Vatican Report Fails To Be Inclusive


On Oct. 13, the Vatican released a midterm report that addressed family situations such as divorce, cohabitation before or without marriage and most interestingly, homosexual individuals. While the defining assertion, “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community” seems as if it is appealing to all of Pope Francis’ socially progressive fans (one cannot forget the pontiff’s famous “who am I to judge?” quote from last year) this recent change in rhetoric is far too little to inspire the return of LGBTQ people to the Roman Catholic Church which the Vatican might be hoping for.

The reason why the Church’s recent report will not inspire a large crowd of LGBTQ people to suddenly embrace Catholicism is because the document fails to accomplish anything outside of acknowledging that homosexual people are humans. While such a revelation is not without value, I invite readers to parse the Vatican’s quote with a critical eye. It is rather hypocritical that an institution that allegedly promotes altruism will value a community only because members of that community “have gifts and qualities to offer” the Church itself. Based on the ways that Catholic priests are trained to beg for funds every Sunday, I would not be surprised if homosexual people’s “gifts and qualities” are purely monetary.

Further, the document only credits positive attributes to “homosexuals.” There are two main reasons why this word choice is problematic. The first reason is because using one aspect of a person’s identity as a noun strips that person of his or her personhood. Just as it would be absurd and offensive to refer to someone with light skin as “a white” or someone with dark skin as “a black,” it is equally unacceptable to refer to someone as “a homosexual”. Identities are not appositives because nobody is equal to only one aspect of his, her or their identity. 

The second reason why the Vatican’s word choice is problematic is because it fails to address many people with whom this document is concerned. In an attempt to sound inclusive, the Church succeeds in perpetuating its usual exclusive nature. Yes, homosexual people have value, but what about bisexual people? Transgender and transsexual people? Queer people? People who slide around Kinsey scales and gender spectrums throughout their lives? Any or all of these people might be directly affected by the Church’s stance on homosexual actions yet they are not acknowledged.

Beyond the poor linguistic choice, the Church’s statement fails to modify its rhetoric on a pressing issue among Christian LGBTQ people: that of marriage. While the document attributes good qualities to homosexual people, it quickly backpedals and clarifies that Catholics and Church leaders must be civil to these people “without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions.”  Homosexual people may now be people in the eyes of the Church, but their actions are still seen as morally deviant. That simply is not acceptance and it simply is not progress.

Is the Vatican’s new rhetoric a step in the right direction? Possibly. To be fair, it does not make claims that are worse than any other example of Church discourse regarding homosexual people. But to be frank, a document of semi-tolerance from the Vatican does not undo the discrimination that LGBTQ people face or have faced from the Catholic Church in their daily lives. This recent document doesn’t erase the times that a teacher confidently told her high school students that homosexual love is abominable, the times that an elderly priest croaked that his Sunday congregation should pray for the sinners who engage in homosexual relations in the same breath that he prayed for the patients of a local hospital, the times that a Christian mother disowned her own child for their sexuality. While Pope Francis supporters may (fairly) see this document as a means by which he is attempting to create a less hostile space for all Catholics, it simply is not enough.

If the Church really wants to make a difference in the lives of Catholics, it should remind its followers how to be Christians. Christ spread love, especially to those whom society had cast aside as Other. If He were alive and preaching today, Jesus would not dine with tax collectors; He would share never-ending breadsticks at Olive Garden with LGBTQ people. Until the Church and its followers accept that, a large portion of LGBTQ people will likely continue to use their Sunday mornings for sleeping in.