As the nation mourns the murder of three adults and three children at a Christian school in Nashville by a transgender perpetrator, the Catholic Church in the United States fights a civil war over gender ideology.
A recent statement by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the rapid opposition it provoked provide the latest installment of that conflict.
On March 20, a week before the murders, the USCCB issued a “doctrinal note” condemning sex-change surgery, especially for minors, and the use of puberty blockers as “not morally justified.” Immediately, two of the priesthood’s most well-known personalities criticized that document.
The Rev. Daniel Horan, an award-winning theology professor, called the document “nothing short of a disaster: theologically, scientifically and pastorally.” The bishops “not only deny the reality of transgender, nonbinary and intersex persons, but they also compound the harm experienced by already very vulnerable people,” he wrote for the National Catholic Reporter.
The Rev. James Martin, a papal advisor, retweeted a link to the bishop’s document and Horan’s criticism without comment, which is Martin’s subtle way of expressing his own opposition. Martin also is a dedicated LGBTQ activist, as FrontPage Magazine often discussed.
(Interestingly, Martin never tweeted support for the murder victims’ loved ones. He never asked his followers to pray for them. Instead, he tweeted an article advocating more stringent gun control.)
Yet even the bishops disagree intensely. As FrontPage Magazine reported, San Diego Cardinal Robert McElroy demanded “radical inclusion” of LGBTQ Catholics even if they reject Catholic teaching on homosexuality or engage in sexual activity. Within a month, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill. called McElroy a heretic unfit for episcopal office while defending the teaching McElroy opposes.
But the current conflict reflects an even greater battle in the Catholic Church concerning the nature of truth. Which matters more, apostolic teaching or personal perspective? Is truth ultimately objective or subjective?
In the USCCB’s recent statement, “Doctrinal Note on the Moral Limits to Technological Manipulation of the Human Body,” the bishops cite both Scripture and various church documents to assert two main points. First, only two biological genders exist, which reflects God’s design for humanity:
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: ‘Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. “Being man” or “being woman” is a reality which is good and willed by God.’ “
Second, personal preference provides no legitimate basis to justify sex changes.
“These technological interventions are not morally justified either as attempts to repair a defect in the body or as attempts to sacrifice a part of the body for the sake of the whole,” the bishops stated concerning sex-change surgeries and puberty blockers. “Such interventions, thus, do not respect the fundamental order of the human person as an intrinsic unity of body and soul, with a body that is sexually differentiated.
“Particular care should be taken to protect children and adolescents, who are still maturing and who are not capable of providing informed consent.”
As a result, Catholic health-care providers must not engage in “gender-affirming care,” the euphemism for sex changes through surgery or drugs.
“Catholic health care services must not perform interventions, whether surgical or chemical, that aim to transform the sexual characteristics,” the bishops stated, while using “all appropriate resources to mitigate the suffering of those who struggle with gender incongruence.
“The mission of Catholic health care services,” the bishops concluded, “is nothing less than to carry on the healing ministry of Jesus, to provide healing at every level, physical, mental, and spiritual.”
For Horan, however, the idea of “only two genders that conform to one of two biological sexes” as “a universal and unchanging theological truth” has become “an historically and theologically contested claim,” he wrote.
In the process, this award-winning theologian essentially denies the Catholic doctrine that holds the Bible as divinely inspired:
“Recourse in this document to proof-texted passages from Genesis, for example, are as irresponsible in identifying historical, social and scientific realities today as claiming that the Earth was created in six 24-hour days according to the same superficial reading of Scripture.”
By using a literalist view of creation as a non sequitur, Horan employs the red herring of fundamentalism.
“The Pontifical Biblical Commission’s 1993 document, ‘The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,’ explicitly forbids such literalist interpretation. Such readings of Scripture would not suffice for sound theological work, so why would they be sufficient for alleged scientific claims about human personhood, sex, gender and identity?”
Martin took the same approach on Twitter in 2019, when he admitted that the Bible “clearly condemns” homosexual sex. “The issue,” he added, “is precisely whether the biblical judgment is correct.”
Martin and Horan place a far greater value on science and personal experience than divine revelation. Instead of “listening to the bishops’ misguided instructions,” Horan wrote, “we should instead acknowledge the reality and listen to the experiences of trans, nonbinary and intersex persons.”
Martin, Horan and their ideological allies represent a trend the National Catholic Register’s Jonathan Liedl described while writing about German bishops who plan to participate in an international Catholic synod. Those bishops passed a resolution March 10 to bless same-sex unions in their diocese, despite church teaching, as FrontPage Magazine reported.
“At this most basic level, the theological vision that animates the Synodal Way is characterized by a deep doubt in the ability of Jesus Christ — the definitive Word of God — to reliably reach us today through Scripture and Tradition, as mediated by the teaching authority of the Church,” wrote Liedl, who added that “a secular sense of historical progress and subjective experience” provide the foundation for that new theological vision.
Liedl showed how that foundation influenced a discussion on transgender ideology that became absurd.
“Julianne Eckstein, a theology professor in Münster, argued that because Genesis failed to distinguish between pets and wild animals, which we can do now, we can also go beyond its narrow description of humanity as either male or female,” Liedl wrote. “In the same conversation, a religious sister said that while we don’t know much about human nature, or even God, we do know that God is present in each person, an argument in favor of someone’s subjective sense of self trumping the Church’s authoritative teaching based in Divine Revelation.
“Still another delegate said that only the Tradition of the Catholic Church was holding back acceptance of transgender ideology, and it needed to be ‘destroyed.’ “
Such thinking reflects the increasingly pervasive influence of postmodern philosophy, which relativizes truth by valuing individual experience over facts, reason and history.
But the delegates and their supporters forget that if God created the universe, then God created the science that allows it to exist. Neither that science nor the universe it governs exist without God.
Moreover, according to centuries of doctrine from both Christianity and Judaism, God revealed his nature, character, integrity and commands — which transcend intellectual fashion.
Pope Francis can resolve the conflict quickly and decisively, if he wishes. But as FrontPage Magazine often reported, Francis seeks to change doctrine subtly and gradually by saying one thing while doing or failing to do something to match his rhetoric.
Catholics are starting to see through Francis’ subterfuge and to realize the implications.
“This poison has not been slowed down by the Vatican,” wrote Bernie, a commenter on The Pillar, a Catholic site. “It has and will spread to other countries, both through votes of national bishops’ conferences and in the minds of Catholics everywhere.”
Steve Mieczkowski, another commenter, specifically pointed to Francis.
“He talks tough at times, but his actions, or should I say inaction, speak louder,” he wrote. “When you meet with the likes of James Martin and don’t set him right, you too have an agenda. Germany, in my opinion, is doing exactly what Pope Francis has set out to do himself; the ushering in of a ‘new’ more politically correct Catholic Church, one focused on meeting secularism where it is instead of seeking change from the secularist.
“The Church should never shun anyone. But when I see Francis stand by silently as the likes of James Martin, and on much grander scale Germany, simply flout their noses as they move forward with an agenda that is totally against doctrine and Church teaching, one can only conclude Pope Francis is giving tacit approval through his inaction.”
A commenter at the National Catholic Register, “PjA,” in referring to the German synod, powerfully summarized the crisis:
“Does the sun have to fall out of the sky and crush people before they realize how truly, truly, truly bad this situation is? Take the 20,000 ft view for a moment. The bishops are literally (not hyperbole) proposing saying that evil is good, and the pope is allowing that, even sometimes helping it (he did appoint them to the synod, knowing who they were).” (Parentheses in original)
“This is worse than the sun falling from the sky. This is the degradation of biblical proportions.”