The last 12 months has been another year of the Catholic Church continuing its don’t ask, don’t tell policy of love the sinner not the sin. Another year when the Vatican missed opportunities to affirm the positive contributions of LGBTQ+ people. This year will be remembered as the year the Vatican told lesbians and gays that they were no longer interested in their salvation, or marriage, punting that issue to state rights. What a failed policy for the smallest City State located in Western Europe. Just a few countries away, anti-LGBTQ+ zones are rejecting LGBTQ+ people, growing increasingly intolerant towards sexual minorities.
In America, Catholics are inspired to laud Amy Coney Barrett whose Supreme Court confirmation has pitted her style of Catholicism against President-elect Joe Biden. The United States Bishops tell us Barrett can receive communion, but Biden cannot.
In October 2020, Gay History Month, Pope Francis informed parents of LGBTQ+ children that “the church loves your children as they are because they are children of God.” Was this even in doubt? And if it were a true Vatican conviction, why couldn’t I, an ex-Jesuit and gay son eulogize my mother at her funeral at St. Isadore’s Church in Riverhead, N.Y.? (That was so 2019.)
In October, Pope Francis told his flock that heterosexual, married sex can be pleasurable. Isn’t all lovemaking pleasurable, part of an all-good and all-loving God’s plan for his beloved children?
In June, during Pride Month, the Vatican issued its most recent antigay argument: only biological males and females are complementary. The document, “Male and Female He Created Them: Toward a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education” is an instructional document whose purpose is to correct a crisis in the field of sex education. The document takes its title from Genesis 1:27, which Jesus restates in Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6. Of course the theology of the document does not deviate from century-old Vatican norms or Church dogma, for example, the primal purpose of adult opposite-sex relationships is to procreate. Thus, the Vatican exalts child-making couples, and shames all others; gay, lesbian, non-child bearing, and gender-fluid couples.
Of course, by exalting child-making couples, the Vatican is affirming its stance that sacramental marriage is between one man and one woman. Still, nothing new. But the damage done by this document is likely irreparable.
Moreover, the Vatican outright rejects the notion that, that gender is malleable. For some, like hermaphrodites, their genders are chosen for them based on the most prominent organ at birth. These men and women can experience things not visible at birth, while their gender assignment is chosen for them by hospital staff, a life of brain development may lead to self-discovery, e.g., that they are embodied in a foreign body. The Vatican dismisses this quickly, whereas, unfortunately for liberal Catholic writers like Fr. James Martin, the Vatican can never use “real-life experience” to shape its theology or dogma. If it did, divorced Catholics could remarry and receive the Eucharist. This is why calling for dialogue and listening to people talk on gender is dubious, if not manipulation by a few progressives to keep the pews filled with a portion of the faithful so easily termed uncomplimentary.
When the Church, through documents like “Male and Female He Created Them” articulates an antigay theology, then through Pope Francis I says, “We must be attentive, not saying all are the same” that “people must be accompanied” it causes confusion, and provides a safe space for discrimination, bullying and violence against the LBGTQ+ community. Only Papal hugs and phone calls are more confusing.
There is nothing ambiguous here, no oscillation between full acceptance and full rejection. Here, a call for dialogue does not pass the smell test, because the Vatican never listens to people’s experience, rather, heralds male philosophers and theologians. Pope Francis himself made this clear, when in This Economy Kills: Pope Francis on Capitalism and Social Justice (2015), he said gender theory is likened to “nuclear arms,” “genetic manipulation” – all because it failed to “recognize the order of creation.” In 2016, Pope Francis went further, the “wickedness” of gender theory is “against the natural order.” Thus, “the world war against marriage” is an example of the “ideological colonization” running amok in the world. Again, it is painstaking to listen to a few progressive Catholic writers voice pastoral concerns about the lack of insight gained by the Vatican through first person interviews with transgender or even de-transitioning men and women. Such experiences are not meritorious, furthermore, the Vatican would never exalt the experience of a transgender man or woman over the vestige of patriarchal societies: the complementarity of men and women to make babies.
As if never before, in 2020 the Vatican reentered the “world vs. the other world” debate. In a year of climate of groupthink, cancel culture, fragmentation and lack of communion, it is curious that the Vatican elected more confusion over the place of LGBTQ+ people in its flock. It’s a childlike move, one likened to spending all of Advent berating closeted gay priests for choosing to welcome the birth of Jesus by blessing boats and houses and not same-sex marriages. But when you don’t deviate from traditional Catholic teaching in the 21st century you do just what you cry out against: disorientation, canceling out differences, destabilizing the family as an institution.
Just as the Vatican argues against gender existing along a spectrum so is it becoming increasingly clear, if you do not practice the Catholic faith in the most conservative of ways you are not fully a member of the Church. Whether you hope for a dialogue or listening, the only cudgel against the LGBTQ+ community is leading them to hope in something greater to come. And for LGBTQ+ people, that something greater might just be a change in faith; finding a new home in a house of worship that fully embraces them now and in the eternal life to come. Why settle for less? Jesus did not.
Benjamin Brenkert is the author of A Catechism of the Heart: A Jesuit Missioned to the Laity.