by Rudolf Voderholzer (*)
On October 22nd, 2015, the German Bishops' Conference in a press releasecalled attention to a gender flyer entitled “Geschlechtersensibel. Gender katholisch gelesen” [Gender Sensitive: A Catholic Reading of Gender].Gender, as you know, is the general concept used in the English language for sexual identity and, in the current debate, refers more narrowly to the social or cultural sexual identity in contrast to biological sexuality. This publication was released in the name of the Conference of Bishops, of which I am a member, without my having previously seen its content, much less having approved it. That is why it was appropriate for me to express my criticism publicly. You can find the details on the bishopric's web site.
The flyer was written to declare these theories as being basically compatible with Catholic belief and it claims to be formulating the Catholic position on this issue. In my opinion, the former appears impossible – finally, there is no such thing as “gender light”. The concept lowers the drawbridge and opens the gate to positions irreconcilable with the Christian faith. And the flyer not only fails to present the Catholic position, it leaves it out completely.
Gender theories do not contribute to equal rights for all men
Anyone who commits himself to justice between the sexes or to the protection of man’s dignity has me at his side. The concern of the Church and its care and attention are directed towards all men, independent of their age, sex, background and sexual orientation. The concern even applies to man prior to birth and in every situation and phase of life.
But the gender debate is not about all of that. Gender theoreticians deny the nature of man and woman and, hence, also exclude belief in God, the good Creator.
The essence of man and woman is at stake – not roles and behavioral patterns
This is not just a question of what is supposed to be “typically female” and what is considered “typically male”. This pertains to what is essential. And, in this context, biology cannot be separated from culture. Biology is a fact that requires cultivation. The separation of biological and social gender is the basic error of gender theory.
The essence of man and woman is the potential to become a father and the potential to become a mother, respectively. These are not exchangeable roles, but rather gifts from the Creator, even callings. When a woman gives birth to a child, we don't say: typical woman, as if a sufficiently emancipated man would be able to match her. No, it is not typical. It is essential. And the physical existence of a woman, her hormones, her physicality, is oriented towards this purpose; this orientation even remains if she lives single and remains childless because she has perhaps decided to follow Christ in a religious order, decided in favor of spiritual motherhood. I could say the same things about a man and his orientation towards fatherhood.
Repudiation of the creation
The underlying message is the repudiation of the order of creation.
Whoever thinks like this, and perhaps even is already teaching children in kindergarten—the weakest and most malleable, but also most seducible in our society, meaning that they are especially dependent on pastoral care—whoever suggests to children that it is necessary at some point to decide whether they want to be a man or a woman, in order, then, to grow into one of the various forms of existence, denies the goodness of the creation; and I also fear that he sins against this young person!
Nobody is condemned for having difficulties accepting his biological gender. But then someone has to help them to accept their masculinity and their femininity. This is not surgically possible, it is only possible with human and pastoral care.
The true goal should be to work with nature, not against it.
Don't omit the Catholic position–what Pope Francis says about gender theory
The flyer I scrutinized grandiosely claims to present the Catholic position on the question. But it fails to include the many statements on the subject issued by bishops and the Pope. Let us hear what the Church itself says about the gender subject:
Pope Francis says, “The gender ideology is demonic”. He includes gender theory among the fundamental dangers of our era, with the same threatening potential as nuclear weapons and gene manipulation and describes it as an attitude with which man creates a new sin that is directed against God the Creator.
During the General Audience on April 15th, 2015, the Holy Father raised the question, “if the so-called gender theory is not, at the same time, an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it”. And he continues: “Yes, we risk taking a step backwards. The removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution. In order to resolve the problems in their relationships, men and women need to speak to one another more, listen to each other more, get to know one another better, love one another more. They must treat each other with respect and cooperate in friendship.”
At the same time, during his visit to the Philippines, he complains about “ideological colonization,” that consists in the way the rich countries link the approval of international loans with the condition that gender theory be included in school books.
Benedict XVI: “The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.”
Pope Benedict gave the world a captivating analysis of gender theory in the context of his address on the occasion of Christmas greetings in the Sala Clementina on December 21st, 2012. Here is the central passage:
“The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: ‘male and female he created them’ (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, 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.”
Synod on the Family: Gender ideology undermines the anthropological foundation of the family
Finally, let us also hear from the final Relatio of the just-ended Synod of Bishops released on October 24th, 2015. In section 8 the gender ideology is presented as one of the fundamental challenges of our time. It denies the difference between man and woman and their natural interdependence. It envisions a society without sexual differences and undermines the anthropological foundation of the family.
“Such an ideology leads to educational projects and legislative planning which promote a personal identity and affective intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between masculine and feminine. Human identity is reduced to individual choice, which can even be changed in time. In the vision of faith, human sexual difference carries within it the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen. 1:26–27).”
“In complete opposition to the reality and integrity of human nature” – what German bishops are saying about gender ideology
It is clear words such as these that are absent in the flyer that I have criticized. And, indeed, they might have quoted German bishops as well, instead of omitting them. For example, the Bamberg Archbishop Ludwig Schick, who, in 2005, during a conference on pastoral care for men, stated: “Current gender research denies the specific nature characteristic of both man and woman. It only allows man and woman, fatherliness and motherliness, to be defined as products of education and socialization. Hence, it is fundamentally wrong.”
Stand up with the Church for the biblical image of man!
I would like to close with the words of Pope Benedict, who, in January 2013, in an address to the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, commentated gender theories as follows:
“The most dangerous snare of this current of thought is in fact the absolutization of man: Man wants to be ab-solutus, freed from every bond and from every natural constitution. He claims to be independent and thinks that his happiness lies in his own self-affirmation. ‘Man calls his nature into question. ... From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be’ (Discourse to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2012). This is a radical denial of the nature of the creature and child in man, which ends in tragic loneliness. … It is the duty of pastors of the Church … to put the Catholic faithful and every person of good will and right reason on guard against the trend of these ideologies. It is a negative trend for humankind, although it may be disguised by good feelings in the name of alleged progress, alleged rights, or an alleged humanism.”
As a bishop who has accepted the torch of belief and pastoral responsibility from his forerunners, I cannot, and may not, keep quiet on this subject, and I call upon you to add your voice to mine in this dispute so that the biblical image of man in its entire radiance and depth can also provide orientation to young people of our time in particular. Amen.
(*) Rudolf Voderholzer is a prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He is bishop of Regensburg since 2012. Bishop Rudolf is a member of the Congregation of Faith and the publisher of the complete writings (“Gesammelte Schriften”) of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI.