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In recent years, debates about gender identity and gender theory have become more prominent and contentious in the United States. The 2019 Vatican instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education, titled “‘Male and Female He Created Them’: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education,” addresses these issues. Two professors of theology, Abigail Favale and Elizabeth Sweeny Block, were asked to respond to this document. They offer their thoughts on the Vatican instruction and engage in a dialogue with each other.
Abigail Favale’s Perspective
Abigail Favale, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, sees a synergy between the Catholic paradigm and the gender theory paradigm in their shared desires. Both paradigms desire body-soul unity, the revelation of the person through the body, rebirth, and belonging. However, Favale argues that the gender theory paradigm is built on false anthropologies that reject the idea of a givenness to the created order, especially to our sexed bodies.
According to the Catholic view of the body, being a man or a woman is a personal reality that includes the body but cannot be reduced to the body. Our sexed nature is the ground of our personhood and a sacramental sign of our ultimate purpose: to give and receive love. Favale also addresses the issue of disorders of sexual development (DSDs) and challenges the claim that the existence of DSDs undermines the sex binary. She argues that many DSDs are sex-specific and that the focus should be on supporting the individual’s unique needs.
Favale believes that the church needs to be clear and informed on these questions to counter the confusion that abounds. She also highlights the global scope of the issue and the need for the church to address the facticity of femaleness in the lives of most women. Favale points out that while the United States and Canada are outliers in their approach to gender identity, European countries like Sweden, France, and Finland are urging caution and paying greater attention to scientific evidence.
In conclusion, Favale emphasizes the church’s duty and opportunity to speak the truth about the human person, the goodness of the body, and the sacramental meaning of sexual difference. The church should welcome the full range of human personality while avoiding rigid stereotypes about gender.
Elizabeth Sweeny Block’s Perspective
Elizabeth Sweeny Block, an associate professor at St. Louis University, criticizes the Vatican document for its lack of genuine listening to the experiences of transgender and nonbinary individuals. She argues that the document focuses on theories and beliefs about gender, rather than the actual lived experiences of people. Block believes that the church should engage with the stories, struggles, and experiences of transgender and nonbinary individuals to truly understand their journeys.
Block also challenges the document’s claim that radical autonomy is to blame for the existence of transgender and nonbinary people. She argues that transgender individuals make decisions about their gender identity based on their conscience and their experience of following God’s will. Block suggests that the church should adopt a genuine posture of humility and openness to learning from the experiences of transgender and nonbinary individuals.
Block further criticizes the document for its rigid understanding of sex and gender, arguing that it overlooks the complexity and diversity of human beings. She suggests that the church should engage with science, anthropology, and sociology to gain a better understanding of the nuanced relationship between sex and gender. Block emphasizes that transgender and nonbinary individuals are not trying to negate difference but rather revealing the messiness and complexity of difference.
In conclusion, Block argues that the church should take seriously the realities and experiences of transgender and nonbinary individuals and engage in a genuine dialogue with them. She believes that the church should be open to learning and questioning its own anthropological claims about human nature.
Dialogue Between Abigail Favale and Elizabeth Sweeny Block
In their dialogue, Favale and Block discuss their differing perspectives on the Vatican document and the issues surrounding gender identity. Favale emphasizes the importance of cultural frameworks and the need to recognize the existence of a ground of truth beyond ourselves. She argues that the church should form consciences according to God’s self-revelation and engage with the ideas that shape our self-understanding.
Block, on the other hand, believes that the church should adopt a more humble and open posture in its engagement with transgender and nonbinary individuals. She suggests that the church should take seriously their experiences and learn from them. Block challenges the church to question its anthropological claims about human nature and engage with science and social sciences to gain a better understanding of gender.
Both Favale and Block agree on the importance of listening to the experiences of transgender and nonbinary individuals and engaging in genuine dialogue with them. They believe that the church should walk alongside these individuals and be willing to learn from their experiences while also affirming the beauty of the Catholic way of seeing.
The dialogue between Abigail Favale and Elizabeth Sweeny Block highlights the differing perspectives on the Vatican document and the issues surrounding gender identity. While Favale emphasizes the importance of recognizing a ground of truth beyond ourselves, Block argues for a more humble and open posture in engaging with transgender and nonbinary individuals. Both scholars agree on the importance of listening to the experiences of transgender and nonbinary individuals and engaging in genuine dialogue with them. The church is called to walk alongside these individuals and learn from their experiences while also affirming the beauty of the Catholic way of seeing.