Amoris Laetitia on the LGBT Movement

By Jeremy Hausotter

August 14, 2021

1. Introduction

Amoris Laetitia proved itself to be a controversial document in the Church’s intellectual life. Most famously was the debate concerning its teachings on irregular unions and the reception of the Eucharist. Myself, I certainly understand why many were and continue to be scandalized by the document, for it is not well written in some passages (though these passages can be easily reconciled with Church teaching). This is not our task here however. Instead, I want to focus on a particular strength of Amoris Laetitia (hereafter abbreviated AL) where I believe AL helped clarify the Church’s teachings, namely, its teachings on the LGBT movement. There are two themes I want to focus on: the root proposition of transgender ideology and the question of same-sex unions.

2. The Core Idea of the Transgender Movement

2.1. Paragraph 56

Amoris Laetitia teaches that the root idea of the transgender movement is that this ideology denies “the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman…”[1] This denial eliminates “the anthropological basis of the family”[2] and has resulted in educational programs and acts of legislature to promote its views. A consequence of this denial is that personal identity and emotional intimacy are “radically separated from the biological difference between male and female.”[3]

This denial and its consequences hence requires understanding human identity to be something man can change as a matter of choice. Man can choose to have one identity at a particular time in his life and a second later on. Personal identity changes over time and is subject to the will of man. This is certainly true in some respect. I decided to become a husband, father, and math instructor. Each of these shape my existential human identity. But these are also distinct from my biological sex and gender, for they are consequences of my willful actions. Gender and biological sex are not determined by the will on the other hand, but are ontologically grounded in the kind of being a human male and female are.

The political weaponization of transgenderism “is a source of concern” since the proponents of this ideology assert it “as absolute and unquestionable” and seek to indoctrinate children with their views.[4] For some it is even unfathomable that someone may object to transgenderism. This is why dissenters are labeled as “haters” and “bigots”, because the very act of dissent itself appears to be so revolutionary that only an “immoral” person can disagree with the ideology.

In opposition to transgender ideology, Amoris Laetitia asserts that: “It needs to be emphasized that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated”.”[5] The transgender movement seeks to divorce biological sex from gender, interpreting gender as something man decides for himself. Gender becomes a purely human construct under the dominion of the will. Amoris Laetitia, on the other hand, asserts the opposite, that gender is only intelligible when it is grounded in biological sex. Biological sex gives meaning and reality to gender. When gender is separated from biological sex, it lacks both meaning and any correspondance to reality.

Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia observed that “It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality.”[6] Life is messy, man has problems, but these facts of life do not mean that we can or must accept ideologies such as transgenderism. Some people struggle identifying with their true gender, and this struggle and the disconnection should not be celebrated.

 Transgenderism attempts to separate biological sex and gender, but these are inseparable in reality. Ignoring reality and promoting such a radical view is an injustice to our fellow man and it creates a whole class of victims who believe that they could find happiness in mutilating themselves to become a gender. It is a grave injustice to tell young men and women that they will become happy through self-mutilation. Self-mutilation and the rejection of one’s true gender are acts of despair. Man has despaired over himself and his God-given identity, and in his rejection he turned to transgenderism.

Pope Francis suggests that there is a fundamental spiritual problem of pride behind the transgender movement. He warns us to “not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator.”[7] Interpreting gender as something malleable and defined by the human will as transgenderism does is fundamentally an act of pride of an individual who believes that he can become his own creator. Through transgenderism man places himself above God and ignores or forgets the fundamental fact that man is a creature. Transgenderism is an assault on man’s creaturehood. 

The creaturehood of man hence demands a spirituality of gift. Man must understand he is a creature, and as a creature, understand that “Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift.”[8] Man is not randomly assigned a biological sex by the arbitrary mechanisms of evolution, but each human person is gifted a biological sex and its corresponding gender roles. Creation is a gift. Gender and biological sex are gifts, and also a challenge to live out.

Scripture attests to the gift-character of creation and likewise of humanity’ status as image of God, Imago Dei. Earlier in Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis quoted Genesis 1:27 for Biblical support on the reality of the difference between male and female. The sexual difference of man penetrates into his very being and status as Imago Dei. Pope Francis observed that “It is striking that the “image of God” here refers to the couple, “male and female”.”[9]

Man’s biological sex is a gift, and as a gift, it is also a vocation and demand. Man must live out his biological sex, and this requires understanding his gender. The male gender is intelligible only in reference to biological sex as male, and likewise for female. Males and females hence have a duty, an ethical norm to live out his or her vocation to be a man or a woman. Man must learn the implications and meanings of what it is to live his or her life according to the demands of his or her gender.

Transgenderism is precisely a rejection of this norm and duty. It replaces this normative content with the volitional whims of the human subject. The human will becomes the normative measure instead of God-created reality. Hence transgenderism presupposes and requires a fundamental moral relativism concerning the duty and normativity required by gender and biological sex, because these are now things each human person must decide for his or her self. 

In opposition to transgenderism, Pope Francis concluded “we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created.”[10] The defense of the human person requires the acceptance of the reality of his or her biological sex and its gender implications with its associated duties and norms. These duties and norms are requirements in order to live in accordance with reality. Transgenderism is an assault against the reality of the human person as an engendered being.

2.2. Background Texts

If we look at the footnotes for paragraph 56, it cites The Final Report for the XIV Ordinary General Assembly for the teachings on transgenderism. Most of what Amoris Laetitia taught is found in paragraph 8 of The Final Report. Later in paragraph 58, The Final Report states: “According to the Christian principle, soul and body, as well as biological sex (sex) and socio-cultural role of sex (gender), can be distinguished but not separated.”[11]

If we dig deeper, much of paragraph 8 of The Final Report directly quotes from a general audience of Pope Francis’.[12] In the general audience Pope Francis outlined that transgenderism is an expression of frustration and resignation over not knowing how to confront the sexual difference between male and female. This movement hence a backwards movement away from the solution, the reality of the sexual differences between male and female and how one must integrate his or her sexuality within God’s plan for marriage and sex. Transgenderism by removing the difference between male and female creates problems and not solutions.

Modern contemporary culture has opened new spaces, new forms of freedom and new depths in order to enrich the understanding of this difference. But it has also introduced many doubts and much skepticism. For example, I ask myself, if the so-called gender theory is not, at the same time, an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it. Yes, we risk taking a step backwards. The removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution. In order to resolve the problems in their relationships, men and women need to speak to one another more, listen to each other more, get to know one another better, love one another more. They must treat each other with respect and cooperate in friendship. On this human basis, sustained by the grace of God, it is possible to plan a lifelong marital and familial union. The marital and familial bond is a serious matter, and it is so for everyone not just for believers. I would urge intellectuals not to leave this theme aside, as if it had to become secondary in order to foster a more free and just society.[13]

2.3. Excursus: Amoris Laetitia on Imago Dei

We quoted Amoris Laetitia earlier concerning “image of God”: “It is striking that the “image of God” here refers to the couple, “male and female”.”[14] This statement is intriguing, for we generally think of the subject of Imago Dei to be the individual person. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body was revolutionary in that he also applied it to the couple as also being a subject of Imago Dei since the married couple images the Trinity through the conjugal act. What is intriguing here in Pope Francis’ statement is that he does not seem to recognize the individual person as Imago Dei, only the couple.

A similar statement can be found in paragraph 8 of The Final Report, from which Amoris Laetitia drew heavily from for its teachings on transgenderism. We read: “it is not man alone who is the image of God or woman alone who is the image of God, but man and woman as a couple who are the image of God.”[15] Again, there is a strong emphasis on the couple and not the individual. This quote from The Final Report is actually the words of Pope Francis from his General Audience mentioned above. Here is the full paragraph from the Audience:

And as we all know, sexual difference is present in so many forms of life, on the great scale of living beings. But man and woman alone are made in the image and likeness of God: the biblical text repeats it three times in two passages (26-27): man and woman are the image and likeness of God. This tells us that it is not man alone who is the image of God or woman alone who is the image of God, but man and woman as a couple who are the image of God. The difference between man and woman is not meant to stand in opposition, or to subordinate, but is for the sake of communion and generation, always in the image and likeness of God.[16]

A cursory glance at these statements would make it seem as if the individual human person only has dignity as Imago Dei once he or she enters into matrimony. Such a view would however break with Catholic teaching since as the Catechism teaches, each individual person possesses intrinsic dignity as Imago Dei.[17]

Instead of adopting an interpretation of Pope Francis which requires him to be breaking with Church teaching, this view can be reconciled. What Pope Francis is addressing is the fact that some people believed that either men or women were of dignity, but unequally. Some valued men higher, others women; and both viewpoints to the denigration of the other biological sex. In opposition to both of these views, Pope Francis is asserting that both men and women have the same and equal dignity, and this is especially found in their union as man and wife. This interpretation also makes Pope Francis consistent with himself when he elsewhere makes statements concerning Imago Dei and its application to individual human persons.[18]

Nonetheless, the statements in Pope Francis’ General Audience, Amoris Laetitia, and The Final Report are awkward. Some may simply say Pope Francis is intentionally being deceitful, but such an interpretation appears to be more so out of a spirit of disobedience than obedience to the Holy Father.

Those who do wish to interpret the words of Pope Francis as if only couples possess dignity do so at the expense of interpreting Imago Dei as the Church understood it in ontological terms, that Imago Dei is a statement concerning the very being of every man and woman, into a new understanding that is relational and not ontological. The marriage relationship would be the determining factor of man’s dignity and not his nature as a human person. Such a schema is reminiscent of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existence precedes essence. Such a view is deeply problematic however for then man would have no inherent value and would only obtain it once married; and so some men and women, like celibates, will never have dignity.

3. Same-Sex Unions

3.1. Paragraph 52

Amoris Laetitia stated the obvious that the natural institution of marriage is being weakened across Western civilization. Pope Francis reminds us that this is a terrible thing, for “it poses a threat to the mature growth of individuals, the cultivation of community values and the moral progress of cities and countries.”[19] We as a society have failed to realize that bringing in new life requires a stable, lifelong commitment of a man and a woman, a traditional marriage.

Several replacements to traditional marriage have been suggested, including same-sex unions. Pope Francis is clear however, that

We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage. No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society.[20]

Same-sex unions are usually temporary and are by definition closed to procreation, and so these types of unions cannot be equated with marriage. It is in fact a scandal to treat these unions as marriage because they are part of the problem in weakening the institution of marriage and society.

3.2. Paragraph 251

 

Same-sex unions come up a second time in paragraph 251. AL is quite explicit in its rejection of same-sex unions:

As for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, 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.[21]

Not only is a sharp distinction drawn between traditional marriage and same-sex unions, but we cannot even affirm that same-sex unions are “remotely analogous” to traditional marriage. The two are like water and oil. They do not mix.

This teaching is directly quoted from the Synod’s Final Report,[22] which is actually quoting from a document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF hereafter). The CDF oversees the doctrinal orthodoxy of the Church. In 2003 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the CDF issued Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, reaffirming the Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil actions, and hence is why same-sex unions cannot be equated with marriage, nor even treated as “remotely analogous”.[23] Homosexual acts are evil, and evil cannot be equated with the holy sacrament of marriage.

Since same-sex unions are morally objectionable, this paragraph of Amoris Laetitia continues and teaches that it is likewise morally objectionable to force local Churches into acceptance of same-sex unions.[24] There are international bodies and governments who have tied aid and funding to the acceptance of this ideology. The Church rightly condemns these types of actions as morally disgraceful. 

3.3. Paragraph 250

The Church acknowledges that there are many who struggle with same-sex attraction. The Church reaffirms that these people still possess inherent dignity and ought to be treated as such. One cannot be discriminated simply because he or she struggles with same-sex attraction.

We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.[25]

Simply because one suffers same-sex attraction does not mean that the person has been degraded to the point where he or she can be treated as if they were without dignity. The human person retains his or her dignity despite whatever sins, vices, and various disorders. Same-sex attraction is a cross to bear, and those who suffer it are still human persons with dignity, which is why the Church calls for “respectful pastoral guidance”.[26]

4. Conclusion

Despite some of the flare ups between different forces within the Church concerning the place of Amoris Laetitia, it is my hope that this essay is some vindication for the document. In it Pope Francis advanced Catholic teaching on the question of transgenderism and reaffirmed the Church’s condemnation of same-sex unions. He provided us with clear teaching and principles for combatting two dangerous ideas of the LGBT movement.

Many people are hurt and radicalized by the LGBT movement. We must show these people our love. This in part requires standing up for the truths of the human person as a created being with a given sex and gender. We need young men and women to faithfully live out their masculinity and femininity in order to be witnesses to these truths of the human person.

The LGBT movement by embracing both same-sex marriage and transgenderism has promoted dangerous ideas that unjustly confuse people and forced others to embrace injustice. The LGBT movement hence represents a serious threat to the common good of society. No Catholic can morally support this movement. Love the sinner, but oppose the movement and the falsehoods it promotes.

 

Endnotes

[1] AL 56.

[2] Ibid, 56.

[3] Ibid, 56.

[4] “It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised.” AL 56.

[5] Ibid, 56.

[6] AL 56. Emphasis mine.

[7] Ibid, 56.

[8] Ibid, 56.

[9] Ibid, 10.

[10] Ibid, 56.

[11] The Final Report for the XIV Ordinary General Assembly, 58. URL: https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20151026_relazione-finale-xiv-assemblea_en.html.

[12] General Audience, April 15, 2015. URL: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2015/documents/papa-francesco_20150415_udienza-generale.html.

[13] Ibid.

[14] AL 10.

[15] The Final Report for the XIV Ordinary General Assembly, 8.

[16] General Audience, April 15, 2015.

[17] “Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, 357.

[18] Cf. Fratelli Tutti 273. URL: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html.  Address to a Delegation from the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, Dec. 7, 2013. URL: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2013/december/documents/papa-francesco_20131207_istituto-dignitatis.html.

[19] AL 27.

[20] AL 52.

[21] AL 251.

[22] The Final Report for the XIV Ordinary General Assembly, 76.

[23] URL: https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html.

[24] “It is unacceptable “that local Churches should be subjected to pressure in this matter and that international bodies should make financial aid to poor countries dependent on the introduction of laws to establish ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex.” AL 251.

[25] AL 250.

[26] AL 250.

Woman with a Parasol by Claude Monet
Wikimedia Commons

Enjoying our content? Consider supporting us through Paypal or Patreon!