One year ago today, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education published a document on gender that was roundly criticized by LGBTQ advocates and Catholic commentators for its negative approach. At the time, Bondings 2.0 published a series of responses, available here, from voices like a Catholic teacher, a canon lawyer, a deacon with LGBTQ children, and others.
Today’s post on the anniversary features a perspective at the intersection of faith and science published last year in the National Catholic Reporter.
The document, titled Male and Female He Created Them, was described by New Ways Ministry as ” a harmful tool that will be used to oppress and harm not only transgender people, but lesbian, gay, bisexual people, too.” The congregation was criticized for failing to dialogue with LGBTQ people, a criticism its prefect even acknowledged, and discussion about its negative impact continued for months.
Religious studies professor Paul Schutz offered a response in NCR at the time that is relevant on this first anniversary, as he criticizes the document from three angles: scientific, biblical, and pastoral. Schutz teaches at the Jesuit-run Santa Clara University, California, and researches how faith and science relate. As part of his scientific critique of the document, Schutz writes:
“First, as a scholar working at the intersection of theology, ecology and science, I have serious concerns about the instruction’s appeals to biology. The instruction describes nonbinary and transgender expression as aspects of a ‘strictly sociological’ gender theory. To support this claim, it appeals to a binary biology based in XX/XY chromosome distribution: children are born either female or male, and claims that intersex or transgender persons exist are false expressions of ‘ideology of gender.’
“But medicine and psychology contradict the instruction’s claims. . .The instruction’s appeal to binary gender science does not stand up to the contemporary scientific consensus. This point seems especially problematic given that the AMA [American Medical Association] and APA [American Psychiatric Association] are organizations of scientific experts with the training to properly adjudicate these matters; trusting the Vatican’s gender science is akin to trusting a diabetes diagnosis from a parish priest.”
Schutz is also concerned with how the Vatican (mis)uses the Bible. To claim that “nonbinary models of gender” are contrary to nature, as the congregation does, is “in direct conflict with John Paul II’s call for ‘intense dialogue’ between faith and science and his 1996 declaration that there is ‘no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation.'” Schutz is clear that:
“For, if evolutionary theory limits the influence of Genesis as an explanation of cosmic origins — accepting that the universe was not created in seven days — then the magisterium cannot hold that the same text is determinative for gender when the scientific consensus says otherwise. This alone should be weighty enough to raise concerns about biblical warrants for complementarity, but the instruction proceeds without reference to these concerns.”
Finally, Schutz writes from a place of pastoral concern for LGBTQ people who have experienced violence and bullying as a result of distorted teachings on gender. Male and Female He Created Them does not acknowledge these struggles despite, in the professor’s words, “the church’s complicity in violence against LGBTQ+ persons, especially given its presence in countries that criminalize trans expression and same-sex acts.” He concludes:
“It seems the magisterium’s dismissal of trans and nonbinary experiences as rebellion against nature serves only to end conversations about gender before they begin, and it scapegoats the LGBTQ+ community to uphold complementarity, negating the need for pastoral care that is authentically engaged with the struggles LGBTQ+ persons face each day.
“But complementarity is neither biblical nor biological. The church must heed the experience of LGBTQ+ persons and cannot simply ignore scientific claims that prove inconvenient for the preservation and transmission of doctrine. In the name of the love proclaimed by Jesus — a love lived each day by trans Catholics like Hilary Howes, who seek justice for those marginalized in church and society — we must embrace the wonderfully wild diversity of all the beautiful creatures our God has made.”
Professor Schutz’s full column in NCR is available here. For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Male and Female He Created Them and the ensuing debate over it, click here. Some the articles and commentaries include:
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, June 10, 2020