Two theologians at a Nebraska Catholic university have strongly condemned the Archdiocese of Omaha’s new trans-negative policy on gender and sexuality.
The theologians, Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler of Creighton University, are well-known advocates for LGBTQ+ inclusion. In an essay for the National Catholic Reporter, the two addressed the recent policy issued by Archbishop George Lucas, who later decided to delay its implementation because of backlash. The theologians offer six points of criticism.
First, the theologians indicate how this policy blatantly ignores the findings in the archdiocesan synodal report, which demonstrated the pressing need for the archdiocese to create a more inclusive space for LGBTQ+ Catholics.
Second, analyzing the policy’s language, the theologians claim that the ambiguous nature of this language can stifle confusion, leaving it up to administrators on how to interpret some of the terms indicated:
“It allows for students to have a ‘romantic date … only with a person of the opposite biological sex.’ Who defines what is and what is not a romantic date? What are the criteria for making this judgment between same-sex or heterosexual friends?… All of these criteria are ambiguous and open to interpretation by any person who may be affected more by political/cultural bias than by an objective, correct interpretation of contemporary Catholic teaching. . .
“Who is qualified to judge what constitutes an acceptable or unacceptable cultural expression of one’s biological sex, and to interpret and apply policy guidelines? Is it the person herself or himself? Is it a parent, a teacher or only the celibate clerics of the archdiocesan administration?”
An additional example of this ambiguity is when the policy states that students must act in accordance with their assigned sex. Salzman and Lawler point out:
“Pope Francis and the Congregation for Catholic Education in ‘Male and Female He Created Them’ affirm that sex and gender are distinct though inseparable, and that scientific studies that attempt to discern how sexual difference is lived out in various cultures should inform our understanding of the interrelationship between sex and gender. This acknowledges a plurality of cultural influences and understandings of how gender is expressed, which is nowhere acknowledged in the Omaha policy.”
Third, the policy does not differentiate between different levels of magisterial teachings to which all faculty, students, parents, guardians, and volunteers are told to follow. Catholic sexual teaching is emphasized over Catholic social teaching. The theologians refer to the Catechism:
“[It calls] for people with ‘deep-seated [or definitive] homosexual tendencies’ to be ‘accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,’ but it immediately goes on to state that ‘every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’ (emphasis ours). The condemnation of ‘unjust discrimination’ against people with ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ opens the door for the promotion of so-called “just discrimination” against them… The catechism does not include sexual orientation or gender identity in this list.”
Salzman and Lawler elaborate on the impact all this confusion has on civil legislation, too:
“[Pope Francis’]support of legal protections for same-sex civil unions makes an important distinction between civil law and church doctrine, prioritizes Catholic social over sexual doctrine, recognizes that LGBTQ+ people are discriminated against and need legal protection, and calls the church to practice respect, compassion and hospitality toward all people, including LGBTQ+ people. If respect, compassion and hospitality should extend to the civil and legal realms, it should certainly extend to Catholic institutions, including Catholic schools. The archdiocesan policy fails miserably here, especially when dealing with young people who are struggling to discern their sexual identities.”
Fourth, discrimination and bullying based on an LGBTQ+ identity is a a driving cause of young people leaving the church and of youth suicidality. While the policy condemns bullying, the policy itself is form of institutional bullying as it uses stigmatizing languages and restricts LGBTQ+ Catholics’ participation in the life of the church.
Fifth, they argue that the Catholic Church’s position on the authority and inviolability of personal conscience is being violated by the archdiocesan policy:
“[In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis said] The church is called ‘to form consciences, not to replace them.’ In this statement, he has rediscovered and reinstituted the tradition’s teaching on the authority and inviolability of a well-formed conscience.”
The theologians affirm that one should be able to voice disagreement with the church’s non-infallible teachings on sexual and gender ethics without fearing of sanction.
Finally, Salzman and Lawler condemn the calculated legal jargon used by the archdiocese to identify all employees and volunteers as ministers, regardless of whether or not they are involved in religious education:
“The ‘ministerial exception’ is a specific legal designation that allows the archdiocese to fire or dismiss anyone if an archdiocesan representative judges they have violated the policy, regardless of their direct role or function in a specific ministerial capacity. In other words, it protects the archdiocese from discrimination lawsuits and promotes so-called ‘just discrimination.’”
Salzman and Lawler conclude:
“This policy does not reflect a positive vision of synodality, and certainly not Francis’ vision of finding unity in diversity. It more accurately reflects, rather, the divisive cultural and political perspectives poisoning the country and apparently shared by the leadership of the Omaha Archdiocese.”
—Anushah Sajwani (she/her), New Ways Ministry, October 17, 2022