Responding to Vatican’s Gender Document, Catholics Urge Church Leaders to Really Listen

Sister Luisa Derouen, OP

A Catholic sister who has worked with transgender people for two decades shared her thoughts on the Vatican’s gender document released last month, one of many reactions about the controversial text that has called for church leaders to listen.

Sr. Luisa Derouen wrote in Global Sisters Report about how painful the Congregation for Catholic Education’s document, Male and Female He Created Them, had been for transgender people. Derouen shared that while nearly all the trans people she has ministered with appreciated the Vatican’s call for dialogue, the document was wounding because it talked about LGBTQ people and not with them. She exhorted:

“I beg you, bishops, pastors, parish ministers, educators, formators, and all of us who are God’s people, please listen to transgender people! Listen to their personal stories of struggle and transformation. Listen to their love for their families and for God. Listen to their professional competence as medical doctors, psychologists, theologians, attorneys. They are the experts of their own lives.

“How should we listen to transgender people?

“Listen with humility and without judgement. We do not know their lives. They do. Listen as a learner. Listen with a willingness to reexamine your assumptions and beliefs about them. Listen with a willingness to allow yourself to be changed by what they say. . .

“Listen for the ways God is active in their lives. It has been my great privilege all these years to be a witness of their fidelity to God. They are not choosing to separate themselves from God. They are making incredibly difficult life-changing decisions knowing there is the possibility that they will lose everyone they cherish and everything they value. They make these decisions in order to live with integrity and fidelity to God. . .

“Listen with reverence. Everybody’s life is a sacred journey. And that includes transgender people. I have learned so much from them about forgiveness, patience, courage and trust in God. Their lives deserve to be honored and received with respect. Listening well to someone’s life is a sacred act for the one speaking and the one listening.”

Theologian Mary Hunt criticized Male and Female He Created Them as a “trial balloon” before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith releases a more authoritative document later. It is, Hunt wrote in Rewire, “a deeply dumbed down version of an old argument” about gender complementarity, but also:

“What it does do is signal a new and potentially more dangerous stage in a longstanding cultural debate. The Vatican’s position against same-sex love needs no rehearsing. But in a pernicious way, all of that seems to fade a bit in this document which focuses pointedly on transgender and intersex people. The argument is rooted in the same general opposition to anything but bright pink and dark blue taken together to form a couple. This time there is a nascent awareness that the categories no longer apply across the board.

“There is a certain desperation in the tone and content of the Catholic Education piece. It suggests an admission that efforts to stop same-sex love have failed miserably, starting with the majority-gay male clergy. What’s a few lesbian, gay, and bi people after all, the institutional church seems to be saying; at least they know the players without a score card. The real game changer is that claims that sex/gender are fixed, defined, and limited pale before the reality of changing, fluid, varied sex/gender as the human norm. Eeeeeks—what to do about male-only priests, mom and dad-only families, and laws that result from Catholic influence on private matters? That swishing sound is a Roman Catholic house of cards falling in on itself. Left standing are all queer Catholics and allies who will struggle as hard for trans and intersex rights as we have for LGB ones.”

The Tablet issued an editorial suggesting that the document’s call for dialogue “has never been more necessary,” and yet the Vatican’s failure to really dialogue will ensure the document is “unlikely to be much use to” the educators to whom it is intended.

Franciscan Fr. Dan Horan opined on Male and Female He Created Them in the National Catholic Reporter. Horan said the document, despite claims to be about dialogue, was actually “a dismissive monologue instead.” He continued:

“In this way, the Congregation for Catholic Education’s document appears as a model for how not to engage in the sort of constructive conversation that is needed today between the theological tradition of the church and the diverse experiences of people, as well as ongoing natural and social scientific discoveries. . .To move toward true dialogue on gender in the church would involve more than simply “listening, reasoning and proposing,” as outlined in the conclusion of the Congregation for Catholic Education’s document. It would also involve a willingness to hear, learn and change.”

The conversation about Male and Female He Created Them will continue. If the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith releases its own gender document, as expected, this conversation will dramatically intensify. But as these commentators and many, many other Catholics have appealed, such a disaster can be avoided if only the Vatican would choose the path of actual dialogue and listening.

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 Themselected 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

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 4, 2019

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