Vatican City: The Vatican has issued an official document rejecting the idea that people can choose or change their genders and insisting on the sexual "complementarity" of men and women to make babies.
It said the idea of gender being determined by personal feeling rather than biology was an attempt to "annihilate nature".
Pope Francis walks past cardinals after celebrating a Pentecost Mass in St Peter’s Square, at the Vatican on Sunday.Credit:AP
Pope Francis has repeatedly argued the position that people cannot choose their genders. But the document represents the first attempt to put the Vatican's position, first articulated fully by Pope Benedict XVI in a 2012 speech, into a comprehensive, official text.
The document, published during LGBT Pride Month, was immediately denounced by LGBT Catholics as contributing to bigotry and violence against gay and transgender people. Advocacy group New Ways Ministry said it would further confuse individuals questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation and at risk of self-harm.
The text, Male and Female He Created Them, was intended to help Catholic teachers, parents, students and clergy address what the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education called an "educational crisis" in the field of sex education.
It called for a "path of dialogue" and listening on the issue of "gender theory" in education. But even priestly advocates for LGBT Catholics noted that the text appeared to have relied entirely on previous papal pronouncements, Vatican documents and philosophers and theologians.
"The real-life experiences of LGBT people seem entirely absent from this document," said the Reverend James Martin, a Jesuit priest who wrote a book on improving Catholic Church outreach to the LGBT community, titled Building a Bridge. "We should welcome the congregation's call to dialogue and listening on gender, and I hope that conversation will now begin."
Jay Brown of the Human Rights Campaign – the largest LGBT-rights group in the United States – said the Vatican's stance "sends a dangerous message that anybody who experiences gender diversity is somehow less worthy."
The document called for a new alliance among families, schools and society to offer a "positive and prudent sexual education" in Catholic schools so children learn the "full original truth of masculinity and femininity."
It called gender fluidity a symptom of the "confused concept of freedom" and "momentary desires" that characterise post-modern culture. It rejected terms such as "intersex" and "transgender" and said the purpose of the biological complementarity of the male and female sex organs was to ensure procreation.
Francis DeBernardo, head of New Ways Ministry, said such concepts are outdated, misinformed and ignore contemporary science on factors beyond visible genitalia that determine gender.
"Gender is also biologically determined by genetics, hormones and brain chemistry – things not visible at birth," DeBernardo said in a statement. "People do not choose their gender, as the Vatican claims, they discover it through their lived experiences."
He said the Catholic Church should encourage this process of discovery, saying it's "a process by which individuals discover the wonderful way that God has created them."
"This casts everything back to the Dark Ages," said Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, a group that advocates for LGBT equality and inclusion in the church. "I think it is incredibly insensitive, to be talking still about gender and sexuality as a choice and a momentary whim rather than a fundamental God-given identity."
The church's retrenchment hints at one of the challenges it faces at a time of growing secularisation – when many of its teachings on sexuality are being ignored as out of date. Francis has expressed an interest in outreach to LGBT followers, but he has also taken a clear stance on gender identity, decrying the idea that children are taught in schools that "everyone can choose his or her sex."
"And this is terrible," Francis said in 2016.
The church on Monday said it was important to listen and "understand cultural events of recent decades," but it also described a crisis in sexual education – a "disorientation" that was destabilising the family and cancelling out the differences between men and women.
The church made a case that children had the right to grow up in a family "with a father and a mother," and the document quoted an earlier Francis speech about how children benefit from seeing masculinity represented by the father and femininity represented by the mother.
"It is precisely within the nucleus of the family unit that children can learn how to recognise the value and the beauty of the differences between the two sexes," the document said.
Traditionalist groups lauded the 31-page Vatican document. CitizenGO, a conservative Madrid-based group that campaigns around the world, called the latest church teaching an "extraordinary guidebook."
"This authoritative tool is quite clear in the condemnation of gender ideology and of the grave damage it wreaks inside society," the group said.
Father James Martin, a prominent Jesuit who has advocated for the church to more openly welcome LGBT members, said on Twitter that the document calls for dialogue and listening "but sets aside the real-life experiences of LGBT people."
"Sadly," Martin wrote, "it will be used as a cudgel against transgender people, and an excuse to argue that they shouldn't even exist."
AP, Washington Post
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