Apostolic nuncios attended a crash course last year on gender from an expert in the field, who stressed the need for the Church to develop a unified strategy, based on the faith’s basic principles, in fighting gender ideology.
First, “we Christians, and certainly our bishops and nuncios, need to be convinced about our principles, the principles of our faith,” Fr. Robert Gahl told CNA May 16. “We also need to have a thought-through understanding of those principles, also regarding the human body.”
He stressed the importance of remembering that “humanity has been saved fully, that we are redeemed also in our sexuality.”
This implies a daily struggle and fight with original sin, he said, explaining that “the redemption of our own embodiment and therefore of our own sexuality and complementarity” is a task each person must carry out daily.
Secondly, he said, “the Church needs to act together, so that it be in concert, because we’re more powerful when we act together.”
Acting together doesn’t mean that everyone has to do the same thing, but rather that by seeking guidance from the Church on how to handle modern issues such as gender, individuals will be able “to act in a way that will be more effective in the public square.”
Fr. Gahl emphasized that the present time “is a crucial moment for the bishops to help to intervene and to help coordinate so the market can produce sound alternatives that also agree with our conscience and our religious belief.”
Both individuals and institutions “need to have instruction and guidance” from bishops, he said, noting that “many people are waiting for that and at times, unfortunately, it’s missing, because the bishops aren’t sure what to do because things are changing too rapidly.”
Fr. Gahl, a priest of Opus Dei, is an associate professor of ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross who has authored numerous publications on sexual ethics and moral action, among other topics.
He was chosen to lead a course for some 140 apostolic nuncios held during a Sept. 15-17, 2016, jubilee weekend dedicated to them, during which they met with the Pope and had several rounds of catechesis.
One of the courses the nuncios attended was that on gender offered by Fr. Gahl, who spoke about the rising threat gender ideology poses throughout the world, its political and ecclesial implications, and the strategy the Church must develop to effectively oppose what is often a very savvy communications strategy from the other side.
“This is really fascinating … the challenge the nuncios have,” Fr. Gahl said, explaining that he tried to give them space in the course to reflect critically on their work, in which they both coordinate among bishops and serve as diplomats.
“Gender ideology is threatening the freedom of religious expression, religious belief, and the freedom of the Church as an institution in many places, and in the places where it’s not being threatened, it probably will be threatened very shortly,” the priest explained.
Therefore, the nuncios have the challenge “of observing, addressing and helping to guide and instruct the bishops in each country so the Church can have a concerted strategy” in defending the Church as an institution and all believing Christians against this “wave of manipulation of human dignity.”
However, Fr. Gahl said he disagrees with those who claim the push for gender ideology comes from “some malicious political strategy or that it’s motivated by some evil intent, or people who claim that there is some kind of material gain from it.”
Instead, he voiced his belief that most of the pushing is being done by people with “a good intention” who are truly convinced it is for the betterment of humanity. “I see it as being rooted in a view of the human being … that comes out of post-modern philosophy,” he said.
This notion, the priest said, is what Benedict XVI described as “a nihilistic understanding of freedom, such that we are each our own creator.” In this view, God is replaced and we can each create ourselves in the image of whatever we would like to be, rather than receiving our nature from another as a given.
“What’s really horrible about this is it means we have no intrinsic dignity. No one has intrinsic dignity, no one should be respected for who they are, but they should be respected for who they think they are,” Fr. Gahl said.
The priest said it was providential that he gave his talk during the Jubilee of Mercy, because he was able to contextualize it within Pope Francis’ emphases on tenderness and compassion.
“My entire conference was infused by this effort to say we should be understanding toward people, we should be compassionate to them … especially people who are suffering from some form of gender dysphoria,” he said.
Rather than being condescending, the priest said we ought to try to understand and appreciate the view of the other, showing compassion in order to “help them in some way to achieve a full flourishing and health according to who they are.”
Fr. Gahl said his course provided a unique space for the nuncios to ask questions and exchange ideas.
Because of their position, nuncios typically come to the Vatican on an individual basis and “basically never have the opportunity to all get together and discuss important issues,” he said.
While his course was in many ways an exceptional opportunity for nuncios because of the jubilee, Fr. Gahl said he believes it would be useful to have nuncios come together more often to discuss timely problems the Church is facing today.
Even if they come in smaller groups divided by region or language, “perhaps there’s some way … in which that could be done in the future,” he suggested.
During discussion after the course had ended, nuncios brought up various concerns, Fr. Gahl said, noting that at least one comment was made on the need to convey “an awareness and a savvy” on the issue to seminarians.
It must be now taken into consideration that “men going into seminary today are already influenced by this [gender ideology] in the culture, so they need to receive a formation that is going to help them be mature in their own masculinity in order to help them become spiritual fathers.”
Fr. Gahl said he was impressed by the resonance among the nuncios in recognizing the importance of the gender issue, and noted that he often emphasized the need to utilize new media better, given its influence.
Pope Francis “is very concerned about what he calls ‘ideological colonization,’” the priest said. “He’s especially concerned about the educational process of how there are schools that are indoctrinating children with propaganda that is ideological that is contrary to even a scientific or Christian understanding of the human person.”
In Francis’ view, “this as an intrusion or a violation of the rights of the parents, who are the principle educators,” Fr. Gahl said, noting that this is evidenced in many of the Pope’s writings.
“He sees gender promoted as an ideology,” the priest said, clarifying that when he refers to ideology, “not everything gender is ideology. But it is an ideology when it puts people in categories that conflict with their biology and boxes people in and forces people at times to become something that they’re not.”
“It imposes upon other people styles of life that are contrary with reality. Contrary with the understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said, adding that “the Pope is very concerned about this,” and is emphasizing the need for complementarity.
By Elise Harris