Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Italian Priest Permits Transgendered Person to Marry, Vatican Objects: What Do Trans People Bring to the Church?

And speaking of the churches’s insistence—well, the insistence of some churches, including the Catholic church—that marriage is all about one man and one woman joining in a sacred union for life, the Clerical Whispers blog carried an interesting story yesterday about a marriage of one man to one woman in Italy that is proving controversial.

In this case, the woman used to be a man. On Sunday, an Italian Catholic priest, Fr. Allesandro Santoro, married the 64-year old transgendered woman and her 58-year old male spouse.

Despite the fact that this was, indeed, the union of a man and a woman—despite the fact that the symbolism of this marriage was right and proper, if marriage must be all about marrying a man to a woman—a Vatican official has protested the marriage. Despite the fact that the Catholic church does not forbid marriage to a man and woman beyond childbearing age, Cardinal Renato Martino, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, condemned Fr. Santoro’s decision to marry this couple, noting,

I do not understand how something like that can be done. It's against nature and it does not bring anything to the church.

This is an interesting argument at two theological levels. I’ve dealt with the argument that marrying non-procreative couples contravenes natural law in previous postings.

Here, I’d like to address the argument that the church has no business marrying couples who do not “bring anything to the church.” This argument implies, in fact, that the church ought to confer sacraments only on those who “bring something” to the church.

I’m surprised to hear the president emeritus of the Vatican Council for Justice and Peace promoting a sacramental theology that is, on the face of it, clearly unjust—outrageously so. The church confers sacraments on the faithful because doing so is central to the church’s mission of salvation, to its task of redemption and reconciliation in a fallen world.

The church also confers sacraments on the faithful because the faithful have a right to the sacraments. The access of the faithful to the sacraments has never rested on the worthiness of people to receive sacraments. If it did so, no one would be qualified to receive any sacraments, in a fallen world. The sacraments are offered to sinners as medicine for their sin, not to saints as rewards for their holy behavior.

Basing access to the sacraments on what those who receive them “bring” to the church is outrageously unjust. This sacramental theology places in the hands of the clerics who confer or witness sacraments a power no human being ought to have: the power to judge people’s worthiness before God, their value to the church.

What kind of church do we build when we encourage only those who “bring something” to the church to apply? What kind of church are we promoting when we judge people’s right to belong to the body of Christ on the basis of their utility to the church?

If this criterion for sacramental worthiness became widespread in the church, what would prevent pastors from deciding that the poor, the indigent, the sick, the elderly, those who are ethnically different from the pastor ought not to receive the sacraments, since they do not “bring anything to the church”?

I encourage the emeritus president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to reconsider his argument about why a couple including a transsexual person ought or ought not to receive the sacrament of marriage. The argument that we ought not to marry those who do not “bring anything to the church” is not adequately catholic. And it is deeply unjust and dangerous.

The business of a catholic church that connects in any vital way to the Jesus of the gospels is to welcome and heal, not to shove away and wound—and then to justify the exclusion and hurt by judging those who are abused as unworthy of membership in the Catholic church.