Pope Francis on gender complementarity


So, everyone saw the news reports yesterday about the pope’s statements on marriage, right? Oh, no, you probably didn’t. Although, Time and The Independent did report it. Of course, they are not sure how to square this with their best buddy, Francis, who they’ve been fawning over for months. As for myself, I like this Francis better, and it is in continuity with his previous (also under-reported) statements about gender, sexuality, and the family.

At a colloquium on “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage,” the pope said:

To reflect upon “complementarity” is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all Creation. This is the key word, harmony. All complementarities were made by our Creator, because the Holy Spirit, who is the Author of harmony, achieves this harmony.

It is fitting that you have gathered here in this international colloquium to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is at the root of marriage and family. …

When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern. Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children — his or her personal richness, personal charisma. Complementarity becomes a great wealth. It is not just a good thing but it is also beautiful. …

The family is the foundation of co-existence and a guarantee against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity. …

Let us not fall into the trap of being qualified by ideological concepts. Family is an anthropological fact – a socially and culturally related fact. We cannot qualify it with concepts of an ideological nature, that are relevant only in a single moment of history, and then pass by. We can’t speak today of a conservative notion of family or a progressive notion of family: Family is family! It can’t be qualified by ideological notions.

You can read the full text at the Vatican Network (at the end of the report). But, oh look, ABC News has just released from the AP: “Pope Raffling Fiat, Bikes and More for Charity.” Damn, this pope is good.

The pope has also recently denounced “the false compassion” of assisted suicide and abortion.


Image: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall…because surely the pope loves Bogie and Bacall!


  1. So Ross Douthat can relax. The “intrinsically disordered” remain intrinsically disordered, it’s just that, as with “compassionate conservatism” and the poor, we must smile, speak gently, and be nice, such that we allow, if not encourage, “liberals” to get the wrong end of the stick (though, oops, not a few “traditionalists” also seem to have mishandled the thin piece of wood). And said (a) with such coherence — while complementarity is not “static” or “fixed”, yet we cannot speak of the family as “conservative” or “progressive” because “family is family” … is family (as the infamous lesbian Gertrude Stein might have said); and (b) with such gracious dismissal of theological dissent, which is, evidently, ideologically bewitched. In other words, a rottweiler in beagle’s clothing?

    • And said (a) with such coherence — while complementarity is not “static” or “fixed”, yet we cannot speak of the family as “conservative” or “progressive” because “family is family” … is family (as the infamous lesbian Gertrude Stein might have said)

      Hah, well, Francis is still a master at subtlety and ambiguity. There is none better than him. Speaking for evangelicals, we could learn a thing or two. The media loves Francis and hates us…and yet we have contraceptives and divorce! What the hell?!

      I agree with Francis (and Douthat) on this, but nobody would say that Francis is somehow neither conservative nor progressive in this statement. It is obviously conservative.

  2. Rome must be faithful to itself, because it insists upon trying to be, in its fallible humanity, perfectly self-consistent in perpetuity as God is perfectly self-consistent in eternity. Which means it perpetuates its own errors as though they were virtues, and cannot do a new thing in self-consistency as God most certainly can.

    That said, the news agencies are always fooled by looking at the wrong goalposts. Francis has made a beautifully liberal statement, in what seems to be a trend of negating US Evangelicals and their epigones abroad while expounding the Catholic tradition in difference from them. Is he anywhere near accepting same-gender relationships on an equal footing? Hardly. Is he trying to revolutionize the construction of “family” within Catholic terms? Definitely. Where centuries of his predecessors would have (and often have) asserted definite gender roles as the substance of male-female complementarity, Francis manages to leave it at mere biology, with the clear implication that it is the relationship of cooperating and diversely-capable individuals adapting to changing circumstances that creates a stable environment for the raising of children. Why male and female? Because that’s the reproductive pairing, and that has been Catholic teleological ethics for centuries. But he has left what a family looks like wide open.

    • And yet the pope has obviously fooled at least you, Kevin, into thinking that this is clearly a conservative statement because it doesn’t do what the clueless press think a progressive statement must do. The pope, of all people, specializes in conservation—not to say conservatism. But what he conserves and where he makes progress are not in conflict. This is how doctrine develops.

      • The declaration of rights for children to have a mother and father is a definite stab in the heart of progressive gender reconstruction. What, he thinks that “roles and relations” are not “static” and “fixed” and that makes this a progressive statement? Please. Anyone can say that, and it is fairly routine now — even if it just means that a man can empty the dishwasher. My complementarian friends in the PCA and SBC have told me the same thing. Hell, even Barth criticized Brunner for this reason (III.4, 358f.), just as he merrily continued to give one of the most “fixed” gender statements in theological history.

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