Second Vatican Document on Gender Expected, Even As Cardinal Admits Failure to Listen

Cardinal Giusepe Versaldi

A news report suggests that a second document on gender is being prepared by the Vatican, this time from the Congregation for the Doctrine (CDF) of the Faith, even as the cardinal behind the first document released last week acknowledged its shortcomings from a lack of dialogue.

The Catholic Herald reported that a document from the CDF that “will address Church teaching and the anthropology of the human person in the context of so-called gender theory” is in development and is expected to be published in the coming months. Such a document would have doctrinal authority which the Congregation for Catholic Education’s (CCE) Male and Female He Created Them, heavily criticized by transgender Catholics and Catholic LGBTQ advocates even as some bishops welcomed it, did not.

Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, the CCE’s prefect, spoke to The Catholic Herald, for a separate article, about that initial text, acknowledging some of its flaws while defending the overall project. Versaldi was clear that the document was “not a doctrinal document, . . . but rather a practical aid” that is “a ‘methodological’ document: [designed] to tell teachers how they should comport themselves with those who support these theories.” The cardinal deflected to the CDF saying it was that congregation’s responsibility to address the more abstract debate about gender.

Asked what might have been done differently or better, Versaldi responded:

“One criticism we’ve had from several different parts, even by the interested party, is that we did not listen to the people who have difficulties in this field of sexual identity. That is true: we were not, in our preparatory phase, able to hear the people directly involved. Indirectly, however, yes, [we were], because, having also given the preparation of this document into the hands of experts, we kept in mind the people who are directly interested. Therefore, in the document, although we could have been more explicit, we really recommend respect for people in difficulty, people who may suffer discrimination because of the difference they find compared to normal life in this area. And therefore, we could have done better, certainly, in this area.”

Commentaries, which often highlight these two critiques, have continued to be published in the week since Male and Female He Created Them was published. Fr. James Martin, SJ, wrote in America that the document is “an explicit call for dialogue, which all should welcome” for a church that “has not yet reached the destination.” Believing the Congregation for Catholic Education”seems sincere” in wanting such dialogue, Martin contributed his own thoughts, including:

“One objection to that proposition is that it ignores the real-life experience of L.G.B.T. people. In fact, the document’s primary partners for conversation seem to be philosophers, theologians and older church documents and papal statements—not biologists or scientists, not psychiatrists or psychologists, and not L.G.B.T. people and their families. If more people had been included in the dialogue, the congregation would probably find room for the now commonly held understanding that sexuality is not chosen by a person but is rather part of the way that they are created. . . The church, like the rest of society, is still learning about the complexities of human sexuality and gender. The next step, then, could be for the church to listen to responses from those that this document most directly affects: L.G.B.T. people themselves.”

Theologian David Cloutier defended the document in America, suggesting the Congregation and the discussion about LGBTQ issues in society “are like ships passing in the night.” Cloutier’s piece was his own attempt to foster dialogue, though it generally affirmed Male and Female He Created Them‘s LGBTQ-negative approach (e.g. supporting the Vatican’s distinction between respecting a person’s dignity and affirming their decisions).  He concludes by suggesting that it is is possible to respect people while not affirming their choices:

“Either affirm everything relativistically or recognize that respecting the dignity of persons can co-exist with regarding their choices as wrong and contrary to individual and social flourishing.”

Many proponents of dialogue on LGBTQ issues were more critical of the Vatican document. For responses from transgender Catholics, click here. For an initial round of LGBTQ advocates’ reactions, click here. For New Ways Ministry’s statement, click here.

Sr. Luisa Derouen, who has ministered with transgender people for two decades, commented to America:

“‘I can certainly agree with a portion of the title which calls for dialogue, and the opening paragraphs which stress the importance of listening. . .I found it quite jarring…that after those initial paragraphs there was abundant evidence that those writing this document had certainly not engaged in open, reverent, listening dialogue with transgender people. . .I have accompanied them for 20 years and I do not recognize the people I know from the harsh and dangerous description of them in this document.'”

Theologian Fr. Bryan Massingale agreed that trans Catholics, in addition to theologians and other Catholics, would be key to helping Church leaders “arrive at a fuller understanding of human experience” because, to this point, they have “had comparatively little time to absorb and reflect upon the findings on the human sciences about the complexity of gender and sexuality.”

Hilary Howes, director of TransCatholic, was deeply critical of the document, saying:

“‘Here we have the hierarchy, a male patriarchy really, essentially taking this theory from the ’50s, one that’s been debunked by now, and blaming everything that’s wrong with Western civilization on it. . .[The document] smears not only transgender people, but gays and anyone who is feminist, frankly.'”

Collectively, reactions from LGBTQ advocates and many Catholics worldwide have pressed the need for more listening in response to the Vatican’s new document on gender. Cardinal Versaldi has acknowledged no LGBTQ people or their loved ones were directly consulted before releasing this major text. Before the Vatican releases an actual authoritative doctrinal text, these criticisms and shortcomings prove how critical it will be to slow the process, listen to and learn from LGBTQ people directly, engage the latest scientific knowledge, and proceed pastorally in the mode of Pope Francis. Yesterday’s post from canon lawyer Jennifer Haselberger revealed that such a way forward on gender identity is possible because the Vatican has done so before.

Male and Female He Created Them has done tremendous damage already. The Vatican now has the moral choice of causing even greater harm or of charting a new, truly dialogical path on gender and sexuality. Let us pray it will be the latter.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 18, 2019

6 replies
  1. John Montague
    John Montague says:

    And they wonder why so many people have left the Church? They show so little interest in listening. When it comes to LGBT Catholics, they have very little idea who they are talking about. They do not visit our families, they do not break bread with us. They live in an academic, celibate, remote palace of their own making which is devoid of contact with the smell of their LGBT sheep. They do not serve us, they attempt to master us, and its not working.

  2. Nancy Corcoran, csj
    Nancy Corcoran, csj says:

    I pray that there is inclusion of scientific information on gender/sexuality in the new document along with narratives from folks involved. Where is the natural law theory in the face of intersex humans whose very existence proves a spectrum?

  3. Albertus
    Albertus says:

    In the article, Theologian Fr. Bryan Massingale is quoted saying that trans Catholics, in addition to theologians and other Catholics, would be key to helping Church leaders “arrive at a fuller understanding of human experience” because, to this point, they have “had comparatively little time to absorb and reflect upon the findings on the human sciences about the complexity of gender and sexuality.” What i donot understand is, why the Congregation would prepare and publish a document on such a sensitive topic without having had the needed time to ”absorb and reflect upon the fiundings of human sciences”? The topic of transgender and transsexual persons is the rightful domain of the human sciences, after all, and does not belong to the competence of the Church hierarchy, whose proper domain is safeguarding, fostering, regulating and passing on the worship of and faith in the Triune God, and all that is directly connected therewith. Isn’t it presumptious of the Congregation to pronounce upon topics outside of its direct competence, especially without deferring to those experts who truly are competent in sexual topics, and without first gathering first-hand information from those very persons who are being written about, and judged? Let the Vatican set its own house in order and deal primarily with Faith and Worship, instead of directly meddling in national politics, social and scientific issues.

  4. Kris
    Kris says:

    Truth is, really, that no Vatican document is authoritative by virtue of which curial department issues it, but by dint of whether it actually speaks truth to ignorance. Seems such an obvious proposition, but one oddly lost on many Vatican aficionados.

    There is more likelihood of scoring a truth bullseye IF those with knowledge of a particular truth (in this case, LGBT people) are, for once, comprehensively consulted, and then actually listened to.

    The Magisterium of the Church may have authority to teach (Jesus never said it would always teach reliably), but ability to teach well hinges on a more important faculty: the willingness to learn. And the Magisterium’s most important lesson is accepting that it alone is not the repository of truth.


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