Pope Francis's encyclical on the environment formally released on Thursday contains a passage that appears to condemn gender reassignment and ideas important to transgender and feminist activists.
In a section of the encyclical entitled Laudato Si dedicated to talking about man's relationship with "natural law," the pope argues that it is "necessary" to value "one's own body in its femininity or masculinity." He also quoted remarks by his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who argued that "man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will."
He also quoted an address he gave on April 15 about the "complementarity between man and woman" in which he criticized "so-called gender theory" for seeking "to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it." Gender theory is a term the Catholic Church uses to refer to ideas it rejects about the social construction of gender and arguments for women's and LGBT rights. The Vatican's concern about these ideas has led it to consistently oppose references to "gender" in international agreements.
These comments are not a new stance for the pope, who also repeated remarks about men and women's "complementarity" on Sunday in an apparent response to an LGBT pride march held in Rome. In remarks made public earlier this year, the pope implied that gender theory was a "new sin" against "God the Creator" comparable to nuclear weapons.
Though the pope has consistently reiterated long-standing Catholic teaching about homosexuality and gender, such remarks have often made news because LGBT rights supporters see them as in conflict with his well-publicized overtures towards LGBT people. These have reportedly included a private pastoral meeting with a trans man from Spain in January and an upcoming meeting that includes a married gay activist in Paraguay scheduled for July.
Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an "ecology of man," based on the fact that "man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will," It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God's gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one's own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek "to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it."