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Pope critiques 'gender ideology' in year-end address to Roman Curia

December 21, 2012

“The Church represents the memory of what it means to be human in the face of a civilization of forgetfulness,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his address to the Roman Curia on December 21.

In his year-end address the Pope issued a powerful critique of attempts to redefine marriage, and of the “gender ideology” through which, he warned, “the very notion of being--of what being human really means--is being called into question.”

The Pope’s discussion of family—which was almost universally reported in the secular media as an argument against same-sex marriage, although the Pontiff never specifically mentioned that issue—was part of a lengthy address in which Benedict XVI also summarized the major events of the year for his pontificate, and spoke at length about the Church’s interaction with other faiths and with society at large.

Each year, just before Christmas, the Pope meets with the members of the Roman Curia for an exchange of Christmas greetings, and the Pope speaks about the major challenges facing the Church. The annual address is generally regarded as one of the most important papal statements of the year. Pope Benedict began the December 21 address by recalling his trips to Mexico and Cuba: “unforgettable encounters with the power of faith, so deeply rooted in human hearts, and with the joie de vivre that issues from faith.” In Mexico, he said, his message was that the country’s problems, including violence and poverty, cannot be solved “without the inner purification of hearts that issues from the power of faith, from the encounter with Jesus Christ.” In Cuba, he spoke of the “proper balancing of the relationship between obligations and freedom,” again saying that a proper solution requires an encounter with Christ.

Among the other major events of the year, the Pope mentioned the Meeting of Families in Milan, the pastoral visit to Lebanon in which he released his apostolic exhortation on the Church in the Middle East, the Synod on the New Evangelization, and the opening of the Year of Faith.

Turning next to general themes of the pontificate, the Pontiff spoke first about the family. While families remain strong, he said, “there is no denying the crisis that threatens it to its foundations – especially in the Western world.” The first threat to family and marriage is the “refusal to make any commitment,” he observed.

However, the Pope continued, it is clear that “the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper.” Citing a study by the Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, he said that “gender ideology” undermines the fundamental understanding of what it means to be a human:

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.

God created male and female, the Pope observed. “Man calls his nature into question,” he said, when he questions that fundamental concept of sexuality. Moreover, the Pope continued, because the “gender ideology” seeks to make every individual completely autonomous, it destroys the understanding of the family as a community designed for the rearing of children. Again citing Rabbi Bernheim, the Holy Father said that in this radical new understanding of sexuality, children lose their own rights because “the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain.”

Turning from this critique of “gender ideology,” Pope Benedict next spoke about the forms of dialogue in which the Church is engaged: “dialogue with states, dialogue with society--which includes dialogue with cultures and with science--and finally dialogue with religions.” In all these interactions, the Pope said, the Church seeks to protect the fundamental dignity of the human person.

Regarding inter-religious dialogue, the Pope said that today this pursuit is “a necessary condition for peace in the world.” This dialogue is designed to find common ground and enhance mutual respect, rather than to settle ultimate theological questions, he said. Nevertheless, “the search for knowledge and understanding always has to involve drawing closer to the truth.”

The final topic of the address to the Roman Curia was the New Evangelization. Pope Benedict underlined the need for the Church to introduce the Gospel to the world, and find new ways to bring people to an encounter with Christ:

"Come and see!” This saying, addressed by Jesus to the two seeker-disciples, He also addresses to the seekers of today. At the end of the year, we pray to the Lord that the Church, despite all her shortcomings, may be increasingly recognizable as his dwelling-place.


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