On the latest Vatican pronouncements on gender ideology and transness. Catholic writer and trans woman Jane Fae discusses with commentator and occasional performer of disgraceful comedy Jane Fae.
Jane Fae, the Catholic writer
Yet again, the Vatican publishes and the world – or at least the LGBTI world – recoils in horror. A document from an obscure body that is nothing new in terms of policy, nor has any status when it comes to setting out doctrine on trans and LGBTI issues evokes both sharp intake of breath and, as quickly, near universal condemnation from the usual suspects. Including Gay Star News.
The paper – ‘Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory’ – emanates from the Congregation for Catholic Education (CCE). This body has some relevance to those working in seminaries and Pontifical universities. However, it has no wider governance remit when it comes to the much larger international Catholic school sector. Nor does it have any significant teaching role and in this sense, it stands in sharp contrast to the senior body: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
In short, it is a talking shop with very limited direct influence on church policy and doctrine in this area. The CDF on the other hand HAS come up with some limited and not entirely helpful policy positions on trans folk, though no more than two or three. In addition, rumors abound that sooner or later it intends to pronounce on trans and intersex issues. If/when that happens, expect fireworks.
And beyond them, the Pope continues to be almost entirely silent on transness.
‘Ultimately inconsequential’ document
It might have been expected that a document of the sort produced by the CCE would at least have been cleared with the Pope first. But there is no papal signature: no evidence whatsoever of wider papal involvement. Nor indeed any new thinking.
One issue is that documents of this sort are intended to act as spur to debate and this one follows the model of many similar previous documents. It adopts a style and approach peculiar to Vatican writing, of relying heavily on Scriptural and Church sources but – an idiosyncracy of church writing which seeks to present itself as the font of all wisdom – it cites the Bible, popes and other church sources, but no others.
That means that a document that presents itself as an invitation to dialogue instantly comes across as dogmatic statement on the matter under discussion. That failing is compounded by the deceptively radical nature of its content and its abject failure to bring trans people into what is a well-established Church approach of listening and dialogue.
There may also be some element of Church politics in play. Perhaps if the CDF is in the process of developing its own thoughts in this area, this could be pretty blatant attempt to hijack the discussion. Unfortunately, as with so much else about internal Church matters, those of us outside the citadel will be the last to find out.
In sum, a poorly phrased, but ultimately inconsequential document produced by a body with no power to direct church teaching in this area.
Jane Fae, the Catholic woman
Really? I mean really! As a lifelong, far from perfect Catholic I know this stuff. I know the Church is its own worst enemy when it comes to contemplating difficult subjects.
How getting a straight answer on any matter from the press office can seem an achievement on a par with opening direct dialogue with the Blessed Mary!
So it is hardly surprising that yet again the Church has fixed its baleful gaze on an issue that is difficult, divisive and highly sensitive showing scant regard for who gets stomped on in the process.
Of course I know all this. And I am sick to death of having to excuse what is in essence nothing more than ill-mannered, arrogant posturing: a blatant disregard for the repercussions of its thinking out loud for some of the least powerful in our society.
Because let us be clear: no-one with any least awareness of how the secular world works can doubt that thinking aloud in this manner has real consequences for real people.
After reading this document, how welcome will anyone feel who is wondering whether to attend church this Sunday?
But the impact goes much further. If I – if any LGBTI person – does pluck up the courage to go to mass, I will sit there, in between the ceremony, with one wary eye across my fellow celebrants. Do they, like me, understand the piffling irrelevance of this latest publication? Or are they now eyeing me up secretly, judging me as pervert and sexual libertine, condemning?
I also know all too well its impact on more fundamentalist types. On those who already presume that their personal hotline to God entitles them to carry out a murderous purge of trans and LGB folk in Brazil, in Mexico and in the United States.
Careless words cost lives
Because make no mistake: careless words cost lives.
And the church’s continued navel-gazing around LGBTI issues, combined with its failure to match this with speaking out on anti-LGBTI violence is contributing directly to the death and murder of my queer siblings.
I know my Bible: know how irrelevant to Jesus’ teaching was this contemporary obsession about non-normative sexuality and gender identity: how important were issues like adultery and divorce and poverty.
So I listen in disbelief when hypocrites like Bishop Tobin, who previously felt unable to intervene to protect children from pedophile priests, speaks out about the ‘harm’ to children from Pride.
I wince when I read how the Archbishop of Modena gave his literal blessing, a week or so back, to a ‘procession of atonement’ to take place the same day as Modena Pride, in Italy. Presumably he buys the views of the organizing committee that Pride has turned Modena into a “modern-day Sodom”!
And I wonder: I wonder how much longer I can bear this. The fact that a bunch of elderly guys who sit beyond all worldly accountability can, through carelessness, smugness, indifference contribute to creating a hell on earth for people they have never spoken with, much less sought to understand.
I try, as best I can to defend, to understand and, yes, to forgive this hateful aspect of my Church. I am a patient person. But there are limits. And daily the Church comes closer to exceeding them.