June 30 to July 3, 2022, Rome, Italy
Representatives from the 19 members of the Global Network of RHSM Schools met in Rome, Italy from June 30 through July 3, to discuss the complex topic of diversity, equity and inclusion within a school context, especially regarding issues of gender. Questions have arisen among students and staff regarding gender diversity, recognition of these differences, support for clubs that might be formed for groups of minority students, and use of gender pronouns. In short, the changing social context regarding issues of gender identity, recognition and respect have found their way into the school environment. Administrators of our schools are faced with specific issues and called to create policies in response to students’ concerns. The point of the conference was how to engage with one another on these difficult and controversial topics in such a way to aid administrators in their decision-making and to support whole school communities on this developing topic.
The challenges come from every angle: how to address the parent community which spans a wide spectrum of views on these issues? How to address schools across the Global Network that are confronted with gender issues because of their social and cultural situations? How to bring Church teaching to the topic which is currently only in initial development? How to satisfy students whose views are conditioned by their own limited life experience and who are not yet able to see the bigger picture that schools face among their various constituencies?
Perhaps, most importantly, how do we dialogue with one another in a way that a) honors differences among us and yet challenges us to move beyond simple statements of difference to new insight; b) recognizes the developmental nature of the issues; and c) respects the Roman Catholic position on the nature of the human person?
As the opening speaker for the conference, I suggested three approaches to help us dialogue with one another. I began with the consideration of a new term used in cultural studies: interculturality. As opposed to internationality or multiculturalism, interculturality is the ability of different cultures to interact with one another and thereby mutually enrich one another.1 I suggested that our tendency is often to react to the different “other” as threatening or dangerous, while the Gospel calls us to view the “other” with love and as an entrée into the image of God in another and into God’s own self.
Secondly, I used the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman as an example of the challenge persons of different cultures pose to one another, and how new insight into a topic and ourselves can be the fruit of a courageous encounter with the “other.”
Lastly, I suggested that Pope Francis’ call for us to be a Synodal Church gives us models of dialogue that are extremely helpful. Synodal dialogue is the willingness to engage with humility in respectful conversation with others, especially those on the margins. It is a process of deep listening to the other, on the one hand, and speaking with courage, on the other. Everyone is given the chance to speak in their own fashion, at their own pace and without criticism. It demands a spirit of generosity and openness to be affected by the experience of another based on the conviction that the Spirit is present and active within each member of the group and all the group together. Another factor is that a “third” thing might emerge beyond the opinions and convictions each one brought with them. The promise of the Holy Spirit implicitly suggests that the emergence of the new can happen.
Other speakers addressed such issues as current teaching on gender identity in the Church; pastoral approaches to deal with these issues and a historical review of ethical methods of approaching issues of sexuality. While clear answers were not always possible, the conversation among us was rich, respectful, a promising for future exchanges.
1. Antonio M. Pernia, SVD, “Challenges to and Opportunities for Religious Life from the World and the Church of Today,” UISG Bulletin 146 (2011), 40