Poland's powerful Catholic Church has declared war on "gender theory", saying it undermines the traditional family -- but critics say that is a tactic to shift attention away from a paedophile priest scandal.
The theory explores sexual orientation and the roles
assigned by society to individuals based on their gender, but the Polish
Church has borrowed the English word "gender" to refer to a range of
issues including contraception, abortion and homosexuality.
many say gender theory promotes tolerance and understanding towards
gender equality and homosexuality, the Polish Church has branded it a
mortal danger to families, child sexual orientation and humanity.
Polish bishops wrote a letter on the topic that was read out in every parish across the country over the Christmas holidays.
"This is a preventative offensive," sociologist Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski told AFP. "The
Church fears social change and it especially opposes gay marriage,
something that's happening in other countries like France or certain
states in the US."
Inspired by then pope Benedict XVI's remarks in
late 2012 about the "falseness" of gender theory, the Polish campaign
has taken on epic proportions and sparked a fierce, high-profile
Critics argue it is designed to shift focus from
a recent string of paedophile priest scandals that rocked Poland, one
of Europe's most Roman Catholic countries but whose loyalty to the
Church is waning.
"Someone advised the Church to find a topic that
would make people forget about the paedophile scandals that Polish
media was fixated on these last few months," leading Polish religious
affairs commentator Adam Szostkiewicz told AFP.
"Now not a day goes by that a bishop doesn't warn against gender," he said.
Allegations surfaced last year that two high-profile Polish priests had engaged in sex with boys.
began probes in September against 65-year-old archbishop Jozef
Wesolowski, who served as a papal envoy in the Dominican Republic's
capital Santo Domingo, and 36-year-old Wojciech Gil, who also served on
the Caribbean island.
Poland's top cleric meanwhile provoked outrage when he suggested that parents shared the blame for paedophilia.
Jozef Michalik later apologised for saying that paedophilia "manifests
itself when a child is looking for love" and could be avoided "given a
healthy relationship between parents".
According to feminist
activist Kazimiera Szczuka, the war against gender is just the latest
attempt by the Church to shift blame.
"By claiming that gender
theory skews child sexual orientation, the Church wants people to think
that it is indeed this theory that's responsible for sexual abuse, and
not priests," she told AFP.
Gender ideology 'worse than Nazism'
Church letter to parishioners alleges that gender theory has "for the
last several months been introduced without Poles' consent within
various social institutions: education, health care, non-governmental
organisations and cultural institutions".
The bishops cite
Marxism, feminist movements and the sexual revolution as having inspired
the theory, which they say is "contrary to the traditional view of
They warn that gender theory allows an individual to
"freely define himself as a man or woman and choose his sexual
In certain parishes, an extreme version of the
letter claimed that school sex education -- not yet a part of the Polish
curriculum -- leads to "severe youth depravity".
views the traditional definition of family headed by a man and a woman
as the basis of society, according to Marcin Przeciszewski, head of
Poland's KAI Catholic news agency.
He regrets the "unfortunate choice of words" of some Church members that "clouds the main message".
Church cannot agree to the idea of the interchangeability of the sexes.
Sexual identity is accorded by nature, by God," he told AFP.
some say the Church is misguided in demonising gender theory, since it
is mainly a scientific concept and not tied to any particular ideology,
according to expert Agnieszka Rajewicz-Kozlowska.
official documents, the term 'gender' is linked to the idea of equality
between men and women," said Rajewicz-Kozlowska, the government's deputy
minister in charge of gender equality.
Yet, according to
Szostkiewicz, the Church has turned "gender" into a grab bag and tossed
everything into it: civil unions, gay marriage, abortion, in-vitro
fertilisation, gender equality and sexual education.
He says the
strategy has helped convince a portion of the population, thanks in
large part to those who "only a couple months ago knew nothing about the
term 'gender' and had no idea that it has been studied in Polish
universities for 20 years".
Among the more extreme examples of the
scorn heaped on gender theory, priest Dariusz Oko said: "Gender
ideology is in some ways worse than Nazism and communism."
"It leads to the destruction of the nation" because it "destroys the family," he said.
view has been echoed by Poland's political right, with a minor
opposition party recently launching a committee against gender theory in
Committee members have assigned themselves the task
of "protecting nursery school children against a sexualisation
(introduced) under the guise of classes on gender equality" that were
co-funded by the European Union and other international organisations.
warnings from Polish bishops and right-wing politicians, parents in
many schools across the country have demanded that such classes be