The church needs more dialogue

Gender dialogue

Critics and supporters of the Vatican’s latest document on gender and sexuality may find little common ground on the issue, but they can agree on this: The church needs to further a dialogue about transgender individuals.

“Male and Female He Created Them: Toward a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education,” issued June 10 by the Congregation for Education, in large part repeats church teaching found elsewhere.

It addresses issues of education in schools, the role of parents as primary educators and what the authors refer to as “gender ideology.”

Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, Calif., chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Catholic Education, issued a brief statement welcoming the document.

He said, “in a difficult and complex issue, the clarity of church teaching, rooted in the equal dignity of men and women as created by God, provides the light of truth and compassion that is most needed in our world today.”

The authors of the document point to areas of agreement in the gender debate, including the need to “respect every person in their particularity and difference, so that no one should suffer bullying, violence, insults or unjust discrimination based on their specific characteristics (such as special needs, race, religion, sexual tendencies, etc.)” (No. 16).

“Every school should therefore make sure it is an environment of trust, calmness and openness, particularly where there are cases that require time and careful discernment,” according to the document.

“It is essential that the right conditions are created to provide a patient and understanding ear, far removed from any unjust discrimination” (No. 56).

In terms of the dialogue surrounding the issue, the authors prescribe “following the path of listening, reasoning and proposing” (No. 52).

“I can certainly agree with a portion of the title which calls for dialogue, and the opening paragraphs which stress the importance of listening,” said Luisa Derouen, a Dominican sister who began serving the transgender community in 1999.

The rest of the document, she said, lacked grounding in lived experiences.

“I found it quite jarring…that after those initial paragraphs there was abundant evidence that those writing this document had certainly not engaged in open, reverent, listening dialogue with transgender people,” Sister Derouen said.

“I have accompanied them for 20 years and I do not recognize the people I know from the harsh and dangerous description of them in this document.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago also noted the invitation to engage in a dialogue about transgender issues.

“The document points out that dialogue must be free of ideologies, whatever their origins,” he said.

“We should also keep in mind the essential principle Pope Francis has often articulated—that realities are greater than ideas. This principle is especially important when dealing with pastoral situations, which always require us to be in touch with the experience of people’s everyday lives.”

The Rev. Bryan Massingale, a moral theologian at Fordham University, also stressed the importance of experience and called the document an “interim response” from the Vatican on questions of gender and gender identity. Continue reading

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