What Are Catholic LGBTQ Educators Supposed to Do With the Vatican’s Gender Document?

Alfred Pang

Today’s post is from guest contributor Alfred Pang, a PhD candidate in Theology and Education at Boston College where he is researching and writing his dissertation on Lasallian education.

The Vatican’s latest confusing document on human sexuality, Male and Female He Created Them, has received much criticism since its release by the Congregation for Catholic Education (CCE). Even though this is a document to guide educators of young people, few critiques have even mentioned the document’s implications on the mission of Catholic education, including sexuality education. There are many questions to consider about this topic, but here I hope to begin a conversation by raising a question that I have been wrestling with as a Catholic educator who identifies as gay, cisgender, and male: What are LGBTQ schoolteachers invested in the mission of Catholic education to do with this document?

What is at stake in this question is the vocation of teaching. The CCE document reiterates teaching as a call to witness in faith that is profoundly relational. Education is “human formation” (para. 47), and “the work of teaching is carried out at the service of humanization” (para. 49). Teachers do so in “giving witness by their presence, and by the consistency of their words and deeds” (para. 54). In other words, the integrity of the educator as a person matters. The vocation of teaching calls educators to risk vulnerability in bringing the whole of themselves into the classroom. We teach from who we are.

The integrity of LGBTQ teachers engaged in Catholic education is at stake here. This very script on humanization in education painfully reminds me that my journey to integrate faith and sexuality as a Catholic does not officially count in the human formation of students and formators. It strips me of my full humanity. At best, my experiences would be tolerated. At worse, they would be regarded as deforming the ideas about gender and sexuality in this document. The unspoken message of the document is that LGBTQ educators have to leave pieces of who they are outside a Catholic school.

Yet, I believe that showing up as a teacher who is Catholic and LGBTQ can make a difference to young people, who may be struggling to see value in their lives in the midst of their gender and sexual marginalization. LGBTQ teachers’ testimonies of the possibilities of fruitful and faithful love in life-giving relationships could be a real resource to draw on to address issues of gender and sexuality in educational settings. I wish I had met one such teacher when I was a student in a Catholic school.

I am not asking or expecting all LGBTQ teachers to be out, loud, and proud. Rather, my attention is on the unjust conditions in which any act of disclosure (voluntary and involuntary) could result  in LGBTQ teachers being fired or not hired in Catholic schools. I am concerned that the CCE document would be used to further police LGBTQ teachers, who are already precariously caught in a double-bind in Catholic education. Could LGBTQ teachers in Catholic schools speak up freely against the implementation of guidelines in this document?

On the one hand, to do so opens them to the very real risk of being negatively appraised and losing employment. Keep in mind dozens of educators have lost their jobs in LGBTQ-related disputes in the last decade. On the other hand, to remain silent renders them complicit in the homophobia and transphobia that the document reproduces. An unfortunate consequence to this double-bind is that educational spaces cease to be holy ground for authentic encounters in teaching and learning. This in turn does not serve our students, especially those who identify as LGBTQ.    

Where, then, do I find guidance to sustain my commitment as a Catholic educator in the face of yet another Vatican document that undermines my integrity? I find it in the spiritual writings of Saint John Baptist De La Salle, the patron saint for teachers of youth in the Catholic Church. He reminds us that the Christian vocation of a teacher is to be at the service of children and young people, especially those whose human dignity as God’s children is being threatened in situations of impoverishment. “Recognize Jesus beneath the poor rags of the children whom you have to instruct,” he writes. If we as educators are to bear witness to Jesus Christ, we must be prepared to follow him and be where he is – among socially vulnerable LGBTQ children and youth who continue to face the highest risk of suicide. Jesus Christ present in the lives of LGBTQ students calls educators not to be above, but to be in solidarity with them.

I rely on the prophetic vision that the Catholic mission of educating children and youth must also advance God’s reign of justice that enables their human flourishing. Unfortunately, this radical commitment to educate for justice in faith has been sidelined in the CCE document. The real “educational crisis” (para. 1) is not so much the alleged threat from gender ideology. The crisis resides in the lack of confidence on the part of the church’s leadership to respond not just pastorally but also prophetically to the infinite mystery of human sexuality experienced in people’s lives. Some may call the document prudent, but we also need to ask when prudence becomes a lack of courage, especially in light of suffering experienced by LGBTQ persons and their families.  

Etched in my memory is an encounter at a retreat with a gay youth  who came to me with questions about the church’s teachings on homosexuality. After having him speak his mind, I asked why he still came for the retreat. His reply startled and moved me. “Because I still believe in the goodness of the church,” he said. Today, these words challenge me to be that face of the church’s goodness to my transgender and intersex siblings, especially at a time when their experiences have been silenced.   

The time is now for Catholic LGBTQ teachers to prayerfully act together. We must boldly find creative ways to resist the harm that this document could do. We must leverage the document’s invitation to dialogue as an opportunity to gently offer our embodied wisdom, to build genuine educational communities of belonging that allow LGBTQ students to safely flourish as they are. This is the prophetic dimension of our calling as LGBTQ teachers in Catholic education. Grace has been given unto us to live it in faith that God never abandons us. The Holy Spirit is stirring in our hearts and Christ is there to meet us in this work.

Alfred Pang, June 24, 2019

For Bondings 2.0’s full cover of Male and Female He Created Them, click here. Below are a few such commentaries in which you may be interested:

June 10, 2019: “New Ways Ministry Responds to Vatican Document on Gender Identity” by Francis DeBernardo

June 11, 2019: LGBTQ-Related Excerpts from Male and Female He Created Them selected by Robert Shine

June 13, 2019:  “The Vatican’s New Document on Gender: Is There Hope?” by Deacon Ray Dever

June 15, 2019, “Vatican’s Gender Document Harms ALL, Not Just LGBTQI Folks” by Professor Cristina Traina

June 16, 2019, “High Court 1975 Decision Points to Alternative Vatican Path on Gender Identity Issues” by Dr. Jennifer Haselberger

4 replies
  1. John McDargh
    John McDargh says:

    Alfred – I appreciate the quiet, consistent determination you model to continue, even and maybe especially in the face of documents so manifestly uninformed by pastoral listening (charity) and scientific knowledge (reason) as this most recent one, to mine the Tradition for wisdom and guidance . And where do you find it – in the stream of reflection and action of John Baptist de La Salle. Thank you….

    Reply
  2. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    To go to my study of Northern European prints of the 16th C. more demonstrative master print makers chose to depict certain Vatican documents as toilet paper. The student is correct that the core of the Church as the human body of Christ is good, but that does not mean all pronouncements of the hierarchy are to be taken with the same faith.

    Reply
  3. Barry Blackburn
    Barry Blackburn says:

    BRAVO Alfred Pang. I have been a retired gay Religious Education teacher and Department Head for 17 years but your words and analysis are a perfect summary of my own educational philosophy and practice during my career (and after). Your Wisdom and courage speak a Truth grounded in the Holy Spirit. Your life and experience are Blessed. Thank You!

    Reply
  4. Kathy Scott
    Kathy Scott says:

    Correctly translated the verse for the Vatican writing Male and female made he them is maleand female made They tthem. Elohim is plural and God is gender fluid ie transgender and we all weremadejust like Them.

    Reply

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