On the secular calendar, today is Sunday, June 16.
LGBTQ people are marking the third Sunday of Pride.
And for followers of the Roman Catholic Church, today is Trinity Sunday, a day to celebrate what its leaders teach is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life:” the one God’s three-person incarnation as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
It’s also the first Sunday since the Vatican issued a controversial document titled “Male and Female He Created Them.” The educational edict rejects the idea of gender identity as “nothing more than a confused concept of freedom in the realm of feelings and wants.”
The document is dated February 4, but was released on June 10; no explanation was offered as to why, but LGBTQ advocates considered the timing to be no accident.
The Church, by sharing this teaching tool during the month celebrated by the world’s gays, lesbians bisexuals, transgender and other gender nonconforming people as “Pride Month,” appeared to be reinforcing the comparison that Pope Francis drew in 2015, that the modern concept of gender is as dangerous as “nuclear arms.”
As The New York Times reported, the Vatican document expressed dismay over “calls for public recognition of the right to choose one’s gender, and of a plurality of new types of unions, in direct contradiction of the model of marriage as being between one man and one woman, which is portrayed as a vestige of patriarchal societies.”
The Vatican even warned against words that are commonly used in the medical community to describe varying aspects of gender nonconformity:
Ideas of ‘intersex’ or ‘transgender’ lead to a masculinity or femininity that is ‘ambiguous.’
This oscillation between male and female becomes, at the end of the day, only a ‘provocative’ display against so-called ‘traditional frameworks,’ and one which, in fact, ignores the suffering of those who have to live situations of sexual indeterminacy.
Rev. James Martin is a Jesuit priest and author. One of his books advocates building bridges between Catholic leaders and their LGBTQ flock. He wrote that he fears this document will give anti-transgender activists more ammunition.
The most likely short-term result of ‘Male and Female He Created Them’ will be to provide ammunition for Catholics who would deny the reality of the transgender experience, who would label transgender people as simple ideologues, and who would deny their real-life experiences. It will most likely contribute to a greater feeling of isolation, a greater feeling of shame and a greater marginalization of those who are already marginalized in their own church: transgender people.
Following the document’s release, he tweeted this:
Overall, it should be praised for inviting listening and dialogue. Yet the dialogue is so far mainly with philosophers and theologians; not with scientists, nor with LGBT people and their families.
So is the Vatican rejecting the dialogue Fr. Martin has championed, between the Church and advocates for the LGBTQ community? Was it all a giant waste of time?
No. In fact, the document recommends the church be open to discussions with LGBTQ folks and their allies, although it must be noted, to the Vatican they are “proponents” of an ideology which they call “gender theory.” Still, the document acknowledges the Church has discriminated against those whose gender identity varies from what it considers the norm, and encourages educators to avoid doing so going forward. It also advises them to brush up on what LGBTQ advocates are arguing and “be fully informed about both current and proposed legislation.”
There is also reason to hope that this is not the last word: As the Vatican reporter for the Catholic-run America magazine reported, the document is not signed or approved by Pope Francis. That means it does not represent official Church policy, but it does reflect Church teaching. Gerard O’Connell reports that the key difference is that it’s “not meant to be seen as a final answer on this controversial subject.”
That’s good news to Catholic deacon Ray Dever, who is raising a transgender child, and wrote a response to the Vatican in U.S. Catholic magazine.
Anyone with any significant first-hand experience with transgender individuals would be baffled by the suggestion that trans people are somehow the result of an ideology. It is a historical fact that long before there were gender studies programs in any university or the phrase gender ideology was ever spoken, transgender people were present, recognized, and even valued in some cultures around the world.
Another disappointed Catholic advocate is Francis DeBernardo, who is director of New Ways Ministry in Maryland. The document’s assertion that “gender is determined solely by visible genitalia” stood out as anachronistic, given that researchers have found genetics, hormones and brain chemistry also play a role.
And that line about how people “choose” their gender? No, said DeBernardo, in a statement: “They discover it through their lived experiences.”
“The document associates sexual and gender minorities with libertine sexuality, a gross misrepresentation of the lives of LGBT people which perpetuates and encourages hatred, bigotry, and violence against them,” DeBernardo wrote.
LGBTQ Catholics need to know, this is just the prelude. Fr. Martin noted in a tweet that Catholic News Service is reporting the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith plans to release a more “in-depth theological and anthropological text” on this issue, sometime in the coming months.
Fr. Martin wrote that he can only hope the Vatican will listen to actual LGBTQ people next time around.