The Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, has released a new policy on gender identity that requires all of its agencies to acknowledge only a person’s assigned sex at birth. The document specifies that all clergy, employees, and volunteers of the diocese, as well as students and parents in Catholic schools, are to “conduct themselves in accord with their God-given biological sex.”
Signed by Bishop Earl Boyea, the policy bases itself on an idea that the embodiment of sexuality is a gift from God, and that binary gender complementarity is a bedrock for the family and society. It emphasizes the body-soul connection in strictly male or female form.
The policy offers no specifics about how to refuse to honor a person’s self-identified gender. However, according to the diocesan press release, concrete practice includes things such as only using pronouns and bathrooms that correspond to one’s assigned sex. It notes that “on a case-by-case basis, students who have been clinically diagnosed with gender dysphoria may request the use of a single-person, unisex facility.”
At a time when President Biden expanded Title IX protections for gender identity and sexual orientation, the diocese also notes that students may only compete on athletic teams that reflect assigned sex, regardless of whether they identify as another gender.
According to Crux, Tom Maloney, diocesan superintendent of schools, explained:
“Applying that compassion to new ethical dilemmas such as gender dysphoria can be challenging – that’s why this new diocesan policy on gender identity will help our teachers form our students in truth and love in order to promote authentic happiness and uphold the common good.”
In addition to the brief policy, the diocese released an accompanying Theological Guide subtitled The Human Person and Gender Dysphoria. The guide explains that the policy attempts to follow up on a 2019 document from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education entitled Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on The Question of Gender Theory in Education and provide theological context, as well as practical approaches for ministry.
Although these diocesan documents all claim to prioritize pastoral care and concern for those experiencing “gender dysphoria,” the same texts simultaneously employ discriminatory and divisive language while refusing to acknowledge any distinction between a person’s assigned sex and their gender. No references are made to persons with intersex characteristics.
For example, the theological guide differentiates “gender dysmorphia” from “transgender ideology.” To understand the former, it quotes a pastoral document from the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, which compares gender identity questions to anorexia: “each is a condition in which a person, for a complex set of reasons, has self-perception of his or her physical biology that is dislocated from reality.”
In explaining transgender issues, the authors adopt the phrase “transgender ideology,” treating transgender experiences as a political movement or faction rather than the lived realities of individuals: “This ideology radically separates the material from the spiritual and treats the material as mere inert matter for the spiritual to act upon.” Furthermore, they claim that transgender identities constitute a “denial of the fundamental goodness of the unity of the human and soul as created by God.”
Richard Budd, a co-author of the policy and director of the diocesan marriage and family life office, claimed:
“Gender dysphoria is a real psychological condition which causes real human suffering that has to be met with genuine compassion, rooted in truth and love, and accompanied by the highest standards of pastoral care.”
He reiterates that he hopes to provide such pastoral care while “also reaffirming the immutable realities of human anthropology–that we are created male and female.” He believes the policy is a “necessary response to those who proselytize, especially among the young, on behalf of false and harmful ‘gender ideologies’.”
Even while encouraging counseling for those struggling with gender identity, diocesan officials are firm that people should consult “counselors or other medical professionals” who “adhere to Catholic teaching.” Gender confirming treatments, such as hormones to block puberty and surgical interventions, are explicitly forbidden.
Like much of institutional teaching and practice on LGBTQ issues, particularly transgender identities, the policy is riddled with contradictions such as claiming to prioritize pastoral care and love of persons while ignoring the real lived experiences of those individuals. Calls for dialogue are hard to take seriously when accompanied by didactic, untouchable statements from the hierarchy.
A truly compassionate approach could employ unbiased listening to the stories of transgender individuals, rooted in the Catholic teaching on human dignity and honoring the imago Dei of every human being. In hearing these narratives as well as from the broader LGBTQ community, ministries could be tailored to meet the true needs of the marginalized and vulnerable populations, following the footsteps of Jesus’ own ministry and teachings rather than continuing to find ways to exclude and shame.
—Angela Howard McParland, New Ways Ministry, January 29, 2021