In a move that has angered many in the LGBT community, Pope Francis recently argued that schools need to teach children to "accept" their natural bodies as they were created by God, and to appreciate their bodies as male and female.
In his newly-released letter on marriage and the family, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"), the pontiff asserted said that sex education should teach "respect and appreciation" for sexual differences.
In doing so, schools will promote self-acceptance and help young people overcome self-absorption and narcissism, he argues.
The Pope said that especially when experiencing difficulties with gender identity, "the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created."
Thinking that we enjoy "absolute power over our own bodies" can lead to the delusion that "we enjoy absolute power over creation."
"An appreciation of our body as male or female," Francis said, is "necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves."
The pontiff explained that sex education will not keep some men and women from being more masculine and feminine than others and emphasized that masculinity and femininity are not "rigid categories."
"A rigid approach turns into an over-accentuation of the masculine or feminine, and does not help children and young people to appreciate the genuine reciprocity incarnate in the real conditions of matrimony," Francis argued. "Such rigidity, in turn, can hinder the development of an individual's abilities, to the point of leading him or her to think, for example, that it is not really masculine to cultivate art or dance, or not very feminine to exercise leadership."
The Pope also criticized schools for taking a "safe sex" approach to sex education that primarily deals with "protection."
"Such expressions convey a negative attitude toward the natural procreative finality of sexuality, as if an eventual child were an enemy to be protected against. This way of thinking promotes narcissism and aggressivity in place of acceptance," Francis stressed.
"It is always irresponsible to invite adolescents to toy with their bodies and their desires, as if they possessed the maturity, values, mutual commitment and goals proper to marriage. They end up being blithely encouraged to use other persons as a means of fulfilling their needs or limitations."
The Pope's words have been criticized by many in the LGBT community, who say they are "disappointed though not surprised by the Catholic Church's stance," according to the Chicago Tribune.
"We've given this a good go for a long time, and it doesn't seem to have penetrated into the mind of the Vatican on how sexuality and sexual ethics have changed,'' Mary E. Hunt, co-founder and co-director of the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), told the news outlet.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which describes itself as "a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender(LGBT) Catholics," told the outlet he was "very disappointed" there were "no affirmative statements" about LGBT people, and said any mentions were made in a "negative context."
Earlier this year, the pontiff came under fire after he compared gender theory to genetic manipulation and nuclear arms, according to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR).
He said every historical period has "Herods" that "destroy, that plot designs of death, that disfigure the face of man and woman, destroying creation" the NCR reported.
"Let's think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings," he was quoted as saying. "Let's think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation."
"With this attitude, man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator. The true custody of creation does not have anything to do with the ideologies that consider man like an accident, like a problem to eliminate.
He added, "God has placed man and woman and the summit of creation and has entrusted them with the earth. The design of the Creator is written in nature."