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A GAY, MARRIED PRIEST'S RESPONSE TO “ON HUMAN DIGNITY”

by Fr. Michael J. Nicosia, Associate Pastor of St. Paul Catholic Community of Faith in Denver, CO, a member church of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion


On April 8, 2024,  North America experienced a solar eclipse—evidently it happened in Rome as well, for the dark moon of human bias masquerading as certitude once again blocked out the light of the Sun. On that day the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith promulgated its Declaration of “Dignitas Infinita” On Human Dignity. On that day, when the Church celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation to Mary commemorating how God emptied Godself to become fully human, these wise men persisted in their failure to grasp the bright mystery of the human person.


It took the Vatican over 3 years to write, examine and revise the document. It is a laudable effort, contributing to the canon of the Church’s social justice teachings regarding the drama of poverty, war, the travail of migrants, human trafficking, sexual abuse, violence against women, the marginalization of people with disabilities, and the harmful effects of digital violence. Their reflections on euthanasia and assisted suicide are valuable contributions to a complex, on-going conversation (albeit a case-closed in their estimation). I reserve comment on the Declaration’s implications for reproductive rights, realizing that Rome cannot think otherwise given their understanding of when human life begins. (I do, however, insist that the sincerely held beliefs of one religion cannot be the grounds for legislation in a pluralistic society.)


On the topic of surrogacy, they correctly identify areas of possible abuse. Their blanket negative evaluation of the practice, however, mistakenly presumes that wanting a child through such means is always a selfish act, failing to recognize that surrogacy is usually done out of love and can be a loving service to those in need. (Granted, resorting to such extraordinary means when so many children are available for adoption frustrates me, but I fully acknowledge a couple’s perceived need to have children of their own progeny.)


Unfortunately more consultation was needed to address sexual justice. Where is Rome’s “commitment to the weak and those less endowed with power” as she promulgates yet another pronouncement written without consideration for the lived experiences of her LGBTQIA+ children? In his critique of digital violence, Pope Francis stresses that “it is not healthy to confuse communication with mere virtual contact.” The repeated lack of broad and direct consultation when developing such documents is not only unhealthy but continues the Vatican’s violence toward those they are called to shepherd. As a result, the Pope’s observation is true: “Respect for others disintegrates… as we dismiss, ignore, or keep others distant.”


To put it simply, the Declaration only acknowledges the dignity of each human person as narrowly understood from an obviously biased perspective. Their hubris of claiming a monopoly on Christian anthropology is itself out of touch with the diversity of theological thought. Strange that they trace its roots and development through the ages, and somehow conclude that their present understanding of the mystery of the human person fully alive is the final word.


A colleague of mine who is Intersex points out that the Declaration’s condemnation of gender theory is a retrenchment in the male-female gender binary that goes against what we witness in nature. By labeling the experiences of Intersex and Non-binary people as “abnormalities”, they undermine the human dignity they purport to defend, denying that these individuals, too, are part of God’s good Creation. I also take exception to the authors’ contention that the reciprocity possible through sexual difference is “the anthropological basis of the family,” a view that ignores the fruitfulness possible in all human relationships and the diversity of our families. Such teachings belie their bias regarding procreation and miss our broader, more basic calling to be generative.


Strange that these leaders of the Roman Church do not see in gender-affirming interventions a direct application of their own teaching about our being co-creators with God: “God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 307, emphasis mine). As I have often said, the best of Christian theology asserts that all is Mystery unfolding, and that, as co-creators with God, we are part of that process—of which Transgender individuals are a visible sacrament. Indeed, their process of becoming their authentic selves is a sacred charge given each of us by God.


Let it be affirmed. Our Trans siblings have inherent dignity in themselves, as does their journey toward self-understanding and personal fulfillment “in all circumstances”—even under the harmful circumstance of the Vatican’s erroneous certitude about objective norms. To contend that Trans rights are merely expressions of individual preference or subjective desire and are, therefore, contrary to the relational structure of the human person is ludicrous. A Trans person’s embracing their gender identity is integral to their psychological well-being, an essential prerequisite to being in relationship with others.

Strange that the bishops have missed that Paul VI’s affirmation of human dignity includes the “aspiration to a complete development,” an aspiration that our Trans siblings obviously have. Their living into their authentically gendered selves can also be seen in the Dicastery’s citing John Paul II who contended that the right to self-determination with regard to one’s physical and mental integrity (among other things) must not be infringed upon.


After the promulgation of this Declaration, the Roman Church’s only hope now will be in the lack of reception of its flaws here addressed. I do, however, accept one of its contentions: “the arduous journey of advancing human dignity remains far from completion.”


I am grateful for the Ecumenical Catholic Communion in which I was ordained, a church that is proud to journey with me and our Intersex, Trans and Non-binary siblings in the full light of God’s love, honoring their wholeness, holiness and dignity.

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Illustration: "St. Pelagia" of Antioch in Syria was a notorious 5th Century actress who accepted the faith and renounced her former life to a symbolic extreme: she stripped herself of all her outward beauty and joined a community of hermits on the Mount of Olives, disguised as a man.  Her identity and gender went undiscovered until the preparations for her burial.



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