Transgender identities are not a doctrinal matter, says a top Catholic Church official in England, adding the church, including Pope Francis, would be fully supportive of individuals who decide to transition.
Monsignor Keith Barltrop, tasked by London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols with expanding that church’s LGBTI outreach, made the comments in an interview with Gay Star News. He said:
” ‘As far as I am aware, the Church takes no official position on transgenderism: it is a pastoral issue, not a matter of doctrine.’
” ‘Insofar as the Church were to be involved in any individual’s decision to transition, it would counsel caution, because this is not a step to take lightly: but it should be fully supportive of individuals who have made that decision.’ “
Msgr. Barltrop said clergy need to engage these teachings seriously and with their congregations to avoid negative pastoral encounters that often end up in the press and misrepresent the church. Though LGBT people and their loved one receive varying responses from ministers:
” ‘…the official teaching of the Church is clear: homosexual and transgendered people are not only to be respected but made to feel welcome in the Church and accompanied as they journey, along with everyone else, to be more like Christ who radiates nothing but love.
Pope Francis has been cast as anti-trans in recent months, but Barltrop says this is false and the pontiff likely has not “given any great thought” to the issue. Many commentators have equated Francis’ criticisms of “gender theory” with an attack on trans people. However, the pope himself has left the phrase undefined and Barltrop along with a blogger named The Catholic Transgender disagree with that assessment:
“[Barltrop] suggests the target for the Pope’s concern is the notion of gender to be found in Queer Theory and the writings of Michel Foucault, as well as radical feminism, that sees gender as totally constructed and constructible.
“So while it is likely to impinge to some degree on those segments of the trans community that define themselves in more gender fluid terms, it is certainly not the out and out attack on transgender it has been represented as.”
All of this led Gay Star News reporter Jane Fae to conclude, “Pope Francis may well turn out to be the best thing that has happened to the trans community, religiously speaking, in a very long while.”
While it remains to be seen whether Pope Francis will be that good for trans communities, Msgr. Barltrop’s comments are quite positive. Indeed, his comments directly challenge other Catholic leaders who have claimed church teaching does not allow for people to transition or that trans identities are actually illness. Unlike the conversations around homosexuality, there are no doctrinal statements directly about gender identity to which anti-LGBT Catholics can point. It is a pastoral matter requiring church ministers to respond unequivocally with mercy, welcome, affirmation, and support.
For a more thorough exploration of relevant Catholic teaching, see the the Catholic Transgender‘s “What Does the Catholic Church Actually Say About Transgenderism?”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry