A Catholic theologian in Minnesota has strongly recommended that the state’s bishops retract their educational policies concerning gender identity in Catholic Schools.
Jessie Bazan, a feminist theologian, sent a powerful letter to Bishop Donald Kettler of the Diocese of Saint Cloud, asking the bishops to revoke their “Guiding Principles for Catholic Schools and Religious Education Concerning Human Sexuality and Sexual Identity” because of the negative impact on transgender and gender non-conforming youth these policies would create. She also sent a copy of the letter to The Central Minnesota Catholic, the diocesan newspaper.
In her letter, Bazan underscores the tremendous psychological, theological, and educational harm inflicted by this document. Bazan, a program associate for the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, introduces herself in the letter by saying:
“I’ve met Catholics across the state who are suffering because of policies and practices put forth by the institutional church that do not respect their inherent human dignity and leave them vulnerable to physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual harm. These include — but are not limited to — survivors of clerical sexual abuse and institutional cover-up, women, lay ministers, and people in the LGBTQ community.”
In her analysis, she criticizes the bishops for failing to apply the Catholic principle of the inherent human dignity of all people to transgender and gender non-conforming youth. She states:
“With this teaching at the forefront, I wonder how the Minnesota bishops could put forth guiding principles for Catholic education that deny the lived experiences of people, period, but especially people who already find themselves on the margins of society. The ‘Guiding Principles’ ask transgender and gender non-conforming young people to use pronouns they do not identify with, enter restrooms and sleep situations they are not comfortable in, and generally express themselves in ways that contradict who they know themselves to be. These principles protect those who deny the existence of transgender youth — and make no mention of anti-bullying or anti-harassment efforts.”
Bazan also asks whether the bishops invited any transgender or gender non-conforming youth to share their reflections, experiences, and struggles as God’s beloved children in the church and in society. Similarly, she asks:
“What about scientists, psychologists, and education professionals who specialize in gender-related issues and youth development — were any of these experts invited to weigh in?”
Bazan claims that the “Guiding Principles” presents a church that is exclusionary, not open to the diverse creation of God’s children, and completely removed from the contemporary reality of sexual and gender identity:
“I also wonder about — and lament — the image of church I experience in this document: a church that is out of touch with the signs of the times, a church that prioritizes policies over people, a church that cannot imagine life outside a binary, and a church that does not really love everyone.”
To highlight this sense of exclusion, Bazan related a a question that she says has haunted her, asked by a transgender person:
“‘What do I do with a church that doesn’t want me?’
“I hope his question haunts you, too.
“I hope it breaks your heart and causes you to rescind the current ‘Guiding Principles.’ I hope it motivates you to put forth new principles that acknowledge, respect, and even celebrate the ways God works in the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming youth. I would be eager to help with the development of new principles, and more importantly, connect you with queer theologians whose insights will strengthen the document — and the church at large.”
As a side note, Bazan suggested the bishop seek further analysis from Bondings 2.0’s critique of the “Guiding Principles” document.
Bazan’s analysis highlights the beautiful and multifaceted dimensions of human sexuality and gender identity. These elements of our personhood are gifts from God. Church leaders should not be part of the repression of these gifts, but should be working with wholehearted dedication for equal treatment and protection.
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, April 1, 2019