A dearth of priests suggests the Catholic church should widen recruitment

— It’s no wonder numbers training for the priesthood continue to fall when married men or any woman are still barred

Pope Francis has started a debate on the future of the global Catholic church, but does it go far enough?

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Walking down towards the River Nidd in Knaresborough, the pretty North Yorkshire market town where I grew up, it would be easy to pass by St Mary’s Catholic church without noticing it. Built only two years after the Emancipation Act in 1829, the church was designed to resemble a private house in order not to offend local Protestant sensibilities. Two centuries later, sectarian sentiment is no longer a problem, but the crisis of vocations in the church certainly is.

Back in Knaresborough, over the bank holiday weekend, I was in the Sunday morning congregation to hear Father William pass on sad news. A letter from the bishop of Leeds informed us that when William returns to Ampleforth Abbey, after 12 years’ sterling work, he will not be replaced by a resident priest. Instead, the parish will share one with a church in nearby Harrogate. Inevitably, that will mean fewer masses, and it is hard to imagine that the new man (because, of course, it will be a man), will be able to devote the same level of pastoral care and attention to the town.

Such arrangements are increasingly common, as the numbers training for the priesthood continue inexorably to fall. But it still comes as a shock to think of an unoccupied presbytery in a town the size of Knaresborough. In Rome, Pope Francis has inaugurated a great debate on the future of the global Catholic church, which has been compared to the famous reforming Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. But the issue of allowing married priests has barely surfaced, and the ordination of women is not even on the table. For how long can that remain the case?

Complete Article HERE!

Meet some of the NYC Catholics who want to change the Church

Kenneth Boller

By

On a recent, sunny afternoon, 18 people gathered at a center for older adults in the West Village for a unique Sunday Mass.

The Rev. Anne Tropeano, an ordained female priest known as Father Anne, led the Catholic service. The homily, which was delivered by a layperson instead of a deacon or priest, criticized Pope Francis’ statements last month on transgender identity.

The cantor referred to God with female pronouns when singing. Communion was given to all willing participants, not just baptized Catholics.

The group, the Metro New York chapter of the national organization Call to Action, was hosting its first in-person meeting since 2019.

Call to Action has about 20,000 members nationwide. Its Metro New York Chapter, which has around 1,600 email subscribers, advocates for progressive politics within the Church locally. In New York, the group lobbied to pass the Child Victims Act, citing abuse by priests.

Although their Sunday Mass wouldn’t pass muster with the Vatican, it represents the kind of Catholic Church that Call to Action hopes to see one day: one that advocates for all marginalized people, openly welcomes gay and transgender parishioners, and encourages female leadership.

For supporters, this argument isn’t just moral, it’s also practical. As Catholic parishes continue to merge and shutter amid low attendance, progressive activists emphasize that broader inclusivity would be a win-win.

The Archdiocese of New York declined to comment on Call to Action, waning parish membership, and progressive practices at some Catholic churches in New York City, but said it generally does not exclude any demographic.

“All are welcome,” the archdiocese’s Director of Communications Joseph Zwilling wrote in an email. “The Church here in New York and around the world has sought to reach those who feel alienated or cut off from the faith, and will continue to do so.”

‘I’m exactly like a male priest, except I’m female’

Tropeano, 49, is a bit of a celebrity among progressive-minded Catholics. Call to Action Metro New York invited her to lead its annual meeting, even though she’s based in New Mexico. She made the most of the trip, speaking at Queens’ Ridgewood Presbyterian Church the same weekend.

Before Mass at the Call to Action meeting, her talk drew on the Easter season, using Christ’s resurrection as a metaphor for personal and social reform.

A woman priest poses in a black and white profile photo.
Father Anne

In an interview before the event, Tropeano said “an encounter with God” she had when she was 29 moved her to explore faith matters from New Age spirituality to Evangelical Christianity.

She earned her master’s degree in divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, in 2017, and watched from the sidelines as her male peers prepared to be ordained.

In 2021, she was ordained by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, a nonprofit movement focused on female ordination. Under Catholic canon law, any woman ordained as a priest is automatically excommunicated.

Tropeano pointed out that for a woman to become a priest, “it’s considered a crime as serious as the sexual abuse of a child by a male priest, but they’re not excommunicated.” (In those cases, canon law recommends “just penalties, not excluding” firing the offender from the clergy.)

“Being excommunicated means you can’t work for the Church, you can’t volunteer for the Church, you can’t receive any of the sacraments,” she said. “So I’m not allowed to receive the Eucharist. I won’t receive the Christian burial. I mean, I am so Catholic that I became a priest, and that’s how the institution treats me.”

Though she broke the Church’s laws by seeking ordination, Tropeano otherwise makes a point of respecting the institution. “So many people have terrible experiences in the institutional Church,” she said. “Mine was incredible. So I think that’s part of why I have a call within a call, which is Church reform. I see how good it can be when it’s operating with integrity.”

Unlike many other female priests within the women’s ordination movement, Tropeano wears the clerical collar, practices celibacy and leads her services by the book — with the exception that anyone can receive Communion.

“I’m exactly like a male priest, except I’m female,” she said. “That’s the only difference.”

Back at the center for older adults, the group silently reflected on Tropeano’s lecture before Mass. One woman sitting at the front wore a button in honor of the occasion. It read: “Ordain women or stop baptizing them.”

More than a ‘lavender mafia’

Among the crowd at the West Village event was Theo Swinford, a 26-year-old Borough Park resident who grew up devoutly Catholic near Phoenix, Arizona.

Swinford, who uses they/them pronouns, attended a Catholic university to study theology, where they read Catholic books and listened to Catholic music and podcasts in their free time. Swinford, who has been openly gay since 16, did their best at that time to make peace with the idea of lifelong celibacy and ignore their burgeoning nonbinary identity.

“I spent more and more time just kind of miserable, arguing with myself over whether or not it was realistic for me to live my life that way,” Swinford said in a phone interview. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the Pennsylvania grand jury report came out.”

A person poses by a fence
Theo Swinford, in Brooklyn.

That 2018 report, which detailed decades of abuse and coverups within the Catholic Church, found credible sex abuse allegations against 301 priests. Swinford expected their favorite scholars and pundits to pause and reflect on the Church’s wrongdoings. Instead, those people blamed homosexuality, and even referred to a “lavender mafia” at work within the Church.

Swinford took a break from Catholicism for nearly four years after that and explored other churches and religions. “But there was always something about Catholicism that really, like, tugged at me,” they said. “It’s just so much a part of who I am.”

Swinford is hardly alone. Groups including DignityUSA and Fortunate Families — as well as New York’s handful of gay-friendly parishes — demonstrate the persistent need for LGBTQ+ affirming Catholic spaces.

Although Swinford had not been to a Catholic Mass of any kind in years, they decided to attend the Call to Action event because of the group’s explicit pro-LGBTQ+ advocacy and their curiosity about Tropeano.

“The thing I’ve missed the most is not being able to receive the Eucharist,” Swinford said in an interview after the event. “And so getting to receive the Eucharist from a woman priest, who is an outcast in her own way, because she’s also not accepted by the Church, was a really powerful experience.”

Reforming Mass, just west of Union Square

Many members of Call to Action are also parishioners at the Church of St. Francis Xavier on West 15th Street, a Roman Catholic church known for its inclusivity.

Inside the Church of St. Francis Xavier, west of Union Square.

St. Francis Xavier, which the Rev. Kenneth Boller has led since 2019, has hosted robust groups for gay- and lesbian-identifying Catholics since the 1990s. A group called “The Women Who Stayed” has been working with clergy to adapt services and Scripture to include more gender-neutral language for God.

“Everybody has fundamental aspirations and rights, and you learn how to work together to achieve them,” said Boller, a Queens native who has been a priest for almost 49 years, in a phone interview.

A man poses inside a church
Kenneth Boller, at The Church of St. Francis Xavier, west of Union Square.

Although the Church of St. Francis Xavier is recognized by the archdiocese, it still has a reputation for unorthodoxy among many practicing Catholics. Swinford said peers once warned them to stay away from the parish, saying it was “not in line with Church teaching.”

Stephanie Samoy, 60, is a member of The Women Who Stayed and St. Francis Xavier’s lively Catholic Lesbians group. Samoy first attended the church in 2001, and she and her wife were married there. Samoy came out as a lesbian in Tucson, Arizona, during the 1980s, and said she never imagined she could feel so much love in a church.

“When I first got there, I just bawled,” she said in a phone interview. “It broke me and I was ready to be broken. My mom came to New York one day, and we went to Mass, and I was crying again that my mom was here and she could experience this.”

A banner that welcome immigrants and refugees hangs from a church wall.
The exterior of the Church of St. Francis Xavier, near Union Square.

But even at a church like St. Francis Xavier, progressive parishioners are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Rosemarie Sauerzopf, 73, and her wife, Paula Acuti, 76, are also members of Catholic Lesbians, and Sauerzopf is vice president of Call to Action Metro New York. The two were married at St. Francis Xavier in 2004.

“All this can change tomorrow if we get a new pastor who’s not friendly,” Sauerzopf said. “My parish is an anomaly. It’s an oasis.”

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican opposes criminalization of homosexuality, top cardinal says

Pope Francis said laws criminalizing LGBT people were a sin and an injustice, because God loves and accompanies people with same-sex attraction.

The Vatican opposes the criminalization of homosexuality as practiced by a number of countries with the support of Catholic groups, the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office said on Monday.

Presenting a publication which reaffirmed the Vatican’s opposition to sex changes, gender theory and surrogate parenthood, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez called laws punishing homosexuality “a big problem” and said, “Of course we are not in favor of criminalization.”

Fernandez, a liberal theologian whom Pope Francis appointed as head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith less than a year ago, told reporters it was “painful” to see some Catholics support anti-homosexuality laws.

In February 2023, returning from a trip to Africa where same-sex relationships are often taboo, Francis said laws criminalizing LGBT people were a sin and an injustice, because God loves and accompanies people with same-sex attraction.

“The criminalization of homosexuality is a problem that cannot be ignored,” the Pope said, citing unnamed statistics according to which 50 countries criminalize LGBT people “in one way or another” and about 10 others have laws including the death penalty.

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Under Francis, the Catholic Church has become more welcoming towards LGBT people. In December, Cardinal Fernandez’s office issued a landmark document allowing the blessing of same-sex couples, triggering substantial conservative backlash.

Nevertheless, the Church officially teaches that homosexual acts “are intrinsically disordered.”

Answering a question on whether such language may be amended, Cardinal Fernandez said, “it is true that it a very strong expression and that it needs a lot of explanation, perhaps we could find a clearer one.”

He said that the point of Catholic teaching was that homosexual acts cannot match “the immense beauty” of heterosexual unions, and the Church “could find more apt words to express” this.

American Solidarity

— Reflections on a changing Catholic Church

Cardinal Robert W. McElroy

by Nell Porter Brown

Like many Americans during this fractious election year, Cardinal Robert W. McElroy ’76 has been focused on politics and the state of the country. “We can idealize, as if times in the past were all graced with tremendous solidarity,” he says. “But I think we are in a profound moment of crisis on that question in our society. Individualism is corrosive from both ends of the political and ideological spectrum. And we have to really recover a sense of common identity, common purpose and mission on certain fundamental levels.”

A lifelong Catholic and a close collaborator of Pope Francis since 2022, McElroy’s approach to ministering is based in the more practical pastoral theology than a strict rule-bound Catholicism. It’s also been shaped by studying American history at Harvard, earning doctoral degrees in moral theology and political science, and experiences as a young priest in San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic. All have been integral to his longstanding push for greater social inclusion, in society and within the Church. Solidarity, he says, is “the principle that all of us are beneficiaries of the society to which we belong, and everyone has an obligation to all the members.”

That cohesion informed his childhood. He grew up with four siblings in San Mateo County (south of San Francisco) in a neighborhood that revolved around the thriving local parish. McElroy recognized his calling as a boy and studied at a high school seminary. Ordained in 1980, he was soon ministering in San Francisco and ultimately spent 15 rewarding years as the pastor at St. Gregory Church in San Mateo. He had always hoped to spend his life in parish ministry “because it is so directly rooted in the hearts and souls of real people,” he says. But Church leaders, valuing his intellect, tapped him for larger roles, and when he was appointed auxiliary bishop in 2010, he knew the rest of his life in the Church “would be rooted in pastoral service to my diocese and in contributing to the global dialogue about the Church’s future, both in its internal life and its outreach to the world.” In 2015 Pope Francis appointed him bishop of San Diego—where he oversees 96 parishes and a community of 1.4 million Catholics—and then appointed him to the College of Cardinals.

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Cardinal McElroy processing into St Peter’s Basilica for his official appointment as a cardinal in August 2022

That has meant continuing the duties of bishop but also spending more time in Rome and supporting the pope’s vision, especially his global Synod on Synodality, a multi-year process of reform that began in 2022. This “listening and dialogue” via meetings, following the Second Vatican Council’s proposed “renewal,” brings Catholics together to discern unified paths forward. McElroy, always a broad thinker, is integral to the pope’s efforts to effect changes in the Church—among them, more “accompaniment and support for” the LGBTQ+ community, lay leaders, and the role of women—that have been welcomed by many, but also vociferously opposed by other Church leaders, both in Rome and in the United States.

It is an extraordinary and pivotal time for the Church. Most Catholics “admire and cherish” Pope Francis, McElroy says: They agree with his focus on pastoral theology, “his notion that the Church is a field hospital bringing healing to souls, all in need of grace and support from one another, not condemnation.” Nevertheless, on issues like climate change, economic justice, poverty, LGBTQ+ rights, and war and peace, “The ideological polarization that cripples our society at this moment shapes divergent responses to the pope’s teachings,” he adds. “Many bishops who oppose the direction in which Pope Francis is leading the Church worry that his pastoral approach undermines the dedication to truth that is part of Catholic faith. Francis tells us that for the Christian, truth is not an idea, but a person—Jesus Christ—who calls us to conversion in love and mercy.”

The same political tribalism that’s “sapping our energy as a people and endangering our democracy…has entered destructively into the life of the Church.”

McElroy influences the reform process in person, but also through articles and speeches. America Magazine (led by the Jesuits) published an article headlined “Cardinal McElroy on ‘Radical Inclusion’ for L.G.T.B. People, Women, and Others, in the Catholic Church,” in which he addresses feedback from the synodal dialogues. He asserted that the same political tribalism that “is sapping our energy as a people and endangering our democracy…has entered destructively into the life of the Church.” The need to reform “our own structures of exclusion,” he concludes, “will require a long pilgrimage of sustained prayer, reflection, dialogue, and action—all of which should begin now.”

Just as crucial, however, he says, are the continuing issues of abortion and climate change, especially in this election year. He’s deeply concerned about forces threatening the fate of “democratic institutions, the Constitution, and the role of law. Catholic teaching has a particular perspective that those institutions are important.” The global escalation of violence—he has consistently called for a cease-fire in Gaza—is disturbing “not just for us as a country, but for so many people who get victimized by war,” he notes. “And our participation in it is such an important moral question.” He laments that conflict is so easily sown, and that civil conversation and disagreement, nearly impossible across partisan and ideological lines, impedes functional progress. Social media, despite their advantages, share considerable blame for that: “We move more and more into our own feedback loops, those we are comfortable with, and we think ‘Oh yeah, everyone agrees with me.’ It’s a huge problem.”

Seeking exposure to fresh and diverse perspectives led McElroy to choose a college outside of the Church—specifically, Harvard and its renowned history department. In 1972, never having traveled east of Nevada, he formed a close circle of friends (two of whom traveled to Rome to watch him become a member of the College of Cardinals), concentrated in American history, and graduated in three years.

Especially formative was “Themes in Comparative World Social History” taught by Loeb University Professor Oscar Handlin, the pioneering historian of American immigration. McElroy says that only four students took the year-long seminar because Handlin required them to read four books a week (no trouble for McElroy, who had taken a speed-reading course). “The other students could also do it and were really bright and interesting,” he says. “Their perspectives on everything were just enlightening to me. And Handlin? He had an encyclopedic knowledge of everything.” When McElroy had to write a paper on comparing nineteenth-century miscegenation laws in Brazil and Virginia, Handlin recommended three or four books, “just off the top of his head,” he recalls, “and they were the best books on the topic. And he did that with everyone in the class.” The depth and intensity of learning were thrilling, and spawned not only McElroy’s enduring interest in immigration but his continuing prioritizing of the Church’s role in aiding migrants and refugees.

Aside from classes, two shows of solidarity on campus also stand out. First: the legal drinking age was lowered to 18, which led “to the largest block party all over the place,” McElroy says, laughing. The second, more sobering, was the agreement that ostensibly ended American participation in the Vietnam War. “That was a moment of great thanksgiving and gratitude from the whole community because we had been facing the reality of the draft, for one thing, and the tragedy of the war for so many people as a whole. The University came together and there was a sense of unity.”

McElroy went on to earn a master’s degree in American history from Stanford, then a master’s in divinity from St. Patrick’s Seminary in 1979 before he was ordained. Among his other degrees are two doctorates (in political science from Stanford and in moral theology from the Gregorian University in Rome), both of which yielded books: The Search for an American Public Theology: The Contribution of John Courtney Murray (1989) and Morality and American Foreign Policy: The Role of Ethics in International Affairs (1992).

Academic work has always fed his mind—and his spirit. “Harvard honed my ability to write with greater clarity and elegance,” he says, and “the level of passion and self-assurance (sometimes justified and sometimes not) in the debates on myriad subjects that we had in the classroom, the dining hall at Mather House, or at parties taught me a great deal about speaking and listening and genuinely learning amidst all the bravado.” The combined experiences of Harvard, Stanford, and the seminary “introduced me to a wide diversity of human experiences, cultures, and social environments. Hopefully, this created in me a greater empathy, a willingness to listen, and an understanding that my own experience was just a small microcosm of the human reality in our world.”

That certainly came to bear while serving as a young priest in the 1980s at Saint Cecilia Church in San Francisco, where he was also secretary (and later vicar general) to Archbishop John R. Quinn, a leader in the Church’s stands on war and peace, poverty, and racial justice. As early as 1983, Quinn reached out to gay Catholics and supported a Castro neighborhood parish that held vigils for HIV-positive parishioners and their caregivers. McElroy co-wrote a diocesan report stating that homosexuality is not held to be a sinful condition and that homosexuals should be helped to follow the principle of “gradualism”: “the notion that Jesus called men and women as they were in real lives and recognized that their call to enflesh the gospel was a lifelong project,” he explains now. He also remembers visiting parishioners—“young people dying of this terrible and unknown disease. And very often their families refused to embrace them in their illness. I think it was then that I began to seek ways to show that LGBTQ+ persons are truly, equally members of the Catholic Church and that all dimensions and attitudes of exclusion should end.”

Throughout his cherished years as a parish pastor—the role he originally sought as a boy with a calling—he was moved and nurtured by “the way in which people allowed you into their lives to walk their journey with them.” Back then, he was sometimes asked if he ever got tired of listening to people’s problems. The answer was, and is, no. “It was inspiring…and you saw how difficult it was but how heroically so many people strive to live as they should.” To be let into others’ anguish is a privilege, he agrees, “and priests must be careful in presenting the image of God in a way that’s proper, too. The God who embraces us, who loves, is not diminished by our failures.”

Complete Article HERE!

The Vatican’s Statement on Gender Is Unsurprising, and a Missed Opportunity

— A new document that strives to reconsider matters of human dignity nevertheless echoes Church rhetoric from decades ago.

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The arc of Vatican rhetoric on sexual issues is long, and it doesn’t bend much at all. On October 30, 1986, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a letter to bishops, “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” which was signed by the office’s prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. In 1975, the C.D.F., formerly known as the Holy Office, had made a distinction between the homosexual “condition” and homosexual acts, calling the latter “intrinsically disordered.” A result, the 1986 letter lamented, was that in the following years “an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good.” Then the C.D.F. got to the main point: “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder” and as “essentially self-indulgent.” The October 30th document came to be known as the Halloween Letter. At a grim moment in the aids pandemic, the Catholic Church, with an opportunity to show compassion to gay men, instead used terse, forbidding language to reaffirm its teaching against gay sexual activity and “the homosexual condition itself.”

Much has changed in the Church’s approach in the thirty-eight years since. The U.S. bishops eventually issued a statement framed as “a response to the H.I.V./aids crisis,” taking a kinder, gentler tone than that of the C.D.F. letter. Lesbians and gay men, including the Catholic writer Andrew Sullivan, initiated a movement for gay marriage, and it gained force, with gay marriage eventually becoming recognized by the U.S. government, and by nations worldwide. Pope Francis, four months after his election, in 2013, said, of gay clergymen, “Who am I to judge?” He spoke approvingly of civil protections for a gay couple in a 2019 interview with a Mexican broadcaster. He met with transgender women in St. Peter’s Square and received them again at a luncheon in the Vatican. In October, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, or D.D.F.—an office that replaced the C.D.F., as part of a reorganization of the Roman curia—answered a Brazilian bishop’s query by affirming that transgender people can be baptized and can serve as godparents “under certain conditions.” In December, the D.D.F. issued “Fiducia Supplicans,” a document authorizing priests to bless people living in “irregular situations” and “couples of the same sex.” Catholic traditionalists decried the document; a group of bishops in Africa issued a joint statement saying that they would not allow such blessings in their dioceses. Yet, through all this, the Vatican did not alter its official characterization of homosexuality as an “objective disorder,” nor its declaration (found in “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” from 1992) that “everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity”—the biological sex he or she is born with, that is.

When Francis was elected, the doctrinal office was run by Archbishop Gerhard Müller, a traditionalist who had been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI—the former Cardinal Ratzinger. Müller eventually set himself against the new Pope, suggesting, for example, that Francis’s apparent solicitude, in the 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” toward Catholics who divorced and remarried was at odds with Church teaching. In 2017, Francis declined to renew Müller’s appointment, and promoted his deputy, Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, a Spanish Jesuit. Finally, last July, after the D.D.F. was reorganized, Francis appointed his own close associate, Víctor Manuel Fernández, a fellow-Argentine who was then an archbishop, to lead it. In a public letter to the new prefect, Francis warned against a “desk-bound theology” infused with “a cold and harsh logic that seeks to dominate everything.” He urged the D.D.F. to be open to fresh “currents of thought in philosophy, theology, and pastoral practice” and stressed that the office must maintain Catholic doctrine, “but not as an enemy who critiques and condemns.” Francis made Fernández a cardinal in September. In October, the Vatican hosted a monthlong Synod on Synodality assembly, which brought some four hundred and fifty Church leaders from around the world to Rome, to take part in daily sessions meant to foster a “listening” and “discerning” Church. The synod process (which began in local churches worldwide in 2021) was promoted as a key initiative of Francis’s pontificate, and as a new way of proceeding for the Vatican.

This Monday, the D.D.F. released “Dignitas Infinita,” a document, five years in preparation, about “the dignity of the human person in Christian anthropology.” Its release was expected, and it was characterized by the press as unsurprising—“something of a repackaging of previously articulated Vatican positions, read now through the prism of human dignity,” as Nicole Winfield, an Associated Press correspondent based in Rome, put it. The document reiterates the Church’s stands against abortion and euthanasia, and amplifies its opposition to surrogate motherhood and what it calls “sex change” procedures. But, for the first time in a document of this stature, it groups those practices with broader phenomena that the Church opposes, such as war, economic inequality, human trafficking, “the marginalization of people with disabilities,” cruelty to migrants, violence against women, sexual abuse, and the death penalty, among others. According to Fernández, last November Pope Francis urged the office to make the document present issues connected to matters of human dignity, the personal and the social, as parts of a whole—a striking departure from the Church’s way of framing issues involving the body in terms of individual moral conduct. This approach has upset many for seeming to establish false equivalences. But the document has been praised in the Catholic press: the news site Crux saw it “uniting Pope Francis’s progressive social agenda with the traditional moral and ethical concerns of his predecessors.

The document is thick with citations of past statements by Francis, Benedict, and Pope John Paul II. Building on last December’s blessing of “couples of the same sex,” it affirms the Church’s opposition to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But it complains that “the concept of human dignity is occasionally misused to justify an arbitrary proliferation of new rights.” It denounces “gender theory” for seeking to obscure, or do away with, the “foundational” quality of “sexual difference,” which belongs to the body created “in the image of God,” and it rejects any “sex-change intervention,” insisting that respect for one’s humanity must begin with respect for the body “as it was created.”

While “Dignitas Infinita” is the most important statement to be issued by the D.D.F. under the new prefect, it is best seen as a final expression of the old C.D.F.’s admonitory approach. For example, the fresh social emphasis Francis evidently sought to give it by grouping sex and gender with affronts to human dignity serves instead to point up the offhand, ad-hominem quality of its remarks on gender identity. Consider this passage: “Desiring a personal self-determination, as gender theory prescribes . . . amounts to a concession to the age-old temptation to make oneself God, entering into competition with the true love of God revealed to us in the Gospel.” In the nearly twelve-thousand-word text, that passage stands out both for its extreme rhetoric and its denunciation of individual behavior. It comes amid a dense, footnoted passage about the interaction of gender theory and human rights; suddenly the reader is presented with a citation-free sketch of an abstract individual, as imagined by a curial official. This individual is not credited with any effort of reflection or discernment—not seen as striving to join the physical and social aspects of personhood to the inward person (which some trans people identify as the God-given person), or as seeking to reconcile body and soul, as Christian believers have always sought to do. This individual is simply said to be succumbing to the temptation “to make oneself God.” Thus gender identity, whose complexities call for a complex response informed by emerging currents of thought, is fit into the Vatican’s textbook critique of post-Enlightenment social movements, and reduced to one more iteration of individual self-determination run amok—the way the Vatican characterized gay life a generation ago.

At a press conference about the new document, when Winfield from the A.P. asked Cardinal Fernández whether the Church might consider withdrawing the term “intrinsically disordered,” the prefect admitted that the phrase “needs to be explained a lot” and added, “Perhaps we could find a clearer expression.” Indeed, the arc that the Vatican’s approach to homosexuality has taken in the past four decades—from a “condition” to be dealt with to a way of being that can be blessed—might have prompted the D.D.F.’s theologians, as they give greater attention to gender-identity issues, to consider adopting some nuance and a stance of humility toward them.

Fortunately, there is an opportunity for the Vatican to really change its approach. At last October’s Synod gathering, participants discussed sex and gender intermittently, but their comments were largely kept out of the summary document, which emphasized procedural matters. This October, the participants will return to Rome for another month of collective listening and discernment. This time, gender identity should be firmly on the agenda. With that singular passage in the new document, the Vatican has put it there.

Complete Article HERE!