A bishop in Virginia has released a new document on gender identity issues that, among other problematic issues, demands Catholics not use transgender people’s correct names and pronouns.
Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington released the document, entitled “A Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology,” in mid-August.
Much of the document is a reiteration of other bishops’ negative messages about sex, gender, sexuality, and related pastoral concerns (e.g. people are born only male or female and one’s assigned sex is determinative of social roles). It relies on trans-negative church teachings and right wing sources. It wholeheartedly endorses the gender complementarity theology at the core of LGBTQ oppression in the church, going so far as to claim, “Sexual difference is at the heart of family life.”
Framed through the lens of gender dysphoria, a recognized if controversial psychological condition, the document then essentially denies the existence of transgender people. At one point it bluntly states, “No one ‘is’ transgender.” It reads at another point:
“The claim to ‘be transgender’ or the desire to seek “transition” rests on a mistaken view of the human person, rejects the body as a gift from God, and leads to grave harm. To affirm someone in an identity at odds with biological sex or to affirm a person’s desired ‘transition’ is to mislead that person. It involves speaking and interacting with that person in an untruthful manner.”
The document makes the false claim that gender transitions “does not resolve a person’s struggles but also can in fact exacerbate them,” relying on debunked science that gender affirming medical interventions “involve serious mutilations” and are “morally unacceptable.” Perhaps most troubling is the document’s claim that affirming youth who are transgender is “particularly dangerous” because it endorses “a child’s distorted self-perception.”
Having rejected transitioning as a moral option, the document also rejects the use of trans people’s proper names and pronouns. It states:
“Such use might seem innocuous and even appear to be an innocent way of signaling love and acceptance of a person. In reality, however, it presents a profound crisis: We can never say something contrary to what we know to be true. To use names and pronouns that contradict the person’s God-given identity is to speak falsely. The faithful should avoid using ‘gender-affirming’ terms or pronouns that convey approval of or reinforce the person’s rejection of the truth.”
The document includes sections specific to clergy, catechists, teachers; to parents; and to transgender people themselves, framed as “For those struggling.”
The claims in Bishop Burbidge’s text are easily dismantled. The truths that he should have instead promulgated? Transgender people do exist. The struggles they face are not due to their identities, but to society’s failure to be supportive and affirming. Medical interventions are beneficial. Using a person’s proper name and pronouns can make a significant positive difference, particularly for youth. And it is love, not sexual difference, which makes a family.
Given the document’s failings, its exhortations for how Catholics approach questions of gender identity should readily be ignored. Indeed, to follow the bishop’s advice would only cause more harm.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 19, 2021