The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the Vatican office responsible for communicating Church doctrines. On March 15th, this bureau responded with a one-word, abrupt response to a question that concerns the livelihood of millions: “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The answer: “No.”
While accompanied by a more verbose explanation, infused with illogical and senseless contradictions in an attempt to contextualize the decision, the position of the Catholic Church was made clear—same-sex union remains a sin.
“The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing.”
Pope Francis has consistently reprimanded the Church for its parochial views and insularity. He is the first Pope from the Western hemisphere, one who has championed causes for marginalized groups. He’s also the first Pope with a Twitter—now amassing nearly 20 million followers, expanding the accessibility of religious dialogue. For these reasons, progressive groups have viewed the Pope with wary optimism. This ruling, however, demonstrates the power of the establishment and the deep-rooted, obstinate traditions that characterize the Church. It also contributes to the strange, muddled rhetoric of the Pope on the morality of same-sex union, as shown below in two separate quotes of his.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and he has good will, who am I to judge?”
“There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”
Some have been quick to label the Church’s statement as realpolitik—appeasing more conservative followers in order to garner and retain their (monetary) support. Perhaps it is naive to believe that such a groundbreaking decision could be made with the installation of a more progressive Pope. Ultimately, regardless of the underlying ulterior motives, the decree sends a clear, damaging message to LGBTQ+ Catholics: the Church does not view your ability to love as legitimate.
The crux of the matter here is that the Church has placed itself at the center of moral reasoning—a self-proclaimed arbiter of universal moral truths. Doxa, as described by Dr. Sharon Rostoksy, encompasses the set of values and ideologies that we accept to be unshakeable and immutable. We have doxa about all sorts of things small and large, and the ideas we hold within our doxa are justified by the following line of reasoning: This is how things have been and, therefore, how they should continue to be.
The seemingly dichotomous relationship between heterosexuality and homosexuality, one which neglects the fluidity of sexuality and expression of gender, exists within this doxa framework—as ideological constructions that we accept without critical scrutiny. While I do not have space to go on, this so-called “invention of heterosexuality” is discussed in more detail here. “Heterosexuality is a script we perform rather than an essence that we embody,” states Rostosky.
The Church’s role in substantiating the myth that heterosexuality is the only legitimate form of relations between individuals cannot be understated, as discussed in texts such as The Invention of Heterosexual Culture and Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality. The above statement by the Church makes clear the intentions of the establishment to remain bound to tradition and convention, rather than engage in any real semblance of self-critique or betterment—to employ the rhetoric of kindness and empathy they so often speak of.
Should establishments of religious authority be enabled to make such decrees from a moral high ground? And should we listen to them?