Catholic University President Dr. Peter Kilpatrick and featured speaker Abigail Favale led a conversation on Catholicism and gender issues in a crowded Heritage Hall at the opening installment of the new Presidential Speaker Series March 21.
To open the discussion on gender, Favale, professor of practice at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, drew on her 2022 book The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory, sharing how she discovered and came to embrace the Catholic Church. Afterward, she took questions from Dr. Kilpatrick and audience members.
Favale has always been fascinated by gender. Since she became Catholic in 2014, she said her thinking on gender has changed as she has moved from a “feminist ideology” to an acceptance and understanding of the Church’s teachings on the human person.
“I think the Catholic Church is true, I think that she holds and guards the truth of what the human person is,” said Favale. “Now I try to engage on this question and write from a deeply Catholic perspective, but also one that hopefully is not about culture war battles and one that does not lose sight of humanity.”
Dr. Kilpatrick asked Favale how Catholic University can maintain a balance between striving to be faithfully Catholic but also affirming the dignity of every human person.
Favale said understanding the true sense of hospitality is key.
“When I invite someone into my home, I don’t demand that they sign some sort of statement of agreement with all of my beliefs,” she said. “You invite someone into your home, but yet your home remains your home. It has an identity to it and hospitality doesn't mean that you compromise the identity of your home. But it does mean that you invite someone into that without forcing them to adopt the identity of your home.”
Many audience members asked questions about how to accompany people who have “gender dysphoria” without compromising their Catholic beliefs.
Favale said in her work to develop models of accompaniment, she engages with those who experience “gender discordance” but also people on the medical, psychological, theological and pastoral sides.
“I speak now as someone actively thinking about this and trying to better understand this,” said Favale. “The accompaniment really has to be about seeking to understand the person and to really listen deeply to their narrative.”
Other questions touched on how to understand the Catholic all-male priesthood, the difference between “sex” and “gender,” and how to discuss gender topics with youth.
Dr. Kilpatrick said the new series is designed to allow deeper conversations between the University community and Catholic thought leaders on challenging current topics.
“My intention in launching the series was to on the one hand be authentically and unabashedly Catholic in what we do in addressing important issues, but also to be as welcoming and embracing and loving as we possibly could be to those who may differ with the Catholic position,” said Dr. Kilpatrick.
Watch the whole conversation below.