It has been two months since the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education published Male and Female He Created Them, a document that was highly critical of transgender and intersex people and ideas. LGBTQI advocates and many theologians denounced the text from a variety of perspectives.
Today’s post excerpts several commentaries with links provided for further reading. To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of the document and its reception, see the linked articles below or click here.
UK Theologian Tina Beattie posted her reflections on the Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church website.She wrote that rather than “an informed and irenic engagement” with contemporary knowledge of gender that many Catholics might appreciate, the document returns to the Vatican’s “thicket of blind dogma and prejudicial labelling” characteristic of its engagement with “gender ideology.” Beattie then identifies a key concern:
“But more important is the anguish that this risks creating for LGBTQI Catholics who strive to be true to the Church and true to themselves, or for parents seeking to offer loving support and affirmation to children struggling with issues of identity and gender – children who are at high risk of suicide and mental health problems. I think of the many Christians I know who do not conform to the Vaticanese of documents like this, who are providing loving homes to children and who are struggling as every couple does to build sustaining, faithful and loving relationships in a culture of harshly individualistic and consumerist values. . .If the Catholic hierarchy could let go of its fear and resistance to any suggestion of gender fluidity or diversity, it would discover that the Catholic tradition is in itself gender fluid.”
Beattie concludes that without being able to engage in the dialogue they claim to endorse in Male and Female He Created Them, “it would be better for all of us if [the Vatican] simply keep quiet, for they lack the competence, the respect and the knowledge to contribute meaningfully to that dialogue.”
CK, a non-binary person who uses they/them pronouns, offered some observations about the Vatican document in The Impartial Reporter. They point out that non-binary and transgender identities are “currently underrepresented and misunderstood,” and this reality is true within the Vatican document. The Congregation for Catholic Education’s prefect acknowledged as much in an interview. CK challenges the document’s claims that transgender-affirming advocates believe gender to be a choice and that children should be raised according to assigned sex and strict gender norms:
“Sexuality and gender are not a choice. Sexuality is a spectrum. Gender is a spectrum. In my opinion we are all born with a pure identity and it is up to us to tap into that identity and live it out by being true to our authentic selves.
“Everyone is entitled to freedom of choice. This shouldn’t be hidden. Children should be allowed to be exposed to all the options in life available in many aspects inevitably they will choose to live how they want to regardless, whether it be in their youth or when they’re older. The conditions people are exposed to isn’t necessarily what they conform to or choose to live by in any aspect.
“Gender and sexuality are not choices but the choice of openness and freedom should be guaranteed without discrimination.”
Religion and Politics featured several Catholics involved with LGBTQ issues who commented on the document. Yunuen Trujillo, a lesbian Catholic involved with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles LGBTQ ministry, commented:
“‘The document does not reflect the lived realities of LGBTQ Catholics. . .Unfortunately, the leaders of our Church have, for too long, been far away from their LGBT brothers and sisters. Like it happens in any family where two-way communication is lacking or non-existent, the document published by the Vatican reflects that estrangement.'”
In the same article, John Gehring of Faith in Public Life said it was “somewhat galling” and an act of “theological arrogance” that a hierarchy composed of celibate males would lecture the faithful on LGBTQ issues:
“‘You have a very sheltered group of celibate men who don’t have really any experience with what it means to be in a healthy, sexual relationship wagging a finger at the world saying, “Listen to us.”‘”
Theologian Fr. Bryan Massingale was also quoted, and he echoed the need to expand who was involved in developing church documents. He said Male and Female He Created Them was not a “definitive statement” but that “dialogue is just beginning.”
But the Religion and Politics piece also included a hopeful story that shows that outside the Vatican, in the lives of everyday Catholics, there is progress in terms of dialogue and inclusion. Murphy Guinane came to be confirmed as a non-binary Catholic. Guinane, who uses they/them pronouns, was fully received into the church in 2016. They took the confirmation name Joan after St. Joan of Arc because though the church feared and persecuted her and though she was young and sacred, “she wouldn’t apologize for her own existence, and I need that strength.” The article shared further:
“Guinane has adopted a gender-neutral first name, a fairly common practice for transgender people who have found navigating a legal name change to be notoriously difficult. Much to Guinane’s relief, when they asked if the parish required use of the legal name for the sacrament, the parish liturgy director replied with a question: ‘What name would you like to use?’ Guinane was so moved, they cried while the Rev. Mike Tegeder administered the sacrament before the parish altar in a ceremony attended by Guinane’s roommate and parents, who flew in from the East Coast for the event. In a way, it was the first time they’d been officially recognized with their chosen name.
“‘It meant a lot to me, the ease of it,’ Guinane said. ‘It was the first time in a long time that I not only felt like God was present in that space, but also I was part of that, that God saw me.'”
Above every other theological consideration should come the pastoral impetus to make the church a place where every person feels they are seen by God and included in the community, just as Murphy Guinane did at their confirmation. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reportedly prepares its own, more authoritative document on gender, Catholics must insist not only on dialogue in the process, but on having the right end in mind, too, namely love over condemnation.
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, August 10, 2019
The Wall Street Journal, “Catholics Grapples With Transgender Issues“