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Catholic Culture Solidarity

Another mixed message from Rome on sexual morality

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 08, 2023

Today’s news that the Vatican has approved the baptism of transsexuals bears all the earmarks of the current papacy. The statement from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith does not directly contradict prior authoritative statements of Church doctrine or discipline. But it gives every indication that pastors who ignore the rules will have nothing to fear from Rome.

The statement, issued in October by Cardinal Victor Fernandez, also gives the Catholic world another indication of what we can expect from the Vatican’s doctrinal office, now that the Pope’s favorite theologian is in charge. Cardinal Fernandez has been busy during his first weeks in his new office. Careful Vatican observers saw the Argentine cardinal’s all over the recent papal document, Ad Theologiam Promovendam, calling for a “paradigm shift” in Catholic theological studies. The new doctrinal czar has a clear mandate from the Pope to shake up the theological world— to “make a mess,” in the parlance of this papacy— and he is already hard at work.

The document that he released in October, answering questions from a Brazilian bishop (and isn’t it nice when the Vatican responds to dubia?), is careful to say that transsexuals should be baptized “if well prepared and willing.” The statement goes on to caution that “when the sacrament is received without repentance for serious sins, the subject does not receive sanctifying grace.” So as it stands the Vatican document can be read to say that someone who has undergone gender-reassignment surgery, and then repented of that choice, can be baptized. Which of course is in accord with traditional Catholic teaching; any repentant sinner may be baptized.

However, the statement does not say what serious sins should be repented before baptism is allowed; it does not confirm that voluntary self-mutilation is a serious sin. So the document can also be read as saying that a man who is now living as a woman, or a woman living as a man, can be baptized— as long as there is no likelihood of scandal. If that interpretation is allowed, then a pastor can proceed with the baptism of a proud transsexual as long as he can be assured of the community’s acceptance; the Church would not resist the trend to normalize the abnormal.

The Dicastery applies the same logic to transsexuals acting as godparents: they can, as long as they are properly disposed. Here again the statement finesses the canonical requirement (#872) that a godparent must be “one who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on”— which is to help the newly baptized “to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it.” Someone who has undergone and then repented gender-reassignment surgery might make an excellent godparent. But someone who is happy with an ersatz gender identity— and for all we know might encourage his godchild to take the same step— would not. The new Vatican document does not distinguish between those two possibilities, except with the anodyne caution that the prospective godparent should be properly disposed.

On the question of whether transsexuals can be official witnesses to a marriage, the Dicastery’s guidance is straightforward: They can. The function of a witness is to witness the exchange of vows. Current Church law makes no demands about the moral character of the witnesses. The new document does not represent a change.

In answer to questions about homosexual couples who “appear as parents of a child” to be baptized, the Vatican statement does seem to break new ground. Skipping quickly over the likelihood that the baby was obtained by illicit and immoral means “such as the womb for rent,” the statement simply cites the canonical requirement (#868) that “there must be a well-founded hope that he will be educated in the Catholic religion.” Is there a well-founded hope that an active homosexual couple, having purchased a baby, will instruct that child faithfully in Catholic morality? The Dicastery dodges that question, too— leaving it to the discretion of the pastor.

And the pastor’s discretion is given free rein yet again on the question of whether homosexuals can be godparents. Here the dicastery does make a distinction. If the prospective godparent lives with a partner of the same sex, but “leads a life in conformity with the faith,” then he is eligible. Of course. But if he is living in a “stable and declared relationship… well known by the community,” then there is a problem. [Emphasis added.] Here we wait for the Dicastery to say that in such a case the individual could not serve as godparent because it would cause scandal. But that is not what the Vatican document says. Instead the Dicastery says that “due pastoral prudence requires that each situation be handled thoughtfully,” and leaves it at that. One more time, the pastor who chooses a lax approach— in this case, one who sees no problem in allowing active homosexuals to be godparents— has the green light from the Vatican.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Cinciradiopriest - Nov. 11, 2023 8:46 PM ET USA

    If transexuals can be baptized in the faith, am I correct to assume that they are to be baptized by a name that makes their biological gender? In other words, does Tammy, now known as Tom get baptized by her correct biological name or her transition name? I would assume that the person would be baptized by their given name, not their "new name?"

  • Posted by: td4207 - Nov. 10, 2023 8:36 PM ET USA

    Well, at least there is consistency... Argentina is basically a bankrupt country.

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Nov. 10, 2023 8:15 PM ET USA

    This pontificate becomes more poisonous by the day. It is rotting from within, and infecting the entire Body of Christ.

  • Posted by: Fr Eric Lepanto - Nov. 10, 2023 10:10 AM ET USA

    we are witnessing a complete break with St. John Paul II Veritatis Splendor and all of received Sacred Tradition and the order of creation. And, it is not just a pastor making a decision contrary to the new norms. He can be silenced by his bishop. What happens to a bishop who does not allow same sex blessings and related issues? Why do we look to the spiritually, morally and physically dead parts of the world to guide the Church?

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Nov. 09, 2023 7:51 PM ET USA

    This the poison of interpretations of Amoris Laetitiae which undermine Catholic morality.He says marriage man/woman must be defended; homosexual unions cant be blessed as equated with marriage as a general norm. But then he says pastoral charity in concrete cases can’t be judged by an absolute norm, and may allow many blessings of persons whose actions violate objective morality given extenuating circumstances. This is situation ethics long condemned by the Church. He contradicts God’s order

  • Posted by: loumiamo4057 - Nov. 09, 2023 4:10 PM ET USA

    Yo, feedback, nailed that one! A most excellent catch!

  • Posted by: feedback - Nov. 09, 2023 1:37 AM ET USA

    This opens all kinds of cans of worms. For example, a woman claiming to be "a man" and officially baptized as "a man" might attempt to enter seminary to be ordained. If the Church accepted her as a male for Baptism, on what grounds would the same Church reject her "vocation to priesthood"?

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Nov. 08, 2023 7:24 PM ET USA

    I can see the lawsuits and arrests coming if the pastor makes the "wrong" (i.e., Catholic) "discretionary" choice. The Church all of a sudden HAS NO ONE'S BACK. No more: "The Catholic faith teaches", or "the Catholic Church believes". This is because the Catholic Church no longer teaches, and the Catholic Church no longer believes. The zeitgeist now determines the "rule", if there would be such a thing as a rule of faith. "Make a mess!" A Church of sinners, not saints. Strive for holiness? Why?