The Roman Catholic Church and its moral doctrine on sexual orientation, human sexuality, and gender are built on the foundations of scripture and nearly two thousand years of tradition. Over the course of two millennia, Catholic moral thought has been built on interpretations of the philosophical and theological works like Saint Augustine’s Confessions and other writings, as well as Thomas Aquinas’ natural law theory as articulated in the Summa Theologica and other of his writings. These writings have shaped the way in which the Catholic Church has developed its moral teaching on issues of sex and sexuality. Yet, when it comes to the lives, sexualities, and lived experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, and Queer (LGBTQIA+) persons there is no moral equivalent in the Catholic moral tradition. The LGBTQIA+ community is left without adequate representation in the Catholic tradition’s moral doctrine because homosexual acts have been deemed immoral by the ethical and moral frameworks of the Roman Catholic moral tradition. Further there have been few, if any considerations of LGBTQIA+ persons and relations in the theological and moral discernment of the church whereas heterosexual individuals have benefited from a robust theoretical and moral discernment. Instead, the Roman Catholic Tradition has built up a moral doctrine where being LGBTQIA+ has been equated with acting in a way contrary to natural law, order, and the plan God has for humanity. In the language of official Catholic doctrine, it has been described as “intrinsically disordered” and “sinful.”
This paper aims to demonstrate that the Catholic moral tradition has not developed a full understanding of the human person insofar as it has failed to consider the developments in contemporary science regarding the vast spectrum of human sexuality and sexual orientations of non-hetero normative individuals, couples, and families. In effect what I will be arguing is that by refusing to engage contemporary developments in the natural and social sciences, the church is content with having an incomplete and inconsistent moral doctrine. By settling with a moral teaching that is isolated from new insights of the human condition the Catholic tradition has erred in its teaching and has harmed individuals and communities by continuing to uphold a moral teaching that is not only incomplete and incorrect but also deeply morally corrupt.
Throughout this paper I will advance this argument by first, articulating the long-standing teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on sexual morality as it relates to LGBTQIA+ persons by providing an overview of the corpus of foundational theological works. Second, I will provide key insights from contemporary natural and social sciences and juxtapose the findings of these fields with the Catholic moral doctrine. Third, I will draw on the theological anthropologies of Shawn M. Copeland and Ada María Isasi-Díaz. These two theologians do not write from an LGBTQIA+ perspective. Nevertheless, I propose that by creating a parallel between the experiences of women and the experiences of members of LGBTQIA+ communities, their theological proposal can prove valuable in the articulation of a liberative framework from which the LGBTQIA+ communities can pick up the pieces of a corrupt moral teaching, and find a way to have full, conscious, and active participation in the life of the church.
While this task may seem daunting but necessary to some, to others the project may seem unnecessary. Indeed, there are theologians and others who may believe that because there are parishes and pastoral organizations that minister to LGBTQIA+ persons, a critique on certain aspects of the Catholic moral tradition is not necessary. It is true that parishes and pastoral organizations that minister to the LGBTQIA+ persons do exist and the work they do is truly the sacred work of God. However, they are exceptions to the norm. If one sets foot outside those safe and sacred spaces, one is again ensnared by the harmful reality of a corrupt moral doctrine in Roman Catholic thought. This issue is not just a pastoral dilemma, it is also a theological dilemma that must be addressed. LGBTQIA+ persons, their loved ones, their families, ought to be welcomed in all churches and congregations that call themselves Catholic, not out of so-called tolerance often dubbed as “hate the sin not the sinner” mentality, but welcomed in the way in which Jesus welcomed all who encountered him in good faith. Therefore, while pastoral centers and parishes do form a part of the issue I intend to address here, the purpose of this article is intentionally focused on the theological dimension as I argue that the source of the problem is a corrupt moral teaching in its capacity to exclude and dehumanize members of the LGBTQIA+ communities.
A 2019 analysis of suicides in the LGBTQIA+ community conducted by Bridget H. Lyons, Mikel L. Walters, Shane P.D. Jack, Emiko Petrosky, Janet M. Blair, and Asha Z. Ivey-Stephenson found that LGBTQIA+ persons are twice as likely to consider taking their own life in comparison to their heterosexual peers. Their study also found that gay men who commit suicide had been diagnosed with mental health problems, and twice as many gay men were twice as likely to commit suicide after the death of a loved one. This last detail is particularly striking as it demonstrates that amid grief, the compounding pain and pressure they experience in their daily life, and the loss of someone whom they love, is often too much to handle that suicide is seen as the only recourse they have left.
Suicide attempts and suicide rates are not the only tragedies that disproportionately affect LGBTQIA+ persons compared to their heterosexual peers in other cities in the world. LGBTQIA+ youth are often targeted, attacked, and killed in hate crimes. For example, a 24-year-old gay man in Spain was outside a bar in Galicia. He was facetiming a friend when three men assumed he was recording them, they proceeded to beat him, call him homophobic slurs, and ultimately killed him. Two months later in Spain, a 20-year-old man was attacked by a group of men. They attacked him with a knife and carved the word “Maricon” (the homophobic slur translates in English to Faggot). While some may concede that this hate fueled attacks are borne out of ignorance and homophobia, they may still feel that this line of inquiry is not needed. I respond by pointing to the fact that queer spaces are often vilified and attacked violently by people who would rather have LGBTQIA+ people dead than leave them be in their Queer and Sacred spaces. The attack on Pulse Nightclub in Florida is one other example in the USA. While the attack was carried out by a radicalized Islamic fundamentalist, the silence of many faith leaders in the Catholic community in the aftermath of this attack was deafening. Church leaders could not bring themselves to utter a word of sympathy, compassion, or basic respect or to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community as other Christian faith leaders lamented that “many more had not died.”
I would be remiss if I failed to point out that countless youth are forced into the streets by their parents when they find out that their son, daughter, child is LGBTQIA+. In September of 2014, Jason Welle of the Jesuit Post published a story that provided the narratives of youth who were left homeless by their parents after they came out as LGBTQIA+. Welle’s article cited a 2010 study conducted by the University of San Francisco where ninety percent of parents who kicked their child out of the home after they found out they were part of the LGBTQIA+ community cited their religious belief as the reason for doing so.
This theological inquiry is justified by the countless lives that have been harmed, destroyed, and taken away from our LGBTQIA+ communities. The social, economic, cultural, and political components that compound this issue are all important. However, I firmly believe a critical part of the problems confronted by members of the LGBTQIA+ is the moral teaching of Roman Catholicism. These teachings have influenced the way in which society and family units perceive the members of these communities. This theological inquiry therefore will seek to demonstrate how and why the Catholic moral teaching concerning persons, sex, and human sexualities is harmful and wrong. I now turn to the Magisterium’s longstanding teaching on this subject.
Official Catholic Moral Doctrine
In the revised Catechism of the Catholic Church of 1985, the official teaching of the church, LGBTQIA+ persons are described as “intrinsically disordered.” Furthermore, the word used to describe LGBTQIA+ persons in official church documents is “homosexual.” However, that same document calls on all persons to not discriminate against the “homosexual person.” It also calls on the Church and its members to approach the person “suffering from these tendencies” to be treated with respect and compassion. The use of the language of “intrinsically disordered” implies that there is something wrong or defective or lacking in the LGBTQIA+ person. The use of the word homosexual erases the vast diversity within the LGBTQIA+ communities and ignores the vast spectrum of human sexualities and sexual orientations. Again, this so-called revised Catechism perpetuates the outdated and harmful understanding of the human person and human sexualities. In this section, I focus on articulating the Catholic Church’s teaching to elucidate why that is.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has in its history issued two letters addressing the doctrinal aspects germane to LGBTQIA+ persons. These are entitled “Persona Humana – Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics” and the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” These two declarations have articulated the moral teaching of Roman Catholic thought during the pontificates of Paul VI and John Paul II, and they reveal how the teaching of the church has (under)developed over time.
In Persona Humana, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith led by Cardinal Franjo Seper as its Prefect opens its statement by acknowledging the “contemporary scientific research” of the time on the topic of sexuality in relation to the “biological, psychological, and spiritual” dimensions. Yet in the entirety of the letter beyond the opening paragraph, what follows is not an assessment of the developments of the contemporary scientific research of the time. Instead, what follows is an airing of grievances on the moral erosion brought about by the “unbridled exaltation of sex.” The result of unregulated sex has according to this doctrinal declaration led to the confusion of morals, the spread of sexual perversion, and has caused a loss of truth.
According to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the rise of sexual immorality and the decaying moral values of society weighs heavily on the conscience of the bishops, and demonstrates the need for a wholesome moral teaching. The congregation notes that a need for wholesome moral teaching and the lack of attention to the voices of the national episcopal conferences led to the writing of this declaration. The Congregation points the accusatory finger to the LGBTQIA+ communities claiming that the moral erosion lies in the destruction of the “essential natural order of man” and the breakdown of the family unit. It is in section eight of the declaration Persona Humana where the congregation addresses its LGBTQIA+ concerns directly. There is a criticism of the psychological developments made in relation to whether the LGBTQIA+ person is born that way or if they are socially conditioned into being that way. This point is demonstrated as the congregation writes:
A distinction is drawn, and it seems with some reason, between homosexuals whose tendency comes from a false education, from a lack of normal sexual development, from habit, from bad example, or from other similar causes, and is transitory or at least not incurable; and homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct or a pathological constitution judged to be incurable.
Instead of engaging with contemporary scientific research, the Congregation is content to appeal to their own authority and make the unfounded claim that LGBTQIA+ persons are misled and uneducated on who they are. For them, we are uneducated to understand and know what and how we feel, or that it is a “transitory” thing, a phase we go through. Additionally, the Congregation clearly states that possibly our sexuality and sexual orientation is a result from unnatural development. Once again, we see the harmful, derogatory, dehumanizing aspect of the failed Catholic moral doctrine. In this declaration, written in the year 1975 by the Congregation’s Prefect Cardinal Franjo Seper, the Catholic Church reiterated its longstanding understanding on morality by focusing almost exclusively on the “sexual act”, and in a very limited context in human sexuality, especially the sexual orientation of LGBTQIA+ persons. It is evident in both the body of this declaration and in its foundations – the footnotes – that this document did not at any point address the “contemporary scientific developments.” Instead, the Congregation repeated the same statements of old in a new document with a different name. In its forty-five citations, not once did it cite a scientific study, even a dubious one that would have supported their poor understanding of human sexuality. Instead, there are references to a few documents from the Second Vatican Council. For example, addresses given by previous popes, prior encyclical letters, other ecclesial documents, and scriptural passages in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke and some New Testament Epistles, with an excessive citing of Paul. In the only times the fields of sociology and psychology were engaged in this document, the Congregation refused to acknowledge that the advancements made in those areas could inform the moral teaching of the church by constituting a criteria of objective truths.
In a more critical and close reading of this declaration, one finds the understanding of LGBTQIA+ persons underwhelming; we are labelled as naïve and uneducated persons that are easily deceived and used as pawns to promote an unnatural and immoral lifestyle. The dehumanization of LGBTQIA+ people is not only present in the written word but in the context in which this letter was promulgated. Further, theological arguments ought to be based on facts and should be informed by the best of the natural and social sciences. Yet, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church seems to base their moral teaching on their own authority without consulting the best of contemporary scientific evidence.
In the “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” written by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as its Prefect, reiterated the same teaching concerning LGBTQIA+ persons in Persona Humana. In the decades that followed the 1975 document, the Catholic Church had once again failed to listen to the scientific advancements of the time, especially the advancements made in the field of psychology, sociology, and biology. First, it opens by acknowledging that human sexuality and sexual orientations are a growing part in the conversations in the pastoral setting. However, the congregation immediately goes on an aggressive approach to the debate on LGBTQIA+ issues and identity as they write:
“Since this debate often advances arguments and makes assertions inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church, it is quite rightly a cause for concern to all engaged in the pastoral ministry, and this Congregation has judged it to be of sufficiently grave and widespread importance to address to the Bishops of the Catholic Church this Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.”
Second, the Congregation ignores the advancements made in scientific research that demonstrates the reality the LGBTQIA+ persons have a natural behavior. Sexual orientations differ from their heterosexual counterparts and the heteronormative behaviors because human sexuality is in fact a broad spectrum rather than a mere binary. The congregation ignored these developments and once again described LGBTQIA+ persons as “intrinsically disordered” and again defined LGBTQIA+ persons strictly as “homosexual.” Moreover, the Congregation continued to perpetuate the unfounded claim that LGBTQIA+ people “suffer” from this inclination. Again, like in Persona Humana the congregation laments a decay in the moral foundations of society. The Congregation again cites prior declarations from the Vatican, the statements from pontiffs of old, and some loosely interpreted parts of Scripture. In this document, the same harmful teaching and rhetoric concerning LGBTQIA+ persons are reiterated. LGBTQIA+ persons are again called “intrinsically disordered,” and the congregation goes as far as to state that LGBTQIA+ persons lack their “indispensable essential finality” because of their human nature.
Thus, the congregation declares the humanity of the LGBTQIA+ person as deficient. The congregation writes: “As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.” The claim that the humanity of the LGBTQIA+ person is deficient is perhaps the most harmful component in this “Letter to the Bishops.” It stigmatizes an entire group by setting this harmful preaching as a part of the magisterium of the church.
It is evident that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith views LGBTQIA+ persons as a form of subhuman individuals. This declaration creates this stigmatization of LGBTQIA+ persons not only in a theological sense but in a pastoral sense as well. This letter is addressed to the Bishops of the Latin Rite. The erroneous theological errors in this moral doctrine spills over in the parish setting wherein the actual harm to LGBTQIA+ persons takes place. The Congregation asks the bishops:
“to provide pastoral care in full accord with the teaching of the Church for homosexual persons of their dioceses. No authentic pastoral programme will include organizations in which homosexual persons associate with each other without clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral. A truly pastoral approach will appreciate the need for homosexual persons to avoid the near occasions of sin.”
In effect this theological error is given a framework to be applied in every Roman Catholic diocese. The congregation states this explicitly as they say: “In a particular way, we would ask the bishops to support, with the means at their disposal, the development of appropriate forms of pastoral care for homosexual persons. These would include the assistance of the psychological, sociological and medical sciences, in full accord with the teaching of the Church.” It is worth noting, that in this brief excerpt the Doctrine seems to support some kind of conversion/reparative therapy. Needless to say, the congregation would rather have a moral doctrine that dehumanizes rather than accompany and journey with LGBTQIA+ persons. It fails to admit that possibly the Catholic moral tradition has got it wrong. Indeed, the congregation would rather bar so-called dissenting theologians away from LGBTQIA+ persons in the name of their ideological pursuit for so–called purity. More to the point, as it appears to me, the congregation would rather see programs like the gay conversion therapy “Courage” propagate everywhere. Meanwhile, organizations like “New Ways Ministries,” which has been censured by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, seem not to exist in the eyes of the USCCB and the Holy See. Indeed, the parishes, pastoral centers, and other sacred spaces that allow for an inclusive ecclesial participation for LGBTQIA+ persons are seen by the Congregation as harmful locales that will spread confusion, immorality, and misinformation. This mentality in the United States Catholic Church has caused LGBTQIA+ Catholics great harm. The only officially recognized ministry for LGBTQIA+ persons is the gay conversion therapy group known as “Courage.” This organization has since launched a separate program “EnCourage” for family, siblings, and friends of persons who are LGBTQIA+.
The” Courage” gay conversion therapy organization is run by members who claim that they at one point identified as “homosexual” but after prayer, discernment, and finding the truth—whatever that may mean, they were no longer homosexual. This is precisely why the moral doctrine of the church must acknowledge it is incorrect, harmful, and unrepresentative of who or what God is. That is, if being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Trans, gender non-conforming, non-binary, etc. is something that can be allegedly prayed away or cured through a radical self-denial.
Insights from Social Scientific Studies
Recent insights and developments in the field of psychology demonstrate that there are compounding factors that adversely impact LGBTQIA+ persons of color. For example, Kevin L. Nadal, Tanya Erazo, Julia Schulman, Heather Han, and Tamara Deutsch demonstrate that ethnic minorities face macroaggressions in relation to their racial demographic and if they are LGBTQIA+. They may also suffer compounding microaggressions based on their sexual identity and orientation. It is therefore safe to presume that LGBTQIA+ Latino Catholics face similar compounding stressors that aggravate their own lives as they relate to their cultural, religious, and social circumstances. Indeed, the macroaggression for LGBTQIA+ Latin would be their sexual identity and the compounding aggravating microaggression would be their ethnic background and Catholic identity. Indeed, for many LGBTQIA+ Latino Catholics, their various identities are called into question because of their sexual identity and orientation. Many Latinx LGBTQIA+ Catholics are not considered authentically Latino and may even have their masculinity called into question by their families, friends, and social groups. In addition to this LGBTQIA+ Latinx Catholics have their Catholic identity and belonging in the Roman Catholic Church called into question to the point of facing outright hostility from fellow Roman Catholics.
The contempt with which many LGBTQIA+ Latino Catholics are received with and the outright hostility they are confronted with has led many away from the Roman Catholic Church and has pushed a significant portion of LGBTQIA+ Latinx Catholics into other harmful arenas. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), LGBTQIA+ persons in general are considered being in a “group engaged in risky behaviors” which range from sexual promiscuity and the use of alcohol and schedule 1 drugs. While the behaviors that some members of the LGBTQIA+ community engage in are dangerous and detrimental to the integrity of their bodies, I want to focus the attention on the root causes of these behaviors. I argue that these behaviors are responses to the rejection and desolation many LGBTQIA+ folks experience. Now, let me be equally clear, in no way am I arguing that the use of alcohol and schedule 1 drugs are a legitimate response to relieve the pain and suffering that many in the community experience. I am simply making the point that there is a correlation between the rejection and pain that LGBTQIA+ persons experience from their social, ethnic, and religious groups and the risky behaviors that they are led to engage in.
According to Karina Gattamorta and Narciso Quidley-Rodríguez, seventy-five percent of the participants in their study identified as Catholic. Moreover, their study identified three cultural factors within the Hispanic (Latino) community that keep LGBTQIA+ Latinx persons in the closet and force them to self-censor their lives. Gattamorta and Quidley-Rodríguez identify concepts like familism and machismo as key cultural attitudes that shape and govern the ways in which Latinos and their families navigate their identity as LGBTQIA+ persons and as family related to an LGBTQIA+ son, daughter, brother, or sister. In their study, they define familism as the attitude and approach of placing the best interest of the family over the individual person. This of course means that the LGBTQIA+ Latino is more likely to self–censor their life and stay in the closet instead of coming out. As Gattamorta and Quidley-Rodríguez note, for many LGBTQIA+ Latinos, coming out to their families about their sexual identity is seen as an offense to the family name and is seen as bringing shame to the family in the broader communities like their church and social groups.
In their study that governs the gendered expectations of how men should act and be perceived as by family, the community, and their social groups, Gattamorta and Quidley-Rodríguez define machismo as a cultural component prevalent in the Hispanic/Latino communities. They highlight the fact that machismo and the machista attitude prevalent in the Hispanic/Latino community is linked to harsh and unfounded judgmental attitudes towards LGBTQIA+ persons. They also argue that these attitudes are also linked to “internalized homophobia” and other psycho-social ailments that include suicidal tendencies.
Coupled together, machismo and familism create a harmful cultural stressor which aggravates the lived reality of LGBTQIA+ Latinos. On one hand, LGBTQIA+ Latinos are forced to make an impossible choice between being who they are, how they were born, and ultimately how God made them or choose to be conditionally loved by their family, friends, social and faith community. In choosing to be conditionally loved by their various social groups and families, LGBTQIA+ Latinos make the difficult decision to live in the closet and engage in the harmful and unnecessary practice of self-censorship to satisfy cultural expectations that seep into the religious beliefs and values held by many Latinx parents and community members.
Gattamorta and Quidley-Rodríguez found that of those LGBTQIA+ Latinos that did “come out” to their relatives, friends, and other social groups, the ways in which they come out of the closet vary. For some, their coming out experience was stating that they identified as LGBTQIA+. For others, their coming out experience was less direct as they may have not explicitly acknowledged their identity and orientation but rather implicitly. That is, their coming out experience was more discreet as it could be an action like inviting LGBTQIA+ friend(s) or a same-sex plus one to a family gathering. Still for others it may simply mean living a discreet–closeted double life. In this situation one may have a partner but will not explicitly acknowledge their partner with the label of “boyfriend,” “novio,” “girlfriend,” or “novia.” To some this may seem like a livable compromise but like Gattamorta and Quidley-Rodríguez point out, it serves only as a faux toleration because familism and machismo still govern the way in which the LGBTQIA+ Latinx person lives their life.
For those Latinx persons that do come out publicly, the odds of being fully accepted and loved by their families, friends, and others depends in part on the level of progressivism. In other words, each LGBTQIA+ Latinx may face a different response or level of acceptance as it is dependent on the openness of each family unit. Gattamorta and Quidley-Rodríguez note that some of the participants in their study reported being kicked out of their homes by their parents. Others reported losing friends after they came out to them. Indeed, as Gattamorta and Quidley-Rodríguez note, in the United States twenty to forty percent of homeless youth are LGBTQIA+ who were kicked out of their homes by parents or caretakers.
The Liberative Anthropologies of M. Shawn Copeland and Ada María Isasi-Díaz
The field of Latinx Theology in the United States has discussed themes like “lo cotidiano” or popular religious images and devotions. Few Latinx theologians, however, write about the plights of Latinas and their resilience in the face of social and systemic injustices. Latinas face cultural challenges to behave in a certain “feminine” way, and if they stray from these sociocultural expectations, they often face criticism from within their communities and families. In consideration of these hard truths, the late Ada María Isasi-Díaz constructed a theological anthropology that includes the lived reality and experience of Latinas in the United States.
In her book Mujerista Theology, Isasi-Díaz argued that in many ways mujerista theological anthropology is built around the notions of “La Lucha”, “Permitanme Hablar”, and “La Comunidad/La Familia.” Isasi-Díaz is also quick to note that these three categories do not constitute the entirety of mujerista theological anthropology but rather, they encompass that which she has observed in conversation with Latina women and their lived realities. I am utilizing the insights of Isasi-Díaz for the same reasons for which I use Copeland, namely, to draw a parallel between the struggle and resilience of Latina women and the LGBTQIA+ community. This becomes apparent when the themes of “La Lucha,” “La Familia/La Comunidad,” and “Permitanme Hablar” are discussed within the LGBTQIA+ community.
For Isasi-Díaz “La Lucha” is the Latina’s “ability to deal with suffering without being determined by it.” In other words, she notes, although social and systemic structures exist and do wrongly oppress and marginalize Latinas in American society and in the American church, Latinas do not give in or give up in the face of these injustices. Instead, Isasi-Díaz contends, “La Lucha” is central to Latina’s self – understanding. For her, Latinas understand that suffering may be a part of their lived experience, but it is not in any way their purpose or destiny. Indeed, Isasi- Díaz herself questions such beliefs; to her, “the insistence on the value of suffering for Christians and its placement as a central element of the Christian message is questionable.” She bases this claim on the notion that the narrative of “suffering as necessary” is a tool that can lead to the oppression of some by those who are in power. She goes on to argue that the lived experience of Latinas demonstrates that suffering is not their purpose or destiny. In fact, fiestas demonstrate Latina women’s resilience. According to Isasi-Díaz, fiestas are the ways through which Latinas encourage, share, and are present to themselves and others who are facing adverse situations.
The second concept on which Isasi-Díaz’s mujerista anthropology is based is that of “Permitanme Hablar.” She defines this concept as the ¨insistence to denounce the erasure of Latina women from the histories of communities, countries of origin, and in the United States.” Indeed, Isasi-Díaz argues that Latinas are “not absent from history” instead they have been ignored. The concept of “Permitanme Hablar” is therefore the act of claiming one’s moral status in society at large. In so doing, Latinas are both “making known their past” and “participating in making present” their current history. Latinas are claiming their rightful place in the church and society because they are in this way active co-creators of their destinies. As Isasi-Díaz puts it, Latinas are often spoken to, about, or given symbolic yet empty gestures to make them feel as if they are a part of the discussion without actually being given a seat at the table. We see, then, that Permitanme Hablar empowers Latinas to boldly claim their moral status in society and to actively participate in the creation of their present and future.
The third hinge in Isasi-Díaz’s mujerista anthropology is the notion of La Familia or La Comunidad. She distinguishes these two as she defines La Familia as the “central and most important institution in life.” La Familia, for Isasi-Díaz, is central regardless of one’s experience (positive or negative) with their family. At the same time, she also argues that La Comunidad relies on interdependence. The whole cannot function coherently if one of its members is not included. Additionally, for Isasi-Díaz both La Familia and La Comunidad do not need to adhere to social or cultural conventions of the “patriarchal family structure” or emphasize the need for gendered norms and expectations. The challenge that Isasi-Díaz’s vision of La Familia and La Comunidad is critical as it upends the long-standing machista attitude prevalent in many Latinx families and communities. By challenging the patriarchy and gender-based norms, La Familia and La Comunidad, as envisioned by Ada María Isasi-Díaz, become a more inclusive and flexible people group that serves to provide support to all of its members regardless of who they are.
I move now to consider the work of Shawn Copeland. In her Enfleshing Freedom, Copeland proposes the idea that all human beings share a “distinct capacity” to share life in God. This is based on the notion of the Imago Dei as it creates a separation between human beings and all other creatures. Thus, humanity can boast that it is the only aspect of God’s creation that shares God’s image and likeness and therefore has the distinct capacity for communion with God. Moreover, the Imago Dei and the “distinct capacity for communion with God” seems to imply that the human being has also the capacity and perhaps moral obligation to be and share “in communion with other living beings.” This last part, the obligation to be and live in communion with other living beings, Copeland argues, has been denied to black lives, specifically the lives and bodies of black women. The first example is the story of the black women held in slavery who were physically abused, raped, used as breeders, and treated as less than human. The slave owners and those who participated in these atrocities sinned against God and these women and their bodies. They failed to see the image of God in these women, they failed to be in communion with their fellow human beings and ignored their place in God’s creation. They ignored the reality that those women and their bodies also belong in that same “unique place” in God’s creation.
Additionally, the humanum is a key concept in Copeland’s theological anthropology as it connects the notions of sin and grace to the God-Person relationship and Person-Person relationships. Copeland grounds the concept of the Humanum in the incarnation event and argues that it has six principles that define what it means to be a human person: First, that a person is a person because the person is a “creature made by God.” Second, that a person is always a “person in community, living in flexible, resilient, [and] just relationships with others.” Third, that a person is “an incarnate spirit” in terms of “race, gender, sex and sexuality, and culture.” Fourth, that a person is called to “working out essential freedom through personal responsibility in time and space.” Fifth, that a person is required to be a “social being” with God and with fellow persons. And sixth, that a person is called to live in the existential tension that is a part of life and the struggles of life.
The concept of the humanum connects the initial constructive approach on which Copeland bases her theological anthropology. Earlier in this paper, I articulated Copeland’s definition of theological anthropology as the attempt to “understand the meaning and purpose of existence within the context of divine revelation.” Her theological anthropology is then based and grounded on the notion that each person is made in the image and likeness of God and shares a “distinct capacity” for communion with God. Additionally, she believes humanity holds a “unique place” in creation and that this “unique place” enables us and even requires us to be in communion with other living beings. It becomes evident that Copelands’ theological anthropology flows from below rather than from above. Humans, therefore, experience themselves and God in a real and physical manner that does not detach from their bodies and present realities. The point of departure for Copeland is, then, the physical body in relation to the metaphysical God.
As I see it, Isasi-Diaz’s notions of La Lucha, Permitanme Hablar, and La Familia/La Comunidad are congruent with Copeland’s six principles of the humanum. Principles four, five, and six are consistent with the themes of La Lucha. They call for the person to actively claim themselves, their space in their communities, and reclaim control over their lives and destiny. As Isasi-Diaz pointed out, La Lucha demands that suffering not define who Latinas are. This idea coincides with the content of the sixth principle of the humanum, that exhorts one to live in the tension that exists and is a part of the struggles of life. La Lucha and living in the tension of life’s struggles both demands of the person and people group a commitment to perseverance and resilience. We can see how these distinct theological anthropologies pair well in how Isasi-Díaz’s notion of Permitanme Hablar corresponds with Copeland’s principles one, two, and three. Isasi-Díaz notes that Permitanme Hablar is about claiming one’s rightful place in the history–telling and history–making processes of their lived reality. Principle one of the humanum echoes this idea by bringing forth the reality that all peoples are created by God and fashioned in God’s image. This principle reminds us that each person is endowed by God with a moral worth and is given a space in the church and society. Indeed, we see this when one seeks to speak up for themselves and their community to claim their place at the table in the church and society. Permitanme Hablar implicitly embraces the theme in principle one, as the individual is empowered to speak up by their God–given dignity. Moreover, the second principle is also present in the concept of Permitanme Hablar, as the person and people group are called to live in and be in communion with one another. Permitanme Hablar calls for persons and people groups to be in communion with one another in such a way that it makes any act of exclusion unacceptable. In this manner, when one speaks on their own behalf or on behalf of an entire group, a sense of communion emerges. That is to say, that the bond of communion is formed between an individual and a group or between people groups when solidarity is built by acts of advocacy and compassion.
Lastly, the notion of La Familia/La Comunidad connects with the fifth principle of the humanum. As I mentioned, for Isasi- Díaz La Familia/La Comunidad is an integral part of Latinx culture. Meanwhile, the fifth principle of the humanum in Copeland’s articulation is always to remain connected to the broader community and social groups. In this way, both notions found in the theological anthropologies of Copeland and Isasi-Díaz correspond with each other. These theological anthropologies—hailing from the perspectives of Mujerista and African American theologies and informed by the lived reality of Latina women and Black women’s bodies—demonstrate that community and family units are critical components that have a real and present effect on how individuals and groups are included or marginalized in a community or society.
Coupled together, the insights of the theological anthropologies of M. Shawn Copeland and Ada María Isasi-Díaz provide the LGBTQIA+ Latino communities with helpful and practical theological grounding. For many LGBTQIA+ Latinos simply being who they are is simply not possible because of social, cultural, and religious factors. As mentioned in the first section of this paper, the study by Gattamorta and Quidley-Rodríguez showed that demonstrated that LGBTQIA+ Latinos in Florida confront social and cultural factors that aggravate their lived reality which include concepts like familism and machismo. One may object that familism is a traditional and patriarchal interpretation of Ada María Isasi-Díaz’s notion of La Familia/La Comunidad. Certainly, familism considers the needs of the family group and broader society as more important than the needs and reality of the individual. But as Gattamorta and Quidley-Rodríguez note, many Latinx families and communities will willingly and unwillingly force their LGBTQIA+ loved ones to choose between living out who they are in a public manner or being shunned out of fear of what others in the family and community will say or think. Others may force their LGBTQIA+ loved ones to choose an alternative that is in many ways worse than the first. The choice would be for LGBTQIA+ loved ones to continue to “live in the closet” and self–censor all aspects of their life, so they can avoid talking about it and avoid the judgment of their family and social group.
For these reasons, the theological anthropologies of M. Shawn Copeland and Ada María Isasi-Díaz provide a framework for the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ Latinos in the United States. These distinct and very different theological anthropologies can serve to articulate the lived experiences of communities that are marginalized, maligned, and mocked by many in the Church and society. Here in the United States, we have a similar trend. The attack on Pulse Night Club in Florida is a tragic example of this reality. The victims of the attack were largely Latinx. The response of the Christian community in Florida left a painful reminder of how bigoted and hateful Christians can be. One pastor lamented that the attacker did not kill more of the LGBTQIA+ persons. The response by Catholic faith leaders to the attack itself or certain responses of their colleagues in faith service was equally deafening. In my view, the silence, the deafening silence of Catholic leaders—those ordained and those in lay ministries—is a sign of contempt for the LGBTQIA+ community and a failure for Catholic moral teaching to see LGBTQIA+ Latinx Catholics as fully human beings.
In the overview provided of both Copeland’s and Isasi-Díaz’s theological anthropologies, I set the foundations to demonstrate the relevant lessons their insights have for the LGBTQIA+ Latinx Catholics in the United States. Copeland’s six principles of the humanum invite us to consider the physical body and the more abstract and often elusive social body. For her part, Isasi-Díaz notions of La Lucha, Permitanme Hablar, and La Familia/Comunidad offer critical language for the LGBTQIA+ communities to chart a roadmap of their own for fruitful engagement with the U.S. Catholic Church. The theological anthropological proposal of these two scholars offer to us useful tools for LGBTQIA+ Latinx to rethink their own engagement of the Catholic tradition.