A bishop in Massachusetts has compared a person undergoing a gender transition to someone having a hand amputated to install a pirate hook, suggesting that transgender identities are “rooted in unsupportable science” and are more akin to the heresy of Gnosticism.
Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester addressed a conference on “transgenderism” hosted by the lay group Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy earlier this month. During his remarks, the bishop made an odd analogy comparing a transgender person to a person who sought to be a pirate, reported the Telegram and Gazette:
“‘Suppose a man were to declare that his real identity in his innermost self was that of a pirate, and that he had always been aware of that since his earliest childhood,’ [McManus] said.
“‘If he were to decide, in order to be more fully conformed to that inner identity, to have his hand surgically removed, so they could have a hook installed in its place, this would surely indicate a serious mental condition on his part.’
“‘Counseling along with other psychiatric interventions would be appropriate, rather than encouraging medical mutilation. I suspect that any doctor worth his (salt) would never, ever do that.’
“‘What is so different between that and saying I have perceived myself over the years to be a woman, and I have the right to medical attention and surgery that would address that situation: that I want to be this, therefore, the medical and psychological communities should support me in this?'”
McManus also said that “transgenderism is rooted in unsupportable science” and that “there is no credible scientific data that a child is born with the body of one sex and the brain of the opposite sex.” The bishop added, “Every single cell of the body contains identical copies of a person’s sex chromosomes.” He also cited the discredited trans-negative claims of Dr. Paul McHugh and suggested hormone suppressants for youth are “very dangerous.” Finally, McManus compared transgender identities and the “radical sense of autonomy. . .run amok” to the heresy of Gnosticism, or the belief that the material world is evil while the spirit or soul is good and needs liberation from the body.
Beyond his disparagement of transgender people, McManus also seemed to criticize the Jesuit-run College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, where the conference was hosted. Without naming the institution, he decried efforts in higher education to be more diverse and inclusive:
“‘When a college tries to promote diversity and inclusion by contravening the very clear Catholic moral and social teachings, we have a severe problem. . .I believe in truth in advertising. When you say you’re a Catholic institution, then be that. . .What happens with this diversity phenomenon is, when you take in all kinds of students – which is fine – we can’t lose sight of our mission.'”
But pressed by the Telegram & Gazette afterwards, McManus affirmed Holy Cross’ Catholic identity despite it having taken a number of steps to be more LGBTQ-inclusive, including its hosting of the Transgender Digital Archive.
Relatedly, Holy Cross’ president, Fr. Philip Boroughs, S.J., criticized the Telegram & Gazette’s coverage of the bishop’s remarks in a strong defense of LGBTQ people, and one transgender professor at the institution specifically.
Boroughs shared his “deep and grave concerns” that the newspaper failed to “adhere to up-to-date standards of reporting on LGBTQ communities,” accusing it of using “outdated definitions that are offensive in describing transgender persons.” He also resisted “unfair and unwarranted references to a member of our faculty [who is transgender],” writing:
“Moreover, I have serious concerns about the article’s inaccurate depiction of Prof. K.J. Rawson and his scholarship. The article reduces Prof. Rawson’s scholarly work to his lived identity. It makes no mention of his scholarly expertise, his publications or the many ways in which his scholarship has been held in high esteem by academic and grant making organizations. Professor Rawson is a valued teacher, mentor and scholar in our community and I believe the Telegram & Gazette owes him an apology.
“Overall, the article seems to aim to further divides between the LGBTQ and Catholic communities. Additionally, it particularly marginalizes those who identify as both LGBTQ and Catholic. It fails to fully capture the complex conversations happening within the Catholic community on LGBTQ issues.”
Bishop McManus’ bizarre comments on trans identities are easily refuted. Gender transitions are neither pirate-like nor heretical. They are one way trans people can live more authentic, and thereby, saintly lives.
What is worth highlighting in this story is the contrast in Catholic leadership between the bishop and Fr. Boroughs. McManus abdicated his duty to care for the people of the Worcester diocese by choosing to rely on junk science and hyperbole rather than pursuing the serious and nuanced engagement of gender identity issues today. Boroughs, however, chose the path of solidarity by unequivocally demanding respect for Professor Rawson and all LGBTQ people and by acknowledging the complexity of LGBTQ Catholic issues. He lives out the best of the Catholic tradition in doing so.
Discussions of gender identity in the Church will only increase as more trans people come out and more Catholics demand equality. It is essential that bishops like McManus opt first for listening and education rather than making unfounded and harmful pronouncements. And if the bishop is not sure where to start, I suggest he give Fr. Boroughs a call.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 20, 2019