Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Vatican still talking at, not to, LGBTQI+ people



In the recently released Vatican publication, 'Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education', the Catholic Congregation for Education claims to be 'listening'. But I wonder who they are listening to.

Gay men hugging and smiling (Marilyn Nieves/Getty)There isn't one LGBTQI+ voice in the document's 31 pages, which is made clear in how it talks about LGBTQI+ people rather than to us. Nor do any LGBTQI+ Catholic aligned advocates seem to have had a say in this, as many of them have spoken out against the document.  

Instead, the contents work mostly within the Catholic theological framework in trying to refute gender theory. It doesn't say much that is new, mainly referencing the speeches and interviews of Popes and other Catechism documents. While it is nominally for Catholic educators, it's hard to see how this serves the Catholic teachers who work with a diverse range of students and staff and who would likely already know the Church's position on these issues.

I won't go through every point the document makes, but needless to say, I am unconvinced by any argument that disregards the identities of gender diverse people as 'momentary desires' rather than as lived realities deserving of respect.

In regards to recommending surgery for intersex people — a stance the Global Rainbow Network of Catholics has spoken out against — the Congregation could take note of how gender theorist Judith Butler discusses the complications of defining the materiality of sex in her speech 'Why Bodies Matter'. She states that when there is a significant number of people who don't fall neatly into what is considered to be one sexed category, continuing to insist on two sexes as a universal experience is essentially 'a form of cruelty'.

As I read the Vatican document over and over again to write this article, it's hard not to feel exhausted at how much the institutional Catholic Church will not let queer people exist in their worldview. The fact that this document was written in February but released in June, which is Pride Month for many countries around the world, further undermines the worth of the advocacy and lives of LGBTQI+ people, and in particular, LGBTQI+ Catholics.

In fact, the only thing I really took away from this document is how it embodies, at least to me, one of my main issues with the official Church position on LGBTQI+ issues. The Vatican may not advocate for 'unjust discrimination' against people in the LGBTQ+ community, but neither will it accept us as we are.  


"It's unclear to me how someone could avoid discriminating against intersex, trans and non-binary people if they fundamentally don't agree with their existence in the first place."


The problem is that this stance doesn't really work on a practical level. For one thing, it puts LGBTQI+ people in the untenable position of depending on straight cisgender Catholics to have a generous interpretation of what 'unjust discrimination' means — essentially making sure LGBTQI+ people are on the back foot in Catholic spaces, including Catholic schools.

Using the 'hate the sin, love the sinner' idea as the basis for what is unjust discrimination also becomes more complicated when you take into account that in general, queer people consider their queerness as part of them, not as a separate set of 'choices' or actions. Even when I'm not dating anyone, I am still bisexual. It's not active or inactive, it just is. And for intersex, trans and non-binary people, it's unclear to me how someone could avoid discriminating against them (and by that, I mean respect their personhood, autonomy and identity) if they fundamentally don't agree with their existence in the first place.

From my own experiences, the effect of this discrimination limbo has been to silence queer people in Catholic institutions. I've written before about my experience in Catholic schools, and this feeling applies to other Catholic spaces. Rather than feeling welcomed, the implication is always that you are there on a conditional reprieve that can be revoked at any time — and sometimes is, because of religious exemptions to discrimination laws. You can be here and queer, as long as you're silent about it. It's hardly conducive to an open dialogue.

I've always valued how Catholicism has strong roots in social justice and in particular the idea that we need to respect each person's inherent human dignity. Trying to justify 'just discrimination' and pick and choose the parts of us that are acceptable to Catholic teachings isn't the same thing as dignity or justice for LGBTQI+ people.

'Male and Female He Created Them' could have been a document that actually addressed how Church teachings could better coexist with LGBTQI+ experiences to benefit LGBTQ+ students and LGBTQI+ people more broadly. But that can't work if the document's authors don't listen to LGBTQI+ voices and when the foundational argument is to problematise LGBTQI+ people's existence. Gender and sexual diversity in schools isn't an 'educational crisis', it's just life, and LGBTQI+ people won't go away by the force of theological intellectualising.

To my reading, 'Male and Female He Created Them' aren't the words of people who want to better accompany others, it is a gauntlet thrown down. This is as far as we are willing to go, it says, and we won't be pushed any further. To be open to conversation, one needs to be able to reconsider ones viewpoint and actively listen. I suspect that would require more bravery than many in the Vatican currently possess.



Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Main image by Marilyn Nieves/Getty

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney, LGBTQI+, same sex marriage



submit a comment

Existing comments

'Male and female He created them...' But not so when He created reptiles, apparently. See < https://cosmosmagazine.com/biology/sex-changing-dragons-produce-a-third-sex > for a particular case and google for lots of others. Which prompts one to ask why is it so important for Catholic theologians to insist on a distinctively binary understanding of human sexuality in the face of all the evidence to the contrary? And who is to say that Jesus himself was not LGBTQI+ ? There is no evidence to suggest that 'he' was or wasn't. After all, we've just assumed that he was '100% male'.

Ginger Meggs | 20 June 2019  

Recently, I read another article by a woman who finds herself in a demanding situation because of Church teachings. Last month, Anna Hitchings wrote in The Weekend Australian about “the lack of desirable, moral men in this country, especially in the church…trying to find a normal Aussie bloke who is willing to enter a chaste relationship can feel like looking for gold dust.” She had always believed her vocation was marriage, however at age 32, “I am now beginning to face the possibility that I may never marry.” And although she finds this situation “difficult and painful” her faith teaches her “that if I don’t ever marry, it’s because that is God’s will for me.” I imagine Miss Hitchings would welcome “Male and Female He Created Them” for she concludes, “I hope that a return to traditional values is forthcoming; I hope we can stem the tide of radical feminism and promote genuine masculinity.” A similar article appeared in The Catholic Weekly: https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/for-want-of-a-lot-of-good-men/

Ross Howard | 21 June 2019  

'Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education' would have been written to explain the way God has created us, rather than the way that LGBTQI+ people would have created us. We need to listen to God in our hearts, and, while loving everyone and treating all people justly, recognise that we (including LGBTQI+any-other-letters-you-like) people are made in God's image and not the other way around. The document in question is compassionate, while stating that there is an absolute good, which is God and the way our bodies are made in his image.

David | 21 June 2019  

The one characteristic, or grace, Christians would do well to cultivate and pray for is mercy. We follow our God of mercy, the Father of all mercies. It's through mercy that we can 'see' the other person and realise we are the same. Maybe those who attain the high responsibility of serving on a Vatican organisation need re-orientation to this basic tenet.

Pam | 21 June 2019  

Neve: when I saw that you had "read the Vatican document over and over again to write this article", my heart instantly went out to you. Thank you - someone had to! I merely skimmed the footnotes to know I couldn't dignify this new nonsense with a full reading. The footnotes are entirely what I would call "self-referent": the document's only sources are papal statements and other church documents! No science; no evidence from people with lived experience'; none of the dialogue with other views for which it self-righteously and disingenuously calls - just more of the same, old, ill-informed and doctrinaire ideology that pervades the Vatican party line on a range of issues related to human sexuality. I take great solace in the fact that those who fashion and toe this party line (often with great hypocrisy) don't actually understand how few are listening anymore.

Terry Laidler | 21 June 2019  

It will be no comfort to you, Neve, but the LGBTQI community isn’t alone in being able to converse on equal terms with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The hierarchy as a body - the Magisterium, if you like - excludes 99% of the Church from its deliberations. This isn’t because of the direction of our sexuality. It’s because we are lay people. We are the sheep - and what shepherd dialogues with sheep before they make their decisions? By the way, the Church doesn’t just ‘not advocate’ for unjust discrimination against homosexual persons - it expressly forbids it. I sometimes think that may be the answer to our common problem. Members of the hierarchy need to learn their Catechism!

Joan Seymour | 21 June 2019  

Thanks Neve,. I would like to share one of those moments in our local Australian Church where 'there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in" ((L. Cohen). At the recent Catholic Missions conference in Sydney one of the workshops on offer was titled "Valuing LGBTIQ+ People: How Can We Include All? As far as I know this is the first time such a program included genuine dialogue with those of us who identify across the sexuality spectrum. partly inspired by this experience and doing those things you do in your senior years I will join the Corpus Christi process in Brisbane this weekend wearing my rainbow flag as a Gay Catholic. Along with parish banners, ethic community colours, brocade and lace vestments my clothing will proclaim my faith as a member of this community known as Catholic where as James Joyce reminds us: "Here comes Everybody"!!

Tony Robertson | 21 June 2019  

Great Thanks, Neve, for a splendid and justifiably eviscerating critique of the recently released Vatican publication, 'Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education' (Catholic Congregation for Education, 2019). It is a theme I would have preferred the French sensationalist, Frederic Martel, to have dissected in his recent book, reviewed elsewhere in this edition of ES. Called 'In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy' (Bloomsbury, 2019), Martel misses several opportunities to drive home the scathing analysis that you make. Sadly, this reflects yet again the two sides in this debate with a bigger interest in abuse and point-scoring than in authentic dialogue.

Michael Furtado | 21 June 2019  

An excellent synopsis Ms Neve Mahoney. We all wait while the church dictators keep fooling themselves through supporting one another in their interoperations. Change comes very slowly. LGBTQI Catholics must make greater noise and start passive demonstration to force attention on the fact that we are here and exist. We must support all activities and support organizations like Acceptance through regular attendance in spite of restrictions by some Bishops and their committees.

Edward M | 21 June 2019  

Ross, any 'lack of desirable, moral men [even] in the [hierarchy of] the church' is hardly recent or novel. One only needs to read a little history.

Ginger Meggs | 21 June 2019  

Tony Robertson, I think James Joyce was referring to the inhabitants of the Dublin of his day depicted in his magnum opus "Ulysses" rather than the Catholic Church, the catholicity of which presupposes baptism and the faith into which it initiates participants - a faith contoured by scripture and tradition and the teachings thereof, as distinct from simply humanly constructed ideologies.

John RD | 21 June 2019  

Neve, the Catholic Church deprecates the use of categories such as "queer people" out of respect for the very created dignity of persons that you seek to uphold. It's also worth noting that what you call "theological intellectualising" on the part of the Church is based on both divine revelation and long experience of and reflection on what we humans do and are in history - something our own age appears prone or even determined to forget.

John RD | 21 June 2019  

I am grateful to Eureka Street for these articles by Neve Mahoney and Michael Furtado as I am reading Frederic Martel's book. And grateful also for those who have made responses. I believe that in these exchanges there is evidence of people speaking truthfully from what they know. To hear someone else say what challenges my perspective helps me see that throughout my lifetime some of my certainties have rested on a determination to defend loyally what I came to accept as the right and only path to follow because I trusted the sources of my information. I am grateful to know that letting go my prejudgments, though accepted in good faith, brings me freedom to learn through listening.

Alex Nelson | 21 June 2019  

Beautiful article. Have you considered the possibility that this is as far as an organised religion can go? That asking for more understanding is beyond what it can do? That, as from this point, we have to approach God through loftier carriers (spirituality, mysticism)?

Consuelo | 22 June 2019  

The very title to this document “Male & Female He Created Them” was an amber light to me. Prepare to stop. But I didn’t stop. I continued reading to the very end. I didn’t take notes. I kept hoping to read that LGBTQI+ people had been consulted in the preparation of the document but, alas!, no. In the end I was left with the impression that this was arming the faithful with the dogmatic answers to the LGBTQI+ threat just as I was taught in Apologetics in the 1950s how to defeat atheistic Communism. Dialogue didn’t come into. These people had to beaten.

Uncle Pat | 22 June 2019  

Neve thank you again. We won't comment as we'll just go on and on. Typo in the title of the article - (we forgot the fabulous gays in LGBTQI)

Acceptance Melbourne LGBT+ Catholics | 24 June 2019  

Now this is to write about in order to find a solution. Help solve this problem: There's over a billion people on this planet that don't have access to clean drinking water. And bingo your on your way to becoming a perfect child of God. Just like Jesus.

AO | 24 June 2019  

Excellent article Neve. Hang in there - change comes ever so slowly. Keep agitating and educating. Thanks so much to Eureka Street for enabling the discussion.

Carmen Warnock | 24 June 2019  

Uncle Pat, in 2015 Ms Roz Ward, La Trobe University Research Centre in Sex Health and Society, addressed the Melboune Marxism Conference as follows: "I was the person who set up Safe Schools Coalition in Victoria . . . Marxism offers both the hope and the strategy needed to create a world where human sexuality, gender and how we relate to our bodies can blossom in extraordinarily new and amazing ways . . . because Marxism has a theory of social change." What Ms Ward represents here is a contemporary arm of Frankfurt School neo-Marxism (Horkeimer, Adorno, et al.). Plus ca change . . .?

John RD | 24 June 2019  

"Male and Female He Created Them" not only ignores the LBTQI community, but must be distressing to the many people born with congenital abnormalities, making their gender unclear. Klinefelter's Syndrome, where the person has XXY chromosomes is one of these conditions. Not only should the Vatican consulted the LBTQI community, but medical community, before writing this article.

Margaret Daly | 24 June 2019  

I look for new ideas when I read an article like this, but I typically find, as here, that it's guilty of the same problem that it accuses the Vatican document of. Will I ever say that someone has listened to me if they don't end up agreeing with me? The dogmatism with which the LGBTQI message is held here is such that rather than constructive arguments we end up with hyperbolic and untrue statements such as suggesting that they "fundamentally don't agree with their existence in the first place". This won't help with dialogue.

Michael | 27 June 2019  

Michael and other doubters, I congratulate you on faithfully following the "Catholic" (ie. ironically, describing the right people and proscribing the wrong) line, that gays are not really "made in the image and likeness of God". They have chosen to transgress the dualistic parameters of our prescribed nature according to the eternal forms of Aristotle and Plato, accepted by Thomas and the Church Fathers down the ages. So, as a class, they are, as Neve has justly said, a people who do not exist. Just as in other command communities like China. "No gays here."

Pat Mahony | 27 June 2019  

Similar Articles

Flaws, fancy in Vatican homosexuality book

  • Michael Furtado
  • 14 June 2019

Martel's work cannot be ignored because it is published at a time when the Church is engulfed by several sexual scandals of global magnitude. Reviewing Martel's book provides an opportunity to critically examine the narratives of accusation and defence that surround such accounts, so that onlookers can make sense of them.


Reflections of a church tourist

  • Gillian Bouras
  • 05 June 2019

Architecture is not my strong suit, but I admire the beauty of walls and ceilings, the decorations, and the idiosyncrasies such as little sculptures invisible to congregations and visitors, but made in faith that God could see them. The history, the thought of generations of worshippers, the numerous associations: these are other things that fascinate.