France’s education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has reacted angrily to remarks by Pope Francis regarding the alleged teaching of “gender theory” in French schools.
Speaking to journalists on the aircraft tkaing him back to Rome from the Caucasus region on Sunday, Pope Francis told journalists an anecdote relayed to him by the father of a French Catholic family. The man had said that when his ten-year-old son was asked during a family meal what he wanted to be when he grew up, the boy responded, “I want to be a girl.”
“The father then realised that in schoolbooks, ‘gender theory’, which is against nature, is still taught,” the pope said, denouncing what he called “sly indoctrination”.
The fundamentalist Christian right in France claim that children are taught there is no difference between boys and girls, and that one is free to choose one’s gender. This has been repeatedly denied by the socialist government.
“I didn’t imagine that the pope would let himself be fooled by the medacious folly of the fundamentalists. It makes me angry,” Ms Vallaud-Belkacem said.
“The pope seems convinced that French teachers spend their time teaching children that one can change one’s sex,” the minister continued. “This is totally unfounded. He is the victim of a massive disinformation campaign led by the fundamentalists of the Lejeune foundation, Vigivender and others… I advise the pope to meet French teachers and discuss it with them, to look at the school manuals himself…”
The French curriculum teaches that “it’s important to understand that one gender is not superior to the other,” Ms Vallaud-Belkacem said. The education ministry was fighting harrassment and violence against women. “Is it written that equality between men and women means one can change sex? Obviously not.”
The conservative Manif Pour Tous organisation, which staged huge demonstrations against the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013, has scheduled a national protest march in a fortnight’s time against medically assisted procreation for homosexual couples.
Pope Francis had denounced “gender theory” in the Georgian capital Tblisi at the weekend, saying it was part of a “world war to destroy marriage”.
He said there was a difference between “having homosexual tendencies or changing sex” and advocating these practices in school teaching. The attempt to “change mentalities” was “ideological colonisation”, he said.
Ms Vallaud-Belkacem was supported by teachers’ unions and even the conservative presidential candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who told Europe 1 radio station that the pope had “jumped to conclusions”.
Ms Kosciusko-Morizet is the mother of two boys, aged 7 and 11. “I study the school manuals closely,” she said. “I have never found anything resembling gender theory and I have never heard anything resembling it coming out of their school.”
When asked how homosexuals and transsexuals should be treated, Pope Francis said they should be welcomed and integrated as much as possible. “I have accompanied people with homosexual practices and tendencies. I have brought them closer to the Lord,” he said.
Pope Francis said he had received a Spanish couple after the husband wrote to him. The man had undergone a sex change operation and married a woman.