Today there is intense public debate about gender. It highlights not only the suffering and discomfort of some, but also raises profound questions about human nature, how we understand ourselves, relate to one another and our capacity for self-determination.
We recognise that there are people who do not accept their biological sex. We are concerned about and committed to their pastoral care. Through listening to them we seek to understand their experience more deeply and want to accompany them with compassion, emphasising that they are loved by God and valued in their inherent God-given dignity. There is a place of welcome for everyone in the Catholic Church.
Our teaching is that God creates human beings male and female: “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). This sexual difference and complementarity is within every person, for we all belong to families and draw our very existence from this complementarity. It is within the family that our lives first take shape and our identity is nurtured. These are important factors in the architecture of human relationships, orientated towards the goods of marriage, the mutual building up of each person and the flourishing of family life (CCC 2333). Indeed, the body is God’s gift. It is with and through our bodies that we make our earthly journey, with all its ambiguities, sufferings and joy. This understanding is vital for welcoming and accepting not only ourselves, and each other, but also the entire world as gifts of God. This understanding also gains greater clarity when we enter more deeply into the gift of faith and see in Jesus Christ the fullness of our human dignity and calling made clear. This is expressed in Vatican II: ‘It is only in the mystery of the Word incarnate that light is shed on the mystery of humankind’ (Gaudium et Spes 22 ). Only in the mystery of the cross of Jesus does our own suffering find new salvific depth and hope.
The idea that the individual is free to define himself or herself dominates discourse about gender. Yet our human instinct is otherwise. We know that there is so much about our lives that is foundational. Today we are faced with an ideology of gender which, in the words of Pope Francis:
denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual difference, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time”… It needs to be emphasised that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.” (Amoris laetitia 56)
We are deeply concerned that this ideology of gender is creating confusion.
As we continue to reflect on these issues, we hope for a renewed appreciation of the fundamental importance of sexual difference in our culture and the accompaniment of those who experience conflict in their sense of self and God-given identity. We all have a duty to protect the most vulnerable.