I have been asked by numerous people what I think about the recent Vatican response on so-called “transgender” baptisms and other related questions. The original dubia (a list of questions) was submitted by His Eminence Mons.
José Negri Vescovo of Santo Amaro in Brazil.
My first reply was that I be allowed to read the document. Most discussion of this topic has been based on headlines and summaries by secular sources and some Catholic sources as well. Almost all the headlines say something to the effect, “Vatican Permits Transgender Baptisms.” Clearly, an unqualified approval of such baptisms, or of “transgenders” serving as Godparents etc., is a severely flawed notion and a pastoral disaster. But is an unqualified “yes” what the document proposes? Let’s take a look.
Before quoting some details, my reply to those who sought my reaction is that I would interpret the document in a very strict manner and largely conclude that “transgender” baptisms, sponsorships etc., could rarely if ever be approved. For the sake of simplicity lets just speak of baptisms at this point, although the same thinking applies to other aspects of the question such as trangendered people being sponsors, godparents, or witnesses.
The document, while stating that such baptisms could theoretically be approved, sets some serious hurdles that must be cleared first.
The reply begins thus:
Can a transsexual be baptized? A transsexual – who had also undergone hormone treatment and surgery sex reassignment surgery – can receive baptism, under the same conditions of the other faithful, if….
(Note: this English translation from the Italian is unofficial).
So we see that theoretically Baptism can be given, but there are conditions! As a pastor, in the current cultural confusion regarding sexuality, I would feel obliged to interpret the conditions strictly so as to avoid confusion regarding Church teaching, seeming approval of the “trans” agenda, and scandal. A pastor must regard not only the needs of the individual, but must also protect the flock from error or heresy.
So what are the conditions laid out in the document? There are two in particular and we can consider them here in reverse order. A primary condition is stated as follows:
The following must be considered, especially when there are doubts about the objective moral situation in which a person finds himself, or about his own subjective dispositions towards grace. In the case of Baptism, the Church teaches that when the sacrament is received without repentance for serious sins, the subject does not receive sanctifying grace, although he receives the sacramental character. The Catechism states: “This configuration to Christ and to the Church, created by the Spirit, it is indelible; it remains forever in the Christian as positive disposition to grace, as a promise and guarantee of divine protection and as vocation to divine worship and to the service of the Church.”
The document then cites passages from St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine in the regard. It then continues:
So, even when doubts remain about the objective moral situation of one
person or on his subjective dispositions towards grace, one must never
forget the aspect of the faithfulness of God’s unconditional love, capable of generating even with the sinner an irrevocable alliance, always open to development. This is true even when there does not appear fully in the penitent an express desire for amendment….
But, in any case, the Church will always have to call them to live fully all the implications of the baptism received, which is always included and unfolds within the entire path of Christian initiation….
So we note that the document envisions the possibility of extending baptism to a “transsexual” (sic) even where they remain fuzzy on the serious error of such a stance. This is to offer the hope that baptism might clear away their error. However, note that the document says they are not sanctified by the Sacrament until they renounce the error of “transgenderism” and any other errors contrary to Catholic and Biblical teaching.
The document, while admittedly fuzzy on what degree of doubt can be entertained by the one baptized, it does conclude this section by declaring that the Church must insistently “call them to live fully all the implications of the baptism.” Of course an essential implication of Baptism and Holy Communion is to believe all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God. This would include an understanding that theories of “transexualism” are neo-gnostic notions contrary to what God has plainly set forth in the nature of the human person. Human nature is received from God and cannot be refashioned or crafted anew by mere human creatures. “God made us, Male or female… (cf Gen 1:27). We are not permitted to hurl back into God’s face what he has made us to be:
Woe to the one who quarrels with His Maker—an earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing? ‘ ….The clay may not call into account the potter and say, “What are you doing? (Is 49:9-10)
As a pastor, I could not in good conscience make light of the serious condition and error of a “transgendered” person who requests baptism. There must be a well-founded hope that he or she understands the true teaching of God and the Catholic Church (cf Canon 868) and realize that they are expected henceforth to abandon principles contrary to the faith and seek to live in accord with what is taught. I may well be more lenient to an infant whose parents are poor Catholics since the infant is not responsible for their parent’s bad behavior. But transsexuals are not infants and have made choices contrary to the faith. If they are not repentant of such choices and worldview, it is misleading for a pastor simply to overlook such an issue or, by silence, give tacit approval.
I would therefore strictly interpret this response to the dubia document and be highly reticent to offer baptism to a self-identified “transgender” individual without strong indications that they understand Church teaching and the requirement to repent of false thinking and live the truth of the Gospel.
The document says, “In any case…” that is, in all cases, the Church must call them to live faithfully the implications of baptism. Lacking this, I would delay baptism. Pastors cannot ignore or make light of the serious wounds with which people may often present upon arrival at the Church door. If a man thinks he’s actually a women, there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Only the truth sets us free.
Consider another case to help further illustrate. A certain man approaches the Church requesting baptism by way of the Catechumenate. However, it comes to light that he is actively seeking divorce his wife. That wife approaches the Church and says that she is desperately trying to save the marriage, is seeking his cooperation in attending marriage counselling. There is a further urgency to save the marriage since they have two young children. Should a pastor simply overlook this and wave the man through to the Sacraments even though he is planning to act gravely against Church teaching on marriage, charity and the just demands that his young children not be the heirs to divorce and all its complications for them? As a pastor, I could not simply wave him through. I would delay the celebration of any sacraments until the matter can be resolved. Silence is tacit approval and simply celebrating sacraments under these circumstances is misleading and scandalous to others. The matter must be confronted prior to baptism.
The other “condition” to be met prior to baptising a “transgender” person is mentioned twice in the document. “Transgender” baptisms can be conducted only:
if there are no situations in which there is a risk of generating public scandal or disorientation among the faithful.
Well, the obvious answer here to any honest pastor is that there is always going to be a risk of public scandal in such a scenario. Scandal can be considered in two ways. First scandal can be thought of as the shock created by doing strange or sinful things contrary to Scripture. Scandal can also be thought as the end result of doing wrong things, namely, that people are no longer shocked as they should be and have settled down with sinful or unbiblical practices. Either way, the risk of scandal is enormous when the Church seems to affirm or tacitly approve what God teaches is wrong. So why would a pastor want to so mislead and confuse the faithful by even seeming to affirm what is a lie (a man cannot become a woman) and contrary to God’s design? In such a sensitive and confused climate a pastor must strictly interpret the “risk of scandal” clause here and almost never, except perchance in danger of death, even consider introducing practices that seem to affirm “transgender” ideology.
The document also cites the danger of “disorientation” among the faithful. Here too, how would the faithful not be disoriented if the local parish starts embracing this and other aspects of the sexual revolution? With all the emphasis today on this or that individual not being “hurt” or feeling “unwelcome” we have lost any focus on the common good. Pastors have to look out for their flocks, and not let them be carried away by all sorts of deceptions today. The Letter to the Hebrews says,
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings… (Heb 13:9-10)
Indeed. So, to all those who have asked my thoughts on the latest dispatch from Rome, herein is my reply. The document is sadly sketchy in areas and seems to put a lot of hope in the effects of baptism even while saying that a baptism received under such circumstances does not confer sanctifying grace. However, it does give some guidance that I, as a pastor, think must be interpreted strictly and that the caution called for in this response to a dubia must be taken both strictly and seriously.