A new policy in the Diocese of Springfield (Illinois) outlines a repressive approach to gender identity issues, including threats against LGBTQ church workers and students in Catholic schools.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s new diocesan Policy 650 addressing gender identity went into effect on January 13, 2020. Its main portion reads:
“It is the policy of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois that all Catholic agencies, including parishes, schools, institutions, departments, or other entities, shall respect the biological sex with which a person is born and shall apply all policies and procedures in relation to that person according to that person’s biological sex at birth.”
Procedures for implementing this policy include not recognizing a person’s pronouns if divergent from their assigned sex at birth, ensuring all documents reference only a person’s assigned sex at birth, and requiring people to use bathrooms and locker rooms on church property according to assigned sex. A fourth suggestion encourages counseling for people with gender dysphoria, but only from clinicians who “hold a correct Christian anthropology of the human person and who understand and adhere to Catholic teaching.”
The policy requires church workers and volunteers to “conduct themselves in accord with their biological sex at all times.” Violating these prohibitions, such as respectfully using a transgender person’s pronouns when they are discordant from the person’s assigned sex, could lead to “immediate corrective action, suspension, and possible termination” of either employment or volunteer status.
Students at Catholic schools are mandated to “conduct themselves in accord with their biological sex at all times.” Students diagnosed with gender dysphoria must be admitted to such schools if their parents agree to the diocese’s Family School Agreement and Policy §650 which contains severe restrictions. Students and parents are to be referred to and treated only according to their assigned sex. The only deviation is that students with gender dysphoria may request a “single-person, unisex facility” as a rest room. Transgender students are barred from participating in athletics not congruent with their assigned sex. Finally, “Catholic schools will not allow, or otherwise cooperate in, the administration of puberty-blocking or cross-sex hormones on school property.” The policy on Catholic education concludes:
“A student of any Catholic school who insists, or whose parents insist, on open hostility toward, or defiance of, Church teaching, or who otherwise intentionally violate this policy, may be expelled from the school pursuant to this policy and the provisions of BK3§404.1.3.”
A pastoral commentary released with Policy §650 explained some of the reasoning behind this anti-transgender policy. The guidelines cited the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education’s 2019 document on gender, Male and Female He Created Them, as an impetus for the policy, in addition to LGBTQ-positive public policy shifts allegedly hostile to religious organizations.
Paprocki’s guidelines compare gender dysphoria to anorexia, suggesting that in each, a person’s “self-perception of his or her physical biology that is dislocated from reality.” The guidelines state that supporting a transgender person who physically transitions would be as “pastorally reckless” as providing “weight-loss resources to a visibly gaunt anorexic who thinks she is overweight.” There is a recognition that “in rare cases of true genetic or physical anomalies, such as hermaphroditism or intersex” some medical interventions may be permissible (although such interventions on children have been decried by intersex activists as human rights violations).
Paprocki’s new policy also warns against the family members of LGBTQ people from being too supportive:
“In a culture that promotes a false and overly sentimentalized conception of love, many families of an adult or child with gender dysphoria will feel a sense of obligation to support their loved one in ‘whatever is going to make them happy.’ Family members likely wrestle with a sense of confusion, guilt, and uncertainty over how best to support their loved one; and they face pressure, either directly or indirectly, from the prevailing culture to celebrate and reinforce their loved one’s gender dysphoria and feel compelled to “solve” the problem by surgically and hormonally changing the biological sex of the affected person.”
In related news, in a recent column for the Catholic Times, Paprocki wrote of his opposition to Illinois’ new law requiring schools to include LGBTQ people in history courses. The bishop objected that doing so is “effectively holding them up as role models to be emulated.”
Policy 650 is only Paprocki’s latest assault on LGBTQ people’s lives and dignity. In 2017, he issued guidelines that Catholics in same-gender marriages should be denied church funerals, as well as being barred from liturgical ministries, RCIA candidacy, or serving as baptismal godparents and confirmation sponsors. In 2016, he implicitly criticized Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich for suggesting that reception of Communion is to be determined by each person according to their conscience. When Illinois passed marriage equality in 2013, Paprocki held a public exorcism because of the law, and had previously suggested that supporters of marriage equality should be disciplined like children.
Threatening to fire an employee or expel a student who may already be marginalized is in no way consistent with church teaching. Bishop Paprocki’s nearly unparalleled crusade against LGBTQ people is shameful. His dangerous wielding of authority harms many people not only in his diocese, but in the wider church.. While bishops are loathe to criticize one another publicly, for the good of the People of God, his episcopal peers must condemn Paprocki’s approach to LGBTQ people.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 10, 2020