Update: Or depending on the year. An astute reader saw what I missed — that this is from August 2016. When I got this on e-mail, I missed that it came from exactly a year ago. My apologies, but … it’s still an ongoing topic.
Update, On the other hand … perhaps it’s timelier than we realize. “Transgender day camp welcomes preschoolers“?
Original post follows:
Depending on the week, the media treats the Catholic pontiff as either the voice of sweet reason or the top of a benighted patriarchy intent on taking the world back to the Middle Ages. Guess which narrative will be in play this week? Speaking to a private gathering of Polish bishops for World Youth Day, Pope Francis blasted transgender education in schools:
Speaking to a group of Polish bishops, Pope Francis delivered a harsh critique of teaching children they can choose their gender identity.
“Today, children are taught this at school: that everyone can choose their own sex,” Francis said last week, according to the Catholic Herald and other news organizations that read a Vatican transcript of the closed-door meeting. “God created man and woman; God created the world like this and we are doing the exact opposite.”
Teaching children that they can pick their gender, Francis said, is “terrible.”
Francis also warned that the effort had powerful backing, and that he had consulted with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on this “ideological colonization”:
The Pope also said he had discussed the subject with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who told his successor: “Your Holiness, we are living in an age of sin against God the Creator.”
Pope Francis said this sin was often given financial backing by “very influential countries”: a form of “ideological colonisation”, the Pope said, which is “terrible.”
The Pope said that one example – “I’ll say it clearly with its first and last name – is gender.”
Francis told the Polish bishops: “Today, children are taught this at school: that everyone can choose their own sex. And why do they teach this? Because the books come from those people and institutions who give money,” he said.
The Catholic Church has had a big issue in recent decades with “ideological colonization.” The topic arose in the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family, especially from the African bishops who deal with it most often as a condition on aid. In order to get access to funds from Western nations, Catholic aid organizations increasingly come under pressure to cooperate with the distribution of contraceptives and the promotion of abortion. Nearly three years ago, Bishop Ignatius Kaigama of Nigeria demanded an end of such paternalistic conditions on aid, proclaiming to the world that Nigeria and other African nations could make such decisions for themselves.
Deriding Western interference as paternalistic and worse, the prelate declared that African nations such as his had “grown up” long ago and could make their own decisions on issues regarding contraception and Western demands for “reproductive rights” — abortion. “The time has gone when we would follow blindly,” he said, and castigated international aid organizations and Western nations for using aid as a weapon to force their beliefs. “We don’t want condoms and contraceptives,” Kaigama told the briefing room, “we want food and health care.” There is more poverty than just of means, Kaigama emphasized.
Transgenderism is another value being pushed through the same “colonization” process — the use of wealth to force organizations into pushing their own agenda. This is both more pervasive and more resistible, though, because there is no crisis that necessarily accompanies the use of the money. Demanding contraceptive and abortion access as a condition of aid puts organizations in the tough position of having to potentially deny life-saving aid to people or putting their own souls at risk. (That is also the position in which religious organizations such as the Little Sisters of the Poor have found themselves with the HHS contraception mandate.) Schools in Western nations have a definite need for resources, but they do have more options than aid agencies in poverty-stricken regions in Africa.
The Washington Post report on Francis’ remarks notes that “some in the LGBT community looked to Francis as a source of hope when he said about gay priests, ‘Who am I to judge?‘,” but that came from a fundamental misunderstanding of Francis’ remark as well as the Catholic Church’s teachings. The pontiff’s “judge” remark was in response to a question about priests who have/had same-sex orientation but have remained faithful to their vow of celibacy, not in general. And Francis made clear in his encyclical Laudato Sí that he opposed the relativism that is at the heart of transgenderism and the gender-identity movement, emphasis mine:
Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “ecology of man”, based on the fact that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will”. It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it”.
In other words, this is nothing new. Pope Francis’ note about his consultation with the pope emeritus is intended to emphasize this continuity. Rest assured, however, that the media will treat it like a shiny toy this week. Next week, they’ll get back to hyping up the Vatican feud with “hard-line US Catholics” to paint him as the great modernizer all over again.