves listening, reasoning and proposing, appears the most effective way towards a positive transformation of concerns and misunderstandings” surround the gender question.
And their alleged reason for advocating dialogue is to overcome “ideologically-driven approaches to the delicate questions around gender.”
But, as others have pointed out, the document seems to have been written in violation of this very principle. With whom did the authors dialogue before writing this text?
And is the document itself not deeply flawed by its own ideologically-driven approaches?
Those would be rooted in a stubborn resistance to any of the validated scientific – biological, psychological and sociological – advances and insights in the past hundreds of years that challenge and even disprove some of the 13th century anthropological underpinnings of “official Church teaching” on human sexuality.
This Vatican document’s call to dialogue is nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.
It could be shucked off and ignored for the bogus attempt that it is, except that the text itself amounts to a cruel and insensitive judgment on the consciences (and motives) of real people, especially those who feel and have discovered themselves to be transgender.
An unusual way to release a document
The manner in which this new document was released raises important questions over its real intent; it especially leaves one wondering who is the intended audience. The text basically fell out of the air without any advanced notice.
Some of us were tipped off about the existence of the document about four days before its actual release. But this was not from sources within the Vatican.
Generally, when a Roman Curia office issues a document, the Holy See Press Office makes an announcement some days in advance, states the date the text will be made public and gives accredited journalists an embargoed copy of that document at least a few hours before it is officially released.
And very often the head of the office and other experts (sometimes including the ghostwriter/s) hold a press conference to present the document and highlight its importance.
None of this happened with the Congregation of Education’s new text on gender.
At exactly 1:00 p.m. on June 10, the time most people in Rome begin to sit down for their midday meal, the press office sent journalists an email with the following subject line: “INFO UTILE: Documento della Congregazione per l’Educazione Cattolica – Embargo Assoluto.”
The “useful information” in this particular email was the new document on gender under strict embargo until 3:30 p.m..
We received the text in seven different languages and the URL to an exclusively Italian language website for the Congregation for Catholic Education , (www.educatio.va)which most of us did not know even existed.
Strangely, as of June 14 the new document was not to be found on the Vatican’s official website (www.vatican.va) – not even in the section especially designed for the education office and where almost all of its past and even recent documents are available.
Near the very bottom of the long first page on the official Vatican site there actually is a link to this secondary site. But even if one goes there he or she has to do a lot of navigating (and had better know some Italian) to figure out where copies of documents can be found in other languages.
Crumbs for the conservatives
All this could lead one to reasonably conclude that the new document is not something over which the Congregation for Catholic Education or the Vatican communications dicastery were particularly eager to create great fanfare.
My guess is that this document is really intended to placate Catholic traditionalists and other social conservatives who are among the most vocal critics of the “far too liberal” Pope Francis.
It looks very much like crumbs for the conservatives. But some of them have seen this as juicy red meat, especially because of the protests and criticisms the document has evoked from more progressive-minded Catholics who tend to be favorable of the pope.
One very conservative Italian daily argued that such criticism of the gender document is proof that so-called progressive Catholics are now joining with the traditionalists and turning against Francis.
Nice try, but that doesn’t wash. As disturbing as some people find the new document, it is not this pope’s equivalent to Humanae Vitae.
And in fact, despite the fact that Pope Francis probably agrees with most of what is written in the text, he did not sign it. And neither did he order it to be published.
Most Catholics and other people who are inspired by this pope are not going to turn away because of what is written in these 31 pages.
Instead, they will continue to support Francis – even as he inspires and also challenges them – because they know this pope’s actions speak louder than words.
Robert Mickens’ article was originally published by La Croix International June 14, 2019