Disappointment Over New Vatican Statement on Gender Identity


Pope Francis (Pic: Jeffrey Bruno)

A prominent LGBTQ+ Catholic advocate says the Vatican’s latest declaration on gender identity upholds regressive ideas that are harmful to transgender and non-binary people.

The document, Dignitas Infinita (Infinite Dignity), was released on 8 April and asserts the church’s view on the inherent dignity of each person.

Amidst an increasingly divisive and dehumanising global assault on transgender identities and experiences, the document endorses a rigid binary view of gender. It is being seen as a step backwards in the church’s journey to becoming more inclusive and affirming of LGBTQ+ people.

The declaration notably lists several threats to people’s dignity, such as abortion, war, poverty, and surrogacy, as well as so-called “gender theory,” including gender-affirming procedures.

It states that “Any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception.”

In the statement below, Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of American LGBTQ+ Catholic group, New Ways Ministry, responds to the release of Dignitas Infinita.

The new Vatican document, Dignitas Infinita, fails terribly by offering transgender and nonbinary people not infinite, but limited human dignity. While it lays out a wonderful rationale for why each human being, regardless of condition in life, must be respected, honored, and loved, it does not apply this principle to gender-diverse people.

In its approach to gender, the document relies on the outdated theology of gender essentialism which claims that a person’s physical appearance is the central evidence of a person’s natural gender identity. This physicalist perspective shackles the Vatican to the growing consciousness that a person’s gender includes the psychological, social, and spiritual aspects naturally present in their lives.

Far from being an individual’s choice, gender identity is based on a discovery of who God created each of us to be accounting for factors other than the physical appearance of one’s body.

The document’s attempt to uphold and defend human dignity is weakened by its stunning lack of awareness of the actual lives of transgender and nonbinary people The Vatican’s arguments and conclusions on gender identity and gender transitions indicate that the authors failed to consult developments about gender in the biological, psychological, and social sciences. Worse yet, it shows the authors did not listen intently to the lived experience of people who have discovered, often after painful and torturous journeys, that God has naturally created them with a gender identity beyond social expectations, usually based on physical appearance.

By simply dismissing this growing awareness of the realities of gender as “gender theory,” the authors of this document abdicate their responsibility to uphold transgender and nonbinary people’s dignity. By cavalierly categorizing LGBTQ+ inclusion as a Western phenomenon imposed in a colonialist fashion on other cultures, the authors ignore the anthropological fact, documented by many scholars even before the current day, that cultures around the world and throughout history have acknowledged and celebrated gender identities beyond the church’s claims of male/female gender binary.

If ideological gender theory and colonization exist in the world, it exists in the schema outlined by this document a person’s gender is based on physical appearance, and that only two genders, male and female, exist in human reality. Recent discoveries and experiences show that the poverty of church leaders’ thinking about transgender and nonbinary denies the rich diversity with which God created the world.

The document should not be dismissed as simply an abstract theological conversation with few human consequences. Rather, the Vatican is again supporting and propagating ideas that lead to real physical harm to transgender, nonbinary, and other LGBTQ+ people. They are harmed by the very violence which this document condemns in economic, psychological, spiritual, social, and most tragically, physical forms, resulting in grave damage that often leads to death.

While Vatican officials do not yet understand transgender and nonbinary’s people infinite dignity, the Catholic faithful have already done so. Catholics, especially the laity but even some bishops, have come to know, accept, and love people with diverse gender identities. Like many instances in the past, the LGBTQ-positive faithful will call on church officials to better apply Catholic social teaching to the realities of gender and sexual identities today.

—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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