Catholic Church to UN: ‘Boys and Girls Are...Different in Their Biological Sex'

February 5, 2014 - 4:01 PM

Vatican and UN

A child removes Pope Francis's zuccheto at the Vaticon on Dec. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

(CNSNews.com) - In a set of pointed answers responding to written questions from the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of the Child—which includes members from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Malaysia, and Russia, and which told the church to remove "gender stereotyping" from Catholic school textbooks—the Vatican noted that the Catholic Church does not believe that girls cannot ride bicycles and boys cannot cook and clean, but that it does believe boys and girls are “different in their biological sex.”

The Vatican also pointedly rejected the committee's use of the malleable term "gender" rather than "sex"--noting that the latter, not the former, appeared in the actual text of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“[T]he Holy See does not take the position that girls cannot study or ride a bike because they are female or that boys cannot cook or clean because they are male,” the church told the UN committee. “On the other hand, the Holy See does not accept the ideology that masculinity and femininity are social constructs along with the notions of boy or girl or sister or brother or mother or father.”

The Vatican’s responses were part of the process leading to the committee’s report, released today, on the Vatican’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In this report, the committee recommended that the Catholic Church change its positions on abortion and marriage and alter the textbooks used in Catholic schools to ensure they do not engage in “gender stereotyping.”

“The Committee urges the Holy See to review its position on abortion which places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls and to amend Canon 1398 relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted,” said the committee.

“The committee also urges the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority to condemn all forms of harassment, discrimination or violence against children based on their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents and to support efforts at international level for the decriminalisation of homosexuality,” said the committee.

“The committee also urges the Holy See to take active measures to remove from Catholic schools textbooks all gender stereotyping which may limit the development of the talents and abilities of boys and girls and undermine their educational and life opportunities,” it said.

The Vatican sent the committee an initial report on its compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Oct. 22, 2012. On July 19, 2013, the committee responded with written inquiries to the Vatican.

Inquiry 5 from the committee to the Vatican said: “Please indicate the steps taken to address discrimination between children in Catholic schools and institutions, specifically with regard to gender, and to promote equality between girls and boys. In particular, please indicate the measures taken to remove from Catholic school textbooks all sex stereotyping which may limit the development of the talents and abilities of boys and girls and undermine their educational and life opportunities.”

On Dec. 2, 2013, the Vatican responded. In answering inquiry No. 5, the church first addressed the use of the term “gender.”

“In regard to the committee’s question on the topic of ‘gender,’ the Holy See has already given a response to this query, which was raised in the committee’s concluding observations, and answered in paragraph 36 of the Holy See’s Report.”

In paragraph 36 of its original report, the Vatican had noted that the term “gender” does not appear in the actual text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Then it unambiguously rejected any interpretation of the term that went beyond denoting binary human sexes: male and female.

“The Committee on the Rights of the Child uses the term ‘gender,’ which does not appear in the CRC, however, the term ‘sex’ is used in art. 2, CRC,” said the church. “Consequently, the Holy See will continue to use the term ‘sex.’

“In specific regard to the committee‘s use of the term ‘gender,’” said the church, “the following is noteworthy: (a) The Holy See understands gender ‘according to ordinary usage in the United Nations context, associates itself with the common meaning of that word, in languages where it exists. The term ‘gender’ is understood as grounded in biological sexual identity, male or female. The Holy See thus excludes dubious interpretations based on world views which assert that sexual identity can be adapted indefinitely to suit new and different purposes. It also dissociates itself from the biological determinist notion that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern.’”

“Moreover,” the church told the committee, “the Holy See rejects any innovative interpretations of the word ‘gender’ as related to or inclusive of ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity.’”

In its response to the committee’s inquiry about “gender” discrimination in Catholic schools and their textbooks, the church declared that girls are not superior to boys and boys are not superior to girls—but that they are, in fact, “different in their biological sex.”

“On the question concerning Catholic schools and institutions around the world and their textbooks, as previously mentioned, they operate according to their own status in canon law and comply with the just laws of the respective State where they are situated,” said the church.

“However, such initiatives are to be inspired by the principles taught by the Holy See on the equality between boys and girls set out in its report, in particular paragraph 23 (a), which deals with the topic of the inherent dignity of the child, both male and female; paragraphs 25-30, which regard the general aims and principles of Catholic education for girls and boys; and paragraph 37 (a)-(k), which address the education of girls,” said the church.

“The principles contained in these paragraphs do not suggest that the Holy See promotes the position, on the one hand, that girls are inferior to boys or that boys are superior to girls; or on the other hand, that boys are inferior to girls or that girls are superior to boys,” said the church. “Rather, the Holy See promotes complementarity between the two sexes. Boys and girls are equal in their inherent dignity, made in the image and likeness of God, but different in their biological sex.

“This does not mean that everything is biologically determined,” said the church, “for example, the Holy See does not take the position that girls cannot study or ride a bike because they are female or that boys cannot cook or clean because they are male. On the other hand, the Holy See does not accept the ideology that masculinity and femininity are social constructs along with the notions of boy or girl or sister or brother or mother or father.

“Rather,” the church told this UN committee, “the Holy See presents a balanced view in recognizing the equal human dignity of boys and girls and their call to mutual respect, reciprocity and complementarity as well as to collaboration and to communion, in all sectors of society.”

This committee, which suggested that Catholic Church change its positions on abortion and marriage, was chaired by Kirsten Sandberg of Norway, a professor of law at the University of Oslo. Among the vice chairpersons of the committee were Amal Salman Aldoseri of Bahrain, who, according to her curriculum vitae posted by the UN, is “in charge of strategic planning for young people living in Bahrain in all fields;” and Aseil al-Shehail, whose curriculum vitae says she is the “[f]irst female diplomat in Saudi Arabia,” and a “country representative on issues related to children’s rights, women’s rights, human rights, humanitarian affairs and agendas.”

Another member of the committee is Gehad Madi of Egypt. “In his capacity as [Egypt’s] Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister for Human Rights, Humanitarian and Social Affairs,” says his curriculum vitae, “Mr. Madi oversaw matters pertaining to the implementation of Egypt's international human rights obligations, including in the field of the rights of the child.”