Benedict XVI on the destructive evil of “gender” confusion

The Holy Father today provided insight into how evil and destructive the homosexual agenda is.

Each year shortly before Christmas the Roman Pontiff exchanges greetings with and addresses the members of Roman Curia. He gives them what some call a “State of the Church” address. He reviews key events and then focuses on a few themes. Pope Benedict XVI’s address to the Roman Curia in 2005 was one of the most important acts of his pontificate so far.

This morning, His Holiness received the Curia and gave his address.

Among the few themes the Holy Father addressed was that of the crisis of the family and its effect on society, caused by the unwillingness to make a commitment and by unwillingness to suffer.  But he goes beyond the symptoms to diagnose the cause of the crisis.

Let’s look at that section with my emphases and comments:

First of all there is the question of the human capacity to make a commitment or to avoid commitment. Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to man’s nature? Does it not contradict his freedom and the scope of his self-realization? Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any time? Is lifelong commitment antithetical to freedom? Is commitment also worth suffering for? Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering – means that man remains closed in on himself and keeps his ‘I’ ultimately for himself, without really rising above it. Yet only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity. When such commitment is repudiated, the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child – essential elements of the experience of being human are lost”. [Aside: He uses the image of a closed circle in his liturgical writings to describe the damage done to our participation in the sacred mysteries by versus populum worship.]
“The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: ‘one is not born a woman, one becomes so’ (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term ‘gender’ as a new philosophy of sexuality.  [YES! Gender is a term from linguistics.  The proper word is ‘sex’, not ‘gender’.] According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being.  They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. [Is the denial, therefore, a reflection of our acceptance of the lie of the serpent? “You shall be as gods.”] This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. [I am also reminded of the Tower of Babel, which resulted in fractured societies.] Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. [Living in a meat-machine which we (and therefore others) can own and manipulate for our own ends.] The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. [The Word became not “generic human”, but a man.] Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. [and to dispose of…] When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.

In his first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Father made use of the work of a rabbi.  Here, he does the same.

The reduction of sex to gender, the imposition of one’s will on nature in this way, also effectively strips Christ out of Christianity.  If gender replaces sex then Christ isn’t Christ, God and man.  But Christ cannot be God and generic human, for no such critter exists.  Human beings are male or female, not generic humans.  The implication of this “gender” choice view is that those who truly promote it probably can’t truly be Christians, because they don’t truly embrace Christ for who HE is.

This section of the Holy Father’s address deserves rereading and future review.

It isn’t enough simply to state the Church’s teaching about, say, homosexual acts and about the impossibility of same-sex “marriage”.  We have learn also to explain patiently the fundamental truth of human sexuality and human dignity.

In his address the Pope also said:

“In her dialogue with the state and with society, the Church does not, of course, have ready answers for individual questions.  [She does have an answer for “same-sex marriage”: NO! But then how do deal with the social controversy is another matter.] Along with other forces in society, she will wrestle for the answers that best correspond to the truth of the human condition. The values that she recognizes as fundamental and non-negotiable for the human condition she must propose with all clarity. She must do all she can to convince, and this can then stimulate political action.”

First, if we do not know the content of the Faith, we cannot be who we are called to be as Catholic in the world.  The content of the Faith is two fold.  The content of the Faith is certainly that which we can learn and recite.  But on a deeper level the content of the Faith is divine Person with whom we have a relationship.  As Joseph Card. Ratzinger once remarked about Karl Rahner: “What Father Rahner forgets is that you cannot pray to an Existenz-Modus.”  There is a Faith in which we believe and a Faith by which we believe.  The one is learned and in our control.  The other is pure gift, grace, the gift of God of something of Himself to us.  We have to have both senses of Faith in order to be who we are called by our vocations to be.  If we don’t have them both, then we cannot play our proper part in shaping the world around us as Catholic disciples of Christ.  If we don’t know who we are, we can’t live who we should be.  Furthermore, we will be all the more easily shoved from the public square by the servants of the Dictatorship of Relativism.  Consider, for example, the attacks on freedom of religion by the Obama Administration.  Pres. Obama wants to shift the meaning of the 1st amendment away from freedom of religion to freedom of worship.

Second, what Pope Benedict is talking about with “political action”, opens up the question of the laity.   Your bishops and priests can shape and form you lay people.  We can teach you, and give you the sacraments, and support you in prayer.  But the realm of the political is primarily that of the laity.  Clerics can move onto the political playing field only in a certain way.

Finally, is what Pope Benedict said not an implicit call for political activism on the part of Catholics?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. TNCath says:

    It’s good to see the Holy Father’s making such direct comments about the futility of the homosexual agenda.

  2. chantgirl says:

    So, Man goes from rebellion against God to rebellion against himself, his very nature?

  3. aragonjohn7 says:

    the pope is a gentleman and a scholar.


  4. Legisperitus says:

    Glad to see the Holy Father wading into the apparently long-lost battle over the grammatical term “gender” replacing the anthropological term “sex.”

    William Safire insisted thirty years ago (1982): “If you have friend of the female sex, you are a red-blooded American boy; if you have a friend of the feminine gender, you have an unnatural attachment to a word.”

    Two years later Safire sadly gave up the struggle, writing: “Such defenses based on logic are now useless. Grammarians watching the theft of gender from their special lingo feel like mathematicians watching parameters being ripped off to mean “limits.” Our baby has been kidnapped by the Philistines, and nobody even remembers the kid’s sex.”

    But what they’re doing with “gender” now is something else entirely: constructing a whole alternate reality in which one’s actual sex has little if any importance to one’s self-defining choices. The Holy Father is understanding this quite acutely.

    It’s all just another facet of the Satanic rejection of incarnation, rejection of the human body as a good given to us by God, as a temple of the Holy Ghost, as the thing of which the human soul is the form.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  5. julie f says:

    Ah, but Father! :) I think Catholics put themselves in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater by dismissing “gender” altogether — as opposed to what is currently circulating as gender theory.

    You are correct in saying that “gender” comes from linguistics, and His Holiness sums up gender theory so accurately it brings a tear to my eye; he is so good. But insisting that we talk only about “sex” and not “gender” overlooks the legitimate questions the gender theorists are trying to answer, and risks collapsing the standards of (sinful, weak, fallen) human society into the Divine Will.

    Gender is concerned with the concepts of “masculinity” and “femininity” which the gender theorists (rather rightly, I think) note are not, across time and space, uniformly derived from physical sex, i.e. genitalia. Gender theorists therefore argue that (1) conventional ideas about “masculine” and “feminine” are merely social constructs which have been and can be manipulated for various causes, and therefore (2) ideally the conventional dichotomy of “masculine” and “feminine” should be destroyed in favor of each individual’s own particular self-made gender identity. Obviously this must be rejected, as the Holy Father has so clearly explained. But I think the questions at the heart of it are legitimate and deserve to be considered from a Catholic perspective (indeed the situation we are in demands that we do so, and thoroughly, matching the gender theorists at every turn: not only in the realm of theory, but in literature, sociology, history, etc).

    What is “masculinity”, and what is “femininity”? Where do they come from; what are their boundaries? Catholics argue about this kind of thing in comboxes and elsewhere all the time, and too often we arrive at easy answers derived from whatever point in history we think is untainted. Just to demonstrate what I mean: if a woman wears pants, or works from 9-5, is she being “unfeminine”? If a man becomes a poet, or a vegetarian, is he “unmasculine”? If we believe that women being feminine and men being masculine is God’s will, at what point do such “unfeminine” and “unmasculine” activities become sinful? These issues require real intellectual work, I think, work conducted from various disciplinary angles and done in the light of the Truth, keeping close to the Sacred Heart. These are the problems that lay at the heart of so many problems in our society, and we need to be able to give genuine answers to help heal the situation. They are questions that strike not only at the essential identity of the human person, but at the meaning and authority of human society. (Calling something “socially constructed” is a way of writing it off for the postmoderns, but we know that God created us to be social, so what then.)

    Apologies for the long comment!

  6. scarda says:

    It is monumentally ironic that people who insist on using ‘gender’ instead of ‘sex’ when classifying humans are the same people who insist that the most detailed specifics of copulation be discussed always and everywhere. The word ‘sex’ is too vulgar, but the intimate details are not.

  7. PA mom says:

    If people had told me as a younger person that several years later other people would be encouraged to “choose” their gender, I would have thought they were crazy.
    I have also come to the understanding that the ugly picture on my hymnal not only obliterates Beauty, it’s smashed blobyness renders gender less the figure of Jesus.

  8. Charles E Flynn says:

    A well-deserved gold star.

    Do any of you know where Chief Rabbi Bernheim’s study appears? I have seen references to a 25-page open letter to the French government or president that was published in October, but have not found the text online.

  9. Theodore says:

    In grad school, Thomas Dougherty PhD, and one of the leading anatomists in the US taught that “Anatomy is Destiny”.

  10. Johnno says:

    Julie –

    The issue at hand is not really the roles, but the denial of objective reality.

    A girl who is tomboyish, loves sports and roughousing, does not necessarily mean she denies the objective fact that she is a girl.

    A goofball man who dresses up in drag to momentarily entertain his drinking friends for some amusement, is not to be confused with the man who dresses in drag wishing and believing he would actually be a woman.

    Gender social roles that are in existence are much like disciplines, if you will. Fasting is a discipline. But one has no moral obligation to fast. But fasting does reinforce the attitudes about the value of food, the value of health, and the religious aspect of fasting for penence and disciplining our body to overcome other bodily wants that tempt us to do other unsavory things which we do have a moral obligation to avoid.

    So too, throughout history, gender roles are disciplines to teach people the value of their sex, the realities of their sex, and the religious aspect of their sex as a specific creation of God to understand God, the Creator, the artist who creates things with intent and meaning that we are to draw valuable lessons from and accept the purpose we were put here on Earth to perform, and for which our sex is of some necessity for that particular task.

    So for example, a girl may be disciplined to act as a lady and to wear dresses to reinforce the facts that she is a girl, is different from a boy, and has certain values that boys do not possess, and must therefore respect the values that boys do possess. But there is no moral obligation to wear a dress. The moral obligation is to accept reality, and the things you are given, which such gender disciplines help reinforce.

    Of course the best forms of such disciplines are always debatable. But without such disciplines, the social order collapses as we are seeing. Much the same as relaxing disciplines of religious obligations make one less religious, or relaxing the discipline of behavior and form during the Mass undermines the value of the Mass. So too does disregard for some discipline in gender roles help perpetuate a society in which gender is neglected and of no value, not worth reinforcing, and thus it is no wonder people are increasingly open to the false idea that we can simply disregard such realities for psychological comfort. After all they ask, “what’s the harm?”

    But as anyone can tell you, simply telling yourself you can fly despite that you do not bear the physical abilities of birds, won’t help you when you dive off that cliff. So too, the ‘transgendered’ and others will never be comfortable with their decisions, because despite how much they deny reality, reality is always coming around to annoy them. When the man who is pretending he is a woman is reminded he can’t bear children and will never look as lovely as a woman, and even were he to get ridiculous surgery done, there will always be subtle reminders, perhaps known only to himself as he obsessively studies his body, that there are still things that are manly about him. And this will be a source of unending misery for him, and thus this is what drives the suicidal tendencies of such poor people and even to the point that they will deflect blame for their misery onto society instead and encourage use to share in their delusion which not only continues to hamr them, but will harm the other players in this charade.

    For there is a further danger of rejecting reality, for we then reject creation as it is intended to be. And thus in rejecting or distorting creation, we reject and distort the image of the true Creator God. Thus such people are more inclined to reject God believing Him to be something He is not, or to reject the true God out of a misguided notion that the true God is something else, something they want God to be rather than what God actually is. So upon death, if they are confronted with the true revelation of God, in their misguided notions, they may be inclined to seek out Hell instead thinking it is there that they will find what they’re looking for. Thus this is why it is a dangerous thing for the soul. And it is not only applicable to people who suffer these things, but it is more so dangerous for those who are quite ‘normal,’ yet defiantly reject such disciplines and the teachings of the Church. While we believe God’s grace can save the misguided who suffer from real psychological illnesses that can impair their decision making, there is no such excuse for those in the rest of society who allow for and encourage such endangerment of others souls and to impair their own acceptance of reality of their own accord, alternatively disciplining themselves to obey emotion rather than reason. And that will not be helpful to them in their own struggles.

  11. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    It’s good to see the Holy Father take on, so explicitly, the intentional overuse of the word gender, and the implications of the use.

    Sadly, as I have said for several years, bluntly, in classrooms, there are two groups of people who insist on the word “gender”: those who want “gender” to be a spectrum of choices, and those who think the word “sex” will make teenage boys giggle. “Sex” sounds as if it encourages us to think only with our hormones, at least in the ears of the second group. “Sex” is something you “have” or you “do”, not someone you ARE. Is it reasonable to ask, therefore, if the same people who want to recast us as human DOINGS, instead of human BEINGS also see us in purely functional terms, and thus promote their “everyone’s doing it anyway” nonsense?

  12. Deo Gratias….Long live our Holy Father

  13. Gretchen says:

    I love Pope Benedict XVI. I love him so very much. He is our Teacher in the Faith.

  14. Allan S. says:

    Why was it necessary to use a Rabbi to teach such an obvious point that should be on the lips of every Catholic? Are we under siege to such an extent that the only way to preach the truth about anything is to seek shelter behind religious figures off limits to the New York Times? [You are missing part of the context. Consider what is going on in France.]

    Why do we constantly act as if we are on the ropes, when we know that even the gates of hell will not prevail against us, and that The Lord himself is with us until the end of time? Must we always have an apology on our lips? Does 2 plus 2 quote 10 to say it is 4?

    Oh for the love and God and all that is holy, somebody hand out a pair with the roman collars and mitres! (Present company exempt, obviously)

  15. Brad says:

    Anecdotally is it of value that I, born in the 70s, am never referred to as man either to my face or tangentially, but only as a “person”? It would be really nice to hear someone somewhere refer to me as a man.

    Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him.

    I have noticed an alarming trend even among people of faith to refer to fetuses as “it”. This grammatical putrification is unbearable to me. Pick a sex, just go out on a limb, when referring to someone invisible. No one cares if you’re ultimately incorrect. He can accommodate she as well: the whole Adam’s rib thing, after all. Or, if you feel guilty about whipping out a corn-fed “he”, just always say she. Just do one or the other but not the *)&^%%#$#$& “it” when referring to a real human.

    The grammatical and theoretical rankness of this habit is revealed by imagining we are discussing an adult of indeterminate sex: we would never insult the basic — basic — humanity of said adult by referring to her as it.

    And why are we so (&&*^&^% nervous about choosing one or the other that we have to do the whole “he/she” thing? Just let it go and let it ride.

    And don’t even get me started on choosing to use “they” when referring to a known individual of known sex. Listen to talk radio: a man nowadays will refer to his own mother as “they”. Herd of swine, anyone?

  16. joan ellen says:

    I just love our Holy Father.

    I have been wondering how come we don’t address men as Mr. so and so anymore or a woman as Mrs. so and so anymore.

    To that end I have recently gone back to addressing strangers as Mr. or Mrs. in my mail…email and regular. It does ‘feel’ archaic, yet it makes a distinction between the sexes.

    Women, say over 18, who are not married do not like to be referred to as Miss. Ms. is o.k. with them. In my limited circle.

  17. CatherineTherese says:


    This is so incisive:

    The issue at hand is not really the roles, but the denial of objective reality.
    [and] A girl who is tomboyish, loves sports and roughousing, does not necessarily mean she denies the objective fact that she is a girl… The moral obligation is to accept reality, and the things you are given, which such gender disciplines help reinforce
    […] without such disciplines, the social order collapses as we are seeing. Much the same as relaxing disciplines of religious obligations make one less religious, or relaxing the discipline of behavior and form during the Mass undermines the value of the Mass. So too does disregard for some discipline in gender roles help perpetuate a society in which gender is neglected and of no value, not worth reinforcing, and thus it is no wonder people are increasingly open to the false idea that we can simply disregard such realities for psychological comfort.

    Thank you. You have articulated the argument most coherently and helpfully, equipping me with some excellent fodder. While it all seems so obvious to us, I agree with Julie that we ought to prepare ourselves. Of course when push comes to shove, one must not descend into and get stuck in the obfuscation with the likes of “theorists” — but, on the other hand, there are people, especially young people, who NEED to hear the reasonable and rational counter-arguments to the culture. They are steeped in the culture and its language and frameworks… so our ability to articulate the truth using familiar FORMS of arguments is a vital avenue of evangelization and truth-telling.

  18. LisaP. says:


    Great on so many fronts. It is sincerely my hope that many who are deceived exactly as you describe reject God because they think he is pretty much 180 from what he truly is and when they see clearly their choice will be clear. But those of us who are graced with being able to see more clearly right now and who choose not to see. . . .

  19. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Brad, my good man, interesting points! In other Germanic languages, grammatical gender is still involved – for example the bringer of presents at Christmas among many German speakers is ‘das Christkind’ or ‘das Christkindchen’: even so clearly male a Child as He is grammatically an ‘it’ whether as simple noun or diminutive (both ‘its’). I wonder if this is still involved in some English dialects – with consequent ‘mainstream’ effects? – or, if not, how recently that has changed. A century or so ago, Edith Nesbit was, I think, clearly playing with older, grammatical-gender-related conventions, and how odd they could sound, when she would refer to a child as “it” in her wonderful children’s (fantasy) novels.

    Latin-grammatically speaking, all ‘foeti’ are masculine, even the girls. Calling a happily mysterious unborn baby an ‘it’ in English might have some dangers of (unintentionally) suggesting some lesser degree of ‘humanity’, but need not if someone is clearly just enjoying caution in ignorance. I wonder if the common construction, “Is it a boy or a girl?” might be involved here. (To which one might answer, “Happily, no ‘echo’ has betrayed which it is!”)

    My suggestion would be to try to clearly stress full humanity in any ‘it-ing’ one did.

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