The Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Catholic Review newspaper prints articles largely re-stating the hierarchy’s positions. However, a recent article analyzed transgender issues from Catholic perspectives and, while still negative overall, included a trans-positive voice and showed other hopeful signs.
The article is the fifth in a series called “Playing God,” which examines bioethics in light of modern knowledge and focuses particularly on sex reassignment surgeries that many transgender people undergo. While focusing on an anti-transgender activist, it also highlights Hilary Howes, a transgender Catholic woman and advocate, who recently wrote about what Pope Francis could mean for gender issues in the Church. The Review reports about Howes’ experience:
“Born male, she transitioned to living as a woman 18 years ago. Howes remembers wanting to be a girl as a child, and experimented with cross-dressing as an adult before becoming a transsexual…
“A few years ago, Howes described herself as having ‘male genitalia and a female brain.’ Now she thinks of gender as a spectrum, and her gender expression falling outside of standard ‘male’ and ‘female’ categories. Howes speculates that her situation may be a form of intersex, resulting from a natural genetic variance or hormonal imbalances when she was in the womb. She believes that identity shouldn’t be tied to anatomy.”
Citing anti-transgender voices, the article muddles through the philosophical and theological concepts involved with transgender identities and sex reassignment surgery. Of these, Howes responds:
“As a transsexual, Howes doesn’t see sex-reassignment surgery as a mutilation, but rather a medical correction of a physical malformation – a procedure that allows a person to become his or her ‘authentic self.’
“It’s an argument commonly made by transgender advocates: Transgenderism is a physical, not mental, condition, and it’s the body that’s in the wrong.”
Howes’ comments are not the article’s only signs of hope. It is notable that the diocesan newspaper used female pronouns for Howes, as other Catholic institutions have used one’s sex at birth instead of their gender identity when referring to transgender people. The Catholic Review also notes:
“The church has not spoken definitively on the matter’s morality. In 2003, Catholic News Service reported that the Vatican released a document to bishops on sex-reassignment surgery’s implications for canon law. According to CNS, the document included ‘an analysis of the moral licitness’ of sex reassignment surgery, concluding ‘that the procedure could be morally acceptable in certain extreme cases if a medical probability exists that it will “cure” the patient’s internal turmoil.’ “
That same document reportedly banned changing the sex on baptismal certificates and rejected transgender people from religious life if they have undergone sex reassignment surgery.
Want to learn more about the issues presented in this post? Hilary Howes will be a presenter at New Ways Ministry’s upcoming workshop, “Trans-forming Love,” on November 23rd. Catholics will dialogue and pray about a trans-positive Catholic approach. Visit New Ways Ministry’s website for more information and to register for the event.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry