Paris high school
© faungg
A Paris high school
Catholic leaders in France slam public school textbook that delves into "gender theory." With help from allies of Nicolas Sarkozy, the Church is demanding changes to the curriculum, which explores how society and culture can affect an individual's sexual identity.

As a sign of how much the Catholic Church cares about biology, the Vatican was quick to chime in on a debate over the "becoming man or woman" section of France's new high school biology curriculum.

The goal of the section is to introduce teenagers to what is known as "gender theory," which distinguishes between biological sexual differences and sexual identity, which can be influenced by social and cultural factors. The Church, which is critical of the theory, has rushed to publish a pamphlet entitled Gender, the Controversy. A collection of essays written by various theologians, the document warns young people about the "risks" of gender theory.

Gender studies have been expanding for 20 years. The field of study covers topics such as gender equality in politics or in the working world, and the roles of women in the arts and in social movements. But, according to the Church, gender studies also propose a "paradigm shift that questions sexual differences that are intrinsic to humanity." The Vatican, which began to interest itself in the topic as early as the 1990s, considers the theory to be "dangerous."

In the preface of Gender, the Controversy, Tony Anatrella, a priest, psychoanalyst and consultant at the Vatican on questions of family and health, calls Gender Theory a "totalitarian ideology" that is "more oppressive and pernicious than Marxist ideology." According to the Church, the theory leads to the breakdown of families and encourages people to recognize different sexual orientations, which can in turn lead to homosexual marriages.

Just a theory?

"This issue is serious and lays the foundations of a society which, by rejecting nature and thus creation, considers man to be his own creator, one who chooses his sexuality and organizes his lifestyle based on personal choice," wrote Bishop Bernard Ginoux of Montauban this past June.

Use of the term "theory" is another point of objection. Monsignor Anatrella sees "gender theory as no more than a conceptual scheme that has nothing to do with science; it's barely an opinion." The argument was taken up by 80 deputies from President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP party, who asked in late August that the controversial biology textbooks be withdrawn.

The Church, for its part, has brought together a working group to study the sexual and emotional education of France's youth. The group, composed of theologists, scientists and teachers is expected to issue a set of recommendations in the coming weeks.

"We came to realize that many teachers were at a loss about this issue," says Bishop Ornellas, a specialist in bioethics. "This is all about this part of the curriculum being respectful of people's dignity, particularly of teenagers who try to find themselves and who, as a consequence, are vulnerable."

"Creating a course on gender studies at (university) for students older than 20 is totally different than coming up with a program for teenagers who are not as humanly and psychologically mature," says Jean Matos, who heads the working group.

UMP legislator Jean-Marc Nesmes, a devout Catholic, has taken a more radical step and referred the matter to the French Inter-Ministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combating Cultic Deviances. According to Nesmes, the decision to include gender theory in France's high school biology curriculum is "cult-like," since "its mental influence could disturb young people and teenagers, and eventually alter their development."