The Catholic Church’s Cold War Over Sexual Truth

By Joseph D'Hippolito Published on April 4, 2023

In the aftermath of a transgender perpetrator murdering three adults and three children at a Christian school in Nashville, the Catholic Church continues to flutter like a headless chicken when it comes to gender ideology.

On March 20, a week before the murders, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a “doctrinal note” condemning sex-change surgery and medication, especially for minors, as “not morally justified.” Immediately, two of the priesthood’s most well-known personalities criticized that document.

The Rev. Daniel Horan, an award-winning theology professor, called the document “nothing short of a disaster: theologically, scientifically and pastorally.” The bishops “not only deny the reality of transgender, nonbinary and intersex persons, but they also compound the harm experienced by already very vulnerable people,” he wrote for the National Catholic Reporter.

The Rev. James Martin, a papal advisor whom The Stream discussed, retweeted a link to the bishop’s document and Horan’s criticism without comment, which is Martin’s subtle way of expressing his own opposition.

(Interestingly, Martin, a dedicated LGBTQ activist, never tweeted support for the murder victims’ loved ones. He never asked his followers to pray for them. Instead, he tweeted an article advocating more stringent gun control.)

These events form the latest episode in the church’s ongoing Cold War in the United States over gender ideology. In January, San Diego Cardinal Robert McElroy called for “radical inclusion” of LGBTQ Catholics regardless of whether they believe church teaching on homosexuality or engage in sexual activity, as The Stream reported.

In response, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, IL, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, not only reasserted apostolic teaching that describes homosexual sex as “intrinsically disordered,” “acts of grave depravity” and “contrary to the natural law.” Paprocki also called McElroy a heretic unfit for church office.

Yet the current crisis reflects an even larger battle in the Catholic Church concerning the nature of truth. Which matters more, divine inspiration or personal perspective? Is truth ultimately objective or subjective?

On One Side: Apostolic Teaching

In their statement, “Doctrinal Note on the Moral Limits to Technological Manipulation of the Human Body,” the bishops cite both Scripture and various church documents to assert two main points. First, only two biological genders exist, which reflects God’s design for humanity:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: ‘Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. “Being man” or “being woman” is a reality which is good and willed by God.’ 

Second, personal preference provides no legitimate basis to justify sex changes.

“These technological interventions are not morally justified either as attempts to repair a defect in the body or as attempts to sacrifice a part of the body for the sake of the whole,” the bishops stated concerning sex-change surgeries and puberty blockers. “Such interventions, thus, do not respect the fundamental order of the human person as an intrinsic unity of body and soul, with a body that is sexually differentiated.

“Particular care should be taken to protect children and adolescents, who are still maturing and who are not capable of providing informed consent.”

As a result, the bishops charge Catholic health-care providers not to engage in what is euphemistically called “gender-affirming care.”

“Catholic health care services must not perform interventions, whether surgical or chemical, that aim to transform the sexual characteristics,” the bishops stated, while using “all appropriate resources to mitigate the suffering of those who struggle with gender incongruence.”

“The mission of Catholic health care services,” the bishops concluded, “is nothing less than to carry on the healing ministry of Jesus, to provide healing at every level, physical, mental, and spiritual.”

On The Other: Postmodernism

Horan, however, described as “an historically and theologically contested claim” the idea of “only two genders that conform to one of two biological sexes” that reflects “a universal and unchanging theological truth.”

In the process, this award-winning theologian essentially denies Scripture’s divine inspiration:

Recourse in this document to proof-texted passages from Genesis, for example, are as irresponsible in identifying historical, social and scientific realities today as claiming that the Earth was created in six 24-hour days according to the same superficial reading of Scripture.

By using a literalist view of creation as a non sequitur, Horan employs the red herring of fundamentalism:

The Pontifical Biblical Commission’s 1993 document, ‘The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,’ explicitly forbids such literalist interpretation. Such readings of Scripture would not suffice for sound theological work, so why would they be sufficient for alleged scientific claims about human personhood, sex, gender and identity?

Since when did limiting humanity to two genders become profound scientific or theological ignorance?

Martin took the same approach on Twitter in 2019, when he admitted that Scripture “clearly condemns” homosexual sex. “The issue,” he added, “is precisely whether the biblical judgment is correct.”

For Martin and Horan, science and personal experience hold greater value than divine revelation. Instead of “listening to the bishops’ misguided instructions,” Horan wrote, “we should instead acknowledge the reality and listen to the experiences of trans, nonbinary and intersex persons.”

Martin agreed by tweeting a Jesuit theologian’s objections and a story about a transgender’s pain from the website of Outreach, a Catholic LGBTQ ministry. Martin, like Pope Francis, is a Jesuit.

Slouching Toward Absurdity

Martin, Horan and their ideological soulmates represent a trend the National Catholic Register’s Jonathan Liedl described while writing about German bishops who plan to participate in an international Catholic synod. Those bishops passed a resolution March 10 to bless same-sex unions in their diocese, despite church teaching, as The Stream reported.

“At this most basic level, the theological vision that animates the Synodal Way is characterized by a deep doubt in the ability of Jesus Christ — the definitive Word of God — to reliably reach us today through Scripture and Tradition, as mediated by the teaching authority of the Church,” wrote Liedl, who added that “a secular sense of historical progress and subjective experience” provide the foundation for that new theological vision.

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Liedl described how that foundation influenced a discussion on transgender ideology that reached absurd levels.

“Julianne Eckstein, a theology professor in Münster, argued that because Genesis failed to distinguish between pets and wild animals, which we can do now, we can also go beyond its narrow description of humanity as either male or female,” Liedl wrote. “In the same conversation, a religious sister said that while we don’t know much about human nature, or even God, we do know that God is present in each person, an argument in favor of someone’s subjective sense of self trumping the Church’s authoritative teaching based in Divine Revelation.

“Still another delegate said that only the Tradition of the Catholic Church was holding back acceptance of transgender ideology, and it needed to be ‘destroyed.’”

Such thinking reflects the pervasive influence of postmodern philosophy, which relativizes truth by valuing individual experience over facts, reason and history.

But the delegates and their allies fail to realize several important points. First, if God created the universe, then God created the science that allows it to exist. Neither that science nor the universe it governs exist without God. Moreover, if God created humanity and if God is all-knowing, then God comprehends individual pain far more profoundly than anybody understands. His moral commands, therefore, consider that pain.

Most importantly, as numerous verses illustrate, God’s nature, character, integrity and commands do not change.

Pope Waldo

So where’s Pope Francis? As The Stream has repeatedly documented, Francis says one thing but does or fails to do another, thereby setting the stage to change doctrine subtly and gradually. But the pope really is setting the stage for the Catholic Church’s ultimate demise.

Catholics are starting to realize that.


Joseph D’Hippolito has written commentaries for such outlets as the Jerusalem Post, the American Thinker and Front Page Magazine. He works as a free-lance writer.

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