Diocese Instructs Catholics to Ignore Transgender People’s Names and Pronouns

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

9 replies
  1. Nancy Corcoran, CSJ
    Nancy Corcoran, CSJ says:

    Thanks, Bob. Dissent is so important when ignorance is offered as direction from someone who teaches against Jesus’ commands.

  2. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    I wonder if anyone has figured out why leaders of the RC Church have become so doctrinaire on the issue of transgender people. It seems to be a totally irrational position, based on bogus beliefs. It does not seem to have any roots in Biblical texts. It certainly has nothing to do with the core teachings ascribed to Jesus. It appears to be rooted in some cultural bias – a bias that has not been shared by other cultures at various periods of history. Has some individual or group of individuals done any study and written any history about the roots of this anti-transgender bias?

      DON E SIEGAL says:

      It also has to do with natural law theory in all it’s iterations. All revisionist Catholic theologians discredit natural law, only traditionalist ones still support natural law.

  3. Fr. Scott Hill
    Fr. Scott Hill says:

    This document is an insidious failure of dialogue with the Trans Community or any individual seeking to be their authentic self. Intellectualizing (moralizing) a human being is a denial of one’s God-given dignity. It is incumbent on church leadership to engage and companion individuals in the discovery of one’s true-sexual/gender self. Maintaining a binary stance regarding human identity interferes with the non-binary nature of God, the grandness of the Divine!

  4. Greg B
    Greg B says:

    More gay-bashing wrapped up in false piety.

    Burbridge is at the top of the slippery slope, but make no mistake, he’s on it.

    It is interesting that Burbidge is a product of Philadelphia and was on the faculty at Abp. Wood High School— the very school whose alumni comprised the notorious mob who assaulted a gay couple in Philadelphia for the crime of showing affection in public.

    It is likely that, in light of his latest screed, his diocesean schools will see an outbreak of physical violence against LGBTQ students, or students even suspected of being LGBTQ (bullies don’t really care if their assumptions are correct, and Burbridge is now the bully-in-chief). If there is enough of a tragedy for the diocese to comment upon, no doubt his spokes-person will steeple their fingers and spew about how “His Excellency doesn’t *condone* such actions…”

    Oh, but he does.

  5. Duane Sherry
    Duane Sherry says:

    Many in RCC leadership get it wrong when it comes to transgender understanding and support.

    It reminds me of watching a child pull a blanket over their eyes to watch a parent disappear. Lol.

    The RCC leadership would do well to follow the lead of fellow Christians who have learned to open their eyes to a more inclusive God.

    This article by the Human Right Campaign offers a deeper, more insightful vision:


  6. Barbara Lonnquist
    Barbara Lonnquist says:

    I am guessing that this document was written by women at the DC Center for Ethics and Public Policy specifically in the “Catholic Women’s Forum’s “Personal Identity Project” — two women there have been very instrumental in rejecting (but distorting) “gender ideology” — both have been speakers in the Diocese of Arlington. (one spoke at NAPA Institute this summer) They also co-wrote a book warning Catholic famiies to get their children out of public schools. I am disappointed that Bishop Burbidge has been so easily influenced. His diocese is home to famous DC Pols — Bill Barr, Antonin Scalia, who priest son Fr Paul Scalia is the head of Courage International. All of this is highly funded conservative lay networking.


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