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The Martyrdom of St Sebastian by Hans Memling, Public Domain
Catholic Re-Visions

New Queer Re-Visions of Catholic Political Theology

How would Roman Catholic political theology and ethics change if it took seriously the experiences and thought of queer Catholics?

The past few decades have witnessed an increasingly tense public debate over the status of queer Catholics (including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and others) within the Church. Compared to broader social acceptance throughout the world, queer Catholics remain in a frustratingly liminal condition. On one hand, ecclesial authorities proclaim to support and defend the inherent human dignity of queer Catholics. On the other, the relational configurations many pursue, the gender identities many inhabit, or their manners of gendered expression are castigated as deviant from a Catholic account of humanity, sometimes by means of natural law. Validating a plurality of grace-filled gender identities and sexualities is frequently critiqued as a form of intellectual colonialism under the vaguely-defined term of “gender ideology.”

Rather than making a case for inclusion for queer Catholics within ecclesial life, which risks capitulating to a form of “respectability politics,” this symposium proceeds “beyond apologetics” (to borrow a phrase popularized by Protestant theologian Linn Marie Tonstad). The authors therein maintain that queer desires, embodied experiences, reflect the beauty, glory, and grace of God through social transformation. Furthermore, many theological attempts to argue for the inherent queerness of aspects of Catholic theology domesticate the term “queer.” Such recent theological maneuvers, to again reference Tonstad’s writings, create semantic bleaching, bankrupting the term of its political potency in which everything is made queer and nothing radical. Yet the word still has its use. Writing of its capaciousness within the constellation of thinkers labeled “queer theory,” Heather Love comments,

The semantic flexibility of queer—its weird ability to touch almost everything—is one of the most exciting things about it. Despite its uptake into any number of banal and commoditized contexts, the word still maintains its ability to move, to stay outside, and to object to the world as it is given

Love, 182.

The contributions in this symposium embrace this semantic expansiveness, rejecting the current world as it is and, indeed, parts of the Catholic tradition as it has been depicted by many within the Church.

Queer experiences and/or theory contribute to Roman Catholic approaches to participating in political and social life. Such insights aid in the defense of human dignity and the common good (classic themes within Catholic social teaching) and also provide new approaches to the radical love and social transformation that aligns with the Reign of God—the hoped-for new human community announced by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The contributions come from a multi-racial assortment of openly queer and Catholic authors. To further emphasize the idea of the “future,” all contributors are in graduate school or early in their careers. All of the authors entered academia several decades into the popularization of queer theology and queer methodological approaches to the study of religion. The topics in this symposium cover areas including eschatology, coloniality, virtue ethics, embodiment, identity politics, the cult of the saints, liberation theology, and natural law. The essays demonstrate the profound political and theological contributions of the many queer voices present within the Church.

Symposium Essays

Queer Visions of Virtue Ethics

Queer Catholics live outside of the Church’s vision of the good life. Let us imagine what queer holiness looks like.

Queer Liberation and the Limits of Identity Politics

What would it look like to consider identity-based oppressions—queer marriage blessings and women’s ordination—as interrelated symptoms of a need for structural, ecclesial changes?

What Queer Theory Taught Me About the Saints

A different type of project beckons the queer, brown Christian: Invention, coupled with mourning for what is irrecoverably absent, becomes a necessary spiritual practice for all those who cannot find their own ancestors in the canons of church history

Butler, Norms, and Mystical-Political Hope

Judith Butler’s work in queer theory inspires Catholics to consider the material relations of the body and contributes to a mystical-political, eschatological hope.

Black Queer Natural Law: On Brownness and Disidentification

Because of its deployments within white supremacist and heteronormative projects, the natural law has not been seen as a partner in liberative ethical projects. Considerations with respect to José Muñoz’s concepts of disidentification and brownness, however, allow for a rapprochement between queer-of-color epistemologies and a Thomistic epistemology of the natural law.