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By Leela Ramdeen, Consultant, Catholic Commission for Social Justice & Attorney-at-Law, October 7, 2023

Good afternoon, my friends. I wish to thank The Trinidad and Tobago Council of Evangelical Churches for its invitation to the Catholic Church to participate in this important Conference.

I bring greetings from Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon, Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Port of Spain. He has asked me to represent him as he, and Bishops from around the World are currently meeting with Pope Francis at the first Session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which is taking place this month – from 4-29 October. The theme is: The Synod of Synodality. The second session will take place in October 2024.

I wish to address the theme of our Conference from a Catholic perspective. The Church’s mission is to proclaim the Good News of salvation, “in season and out of season” [2 Timothy 4:2].

In 1995, St. Pope John Paul II rightly said (October 8, 1995, USA):

“The value of democracy stands or falls with the truths and values which it embodies and promotes. But these values themselves must have an objective content. Otherwise, they correspond only to the power of the majority or the wishes of the most vocal.”

Catholics believe that moral truth is objective and that it is valid at all times and everywhere. We believe that God is the source of all moral truth and that He imprinted a moral order in our hearts and minds.

Sadly, we live in a world in which moral relativism threatens to overwhelm us, and a number of external agencies are seeking to promote the gender ideology agenda in Trinidad and Tobago and elsewhere. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had warned us about the hazards of a “dictatorship of relativism”. Pope Francis describes this as the “spiritual poverty of our time…which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.”

In the face of this onslaught, if we are to build healthy children, healthy relationships, and healthy families for a strong nation, we must do as Archbishop Jason has said and speak the truth, while showing mercy, compassion, and love.

He has rightly reminded us that “In Genesis 1:27 we read that God created mankind, male and female, in his own image. The divorce of these two has created an ideology—a system of ideas that is not necessarily rooted in reality. The reality is people have different sexual desires. But the reality is people were created male or female.” They are created to complement one another.

He says: “Chromosomes don’t change even if one decides to “add or subtract” body parts. So, the notion of multiple genders is a more modern notion that comes from a philosophy that is not in keeping with our understanding on anthropology. You are not defined by your desire which is what gender ideology is saying….”

The core identity of the Christian has to be as a child of God. The Archbishop warns, when one makes their desire their primary identity, they are replacing what is substantial—Christ…Gender ideology, while describing a person’s sexual desire engages a fundamental lie about their biology. When we lie about our biology, we create a world where truth has no meaning.”

He underscored while the Church continues to work towards the whole protection of the LGBT community, there exist fundamental differences in the philosophy and anthropology undergirding the pride movement and the Catholic Church.

He said “The human body either had XY (male) or XX (female) chromosomes except for the intersexed. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, intersex people are those born with any variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones or genitals that do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies.”

The Catholic Church disagrees with any definition of gender which presents ‘gender’ as socially constructed and determined by cultural and social influences.  Today there are about 107 Gender identities listed on Wikipedia. For those pushing this agenda, Gender identity is what someone feels is their gender. The UK Telegraph reported on 19 June 2023 that there is a growing trend of pupils insisting on being addressed as animals e.g., horses, cats, or dinosaurs.  The Telegraph reported that students were chastised by teachers for questioning the self-proclaimed identity of their peers at Rye College in East Sussex. The slogan, if it feels good, just do it, has led to chaos.

And, you may have read about the scandal at the Tavistock Gender Clinic in London – the largest and oldest gender clinic in the UK, dating back to 1966. It is being forced to close after a damning report on the dangers related to the treatment there. (See useful link)

Catholic husband and father Ryan Anderson, the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center states, “Activists claim that gender identity is destiny, while biological sex is the social construct.”  The American Psychological Association, for example, defines “gender identity” as “a person’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else…A transgender future is not the “right side of history,” yet activists have convinced the most powerful sectors of our society to acquiesce to their demands. While the claims they make are manifestly false, it will take real work to prevent the spread of these harmful ideas…At the core of the ideology is the radical claim that feelings determine reality. From this idea come extreme demands for society to play along with subjective reality claims.”

The Catholic Church supports the definition of gender offered by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Catholic Church rejects any attempt to redefine ‘gender’ which, as the Holy See stated at a UN meeting in March 2011, “asserts that sexual identity can somehow be adapted indefinitely to suit new and different purposes, not recognized in international law.” The Holy See rightly stressed that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court contains the only binding definition of gender. This Statute states that “the term ‘gender’ refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society. The term ‘gender’ does not indicate any meaning different from the aforementioned definition.”

The Holy See warns that “this agenda to redefine ‘gender’ calls into question the very foundation of the human rights system.”

God imprinted a moral order in the hearts and minds of humankind, and it is this order that should influence how we live our lives. We are mindful of the words of St Pope John Paul II who stated that: “The natural law is itself the eternal law, implanted in beings endowed with reason, and inclining them towards their right action and end…”

Linked to the issue of moral relativism are issues relating to gender ideology and comprehensive sexuality education.   We are introducing into our Catholic schools in Trinidad and Tobago Alive to the World, which is a comprehensive program for character and personality development for children and adolescents. It is a program of values education that supports relationships, sexual, and health education in a child-centered way.

This program can help our children form their consciences, avoid high-risk behavior, and help them make wise choices.

It is important that we introduce materials in our schools that will counteract the gender agenda. Some of you would have seen the video during Pride month this year – in New York City: “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re coming for your children.” (See this link)

On 25 June this year, during Mass, Archbishop Jason told the Faithful: “As the debate rages online and off about attempts to promote gender ideology, Catholics must not be afraid of speaking the truth even if it means being despised or ‘canceled’ on social media.”   He said: “The gospel and the pervading Western culture are heading in two very different directions and until we can accept that as the fact and foundation of everything that we are living…we are going to be in denial, we are going to be thinking we’re living in a different time…Persons standing up for biblical values are labeled as haters and promoting hate speech”.

Discussing the messages in the Gospel of Matthew 10:26–33, he called on Catholics to be confident in what they believed. He said Jesus speaks on the possibility of martyrdom as more important than preserving life but also of God’s providential love. “Mt 10:26-33 continues Jesus’ encouragement, as He sends the Twelve out with His authority. He commands the apostles to proclaim far and wide what He whispers to them now. Persecution will come to them, but they must not be afraid. Their enemies can only kill their bodies – not their souls.”

You may have heard Pope Francis’ oft-quoted statement made in an interview held during his flight back from his week-long trip to Brazil in March 2013:

He said:” If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” he added. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society.”  Pope Francis reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are a sin.

He has often used the term “ideological colonization”. In a meeting with Families in Manila (January 16, 2015) he said: “Let us be on guard against colonization by new ideologies. There are forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family.”

In an interview with journalist Elisabetta Piqué for the Argentine daily newspaper La Nación in 2013, he said that gender ideology is “one of the most dangerous ideological colonisations.  It goes beyond the sexual sphere.”   He explained the reasoning behind his strong statement:

“Why is it dangerous? Because it blurs differences and the value of men and women. Humanity grows through the tension of differences. The question of gender is diluting the differences and making the world the same, all dull, all alike, and that is contrary to the human vocation.”

He noted that he always distinguishes “between what pastoral care is for people who have a different sexual orientation and what gender ideology is. They are two different things,” he added.

In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love (19 March 2016, 56) which addresses the pastoral care of families, Pope Francis stated that the “gender theory” “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between males and females. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time”.

On July 27, 2016, he told the bishops of Poland:

“Today, at school, children are taught that everyone can choose their sex. And why do we teach this? Because the books are those of the people and institutions that give you the money. These are ideological colonisations, also supported by very influential countries. And that is terrible!”

He said gender transitioning is a sin. While the ideologies of gender claim to respond, as Pope Francis has indicated, “to what are at times understandable aspirations”, they also seek “to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised” (Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love, 56) and thus preclude dialogue”.

In relation to Same-Sex unions, the Catholic Church believes that “marriage is a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman, joined as husband and wife in an intimate partnership of life and love.” Pope Francis has reiterated that marriage is the “indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to procreation.”

Recently, various media houses published remarks allegedly made in a letter written by Pope Francis and published on Monday 3 Oct by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. The letter is addressed to five conservative cardinals from Asia, Europe, Africa, the United States and Latin America who had asked for clarity on the issue of whether same-sex unions can be blessed.

Pope Francis’ response was made on 2 October, before the Synod of Bishops commenced on 4 October. Since the first sitting of Synod will end on 29 October, and the 2nd sitting will take place in October 2024, please note that Vatican policy has not changed. As recently as 2021, the Vatican said it could not condone same-sex unions because “God cannot bless sin.”

We would have to wait until the end of the Synod process to see what decisions have been arrived at. The Church views homosexual acts as being “contrary to the natural law… Homosexual persons are called to chastity” (Catechism 2357, 2358). Those with this sexual orientation “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

The Catholic Bishops of our region have said: “The Church has always made a clear distinction between sexual orientation and sexual behavior. Sexual orientation is morally indifferent while homosexual behavior is immoral, objectively speaking.”

They have said that “While the Church is obliged to preach the truth, it is also obliged by the love of Christ to provide quality pastoral care to persons who have a homosexual orientation and who may be struggling with homosexual behavior”.  In 2014 they said: “Respect for others, however, does not imply approval of the lifestyles contrary to the traditional ones.”

Pastoral care is also required for those who are struggling with, for example, transgender dysphoria. Catholic parishes are encouraged to provide pastoral ministry to persons who have different sexual orientations/to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Courage and EnCourage International is an apostolate which offers spiritual support for those who experience same-sex attractions and their loved ones. It is Endorsed by the Pontifical Council for the Family. This apostolate is being set up in our Archdiocese in TT for persons with same-sex attraction and their families. (Catholic News 27 Aug).

In his 2015 encyclical letter Laudato Sì (Care for Our Common Home), Pope Francis wrote at length on why the protection of our humanity is at stake: “Acceptance of our bodies … is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift, … 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. Moreover, 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.”

Pope Francis is particularly concerned about gender ideology being taught to children, so that boys and girls are encouraged to question, at the earliest ages of existence, whether they are a boy or girl, and told that gender is something one can choose.

That’s one of the reasons why the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education published a lengthy document in 2019 entitled, “Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education,” to give clear principles to Catholic educational institutions throughout the world and equip parents and educators in non-Catholic institutions with arguments as to why gender ideology not only exacerbates the confusion of children who might be experiencing gender dysphoria but confuses all children, undermining basic common sense and their security in knowing their nature and identity.

There are many pastoral letters and guidelines that have been produced by Bishops around the world on this issue. For example: Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, on Aug. 12 2023 published a pastoral letter, “A Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology.”  He situates this “within the broader context of the nature of the human person, the body/soul unity, and the sanctity of the body. Transgender ideology does not exist in isolation but is part of our culture’s broader confusion about the body, sexuality, man, woman, etc.”

On 25 January, Archbishop Alexander Sample of the Archdiocese of Portland, USA, released guidelines entitled: A Catholic Response to Gender Identity Theory: Catechesis and Pastoral Guidelines. In the document, he notes that the number of “trans-identified” people in the U.S. has doubled since 2017. When asked why he believed this is so, he replied:

This phenomenon has really felt somewhat like a tsunami coming at us. I am at a loss to explain how it has taken such a foothold in our culture. The cultural shift that has happened has been quite stunning. Forty-three percent who identify as transgender are below the age of 25, and I think it is undeniable that social media has had a great influence on them rather than older persons or the wisdom of the Church. In a moment of confusion, young people are exposed to these ideas that say you can be something other than what you’re created to be, and you can define what you are. I also suspect that making money is involved, in the area of treatment for transitioning.”

I end with a quotation from Archbishop Sample:

“We are heavily influenced by the culture around us…In the light of the Catholic faith, the human body is a gift, good and willed by God. Our bodies are part of the harmony of the created order, and our sexual difference is part of God’s self-revelation, as well as a sign of our ultimate calling: to give and receive love.”

I wish to stress the importance of working collaboratively in seeking to counter the dangers of the gender agenda e.g., … The Church has worked with other Faith Communities, including Trinidad and Tobago’s Evangelical Council, to ensure that our voices are heard with relation to alleged plans to introduce Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools in Trinidad and Tobago.

A group of us Catholics were asked by Archbishop Jason to produce a draft response to Comprehensive Sexuality Education, and he amended it as necessary and submitted it to the Prime Minister to let him know exactly where the Catholic Church stands on this issue.

As Christians, we must all hold fast to the tenets of our Faith and continue to speak and act with charity and truth – in love. Remember, each person is a child of God, and we are called to love God and to love our neighbor. So, remember that love underpins all our relationships.

God is still in charge, and we are His instruments. Let us play our part in building His Kingdom here on earth.

I thank you for your attention.

Leela Ramdeen © 2023. Reprinted with permission.