Vatican Issues Manifesto Rejecting Gender Identity as Fluid


Jun 13, 2019


The Vatican outrightly rejected the notion that gender identity is an individual choice in an extensive document released on June 10. It declares that society is in the middle of a “crisis” that aims to “cancel out” and “annihilate the concept of nature [and] destabilize the family as an institution.” 

The 31-page document, titled “Male and Female He Created Them,” was created by The Congregation for Catholic Education as an instruction manifesto for those teaching young people “so as to help them address in a methodical way (and in the light of the universal vocation to love of the human person) the most debated questions around human sexuality.” Seemingly strategically and without warning, the document, even though dated February 2, was released four months later to coincide with Pride month which honors the LGBTQIA+ community, which is further timed to coincide with the Stonewall Riots of 1969, a pivotal moment in the gay rights movement. 

In other words, the Vatican is asking all Catholic schools, parents and the clergy to teach young people that “gender theory”– which sees gender identity as fluid, as opposed to a male-female binary – misleads people into thinking that gender is different from biological sex and eliminates “natural differences between men and women.” It calls gender theory a “gradual process of denaturalization,” “a move away from nature” and an “aspect of post-modern culture, often founded on nothing more than a confused concept of freedom in the realm of feelings and wants, or momentary desires provoked by emotional impulses and the will of the individual.” 

It is decisive in its definition of gender as a binary, and rejection of any identity outside of cisgender, calling any “oscillation between male and female … only a “provocative display against so-called ‘traditional frameworks.’”

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To the scientific mind, these statements might seem pointedly unbelievable. But the fact of the matter is the global Catholic population has been steadily on the rise over the past 115 years, having quadrupled from 266 million in 1900 to 1.28 billion in 2015, making this document the word of God for 17% of the world’s population. The highest increase in adherents of the faith comes from sub-saharan Africa, signifying an important shift in Christianity’s center of gravity from Europe to the Americas to the Global South, shaping it more than just a Western religion. All these numbers point to the very real implications this manifesto can have: on those who will cling to it as the ideological truth coming straight from some of the most influential leaders of their faith, and on those whose very existence will be denied as a dire consequence.

The anti-gender theory document is co-signed by Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, the head of the education department at The Vatican, and Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani, the secretary. Pope Francis did not sign it, however, he is quoted within the document as having said that gender theory “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family.”

In the past, Pope Francis has deviated on occasion from the traditional views of the Church when it came to homosexuality. In 2013, he famously said: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Three years later, he even said the church should apologize to gays and other marginalized groups. But when it comes to gender identity and acknowledging transgender and intersex people, that’s where the Pope draws the line. 

He compared gender theory to nuclear arms and annihilation, in the Italian book Pope Francis: This Economy Kills, amping up the drama to Heaven itself. In another instance, he opined that gender theory is part of a ‘world war against marriage,’ an example of ‘ideological colonization’ that’s been spreading in many parts of the world.

Even with a self-assuredness quintessential of the Church (and well, God), the document can’t help but make the Vatican look defensive and even fragile, not quite knowing what to do in a society that is readily accepting new and more nuanced definitions of gender, love and sex. The incredulity with which the authors of the document proclaim that ‘gender theory’ makes it seem as if human identity has “become the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time” and presents “differences between men and women … as merely the product of historical and cultural conditioning” is almost pitiable, for these are in fact precise truths immaculately articulated by them, but barely understood.

It conjures an image of the Church as desperately holding on to the past, trying to turn back the clocks to a time when life was miserable for anyone who didn’t conform to the male-female binary, or as the Church would call it – simpler. 

The flourishing of the Church in the negation of science is not new. But this document relies completely on scriptures and church documents to deny the lived experiences of millions of people who don’t fit into the Adam-Eve mold, without so much as even mentioning the scientific advances in the realm of human sexuality – let alone being influenced by them. Strip the ecclesiastical language away, and the document reads like a panicky attempt to uphold a hyper-conservative Catholic view losing its relevancy by the day. 

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Another ground on which the Church finds itself commenting on personal matters that shouldn’t fall within its gambit is how ‘gender theory’ poses a threat to monogamy. This is followed by an anxious warning that these days “relationships are not necessarily built to last, and are instead flexible, depending on the desires of the individuals” — as if that isn’t the way all relationships should exist.

The document says, this has “consequences for the sharing of the responsibilities and obligations inherent in maternity and paternity” because a child deserves to be raised by one mother and one father. Though that child may later go on to be sexually abused within the hallowed halls of the same Church that has infamously turned a blind eye to numerous similar cases of abuse for decades and gained quite a reputation for being hypocritical at its best, and predatory at its worst. A recent survey examining Americans’ view of the sex abuse scandals in the Church found that around eight-in-ten Americans (79%) say the reports of sexual abuse and misconduct by Catholic priests and bishops reflect ongoing problems, while far fewer (12%) think it is a problem that happened in the past.

This document will undoubtedly alienate a lot of people from the Church at a time where LGBTQIA+ communities are being increasingly acknowledged and celebrated. New Ways Ministry, a U.S. advocacy group for LGBT Catholics, described the document as a “harmful tool” which will “confuse those who sincerely struggle with questions of gender identity and sexual orientation” and described the Vatican as being in the “dark ages” on this issue. Reverend James Martin, a respected Jesuit and writer, tweeted, saying the document “sadly … will be used as a cudgel against transgender people, and an excuse to argue that they shouldn’t even exist.”

With society moving towards more crucial conversations like transgender rights and safety in using bathrooms, in women’s shelters and prisons, and in equal opportunity of housing, education and employment, among others, the Church seems lightyears behind from that dialogue. Which is a good distance to keep if they’re not going to help make the world a more inclusive, equal place. 


Written By Pallavi Prasad

Pallavi Prasad is The Swaddle’s Features Editor. When she isn’t fighting for gender justice and being righteous, you can find her dabbling in street and sports photography, reading philosophy, drowning in green tea, and procrastinating on doing the dishes.


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