One of the two laywomen Pope Francis appointed Nov. 7 as undersecretaries of the new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life is seen as a strong critic of gender ideologies, as well as a staunch defender of pro-life issues.
Gabriella Gambino, associate professor of the philosophy of law at the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences, is known to be orthodox and competent, and this year she edited a book on how to overcome the crisis of identity — in particular, gender identity — affecting postmodern societies today.
The Holy Father’s appointment of Gambino to the dicastery’s section on life is the latest step in filling the leadership positions of the dicastery that was established Sept. 1 last year.
Already known at the Vatican, having assisted the previous Pontifical Council for the Laity on women’s issues, Gambino also specializes in bioethics, having obtained a doctorate in the subject at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome in 2000. She gained a degree in political science at the University of Milan in 1995.
A 49-year-old mother of five, including triplets, Gambino is “professionally very competent, strongly pro-life and in line with the magisterium,” one of her colleagues told the Register. “Her specialty is philosophy of law, but with a focus on bioethics.”
Others contacted by the Register also have a high opinion of her, saying she applies philosophy of law very well to bioethics, is very capable, intelligent and is well-prepared. There are said to be “no doubts” about her pro-life credentials and that she is rooted in the Church’s commitment to the pro-life cause.
Gambino’s new position as undersecretary of the section dedicated to life issues will involve working with the secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, Father Alexandre Awi Mello, to assist dicastery head Cardinal Kevin Farrell in managing the dicastery’s business as well as its human resources.
The dicastery, which replaced the Pontifical Council for the Laity and Pontifical Council for the Family, is responsible for projects relating to the apostolate of laity, families and the institution of marriage. It is also charged with organizing events, such as the World Meeting of Families, which will take place in Dublin in August 2018.
How much influence Gambino will have on its pro-life area will therefore be dependent on the head of the dicastery, as well as her own personal initiative, but she is expected to have an influence that will help keep the section on life focused on upholding Church teachings.
Originally from Milan, Gambino is also a researcher and associate professor in the philosophy of law at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata.” From 2001 to 2007, she taught and carried out research at the Institute of the Methodology of Social Sciences of the LUISS-Guido Carli University in Rome. In 2002, she was appointed scientific expert of the National Committee for Bioethics at the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.
As well as collaborating with the former Pontifical Council for the Laity from 2013 to 2016, she also assisted the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2016 and has written numerous publications on the themes of life, family and marriage. She speaks four other languages in addition to Italian.
Her latest book, published this year and edited by her, entitled Pathology of Identity, offers a counter position to gender identity.
Gambino herself has written a chapter dedicated to “Maternal Identity,” in which she argues that the meaning and identity of motherhood is in danger of being lost in the face of postmodernity.
She explains the importance of starting from the principle that men and women are different, that maternity is distinct from paternity, and that it is characterized by a “unique inner experience.”
But she argues that the “transformation of the feminine identity” in postmodern societies today “does not favor in any way the fruitful integration between the woman and the mother.” Instead, she says, it generates “pathological versions of motherhood.”
Gambino stresses that the different body of a woman, “irreducible to a simple biological fact or to an individual or sociocultural perception, in reality is part of the human identity as a privileged dimension of the human being and of its fulfilment.”
But surrogacy and other techniques of artificial insemination mean that “the natural generativity of the feminine identity is eliminated, which, starting from the body, is reduced to a place of recreational and affective occurrences, in the prospect of affirming one’s own identity only as gender.”
She further points out that procreation, which “for centuries” had proceeded without change, “was disrupted first by contraception, which has separated it from fruitfulness, and then from the techniques of artificial fertilization that have dissociated it from sexuality.”
As a result, in today’s societies, a woman risks becoming “either all-mother or all-woman, losing that essential reference to the man-father who helps her to distinguish symbolically her roles,” she writes.
Gambino stresses that motherhood remains “an intrinsic dimension belonging to the dimension of the feminine, and not of the masculine, whose presence she needs deeply instead, in order to be able to achieve her own balanced identity.”
But she criticizes “feminist-emancipationist thought and gender theory” for leading the culture to “denying the reality of the sexuated body and the constitutive dimension of motherhood in the woman.”
Gambino underlines how these damaging trends at the institutional level deprive women “of the conditions for the harmonious development” of their potential as women. It is, therefore, time, she says, to “give back to women the awareness of being guardians of human life” because the culture that “reduces motherhood to a reproductive decision makes women unable to accept the gift of life as a spontaneous and natural fruit of sexuated love, depriving them of the authentic freedom of being a mother.”
As a solution, she argues that femininity as an “irreplaceable place of motherhood” needs to again be put “at the heart of the discussion,” as it helps “generate and build human identities together with paternity.” Motherhood, Gambino says, needs to be rediscovered in a “relational dimension,” which would help women rediscover their own capacity for motherhood, “even when they discover themselves biologically sterile.”
“Humanity needs women who are not afraid of their capacity to be mothers,” she writes. “The woman is, in fact, in herself strong because of the awareness that God entrusted to her in a special way the man, and this awareness must be able to consolidate her contribution to the generation and protection of identities.”
Pope Francis also appointed a second woman as undersecretary of the dicastery: 52 year-old canonist Linda Ghisoni, who works as a judge at the First Instance Court of the Vicariate of Rome. She is also a professor of canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University and a professor of law at Roma Tre University.
Ghisoni, who will help run the laity section of the new dicastery, is originally from the town of Cortemaggiore in the north of Italy. She studied philosophy and theology at the Eberhard-Karls-University in Tübingen, Germany, and after receiving a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University, she held various positions at the Tribunals of First Instance and Appeal of the Vicariate of Rome, including notary, defender of the bond, auditor and judge.
The Italian canonist has worked at the Tribunal of the Roman Rota since 2011 and was assigned to the role of commissioner of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments for the defense of the marital bond in causes for the dissolution of the marriage ratum sed non consummatum (ratified but not consummated).
From 2013 to 2016, Ghisoni collaborated with the former Pontifical Council for the Laity in the field of specialist laity studies in the Church. She is married and has two daughters.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.