Indianapolis Archdiocese’s New Policy May Bar Transgender Youth from Catholic Schools

Archbishop Charles Thompson

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has issued guidelines that place severe restrictions on transgender students in Catholic schools, including possibly not admitting them.

The new document, Policy and Complementary Norms on Sexual Identity in School Ministries, was sent to pastors and school principals along with an email which asked that the new rules not be publicized.  

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) broke the story by obtaining a copy of the policy and the email that accompanied it. The document was signed by Archbishop Charles Thompson and Chancellor Annette Lenz. NCR described and quoted from the document itself:

“While the policy recommends a ‘case by case’ approach to dealing with questions of sexual identity, it notes that students experiencing confusion regarding their sexual identity may be admitted to Catholic schools if they follow church teaching, yet it warns that ‘any student whose “gender” has been legally changed from their biological sex, or who has chemically and/or surgically altered their given biology, may not be eligible for enrollment.’”

The newspaper highlighted other sections that described particular actions:

“The policy requires that students are addressed using ‘the pronoun correlating to their biological sexual identity,’ and that any use of facilities such as locker rooms, bathrooms, and overnight accommodations must be utilized based on one’s biological sex. . . .

“The focus of the policy, it notes, is not to concern itself with cases of individuals who have biological abnormalities (commonly known as ‘intersex’ individuals, although the document does not use the term), but rather cases ‘when there is a clear biological determination of a child’s sexual identity, yet the individual seeks to legally, chemically and/or surgically alter the given biology.’

“The document does not use the term transgender to describe such individuals, stating that ‘the sexual identity of a person as either male or female is a fundamental principle of Christian anthropology.'”

The email which accompanied the document included the lines:

“THIS POLICY IS NOT TO BE INCLUDED IN FACULTY/STAFF OR PARENT/STUDENT HANDBOOKS. It is intended as an internal policy with complementary norms.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told NCR that “church officials should have learned from the clergy sex abuse crisis that secrecy only causes more problems.”

DeBernardo also criticized the archdiocesan leaders for ignoring “scientific research into gender, gender identity and transgender reality,” and only citing Vatican documents, rather than engaging the latest scientific studies. 

“Officials should have learned from the clergy crisis that ignoring the secular world’s scientific and legal knowledge only multiplied the damage they were trying to contain,” DeBernardo said. 

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis declined to comment to newspaper reporters when the policy became public.

The policy draws heavily on the Vatican’s 2019 document Male and Female He Created Them, which has been widely criticized for being harmful to LGBTQ persons. Shortly after this document was released from the Congregation for Catholic Education, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, the prefect of the congregation, acknowledged that the authors should have engaged in dialogue with transgender people before issuing the policies. [Editor’s note: You can find New Ways Ministry’s full coverage on the Vatican document  here.]

In the Indianapolis Star’s news story about the archdiocesan policy, Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, says that they anticipated the Vatican’s document being used in exactly this way. “At the time it was published, we called this document dangerous,” she said, “and policies like this one are one of the consequences we feared.”

Meli Barber, vice president of DignityUSA and a former director of religious education in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, says she is “deeply, deeply embarrassed that my former employer has chosen exclusion over welcome. That is not the Catholic Church I feel called to serve.” The policy, Barber says, is “essentially religious shunning of children experiencing gender dysphoria…based on ignorance and misconceptions that are not supported by contemporary science. I cannot imagine that Jesus would do this. I am sure he would reach out and say, ‘Let these children come to me.’”

Windy City Media reported on responses by secular organizations, including GLAAD, PFLAG, and Shelly’s Voice, which was created by students at Indianapolis’s Roncalli High School in support of fired teacher Shelly Fitzgerald. 

Indianapolis PFLAG president Jan Nichols notes the dissonance between the archdiocese’s stated mission and actions, saying: “The Archdiocese should be lifting these students up, not casting them aside.” 

Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President and CEO, called the actions “shameful and dangerous,” noting the challenges that transgender youth already face. “To codify this rejection further isolates and threatens the very young people in need of love and protection.”

In their full statement, GLAAD listed the core issues with the policy, including the avoidance of using the term transgender, referring to medical treatment as ‘mutilation,’ rejecting the use of students’ names and pronouns, and policing clothing choices and spaces used in the school building or in extracurricular programs.

Transgender children are not confused. With policies like this one, they are being failed on every level by the adults and the church tasked with protecting them.

Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, July 2, 2020

2 replies
  1. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    This policy of “prohibiting” gender identity other than the sex assigned at birth has also been adopted by the Minnesota bishops for Catholic schools and parish education programs.
    Is the Vatican’s CDF working on a revison of Male and Female He Created Them? The sooner the better.

  2. Lawrence Kavanaugh
    Lawrence Kavanaugh says:

    So the policy is not to be included in faculty or parent handbooks? Then it’s just an official policy that no one is aware of until the Diocese needs to use it later (possibly in legal proceedings) to defend an unjust action? That’s like saying that drivers must stop at a red light, but that regulation is not to be published in the driver training manual or elsewhere.


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