Cardinal Vincent Nichols has spoken out about the “great confusion” surrounding gender identity, calling on headteachers to affirm for children the values of family and community rather than individualism and self-determination.
Addressing headteachers at their annual conference at Ashford International Hotel, Cardinal Nichols said: “In an age of fluidity, even in gender identity…there are ‘givens’ which come with birth and with solid identities”. Such foundations, he continued, “are so important”.
The cardinal’s comments come amid a public debate about the responsibility of educators to respect children who choose to identify with a gender they weren’t born with.
Pope Francis in 2016 spoke out on the issue, calling it “ideological colonising”.The “first and last name” of this colonisation, he said, “is gender”.
The cardinal’s comments appear to diverge from the Church of England’s stance, which encourages children to explore “the many cloaks of identity”. In recently updated guidance on homophobic bullying in schools, the Church of England said: “For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess's tiara and heels and/or the fireman's helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak, without expectation or comment.”
Cardinal Nichols’ spokesman told The Tablet that the bishops will be discussing the issue of gender identity at their plenary meeting in April. “I think we will have to wait to see what emerges from those deliberations”, he said, in response to a question on whether guidance for clergy will be forthcoming.
In December a Christian teacher was dismissed from his secondary school after referring to a transgender pupil as one of the “girls” when the pupil self-identified as male.
A group of Catholic clergy recently issued a statement on the challenges posed by “gender ideology”, describing it as “an urgent pastoral issue”. The Church teaches that sexual identity is not a fluid concept but an important part of one’s being, chosen and ordained by God, but in recent years the numbers seeking gender reassignment surgery have increased exponentially.
The address concluded with the archbishop’s praise of the “powerful witness” provided by Catholic headteachers. “Your calling is a great one and I thank you for the spirit in your hearts that leads you on,” he said.
Picture: The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, during a press conference on human trafficking in London in 2014 (Image/PA).