Dignity Twin Cities

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Dignity Twin Cities responds

Dignity Twin Cities responds to the new Guiding Principles for Catholic Schools from the Minnesota Catholic Conference.


            In his letter, dated January 1, 2020, announcing a conference for Catholic school and parish leaders in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens states that the purpose of the conference would be to “engage emerging questions on sexual identity and gender theory as they relate to Catholic schools and religious education programs.”  The letter references the Holy See’s Congregation for Catholic Education 2019 document, “Male and Female He Created Them,” as the source document for the conference where, on February 20 and 21, the Archdiocese unveiled the statewide  Minnesota Catholic Conference “Guiding Principles for Catholic Schools and Religious Education Concerning Human Sexuality and Sexual Identity.” 

            Concerned about the effect that these new Guiding Principles will have on LGBTQIA Catholic students and parishioners, Dignity Twin Cities asks all concerned to look closely first at the source document, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_20190202_maschio-e-femmina_en.pdf  

and then at the resulting Guiding Principles (GP) https://www.mncatholic.org/guiding-principles-for-sexuality-identity-in-catholic-education/  

that come from it, in the light of the experience of LGBTQA Catholics.

            The document, “Male and Female He Created Them,” published by the Vatican in February, 2019, begins with a condemnation of “an ideology that is given the general name of ‘gender theory’, which ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences.” (#2).  After this introduction, the document quotes Pope Francis ( #6) as saying that the ideologies of gender seek “to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised”. (quoting Amoris Laetitia, 56)  It excoriates “the separation of sex from gender” (# 11) which leads ultimately to “a culture and ideological revolution driven by relativism, and secondarily a juridical revolution”. (# 20) 


This ideology inspires educational programs and legislative trends that promote ideas of personal identity and affective intimacy that make a radical break with the actual biological difference between male and female.  (#22) 


There is a need to reaffirm the metaphysical roots of sexual difference as an anthropological refutation of attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature, from which the family is generated.  (#34) 


            A casual but careful reader of “Male and Female He Created Them” will surely ask where is this frightening ideology written down, and by whom?  Although it is extensively footnoted with citations from Church documents, especially St. Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, there are no citations anywhere for the sources of its bête noire, gender theory, and the ideology of gender. 


            In his paper, “Transgender Bodies, Catholic Schools, and a Queer Natural Law Theology of Exploration”, (The Journal of Moral Theology 7:1, 2018, pp. 70-98) Craig A. Ford Jr. takes on the issue of LGBTQIA students and teachers in Catholic schools in the United States.  He, in our opinion, justly characterizes Pope Francis’ and other voices of the magisterium’s declamations against gender ideology as creating rhetorical straw men who cannot be found living on planet earth.  


Francis gathers all opposition to current magisterial teaching with respect to sex and gender and gives it the name of ‘ideology.’ To do this he creates a dichotomy between those who believe the truth, which is coextensive with the magisterium’s position, and those who do not so believe the truth, who choose instead to give in to ‘ideology.’ (p. 77)


The biggest liability to such and approach, however, this that in defining a class of people by what they don’t believe, Francis and the bishops run the risk of misrepresenting what it is that people who disagree with the magisterial teaching actually do believe, precisely because they never give a substantive account of it.  In other words, the problem that plagues Francis and the bishops when they write this way is the problem of creating intellectual straw men and generating a field of intellectual distortions that do nothing to clear up the terms of what is actually being debated.  ( p. 78) 


            The best that Ford Jr. could come up with to determine who and what are the sources of the Vatican’s gender ideology is a footnote in a document issued by the Pontifical Council of the Family titled “Family, Marriage, and ‘De Facto’ Unions” ( December, 2000) which cites ( no. 8) Wilhelm Reich, a psychoanalyst, Herbert Marcuse, a philosopher, Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, and Simone de Beauvoir.  Ford Jr. points out that the last of these folks died in 1986, while serious academic study of gender and theory, queer theory, didn’t take off until the 1980’s and 90’s ( p. 79).   

            It may be news to the Vatican but, by and large, we can say with certainty it is not true that LGBTQIA Catholics all have volumes of these writers on their shelves, and diligently study them before going to bed at night to guarantee they are fluently conversant in gender ideology.  It is not what we talk about when we get together.   We talk about our lives and our experiences as LGBTQIA people. 

            Ford Jr. points out that the heart of the case against LGBTQIA people, in the eyes of the Vatican, comes down to gender essentialism as detailed by St. Pope John Paul II in his series of 129 lectures given during his Wednesday audiences between September, 1979, and November, 1984, at the Vatican.  As Ford Jr. helpfully explains, gender essentialism posits that as created beings all human persons have an ontological and metaphysical identity as male or female.   Thus the “metaphysical roots of sexual differences” quoted above.  One’s sexuality does not fall into the Aristotelian category of a mere appearance or accident, it has a truly metaphysical reality or essence.  However, in asserting this the magisterium opens a metaphysical can of worms because along with gender essentialism goes gender complementarity, asserting that each male needs to be married to a female, and vice versa, in order to be metaphysically perfected.  How then can celibate priests and nuns be ontologically whole? Hard to answer, but JP II tried in 129 lectures.  

            Ford Jr. also correctly notes that the heart of the magisterium’s argument for the Theology of the Body, a name that summarizes St. Pope John Paul’s lectures, is scriptural.  The title “Male and Female He Created Them” is a quote from Genesis (1:27).

            Since the publication of Divino Afflante Spiritu by Pope Pius XII in 1943, and reaffirmed in Vatican II’sDei Verbum in 1965 ( no.12), the Church has taught that a correct interpretation of scripture must be done using historical criticism and attempting to understand what the original authors of texts meant at the time that they were writing.  It is totally inappropriate to impose the modern category of “homosexuality”, a term and concept originating in nineteenth century Germany, on ancient scriptures.  Sexual orientation was not understood in Biblical times. To crudely summarize modern scholarship’s take on the texts the Church uses to condemn homosexuality, scholars note that when ancient writers condemned same-sex sexual activity, they are condemning heterosexuals engaging in this behavior.  The concept of homosexual, LGBTQIA orientations, did not exist.  ( See Boswell, John 1981, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, University of Chicago Press; Helminiak, Daniel, 2000, What the Bible really says about homosexuality. Alamo Square Press

            In an effort help Catholics find a way to welcome transgender people Ford Jr. argues that it is useful to think within the frame of the Catholic tradition of Natural Law, where we investigate “how human beings actually exist.”


 In our day, the most respected form of such investigation goes by the name of ‘science.’ …Biologists – particularly through the study of intersex persons – have determined that it is no longer possible to maintain that human sex manifest as a simple binary of male and female.” (p. 92) 


            Ford Jr. reminds us that for Thomas Aquinas the goal of our journey of the exploration of the world and ourselves is eudaimonia, or happiness.  ( p. 95) 

Put another way, we are all seeking a healthy life, and science, as expressed by the professional societies of the medical and psychological professions “point out that both heterosexual and homosexual orientations are healthy.” ( p. 95) We discover that this is true when we talk to LGBTQIA people, and we honor their experience with respect and dignity, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that we must do.  (#1907)


            In his remarks on the new Guiding Principles for dioceses in Minnesota on February 20 and 21, Auxiliary Bishop Cozzens says that they have been established in part in response to Catholic parents who were distressed by having transgender school age children who wanted to transition male to female or female to male.  In public schools, according to State of Minnesota Department of Education guidelines, this is generally allowed, but the Catholic parents who came to him were not comfortable with that process in the public schools, so they came to the Church for an alternative.  The alternative, as stated in the new Guiding Principles, is that it will not be allowed. 

            Students’ sex, as assigned at birth, locks in their sexual identity at a Catholic parish or school, permanently.  


“ 5.  Expressions of a student’s sexual identity are prohibited when they cause disruption or confusion regarding the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.


6.  The consciences of students and employees will be respected with the assurance of their inviolable right to the acknowledgement that God has created each person as a unity of body and soul, male or female, and that God-designed sexual expression and behavior must be exclusively oriented to love and life in marriage between one man and one woman.”


            In a grade school setting, we read, it is on the shoulders of the fourth and fifth  graders to prevent confusion about Church teaching.  In other words, if one day in the fifth grade Joey puts on lipstick and tells her pals on the playground that her name is actually Josephine, the whole superstructure of Catholic sexual ethics and morality will crumble around her unless competent adults quickly come to its rescue with correction and punishment.  We have to ask, if this teaching is relying on unswerving obedience from children to maintain it can it really be correct? 

            The preamble of the new GPs speaks of  “the God-given irrevocable dignity of ever human person”, and “the immeasurable dignity of every child.”  In Joey’s case that would translate into a lot of talking about what is going on with her without any reference at all, anywhere, to the integrity and safety of Church teaching.  If we really care about Joey / Josephine “disruption or confusion regarding the Church’s teaching on human sexuality,” is the last thing on our mind.  We care about her.  Period.

            The point here is that the new GPs insert “disruption and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching on human sexuality” where it absolutely does not belong.  Joey / Josephine may be having an adolescent lark, or he/she/they may be surfacing some deeply important personal issues.  A school that truly respected this child’s dignity would put all of its energy into figuring out which is which, and absolutely none at all on Church teaching.  The issue of “God-designed sexual expression and behavior” being “oriented to love and life in marriage between one man and one woman” is absurdly out of place when working with anyone, especially a child, experiencing gender dysphoria.

            In his remarks introducing the new GPs in February, Auxiliary Bishop Cozzens said that the Church is acting now to “get” children by the sixth grade because if they delay until the ninth grade “the culture” will have “got them.”  In other words, the bishops of Minnesota, with these new policies, have opened a new front in the culture wars in their schools and parishes where, if they were true leaders, they would know they have no place.  We can only trust that the Holy Spirit will guide them to see the error of their ways and rescind what we should call the Misguided Principles.  Conformity and obedience, especially from fifth graders, is not the same as Thomas Aquinas’ exalted eudaimonia.  

            Rather than defend their barricades with the Theology of the Body, Dignity Twin Cities calls on the Catholic bishops of Minnesota, and their staffs in Catholic schools and parishes, to work closely with the medical and counseling professionals who are consulted in cases of gender dysphoria.  The overriding message from Church staff should be a humble acknowledgement that they do not have an answer for everything, especially medically and psychologically complicated issues of gender dysphoria, but they will always do their best to relate to all people, especially trans children and adults, with unconditional, yes UNCONDITIONAL, love.


                                                                                    -Brian McNeill, 3/14/20