Catholic commentators from across the spectrum have criticized the Vatican’s new document on gender theory. Some on the so-called left say Pope Francis didn’t approve the document; others on the so-called right say it is too little too late in stopping the spread of gender ideology from influencing the Church. As I read the Congregation for Catholic Education’s document, I can see why both “sides” might react as they do. So I was surprised when the headmaster of an independent Catholic school told me, “This document is a Godsend to us.” This gentleman is not only a dear friend, but a man of deep loyalty to traditional Catholic sexual ethics. I decided to reread the document from his perspective. Does this document help Catholic educators fulfill their mission?
To be clear, what are the critics criticizing? Those who favor the “LGBT” agenda, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, are angry that the Vatican supports the fact that God created only two sexes. Such critics even consider the title of the document, “Male and Female He Created Them” to be inflammatory.
On the other hand, many of those who are loyal to the magisterium and the traditional teachings of the Church are alarmed by the subtitle: “Toward a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education.” These critics observe that “dialogue” with sexual radicals does not do well at preserving tradition. All too often, “dialogue” translates into the radicals talking until they wear us down. Or worse, they don’t even pretend to dialogue; they take the opportunity provided by “dialogue” to attack. In Gabriele Kuby’s critique of the new Vatican document, she recounts her personal experience with this sort of “dialogue.”
I fully understand. This amateur video posted to my Facebook page from a speaking engagement at the University of California-Santa Barbara captures one of my experiences with “dialogue” with protesters. Certainly, with activists, “compromise” or negotiation is out of the question. Experience has shown that what one side considers compromise, the other side considers a steppingstone. Permit me to say: I’m not a fan of “dialogue” for its own sake.
But the Congregation for Catholic Education is not writing for people like me and others in the commentariat. The primary audience of the Congregation for Catholic Education is Catholic educators. In the daily life of the principal of a Catholic school, he or she must deal with a wide range of people. The constituency of a Catholic school includes the faculty and staff, the parents of children in the school, prospective parents and, of course, the children themselves. And that is just for independent schools. Diocesan or parish or religious-order schools bring another layer of constituents to the headmaster’s or principal’s office: the bishop, the pastor, the abbot. On top of all that, the principal has accrediting agencies, other government entities, donors, the press and the general public. Among these people will be some who are well catechized and enthusiastic for the faith. Others, not so much.
In fact, in today’s climate, some Catholic school administrators must wonder whether the sophisticated lesbian pair in their office asking for their child’s admission to the school is setting a trap that will lead to a lawsuit.
“Dialogue” happens in the principal’s office every day, whether she likes it or not. Permit me to say: I would not be temperamentally suited to this job. Permit me also to say: I am grateful to those who shoulder this job.
The Congregation for Catholic Education’s new document provides clarity for the administration of the Catholic school. They can build that clear teaching into policies and procedures, student and faculty handbooks and similar documents. “No, there will be no open-access bathrooms or locker rooms.” “No, we cannot have a drag show on campus.” “Yes, we are going to participate in sporting leagues that require all participants to compete only against other students of their birth sex.” “Our new family-life curriculum is going to be based on theology of the body.”
As an added public-relations bonus, “Male and Female He Created Them” is a product of Pope Francis’ Vatican, which many consider “gay-friendly”; not Pope Benedict’s Vatican, which has been labeled homophobic.
My friend the headmaster pointed out that “Male and Female He Created Them” provides a backstop against the pressure he faces on all these questions. He can beef up the school’s governing charters with the authority of Rome. Things like the school’s written handbooks can provide protection in legal actions such as discrimination suits, harassment from accrediting agencies and the like. This is a good time to mention something else I noticed in the congregation’s work. Another office in Vatican City, the Pontifical Council for the Family, produced a widely (and justly) criticized sexual-education curriculum, “The Meeting Point: Project for Affective and Sexual Education,” in 2018. Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons described it as “the most dangerous threat to Catholic youth that I have seen over the past 40 years.” Coming from a man who has counseled thousands of victims and survivors of the sexual revolution, that is quite a criticism.
“The Meeting Point” is completely absent from the references in “Male and Female He Created Them.” Instead, we find numerous references to Pope St. John Paul’s corpus, including Familiaris Consortio, Veritatis Splendor, his “Letter to Women” and his great work from his days as a philosophy professor, Love and Responsibility.
I do not pretend to know what is going on in the various quarters of the Vatican. (Being a Vaticanista is another job I am really not temperamentally suited for!) But it appears to me that “Male and Female He Created Them” is a different kettle of fish from many things that have come out of Rome recently. We were beginning to wonder whether the great teaching pontificate of John Paul II had ever even happened. Bringing his work front and center is a great gift to all the Church, especially to Catholic educators. Critics of “Male and Female He Created Them” might argue that the calls for “dialogue” leave an opening for less-than-entirely-faithful interpretations. People who want their Catholic schools to be nothing but private prep schools with crucifixes might find a way to drive a truck through the seemingly clear statements that there are only two sexes. And, indeed, so-called Catholic progressives just might.
I do know one thing: If those faithful to the magisterium ignore this document, or worse, shun it, very likely the “dialoguers” will interpret it the way they want. Unless the faithful contend for the proper interpretation of this document, the less-than-faithful cohort will win by default.
My advice to faithful Catholic administrators and parents is this: Pick up this ball and run with it. It’s your move.