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The fuzzy term "gender" alone often arouses tempers. The Vatican wanted to contribute to smoothing such waves in the church. However, his latest text, "As man and woman he created them," is drawing criticism.
On Monday, the Roman Congregation for Education published a document on the subject of gender theories and education, which was met with sometimes harsh criticism. Main reproach: The text does not correspond to the state of the discussion. Wide fields of relevant research would be omitted, as well as medical, psychological or social science studies would not be mentioned, affected persons would not have been consulted.
"As man and woman he created them"
The document, "As Man and Woman He Created Them," criticizes notions that advocate "manipulation of the body at will" and condemns radical theories to that effect. It promotes gender polarity and demands respect: no one should be persecuted or discriminated against, for example, because of his or her faith or sexual orientation.
But as far as emotional life and sexuality are concerned, there is a "real educational emergency," the document's introduction states. The text therefore attempts to distinguish between gender research and gender ideologies. The authors fell for the talk of a gender ideology, staging inaccurate accusations as "paper tigers," criticizes the Osnabruck theologian Margit Eckholt.
Similar comments were made by Paul Zulehner, pastoral theologian emeritus of Vienna, and his colleague, moral theologian Gerhard Marschutz.
U.S. Jesuit James Martin, involved in pastoral care with gay people, expects the short-term effect of the text to be "ammunition for Catholics who deny the reality of a transgender experience and dismiss such people as ideologues". It is not as claimed that gender theories represent an arbitrary appropriation or attribution of gender identity. It is much more a matter of the experiences of those affected.
Most of the criticism in the Vatican not comprehensible
In Rome, however, much of the criticism cannot be understood. It is neither the task of the Congregation for Education nor the concern of the letter to clarify the gender ie, the Undersecretary of the Congregation for Education, Frederick Bechina, told the Catholic News Agency (KNA). Others in the Vatican are responsible for this. Rather, he said, they have responded to requests from Catholic schools, universities and bishops' conferences.
For years, the ie has come up in about two-thirds of all bishops' ad limina visits to Rome, Bechina said. The knowledge is very different, bishops and school directors are unsure how they should position themselves. Eastern European representatives often reacted reservedly, others claimed that with them this was not an ie.
Church schools are being put under prere, individual voices criticized, combined with accusations of ideological colonialism. Bechina cannot be more specific about this.
Behind all this is the question: who decides what children and young people learn in school and when about sexuality, gender and family, how they find their identity. There the Catholic principle is: this is the right and duty above all of parents. Schools have a subsidiary role, must respect parents' beliefs and culture, the document says.
Debates likely to continue
There is a need for an alliance of family, school and society to develop "educational programs on affectivity and sexuality" that "respect one's own level of maturity in these areas and at the same time promote respect for the body of the other". The president of the German Teachers' Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, can understand this: It does not make sense, he says, "to already open up to elementary school or kindergarten children what different possibilities there are, without that currently being their problem.".
The subtitle of the Vatican text indicates that the debates will continue. "Toward a dialogue on the question of gender theory in education," it says carefully. Given recent reactions, it is foreseeable: This road will still be long. The head of the Congregation for Education, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, also acknowledges this. Also the church must correct "perhaps some too entrenched positions in the view of nature, which completely disregard the cultural aspects," said the clergyman.
At the same time, he dismissed premature conservative fears about the gender ie: "First of all, you have to listen carefully and calmly to what it is all about. Then, he says, it is a matter of representing one's own Catholic position in the face of theses that are indeed exaggerated and, finally, of clarifying locally how to deal with concrete questions. Moreover, the Church must endure such tensions, Bechina added. For some, even the most recent document is too liberal.