The Body Doesn’t Lie, But Modern Culture Does

One of the great errors of our day is the implicit rejection of the truth that our bodies have something to tell us about who we are and what we are called to do and be. Most moderns see the body merely as a tool of sorts and assertions are made that “I can do as I please with my own body.” Further, that a person is male or female is purely incidental and merely an arbitrary quality one “happens to have.” That our sex should speak to anything deeper than genitals and other “mere” physical differences is set aside to one degree or another. Or so it is said. In effect, it would seem that our bodies have little or nothing to say to us. According to modern culture they are incidental.

The rejection of the body as instructive or in any way determinative has reached its zenith in attempted normalization of homosexual activity and so called “Gay Marriage.” Any non-ideological analysis of the body will indicate that the man was not made for the man, nor the woman for the women. Rather the man is made for the woman and the woman for the man. This is set forth quite clearly in the pure physicality of things. St. Paul calls homosexual acts παρὰ φύσιν “(para physin) – that is “contrary to the nature of things.”

The Soul is the Form of the Body – Now of course I can hear the objections that some how we are not only physical beings and to use simply physical arguments is not proper. This is true but the body cannot be ignored. This is because the soul is the form of the body. That is to say, our soul, its essence and abilities, give rise to the structure and physical attributes of the body. Consider for a moment a glove. Now, what is the form of a glove? In other words, what determines how a glove is formed, shaped and designed? Well, of course, it is the hand. It is both the shape of the hand and its capacities that give rise to the design and function of the glove. A glove with only three fingers or with eight fingers would be a poor glove indeed. The proper form of the glove is the hand. And it is not just the shape of the hand that dictates the design of the glove, it is also the required function of the hand that must be considered. Hence, fingers need to move and be able to work together for the hand to achieve its purpose. A glove that was extremely stiff or rigid, and permitted the fingers no movement, would be a poor glove. Hence a good glove protects the hand but also permits it to achieve its proper end. Thus the fully functioning hand is the form (or blueprint) for the glove.

In the same way, the soul is the form (or blueprint) of the body. Our bodies have the design that they have due to the capacities of the soul. We are able to talk because our souls have something to say. Our fingers are nimble yet strong because our souls have the capacity to work at tasks that require both strength and subtlety. We have highly developed brains because our souls have the capacity to think and reason. Animals have less of all this because their souls have little capacity in any of these regards. My Cat Daniel does not speak, not only because he has no larynx. He has no larynx because he has nothing to say. The lack of capacity in his animal soul (or life-giving principle) is reflected in the design of his body.

Sexuality is more than skin-deep – Now when it comes to sexuality in the human person, our sex (or as some incorrectly call it, our “gender,”  (gender is a grammar term that refers to the classification of nouns in romance languages)  is not just a 50/50 coin toss. Our soul is male or female and hence our bodies reflect that fact. I don’t just happen to be male, I AM male. My soul is male, my spirit is male, hence my body is male . So called “sex-change” operations are a lie. Cross-dressing is a lie. “Transgendered” and what ever other made up and confused assertions cannot change the truth of what the soul is. You can adapt the body but not the soul. The soul simply says, “Sum quod sum” (I am what I am).

Now again, the modern age has chosen simply to set all this aside and to see the body as incidental or arbitrary. This is a key error of the modern age and has led to a lot of the confusion we have about many things. We have already seen how the widespread approval of homosexual acts has stemmed from this. But there are other confusions that spread from this.

Consider for example how the body speaks to the question of marriage. That the body has a nuptial (i.e. marital) meaning is literally inscribed in our bodies. God observed of Adam “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  This fact is also evident in our bodies. I do not wish to be too explicit here but it is clear that the woman has physical aspects of her that are designed to find completion in union with a man, her husband. Likewise the man has physical aspects of him that are designed to find completion with a woman, his wife. The body has a “nuptial” meaning. It is our destiny, it is written in our nature, to be in a complimentary relationship with “the other.” But the complementarity is not just a physical one. Remember,  the soul is the form (or blueprint) of the body. Hence the intended complementarity extends beyond the physical, to the soul. We are made to find completion in the complementarity of the other. A man brings things to the relationship (physical and spiritual) that a woman cannot. A woman brings things to the relationship (physical and spiritual) that a man cannot. It is literally written in our bodies that we are generally meant to be completed and complimented by someone of the “opposite” (i.e. complimentary) sex. And this complementarity is meant to bear fruit. The physical complementarity of spouses is fertile, is fruitful. Here too the body reflects the soul and the fruitfulness is more than merely physical, it is spiritual and soulful.

[It is a true fact that not every one finds a suitable marriage partner. But, from the standpoint of learning from nuptial meaning of the body,  this is seen as less than ideal rather than merely a neutral “alternative” lifestyle called the “single life.”  This point is debated in the Church today however and I can only state such a conclusion as an opinion, not as the official teaching of the Church].

Another consideration in this has to be the question of celibacy in the Church and of the male priesthood. If the body, among other things  has a nuptial meaning whence does celibacy and virginity for the sake of the kingdom find its place? Simply in this. Priests and Religious sisters are not single. A religious sister is a bride of Christ. She weds her soul to Christ and is a beautiful image of the Church as bride (cf Eph 5:21ff). Fully professed sisters even wear the ring. As a priest, I  do not consider myself a bachelor. I have a bride, the Church. She is a beautiful though demanding bride! And do you know how many people call me “Father?”  Our Religious in my parish are usually called “Sister,” but the Superior is called “Mother” by us all. And here too, our bodies reflect the reality of our call. A woman images the Church as Bride. A man images Christ as groom. It is another error of modern times to say that a woman can be a priest. Jesus Christ didn’t just happen to be a man. He is the Groom of the Church, the Church is his bride. The maleness of the Messiah, of Jesus,  was not just a 50/50 coin toss. Nor was it rooted merely in the “sociological requirements of the patriarchal culture of his time.”  It is not merely incidental to his mission. He is male because he is groom. The priests who are configured to him are also male because the body has a nuptial meaning and the Church is in a nuptial relationship to Christ. Christ is the groom, the priests through whom he ministers to his bride are thus male. To say that a female can image the groom is, frankly, silly and bespeaks how far our culture has gone in thinking of the body as merely incidental, rather than essential and nuptial.

The body does not lie. Our culture lies and distorts, but the body does not. Many choose today to consider the body incidental, a mere tool that can be refashioned at will. But the Church is heir to a far longer and well tested understanding that the body is essential (not incidental) to who are. Our differences are more than skin deep. The soul is the form (or blueprint) of the body and thus our differences and our complementarity are deep and essential as well as necessary. Our dignity is equal but our complementarity cannot and should not be denied. God himself has made this distinction and intends it for our instruction. The body does not lie and we must once again choose to learn from it.

Here is a quirky and clever video that turns the table on the question of ordination. It also goes a long way to say that we cannot, in the end simply pretend to be what we are not. Our bodies do not lie, even if we try to.

67 Replies to “The Body Doesn’t Lie, But Modern Culture Does”

  1. My cat Louis has plenty to say:

    Feed me
    Let me out
    Let me in
    Feed me
    Sit down and make a lap
    Let me out
    Let me in
    Feed me

    1. Oh, and I’m quite sure that after a night out in the rain (having failed to come in when called) Louis said: (#)*%&)#

  2. Oh, interesting and so true. I just mused yesterday about the fact that DNA is information–and thus, instruction, and thus, language of a sort. My very DNA is the language of God telling me in one particular way who and Whose I am. God has hard wired me for a purpose and to an end–the trick is to learn to listen to Him in all the ways He speaks and to realize, putting them ALL together, what He is saying. Biology is not destiny in itself nor is it to be “read” in a vacuum–but it is certainly part of God’s plan and we must see it as beautifully coherent and purposeful. PS the video is FABULOUS!!!!!

      1. It is certainly a quirky video, but not very convincing to someone who is open-minded. Rather than deal with actual issues it sets up a straw man–anyone who questions male priesthood automatically is a buffoon or a drug user. It also attempts to build up a position by belittling Sister Joan Chittister. Entertainment for a pre-decided audience maybe, but not constructive in my opinion.

      2. Ah! Daniel has an open mind. I can feel the breeze from here. Quote by Groucho Marx.

      3. Daniel,

        I totally agree. Beyond that, the video’s central argument is based on a false equivalence. The video claims that because it is ridiculous for a male to want to be a nun, it is therefore ridiculous for a woman to want to be a priest. But this is comparing apples to oranges. Nuns and priests aren’t equivalent categories because nuns are not ordained. It is impossible for a man to be a nun, in the same way that it is impossible for a woman to be a monk. But neither of these points (which deal with different kinds of consecrated life) bear directly on whether it is possible for a woman to be ordained a priest.

        Imagine if I put forward the argument that because a boy can’t be a girl scout that women can’t fight in combat in the military. Even if someone agreed that women shouldn’t fight in combat, I hope they would point out that my argument is illogical. The point that correctly corresponds to my argument that boys can’t be girl scouts is that girls can’t be boy scouts; but neither of those points bear directly on whether women can be in combat.

      4. If you mean that as ‘open-minded,’ you are one that is open to the Church being wrong about faith and morals, then you are either not open to the idea that the Church is an infallible teacher regarding faith and morals, or you have determined it is not. If the first, you show you are not really ‘open-minded’; if the second, then it is senseless to belong to the Catholic Church.

        Also, this video is based on a false equivalence only if you choose to look at it at a level angle than it intended. The point still holds that ‘just as a man cannot become something that is by definition exclusive to women, women cannot become something that is by definition exclusive to men’.

      5. Dennis,
        I may well believe that the Church is infallible in matters of faith and morals, and even that the priesthood ought to be exclusively male, and yet also believe that this video does a poor job of explaining the faith. Sneering sarcasm is a poor pedagogical method, and condescending snickers are all too often attempts to avoid the issues…

  3. There are men who discern the priesthood who struggle with same sex attraction. I am often puzzled by this because they live celibate lives. Can you speak to this Msgr Pope.

    1. Well, I cannot go into great detail here. But the general approach of the Church in these matters is that the homosexual orientation is objectively disordered and deep-seated in the personality. Hence the usual pastoral decision in such matters is to conclude that celibacy is more difficult due to the disorder and thus it is inadivsable to admit them to seminary settings and other all male environments. Recent experience witht he sex abuse crisis has led most dioceses to be more sober about the disorder and the difficulty it presents in living in the celibate state since 80% of the cases involved same-sex abuse of minor, though post-pubescent boys. I am not sure if it is an absolute rule to exclude gay men from entering the seminary but it is far more the case today that dioceses do generally follow this approach.

  4. 1. i find it quite interesting and wonderful that celibates are so eloquent in matters nuptial.
    2. one spouse has a duty to build and protect the other spouse. a few years ago near my home there was this couple. on occassion one would differ with the other. the man would ran away to seek refuge in friend’s home. the wife after finding out where her husband is would go to his hiding place. she proceeds to punch him hard. she then drags him to his home. ‘ this is your home. i wont allow you to run away from it. now be my husband, my head, my lord.’
    3. it is sad that when the church corrects her spouses(ie priests) some persons take big offence at her.

  5. I have become firmly convinced that some people are simply born with the tendency to be attracted to the same sex. I read a book, Born on a Blue Day, about an autistic boy. This boy was severly socially handicapped. He had no contact with homosexuals. Yet when he reached adolescence, he became attracted to a boy. Sometimes I can tell someone is homosexual at first glance, before he has done or said anything. I think we are missing something in this debate. Gay “marriage” is part of a much larger problem in out society. That is the idea that everyone needs and has a right to a sex life. Just look around and you can see the harm that this idea has done. Excuse me for being so politically incorrect, but sex is for making babies and strengthening the bond between their parents, period.

    1. Dianne,

      You seem to not get it. Homosexuality is a sin just like any other. We are all prone to it in some degree in our fallen nature. It needs to be treated like sin and not like cancer or some disease we may gain. It is not something we should ever accept because it goes against God’s will. To fall into homosexuality (by this I mean acting on it) and pretend it is normal should cause anyone that does so to be very concerned about their end. Same for all the other sins that are grave and possibly mortal. If science can prove that people are born homosexual (which they have yet to do so), then all that means is that they are born to live a life of perfect celibacy. Remember, it is not the attraction that is sinful, it it the willful act of practicing homosexuality that is the sin. This could be a very heavy cross to bear, but we are to carry our crosses daily, not every now and then.


  6. Catholicism indeed involves a wonderful sacramental worldview in which we can find the infinite and invisible through the finite and visible, and our bodies are no different. One thing I think is worth noting however, is that the body is not “simply” male or female. Our sexuality is a deeply influential and very complex reality (modern science has done much to deepen our self-knowledge here), and issues like homosexuality, trans-gender, and sex change operations are not necessarily just “lies”, and do not automatically reflect an incidental view on sexual identity. They often involve people struggling, even agonizing, about the complexity of identity because they feel a rift between their body and soul. Simply telling a person “You’re a male, so be male!” is often not helpful.
    The combination of improved scientific insights and a culture more accepting of a concept of sexuality that is not black and white need not be rejected, but can in some ways bring us to a deeper understanding of God and creation.
    I think Gaudium et Spes speaks to some of this:
    “Advances in biology, psychology, and the social sciences…bring men hope of improved self-knowledge…”
    “This council, first of all, wishes to assess in this light those values which are most highly prized today and to relate them to their divine source. Insofar as they stem from endowments conferred by God on man, these values are exceedingly good.”

    1. I think you are hiding behind a “complexity” argument. Sexuality may be complex, but it is not that complex. Sex-change operations and transgender and whatever the latest twists are lies. That some percentage of the population are desperately confused about their sexuality does not make this normal or natural any more that diabetes becomes natural or normal or good because a certain percentage has it. These are aberations. Your reduction of the argument to “You’re male, so be male!” is not helpful either Daniel and is not accurate base on what I have written. But to say to a person who is struggling with some sexual disorientation, that cross-dressing and having their bodies surgically altered is just bad medical and bad psychological practice. There is a disorder here that needs treatment. Spiritually, we all have to come to a place where we finally accept what God has given us and then live within the parameters of God’s law. There are just some things that cannot do. Not everyone is capable of marriage. Not everyone (i.e. men) can breast feed etc. And I agree that not everyone, and mayb not most can cahnge their sexual orientation, but no one is thereby permitted to go beyond the limits that God sets. Your quoting of G et S is gratuitous in this regard. You seem to have overlooked that little mention of relating advances to God.

      1. I wanted to clarify that your using the term “lie” to describe these realities denotes an intentional act, whereas many people who are suffering or confused do things in the midst of struggle and not necessarily from reason and will.
        ” Spiritually, we all have to come to a place where we finally accept what God has given us and then live within the parameters of God’s law.” No argument here–I just don’t think we should pretend that this is (or ever has been) an easy or simple thing.
        Quoting G and S reminds us that God still works in the world and we ought not to close ourselves to the possibility that God may “confer endowments” in new ways, which may stretch our understanding of God and ourselves.

      2. Understanding is not stretched, the truth is, and God is not into new ways. His is one way and He has laid it out quite clearly through Jesus’s life and teachings of the fulfillment of the Holy Trinity for the salvation of souls along with the responsibilities of the Church and mankind. Heterosexual or otherwise bears it’s vices and suffering but only the proper use of God’s design for the propagation of the species under His laws set forth for worldly creation is what sets the Spirit of humanity apart from animals. Live with it and pray for the success of all mankind if following the truth.

  7. The modern dualism is a major problem in the realm of ethics and biology. People simply don’t want any unity between their soul and their body, their form and their matter.

    The only major issue I find with this argument is the possibility of sexuality being genetic. Modern science has yet to rule out if one is hetero- or homosexual based upon one’s physical makeup. One could make the rebuttal: if sexuality is a genetic trait, is this not a sign that one’s body is homosexual and, if the body is manifestation of our soul, is not one’s soul homosexual?

    At the chance of looking somewhat prideful, I would posit the following addition to the above catechesis: Discussion of sin or natural evil in the world must always follow discussion of how wonderfully man is made. There in fact is a kind of less than ideal in man, and that is included in the unity of body and soul. The fact that we must always fight temptation, and even can fight temptation, is sign of some disunity. Natural evil appears in a variety of handicaps and disorders. Issues such as blindness, deafness, paralysis, neuromuscular disorders, deformities, etc. are all form of natural evil and often are linked to a “genetic disorder.” In the same way, homosexuality, if it in fact is genetic, can be viewed as a genetic disorder, a disunity between one’s soul and body, one’s form and matter.

    Through the sacrifice of Christ, offering the suffering of the natural evils we now bear becomes a badge of glory, a path to uniting ourselves with the Triune God. As such, and this is by no means an easy fix, we must work to build up in our brothers and sisters bearing the burden of homosexual desire, not to give in to such desires, but to see in their denial the sharing in Christ’s suffering and God’s glory showered upon Him.

    Of course, when speaking to a non-theist and unbeliever in sin or natural evil, the best path of discussion is to simply question why one is alright with a genetic answer; genetics aren’t perfect, as genetic disorders prove. Why is homosexuality, clearly working against any idea of evolution, survival of species, etc., not considered a genetic disorder?

    I still like the sin answer though. Always a fan of mystical illumination.

    1. I think your addition is valuable. It is true that there is a tendency for some to think that “If you’re born with something, it is natural.” But nature does produce its share flawed things. This does not make the flaw “natural” It remains a departure from what is normal. And, we all have our share of imperfections and struggles where it seems we may have inherited some less desireable trait and the best we can do is to offer the suffering of it to God as a sacrifice. I agree with you that we must help to build up those who struggle with disordered sexual desires, or any disorders for that matter, to bear their burden and not given in to them.

  8. I am a convert to Catholicism and am glad I converted. I find it easier to be Catholic than Protestant because I now have the fullness of the faith. However, there is sometimes a toxic sexism in all conservative religions when people want to judge people by appearances and deny their human experience. I happen to be transgender. I was probably born this way because I remember feeling like a boy even when I was 2 years old. It was probably a result of in utero exposure to diethylstilbestrol. I am also not homosexually oriented, which makes me rare indeed.

    Catholicism offers me the opportunity to know the fullness of celibacy and chastity but there is also the undercurrent of belief that it is normal for everybody to get married and have children. God has blessed me with not much mothering instinct. I believe He has done that so I would not experience the pain of not having children or a husband. It is painful enough just being “different.”

    I am also extremely lucky to be living in this time and place, where I can cross-dress enough to be comfortable but still fit in. And I am allowed to have an interesting and fulfilling technical career.

    But we are all “different” and “misfits” in our own way. It is unhelpful to call things “lies” when we don’t understand their true nature. To say that our physical bodies are the only component to sexuality is the lie here. I understand that priests my by definition stick to a very rigid way of looking at things to avoid any kind of slippage but name-calling is wrong. My nature is not a “lie” it is a fact.

    People who elect to have sex reassignment surgery do so with a great deal of pain. They know that in doing so they will give themselves two lives, one pre-op and one post-op and they will still feel disconnected. I am lucky I am not homosexually oriented so I have not had to make this decision. I am glad to be called to celibacy.

    Ironically, I think I would prefer the traditional Latin Mass but I don’t dare set foot in a TLM parish because people would probably be upset. I do attend the most orthodox “new Mass” parish in my diocese, which is run by a religious order. I suppose I set off people’s “gaydar” but I am almost never hassled by the holy and nice people there. They know better than to judge a book by its cover.

    I sign this Nonexistent both because only 3 people know I am transgender and the Church wishes to deny my existence.

    1. You have been deceived. Sex reassignment is not of God. Sex cannot be reassigned, that is the lie. Calling a lie what it is is not “unhelpful” for only the truth sets us free. No one has said there that physical bodies are the only component of sexuality. Just the opposite actually. The body is an expression of the soul. Pretending to be a different sex or dressing to hide one’s sex is a denial of the soul’s true identity and a form of self-hatred. I am sorry that this struggle is in you but I cannot affirm in any way your self-denial. The Church does not deny your existience, if any one is doing that, it is you who wish deny how God made you.

  9. Hello Msgr. Pope,

    Before I begin, I want to say that I enjoy reading your blog very much, and you frequently have sharp insights into doctrinal and moral issues.

    I very much enjoyed this posting, but I have a question regarding one of your statements. You said, “Our soul is male or female and hence our bodies reflect that fact.” I’m fairly sure that this comment is not necessary to prove your argument, but I have heard for years the opposite: our bodies have a sex (male or female) whereas our souls remain sex-less (similar to the angels). Obviously our gender is important, and (God willing) when we are simply souls in heaven prior to the resurrection of the body, men and women will probably still be men and women given their past life on earth.

    But in what way does the body being male or female a sign of the soul being male or female? Please do not think that I bring this up to be contrary, but to be precise. There are many things that the body is or has that the soul lacks. Our body importantly has senses, a brain, a heart, etc., all of which the soul lacks. Our body is material and composed of a series of parts, but our soul is completely immaterial and simple. I was also fairly certain that sex was determined on a plainly material level. Just because our body has something does not mean that our soul brought that about (with the obvious exception of life).

    Also, how can a soul be a certain sex? Any answer to that question seems to lead to a series of parts for a soul or to a certain materiality to the soul.

    Just some thoughts and questions, and I wish you all the best and look forward to reading more from you.

    1. Where have you heard that our souls are sexless? Is there some source you cite? We are body-persons and the soul cannot so easily separated from the body. I am a male, not just my body. My body is not seperate from me. I wonder if you have a kind of dualism in mind?

      1. I wonder if this is just a question of semantics. Certainly, I think, the mind (nous, Geist) is sexless, and I often hear people confuse the mind with the soul (anima), which I cannot imagine being sexless.
        However, I occasionally hear the accusation that the Catholic Church adheres strictly to a body-and-soul scheme that rejects the mind as a constitutive aspect of being human. Is there any truth to this accusation? It is usually linked to a further accusation, viz. that the Church does not want people to think for themselves. Is there a theology of the mind comparable to the theology of the body/soul? If there is [or is not], what are the implications for the questions (perceptions?) about the Church’s position on homosexuality?

    2. It is an interesting thought, Harrison, but it does suggest that there is a separateness and distinctiveness between body and soul, such that one can be male or female and the other sexless.

      But as Msgr. Pope points out, body and soul are not merely two separate sides of a person, rather, they are so intertwined and intermingled with each other that they transcend any separateness they might otherwise have. That is, the human person is not so much body and soul, as he is an ensouled body, or embodied soul, so as to be a single entity. The “maleness” of the body is so infused within the person as to be part of (or at least fundamentally affect) the spirit as well.

  10. I don’t disagree on any point made in your post, Msgr. Though, like many others, I seek additional explanation for hermaphrodites, non-gendered folks, and folks with DNA and biochemistry that seem to conflict with the external expression of that DNA. In general, folks with …

    * both boy and girl parts
    * neither fully formed boy OR girl parts
    * girls parts but with male DNA + biochemistry
    * boy parts but with female DNA + biochemistry
    (not 100% sure this one occurs?)

    And may or may not be rendered sterile or barren by the aforementioned conflict in DNA + biochemistry and the visible physical expression.

    To me, it seems pretty “simple” to explain the normal cases. But, the genetic anomalies are frequent enough (greater than 0) to warrant some explanation. I’ve come up with my own simplistic explanations that would probably end in a recommendation to be single/celibate, but I’m not sure they harmonize with Church teaching. What is the official Church teaching and advice for each of these situations?


    1. Rare to say the least and rare cases do not a norm make. In such rare cases parents probably have a decsion to make on whatever evidence seems most convincing. Also, just because we cannot determine the sex in rare cases does not mean there is not one. There are just some things we cannot fully explain. But again, there are many medical anomalies that occur in rare cases (e.g. siamese twins) and there are many mysteries of personhood involved in such things. Not everything can be explained but that does not mean that general norms do not apply or that there are none, as some suggest.

      1. Hmm. I may have used some ambiguous phrasing. I understand that these situations are not entirely “normal.” However, they do occur and must therefore be addressed by their encompassing moral rules. Rules that are intended to apply to an entire group (all people in this case) without addressing all of the cases are not sufficient rules. Furthermore, they’re a sign of negligent and lack of concern for those outside the “normal” group.

        Catholic sexual morality assume that a person is either male or female. However, we can show N cases wherein a person is born with both genitals, ambiguous gentils, none at all, or genitals which simply do not match the rest of the persons genetic [and biochemical] makeup. (a variant of the latter case is actually quite frequent among female olympic athletes, if my memory of genetics 101 serves me … )

        Currently, we have:
        IF condition X, behave like male
        IF condition Y, behave like female

        However, we are missing an ELSE clause:
        ELSE, behave like ???

        Furthermore, people need an explanation — at least a temporary, earthly one — for known anomalies AND cases wherein they do not “feel” as though they belong to the gender their body adheres to. Medical/Genetic research provides these people a causal reason for their state of being, showing that unique conditions caused their body to form like X when their DNA/chemistry is really that of Y. The Church, however, seems to have no similar spiritual explanation.

        … The questions are as follows:
        In cases wherein gender is ambiguous, how should the person behave?
        What does it MEAN when your predispositions and/or biochemistry don’t match your *visible* body?
        What does it MEAN when your body doesn’t clearly indicate a SINGLE gender?
        What does it MEAN when your body doesn’t clearly indicate ANY gender?

        These sort of lead up to:
        What really determines gender?
        What are the specific rules?
        Is it the visible parts?
        – If penis, then male; else female?
        Is it the genetic makeup?

        And the bonus questions:
        Is it /right/ for the parent(s) to simply make a decision?
        Must the child always adhere to the parent’s decision?

        Sure, these cases are not “normal.” But it seems terribly negligent to brush them off and say, “YOU figure it out — but no matter what you do you’re a sexual deviant and you’re probably going to hell!” (which is what a lot of people feel they’re being told)

        I don’t mean to harass. But, I can assure you, many of these people aren’t simply anti-Catholic and/or self-serving deviants. Their feelings and conditions simply haven’t been adequately addressed.

        We (Catholics) need to address them. And my personal explanations will only go so far. And who the hell knows if they’re even remotely on target?

      2. You don’t really want the answers do you?
        By the way I didn’t “brush it off” but situations like these are not handled by a blogger (me) who has never met the person. As I said they are unuique and anomalous situations that should be handled by the local parish or diocese in conjunction with a moral theologian who can have direct access to the situation and persons involved.

        Anomalies neither void norms nor do they create new news they must be handled as the unique and anomalous situations they are. Neither are anomalies (ipso facto) able to be the source for new “rules” as you ask for. They are unique and must be dealt with

        Your hostility in this matter is misplaced. Use of terms such as negligent, deviant, “going to hell!” harass etc all signal that you do not really want answers, that your questions are merely rhetorical. But if I am wrong and you are sincerely seeking answers you might begin at the parish level and ask the priest to consult on this matter in your behalf. Likewise local doctors are a big help. But a blog is surely not the place to do this. Unless your purpose is just to sound off and make declarations that “gender” cannot realy be determined by looking at the body. Actually it can in 99.99% of the cases. It’s just not that hard. For these unique situations I recommend you to doctors and moral theologians not blogs.

    2. Well, I think you’re right in that I shouldn’t take this up with you over a blog. I wrongly assumed there would be a preformed Church teaching on the matter, because these occurrences are more frequent than you’re giving them credit for. ( ) I’m too tired at this hour to fully explain why I think you’re response is insufficient. Nor do I don’t want to be accused of not really wanting answers again …

      I do have a good priest in mind that I can bring this topic to. I just figured this would be a good forum to ask the questions, because they’re relevant to your post, they’re common questions, and I thought there would be answers — at least an article or something you could point to. And I didn’t mean to give you the impressions I did: I used certain phrasing to make it clear how some groups feel about the Church, its teachings, and its members.

      You post some great articles. They’re generally incredibly thorough, clear, and “bullet-proof.” For that reason, I would like to see one about these abnormalities. Like I said, I know a priest that can probably explain things sufficiently well for my purposes. But, I can’t link to a discussion I had with a priest in an email or on facebook. I CAN link to Msgr. Pope’s blog. No one will find the discussion I had with a priest on Google or Yahoo. But, they might very well find Msgr. Pope’s blog and discover that the Church DOES have compassionate, well-conceived theology that addresses some these questions.

      Of course, if the Church DOESN’T have compassionate, well-conceived theology on these matters, it’s long overdue and I would hope that somebody is working on it. Not that we can expect the Church to summon up an immediate answer to all of our questions; but that these questions are potentially more significant than they’re given credit for.

      In any event, I don’t expect or hope that you’ll publish this response — only that you’ll read it and trust that I’m seriously looking for answers. Not so much for myself, but for the sake of being armed with some answers. Like any battle, troops without ammunition are slaughtered with ease.

  11. In regards to Sexuality is more than Skin Deep. How does then the Catholic Church define those who are born with both, or variations there of…i.e. a Hermaphrodite or someone with ambiguous genitalia?

  12. It appears to me that all of us on this blog are searching for a clear understanding of the homosexual issue. I must admit that after reading all the comments along with Msgr Pope’s response I feel torn. I guess I am not understanding this because I see homosexuality lived out in SO MANY WAYS. I knoww it is easy to just give the Church’s Position on this subject and be done with it but I personally would value more dialogue and perhaps a follow-up article about the soul of the homosexual.

      1. JJ, I would dare to say that souls of homosexuals are no different than souls of heterosexuals when conformed to God’s will. Maybe your interest should be more concerned about what that is. That is what we are all faced with at the end of our mortal actions on earth. Meditate on the Holy Trinity because that is where a soul’s relation and orientation have eternal life with complete fulfillment experiencing real / true Love. Monsignor has more than amply supplied the resources available within the Church. Have faith, be persistent and I know all your doubts and questions will be resolve. Pick up your cross and bear it. We all have to.

  13. I am reminded of the late Malachi Martin, who in his book “Hostage to the Devil” relates the story of an exorcist who learned this lesson the hard way. He was quoted by Martin as saying “A bird does not fly because it has wings, it has wings because it flies.”

  14. Dear Monsignor Pope,

    Like Jon and Kristine, I’m also interested to hear your thoughts and opinions on people born with ambiguous genitalia. One specific example I’m interested in is called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Those born with this condition have a 46,XY karyotype, but probably due to their body’s complete or partial inability to respond to androgens, many such persons feel that they’re female and consider themselves women. Often their physical appearance resembles that of a woman as well.

    I know a person like this, and she has always desired some assurance from the Church in order to help better understand who she is and to know God’s plan for her (her vocation). It seems to her that, according to the Bible, God made man in male and female only – two sexes. Since it doesn’t seem that the Church has spoken on the possibility of someone who is neither male nor female (or someone who’s “in-between”), she feels that she must be either male or female. As she does not look nor feel like a male (and she’s sexually attracted to men), she finds it impossible to consider herself a man (nor does it seem possible for her to live or appear as a man in this society). She feels that the Church, being reasonable, will probably agree with her intuition and will not consider her a man. However, even with this conviction in her heart and mind, she would of course love to have some official affirmation from the Church to support and validate her belief in her womanhood. Furthermore, she desires to enter religious life. Does the Church allow someone like this to enter religious life as a nun?

    Even if you’re unable to answer this, dear Monsignor, I hope you’d consider saying a prayer for this soul.

    God bless you!

    1. I am really not sure what to say in cases like this. I think the best we can do is to say we don’t know. Cases like this are rare and do not unseat the norms. It would be like saying, since some infants are born without a cerebrum, we can have no certainty about the normality of the brain, which would not be correct. IOW we cannot make rules or extract norms from highly unique and rare situations. THey remain anomalous. I am not the Church can or should have a general “ruling” in cases such as this. Maybe the best that can be done is work with the pastor and a moral theolgian who might assist him. Here too, there may be some need to live with celibacy especially if the person is not capable of marriage or the marriage act. As for religious life this too would require great discernment. But I just don’t have enough info and this should be handled privately and discretly.


  15. I think that Msgr. Pope’s explanation here is getting right to the question many are asking. Our culture tells us that there are a variety of ways one’s sexuality can be oriented. Popular psychology often separates one’s physical sex, one’s psychological sex, and one’s attraction – thus one can be physically man, identify as a woman, but be attracted to men (biologically homosexual, psychologically heterosexual), or physically a woman, identify as a man, and be attracted to men (biologically heterosexual, psychologically homosexual). A confusing situation, but one that’s the story modern, popular psychology gives us.

    Then piled atop this understanding are the biological, shall we say, ‘differences’ among genitalia, especially when these are a manifestations of one’s genetic makeup. One could question the sex of a person based upon odd genitalia, or odd chromosomal mix-ups.

    It must be remembered, and this is exactly what Msgr. Pope is getting at, that it is not the individual circumstances or the specific genetic sequencing which define the ideal. The ideal is written large across the human race, found through our natural reason – Rom. 1:19-32 – Man can find God (and thus understand His Image) through the natural world and if we fail, we are led into error and given over to worse evil. We can’t allow the multitude of instances against what is ideal make us question the ideal – A man is sexually made to live out manliness and nuptially unite with a woman, a woman is sexually made to live out womanliness and nuptially unite with a man.

    Confusion of one’s sex, whether psychologically, genetically, or chemically, is not a reason to deny this ideal which undergirds (among other things) the reality of man. One is always capable of living out sanctity. Sometimes it is the very burdens we bear that lead us to our fulfillment. One should strive to accept one’s burdens, one’s sufferings, and unite them to Christ. One need not “normalize” one’s suffering. It is to do violence to not only oneself (accepting a natural evil as proper), but also, though I may be going too far, a form of sin against Christ (denying His power to bring all things to glory in God).

    While I never wish to return to the days where marriage was looked down upon, we must relearn to raise up celibacy as a virtue that extols a certain eschatological Truth, that of utter communion with God, not found in marriage (and I would also argue that marriage extols its own eschatological Truth). We need to reignite a passion for the celibate life, rather than making it appear as some punishment or where those “who don’t fit in” go. Modern issues of sexuality would be less troubling if the celibate life didn’t appear as something undesirable or burdensome.

  16. Wow. Who would have thought that the idea that there are “males” and that there are “females” would be so controverial?

      1. I sense in many of the “controversial” responses an interest not so much in maleness and femaleness but in the attitude of Christians towards those on the fringes. Can anyone admit to being the ideal male or female? If things were always clear there would be no argument, but Jesus came for those who were in need of a physician, not to pat the “ideal” people on the back. If I say “the sky is blue” and someone else says “the sky is gray”, rather than arguing about the TRUE color of the sky I should help them find an umbrella first. It is not outrageous for people to bring up radical examples or to look for exceptions– I think it is natural (and scriptural) for anyone raised in the Christian Tradition to be concerned about marginal people.

  17. It is our destiny, it is written in our nature, to be in a complimentary relationship with “the other.”

    This is crucial, if we are to understand the nature of the human person — who we are, what we are, why we are.

    But I suggest that we take the next step, so as to be able to connect all the dots.

    The spousal meaning of the human body, male and female, is not merely one of complimentariness, but shows that we are made for relationships that are unitive, which brings about, not simply a partnership, but communion with the other, a mystical transcendental joining with the other such that many become one. Stated another way, we are made to love and be loved — not just partial love, but the fullness of love, the type of love that is both unitive and fruitful (procreative). And if there is something to the relationship that detracts from these two key components — unitivity and fruitfulness — then it is not the fullness of love, and might not be love in any degree. (See Humanae Vitae).

    All of us are called to such a relationship, being made in the image of the Trinity, a relationship that is both unitive (a loving communion of three persons in one divine being) and fruitful/procreative, as we see by the making of Creation itself. (Even those who, for whatever genetic/environmental reason are born with ambiguous or dual genitalia, such that some might argue that they are both/neither male and/or female.) In humans, we can easily see the fruitfulness in husband and wife having children. But these two components of love — unitivity and fruitfulness — are not limited to sexuality (the act, not the gender), but applies to all persons, including consecrated virgins and the celibate. We see this very plainly with the Mary, a Virgin Mother — the love she has with God is unitive, and that loving communion brought forth fruit, namely Jesus. Priests and women religious likewise bear fruit, their loving communion with the Lord and His Church is procreative, it brings forth spiritual children and it brings forth other good fruits of the Holy Spirit.

    Other single people, those who are called to the married life, but who for some reason never find (or cannot find) a spouse (perhaps because of an intersex physical condition), likewise have this vocation to the fullness of love, unitive and fruitful. Like priests and religious, for this to happen, since it is not (or cannot be) with another human person, then it must necessarily be with the Lord, who is Love itself.

  18. Monsignor,

    I have never gotten a straight answer from anyone on this question. Could you be specific in naming the qualities or characteristics that women lack that make them incapable of exercising priesthood? What is it that not one single woman possesses that is necessary for priestly ministry?

    The problem is that the Church has taken sex trends and hardened them into demonstrably inaccurate sex laws. For instance, it may be true that men on average tend to be more competitive than women. But that trend does not reliably predict whether any given male will be more competitive than any given female. The same holds true for nurturing, emotionality, expressiveness, decisiveness, and all the other traits usually linked with sex. Aside from differences in genitalia and chromosomes, there are no hard and fast rules about the differences between men and women. So unless the priesthood somehow requires the use of male genitalia or male chromosomes, why can’t women be priests?

    I anticipate three responses, some of which you covered in your post.

    1) Women can’t image Christ. > But of course they can. We are asked to see Christ in women all the time in as much as we are called to recognize Christ in all other people. Why should it be so hard in mass? If an elderly 21st century man of European descent can image Jesus (who, after all, was a 1st century Jewish young adult) as a priest in mass or in the confessional, why is it such a stretch for a woman to do it.

    2) Women can’t be married to the Church because the Church is female (this is why Christ had to be male). > This argument is anachronistic. Christ did not have to be male because the Church is female. The language of the Church being female was developed because Christ was male. At any rate, you are trying to reify a metaphor into an ontological reality. The Church does not have a sex, and neither does God except in his earthly incarnation. (See the Catechism 370 and 239.)

    3) We may not understand why, but we have to accept it since Jesus chose only male apostles. > It is correct to say that the Twelve were all men. It is incorrect to say that the Twelve were the only apostles, that all the apostles were men (see Romans 16:7 > Junia), or that the ministerial priesthood flows only from the twelve (Paul and Barnabas, who were not members of the Twelve, established presbyters in the churches they founded).

    Bottom line: In as much as nearly all the decision making power within the church lies with the clergy, reserving clerical ministries only to males sets up a power differential between the sexes. We should distrust such power differentials on the basis of our fallen nature alone. (Separate but equal doesn’t have too great a track record.) Beyond that though we should recognize from scripture that power imbalances between the sexes are a result of sin (Gen 3:16) and they have no place in the Kingdom of God which is embodied in God’s Church.

    1. They are not men. Christ chose only men. He could have done otherwise but did not. The Pope’s have often reasserted that the Church is not free to ordain women for this reason. Junia was not one of the apostles. The ministerial priesthood does flow from the 12 apostles unless you want to found your own Church. Paul and B. had hands laid upon them, were ordained. that is but all bishops and priests, including Paul and Barnabas trace their origin to the 12.

      Among the reason it is likely that Christ did not choose women is that they cannot image the groom. The argument of the Church being the bride is not anachronistic since it comes from the OT wherein Israel is God’s Bride. Romans 11 is clear to assert that the Church is Israel and hence not a new bride, but the same bride now inclusive of Gentiles.

      You bottom line is about power. First that is a non sequitur. Secondly, it is not a good reason to want to be ordained.

      I have written more here:

      1. So that’s it? 52% of the human race is automatically barred from ordination for purposes of clearer imagery? Pretty weak if you ask me, especially given the fact that I as a lay male member of the Church am expected to image the bride! If I can be the bride every Sunday in mass, I’m fairly confidant that a woman can be the groom.

        You are right that the bride/groom image is used in the Old Testament to describe Israel’s relationship with God. However, that is only one of many images for God’s relationship with his people (King/Subject, Father/Son, Mother/Child – e.g. Is 66:13, Mistress/Maid – e.g. psalm 123:2-3.) Why does that one image become so decisive? Why must the male images be taken as normative and the female ones as figurative?

        With regard to apostolic ministry and succession proceeding only from the Twelve and being reserved only to men, you have to do a lot of twisting to get around what is clearly stated in the scriptures:
        – Paul says Junia was an apostle, in fact that she was “great” among the apostles (Romans 16:7).
        – Paul is emphatic in Galatians that he is “an apostle not from human beings, nor through a human being” (Gal 1:1) but directly from Jesus; moreover, he preaches for a full three years before he even meets any of the Twelve (Gal 1:18) and conducts still further ministry, including the formation of the Church in Antioch (Acts 11:19-30), before the laying on of hands to which you refer (Acts 13:3).

        For further discussion of the biblical evidence supporting equality in ministry for women, I would simply point you to this article by one of the world’s leading biblical scholars (who is generally regarded as a conservative):

        As for my bottom line, you’re right: that was a non-sequitur. I should have said “final point” rather than “bottom line”. Regardless, the subordination of women to men is a result of sin, and as such we are called to resist it. I do believe that the elimination of an abuse of power is a very good reason to ordain women.

  19. @ response 15. It’s not that I disagree with you Msgr Pope but I have to be equipped to answer some tough questions when you are not around to heklp me.. It’s hard

  20. What about people who are born asexual? Did God just forget about them? Do they have defective souls since they’re not male or female? And this occurence is much more common than we realize, because surgery is usually done at birth.

  21. I’m very pleased that I am not a News Corp, shareholder! With all the on going problems it is facing in the United Kingdomwith the now closed, News of the World newspaper. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp based in Delaware; is also facing a legal challenge from its shareholders. Shareholders, including investment funds, labor and municipal pension funds are accusing Murdoch of misusing News Corp assets, by treating the company like a family candy jar, which he raids whenever his appetite strikes. It looks like the trouble are just starting!

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