*** DEBUG END ***

Paul Vallely: Prejudice dressed up as theology 

21 June 2019

Paul Vallely is troubled by a new RC teaching document on sexuality


IS THE Pope to blame for the bloody assault on two gay women on a London bus after they refused to kiss and adopt a sexual position at the behest of a group of violent yobs? This is, on the face of it, a preposterous question. Yet it is worth asking whether the uncouth thugs on the bus are merely the extreme manifestation of a series of prejudices that are given theological articulation in the latest official document of the Roman Catholic Church teaching on sexuality.

Two events coincided — unhappily, or perhaps revealingly — last week. First, the media carried a shocking photograph of the two bloodied young women who had been ridiculed and physically attacked by the four hooligans. A few days later, the Vatican issued a document, Male and Female He Created Them: Toward a path of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education. Sadly, the document does not seem interested in dialogue at all. The authors seem not to have talked to anyone from the transgender community.

The 31-page document, by the Congregation for Catholic Education, challenges the idea that male and female identity is a social construct, and criticises the idea that anyone can change their gender. It is a mix of biological, theological, and anthropological assertion, much of which is questionable.

Biologically, it starts from the premise that male and female chromosomes are different from the moment of conception, but it takes no account of scientists who have worked with children born intersex. It has a blind faith in the ability of all doctors to make the right decisions when a child is born with ambiguous genitalia. Theologically, it takes the biblical verse from which the document draws its name to mean “male or female” rather than “male and female” as Genesis 1.27 actually says. And, anthropologically, the distinctions it makes about gender totally ignore the fact that homosexuality exists.

One gay Catholic group described the document as “a harmful tool that will be used to oppress and harm not only transgender people, but lesbian, gay, bisexual people, too”. It associates sexual and gender minorities with “a libertine sexuality”, which grossly misrepresents the lives of most LGBT people, and which perpetuates and encourages hatred, bigotry, and violence against them. It will only increase the alienation of gay people from the Church.

By another coincidence, Hannah Arendt was also back in the news last week as commentators drew lessons from her Origins of Totalitarianism, and applied them to the increasingly irrational politics of our times. Her pronouncement on “the banality of evil” caused huge controversy in its day, precisely because it pointed to a spectrum of complicity — which started with ordinary respectable Germans who declined to protest against Nazi ideology and ended with the horror of the bureaucrats who organised genocide.

Of course, the Vatican document takes great pains to strongly condemn any “bullying, violence, insults or unjust discrimination” of individuals based on characteristics “such as special needs, race, religion [or] sexual tendencies”. But it is hard not to fear that its abstract rationalisations are one end of a spectrum that, at its other, results in the bloody beating of women on a London night bus.

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

8 September 2022
Church Times Cricket Cup: North v. South
Join us to watch the match at the Walker Cricket Ground, in Southgate, north London.

26 September 2022
What am I living for? God
Sam Wells and Lucy Winkett begin the St Martin-in-the-Fields autumn lecture series in partnership with Church Times.

More events

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)