Catholic Bishops and LGBTQI Advocates At Odds Over Vatican’s View of Gender Identity

U.S. bishops gathered at their semi-annual assembly in Baltimore

The second of Bondings 2.0’s short series of posts summarizing responses to the Vatican’s recent document on gender, Male and Female He Created Them.  For the first post, click here.

Bishops in the United States and England welcomed the Vatican’s new document on gender, Male and Female He Created Them. The document has also prompted strong criticism from Catholic LGBTQI advocates.

Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, chair of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Catholic Education, praised the document and Church teaching for providing “the light of truth and compassion that is most needed in our world today” when it comes to “a difficult and complex issue.” Barber made his comments the same week the bishops’ conference reaffirmed anti-LGBTQI work as part of its four priorities.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago also commented on the document, reported America. He stated:

“‘The document points out that dialogue must be free of ideologies, whatever their origins. . .We should also keep in mind the essential principle Pope Francis has often articulated—that realities are greater than ideas. This principle is especially important when dealing with pastoral situations, which always require us to be in touch with the experience of people’s everyday lives.'”

A spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said the document was a “welcome contribution to developing Catholic thought on gender” and complements the English bishops’ own 2018 document on gender, which received mixed reviews from Catholics.

But Catholic LGBTQI advocates have been quite critical of the document released last Monday by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education. Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry described it as “a harmful tool that will be used to oppress and harm” LGBTQI people. You can read his full statement here.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said the document was “dangerous, disingenuous, and divisive,” adding in a statement:

“This document fundamentally disregards and disrespects LGBTQI people by claiming our gender identity and sexual orientation are simply ‘choices.’ It denies the truth of our experience of gender and sexuality as innate, God-given blessings. The Vatican’s stubborn refusal to reconsider its stale vision of gender complementarity as the exclusive basis for human identity and relationships in the light of decades of contrary scientific findings and personal testimony from millions is tragic.”

Speaking to the Boston Globe, Duddy-Burke tied the Vatican’s views on gender to efforts by the Trump administration to curtail transgender rights in the U.S. She said it felt “cruel” and “really plays into the whole culture war supported by the current administration.”

Michael Sennett, a transgender Catholic and pastoral worker, told the Globe that while his “trans identity was celebrated as part of me, not shunned” in Church spaces and in his family, other people will not be so fortunate. This document will cause many to question whether God loves them or whether they will go to hell.

Fr. James Martin, SJ, posted on Facebook that the document “sets aside the real-life experiences of LGBT people.” He commented further:

“Sadly, it will be used as a cudgel against transgender people, and an excuse to argue that they shouldn’t even exist. The document is mainly a dialogue with philosophers and theologians, and with other church documents; but not with scientists and biologists, not with psychologists, and certainly not with LGBT people, whose experiences are given little if any weight.”

Jason Steidl, an openly gay theologian at Fordham University, New York, linked the document to Pope Francis telling NBC News that while the pope did not sign it, it pairs with his rhetoric. Steidl stated, “It’s clear he’s not in dialogue with recent science. . .This is a straw man he’s been attacking for many years now.”

Terence Weldon of the blog Queering the Church objected to the document and the Vatican’s use of terms like “gender ideology,” writing:

“The real ‘ideology’ here, is not that which is under attack by Catholic bishops, but the church’s own insistence that gender and biological sex are to equated. The dangers of gender stereotyping that results from this approach are severe, with damaging effects on children’s self-esteem, on limiting life choices for women especially but also for men, and on increased risks of bullying or worse, for gender non-conforming people.”

Less critical of Male and Female He Created Them was the executive director of Fortunate Families, Stan “J.R.” Zerkowski. He claimed the document can “appear condemnatory,” it is really more positive and “shows that the church is evolving, reported NBC News.

Secular LGBTQI advocates also criticized the Vatican statement. Sahar Moazami of OutRight Action International tied the document to larger efforts by the Vatican to suppress gender and LGBTQ equality at the United Nations, telling New York Daily News:

“By actively promoting a definition of gender as a binary and biological phenomenon, and challenging the human rights of women, LGBTQI people, and anyone who does not fit the narrow definition of the assigned norm, the Vatican has been steadily and consistently undermining the entire international human rights system.”

Finally, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland published a statement as “completely at odds with the mature and supported approach adopted by many schools in Ireland,” many of which are Church run.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 16, 2019

3 replies
  1. John Calhoun
    John Calhoun says:

    In his October 1st, 1986 “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”, at that time Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote: “However, the Catholic moral viewpoint is founded on human reason illumined by faith and is consciously motivated by the desire to do the will of God our Father. The Church is thus in a position to learn from scientific discovery, but also to transcend the horizons of science and to be confident that her more global vision does greater justice to the rich reality of the human person in his spiritual and physical dimensions, created by God and heir, by grace, to eternal life.”

    Here the Congregation’s maintenance and enhancement needs to articulate “The Truth” consistent with the ways it’s always expressed “The Truth” is an ideological passion and its inexhaustible delusion. As with CDF, so also with the Education cohort.

    Reply
    • John Hilgeman
      John Hilgeman says:

      Vatican “Truth” about LGBTQ+ people – and indeed about all sexual issues – reminds me of the current US President’s “Truth.”

      Reply
  2. BjMonda
    BjMonda says:

    What will it take for Bishops, Cardinals and Pope to free themselves from the blindness that prevents them from universal love, wisdom, understanding, compassion, and most of all ,REALITY AND THE PATH OF JESUS TAUGHT and they, supposedly, are pledged to.

    Reply

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