Popes Francis Again Confronts Gender Ideology

“The Vatican’s new document on gender will be used to oppress and harm LGBT people. It perpetuates false stereotypes that encourage hatred, bigotry, and violence.”

This statement from New Ways Ministry was tweeted by Fr. James Martin in reaction to an important new Vatican statement by Pope Francis’s Congregation for Catholic Education. Issued during Pride Month, the 31-page statement is written for Catholic educational institutions. Titled, “Male and Female He Created Them,” the document throughout quotes Pope Francis from various letters and statements to encyclicals like Laudato Si and his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the latter of which states: “The young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created…. Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies.” Sex education must avoid the “pretension” of attempting to “cancel out sexual difference because one no longer knows how to deal with it.”

The reaction to the Vatican document is telling.

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I wrote about the document in a column I drafted on LGBTQ advocacy at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. That advocacy includes a display in the children’s section in the library of the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts. It features about 75 books, including titles such as The Gender Wheel, LGBTQIA+, The Letter Q, Gender Outlaws, Who Are You?, Beyond Magenta, Doing It! Let’s Talk About Sex, and, on the top shelf, A is for Activist.

Make no mistake, that’s the goal: proudly on display for kids during Pride Month at Duquesne is a push to foster LGBTQ activism.

My column was rejected by the editor, not because of a disagreement with my facts on the Duquesne display—I included photos—but because of my characterization of Pope Francis on these gender-sexual issues, particularly his more excoriating remarks. I had included quotes from Pope Francis such as these:

“Today, in schools they are teaching this to children—to children!—that everyone can choose their gender,” Francis remonstrated. “This is terrible.”

I noted that Francis has said that gender ideology is “demonic,” comparable to “the educational policies of Hitler,” the “doctrine” of “the Hitler Youth” and fascist youth groups in Mussolini’s Italy, and the destructive potential of “nuclear arms.”

Elsewhere, Francis has lamented: “Behind all this we find gender ideology. In books, kids learn that it’s possible to change one’s sex. Could gender, to be a woman or to be a man, be an option and not a fact of nature? This leads to this error.”

I reported that this is what kids are learning in books at educational institutions like Duquesne University—among numerous other Catholic educational institutions. Thus the need for this new Vatican document.

I suspect that the editor’s understanding of Francis on these matters is a misunderstanding widely shared by the vast majority of people, whether they love or hate Francis. The liberal world particularly doesn’t want to accept that Francis is such a scathing opponent of gender theory.

In truth, Francis has blasted gender theory incessantly. I’ve tracked his statements, often to the chagrin of liberal and conservative Catholics alike. As readers here know, I recently wrote a 5,600-word piece for Crisis that included such statements from Francis.

All of which brings me back to the new report by the Congregation for Catholic Education and why it’s so important. First and foremost, it offers crucial guidance and an official statement of authority from the Church, which, as Jennifer Roback Morse notes, will be a lifeline to Catholic educators who need this back-up. This was reinforced here at Crisis by Daniel Guernsey, director of K-12 Programs for the Cardinal Newman Society. “In sum, the Congregation’s document raises some concerns, but faithful Catholics should be grateful for this all-too-rare attempt to make a countercultural stance for the Gospel,” wrote Guernsey. “It is a welcome reinforcement for our beleaguered Catholic schools and an encouragement to those Catholic educators who have stood firmly.”

But the document is also significant because it comes from the Vatican of Pope Francis. To repeat: from the Vatican of Pope Francis. Moreover, those who take the time to read the document, or simply skim the footnotes, will see that it’s totally sourced in Francis, all the way to the closing paragraph. The sources include these from Francis:

  • Francis, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, 19 March 2016.
  • Francis, “Address to the Participants in the General Assembly of the Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life,” 5 October 2017.
  • Francis, Encyclical Letter on Care for Our Common Home, Laudato Si’, 24 May 2015.
  • Francis, “Address to Members of the Delegation of the International Catholic Child Bureau,” 11 April 2014.
  • Francis, “Address to Participants in the International Colloquium on the Complementarity Between Men and Women Sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” 17 November 2014.
  • Francis, “Address to the Delegation from the Dignitatis Humanae Institute,” 7 December 2013.
  • Francis, “Address to the Italian Catholic Primary School Teachers Association,” 5 January 2018.

That’s seven Francis sources, most cited multiple times.

Of the 68 footnotes in this document, probably a third cite Francis. They also cite his Congregation for Catholic Education, including its 2013 document, “Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love,” and its 2014 statement, “Educating Today and Tomorrow. A Renewing Passion.” Beyond Francis, the citations include the Second Vatican Council, the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Catechism, the Code of Canon Law, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and others. Mainly, however, this is a Pope Francis document.

The content of these citations from Francis is significant. It includes emphatic statements from Francis urging a “Christian anthropology” and a “human ecology” that respects “our dignity as human beings” and “the necessary relationship of our life” to the “moral law, which is inscribed into our nature.” (Laudato Si’, pp. 154-155)

Francis has stated this often. Despite claims by gender ideologists, our gender is an undeniable biological reality inscribed into nature as part of God’s moral and biblical law. The human body, says Francis, like the human family, is “an anthropological fact, and consequently a social, cultural fact.” One should not attempt to “qualify it with ideological concepts which are compelling at only one moment in history, and then decline.”

Further, says Francis, children deserve a biological mother and father. They deserve to “grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity” and have the opportunity of “continuing to grow up and mature in a correct relationship represented by the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother and thus preparing for affective maturity.”

This very countercultural sentiment from Francis echoes what he has been saying since he was a cardinal in Argentina, when he declared the adoption of children by same-sex parents to be Satanic because it denies the child in advance a mother or father. He thus called same-sex “marriage” “a ‘move’ of the father of lies” that leaves “the lives of many children … discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development [as] given by a father and a mother and willed by God.”

Here, in this June 2019 document, Francis was accentuating the essential masculine and feminine roles of the child’s parents, which he has likewise talked about numerous times in previous statements on the vital differences and complementarity of the sexes and of mothers and fathers.

For modern secular progressives to argue against these truths, and to insist that “freedom” permits them the right to entertain these ideological abuses of gender-sexual reality, is something that Francis has often condemned, and does in this document as well: Western culture “has often waved ‘the flag of freedom,’” Francis notes, “but it has, in reality, brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. It is ever more evident that the decline of the culture of marriage is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills that disproportionately affect women, children, and the elderly. It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.”

This “confused ideology of freedom,” as Francis’s predecessor put it, leads to self-destruction. And Francis here is saying that it does so disproportionately among the poor, women, children, and the elderly.

None of this should come as a surprise to those who actually read Francis. He hates this stuff. If anything, the citations in this document are restrained. Francis unleashed, uncorked, and off-the-cuff has been very strident on this issue, using language that would make the “LGBTQ community” scream.

Francis’s secular liberal admirers don’t want to accept that he vehemently disagrees with them and Facebook that there are 71 different gender options, or with The New York Times and Huffington Post that one can flip one’s “gender identity” by the day. Poor old man—it must be that toxic Latin American machismo.

The Argentinian pope disagrees with them so deeply that it wouldn’t shock at all if Francis judges that they profess not Jesus Christ but the demonic worldliness of the devil. What? Francis would never say anything like that!

In his first homily as pope, offered to the College of Cardinals during Mass in the Sistine Chapel on March 14, 2013, Francis made this statement:

When we do not profess Jesus Christ, the saying of Léon Bloy comes to mind: “Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.” When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.

That’s another of those shocking politically incorrect Francis statements that his liberal admirers have dutifully ignored since literally the start of his papacy.

That brings me back to the statement by New Ways Ministry, tweeted by Fr. James Martin: “The Vatican’s new document on gender will be used to oppress and harm LGBT people. It perpetuates false stereotypes that encourage hatred, bigotry, and violence.” Martin himself adds: “Sadly, it will be used as a cudgel against transgender people, and an excuse to argue that they shouldn’t even exist.”

Never mind how liberals, inside and outside the Church, have used Pope Francis as a cudgel in their culture war.

Well, here’s an official statement from Pope Francis’s Vatican, for which Francis is sourced throughout. Will the likes of Fr. Martin stand with Francis or against him? Will they misrepresent him? And will they bear false witness against what he has been saying about these things since the start of his papacy?

Editor’s note: Pictured above, Pope Francis meets a family at the Congress of “Child Dignity in the Digital World” in Vatican City on October 6, 2017. (Photo credit: L’Osservatore Romano / CNA)


  • Paul Kengor

    Paul Kengor is Professor of Political Science at Grove City College, executive director of the Center for Vision and Values. He is the author, most recently, of The Devil and Karl Marx (TAN Books, 2020). He is also the editor of The American Spectator.

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