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.