A bishop in Iowa used the occasion of the Feast of the Assumption and a diocesan anniversary to instead emphasize the need to deny transgender people the respect and care they deserve.
Bishop William Joensen of Des Moines wrote his transgender-negative comments in a blog post on the diocesan website. Joensen states that what he wants to discuss is “what it means to become gracefully united within ourselves and as a local church.” He even begins with a note that August marks the 110th anniversary of the diocese’s founding and details some of that history.
But soon after addressing that topic, he pivots to Mary’s Assumption and a discussion of how “soul and body can be seem [sic] as antagonistic competitors.” Citing illnesses such as Parkinson’s, dementia, and disordered eating, in the next paragraph, Joensen writes, “One of the acute challenges facing families and our society is the rising attention devoted to the situation of persons suffering from gender dysphoria/gender-identity discordance.”
The bishop uses the next three paragraphs to reject proper medical care for transgender people. He attributes being transgender to “sexual or other forms of trauma” in youth and uses an anti-intersex slur in discussing why assigned sex is determinative for a person. Joensen continues:
“The emerging medical data confirm that so-called gender-altering surgeries and the chemical disruption of sexual development that is a preceding step do not deliver promised long-term therapeutic relief. Sadly, the incidence of suicide for these patients does not decrease. We do not want to be complicit with a cultural mindset that simply shrugs and goes along with irregular drumbeat of the demands to abet what is a fundamental mis-taking of our human personhood. . .
“Perhaps for persons who suffer gender-identity discordance, the yoke of suffering they bear may not be fully alleviated until Christ destroys all authority and power, including death itself, and hands us over to his Father as the most prized possessions of his Kingdom. We take comfort in the Gospel truth that those who share most fully in the cup of Christ’s suffering will be filled to overflowing with the new wine of Spirit joy.”
Concluding the section on transgender people (a term the bishop never uses), Joensen encourages readers “to love one another unconditionally” and “to be present to accompany one another,” invoking the Holy Spirit:
“[T]o be prudently discerning, to distinguish voices that ultimately scatter and divide persons within themselves from those that solidify the bond of shared trials and anguish that by God’s grace unite us ever more closely to one another in a compact of compassion and care.”
Bishop Joensen makes the crucial error of so many church leaders: failing to learn from trans people themselves and relying on actual science and medical best practices. Like Arlington’s Bishop Michael Burbidge, about whose anti-transgender document Bondings 2.0 recently reported, the Des Moines bishop invokes harmful and false myths about trans people and their gender transitions. Perhaps most egregious is Joensen’s suggestion that it may take Christ’s Second Coming for an end to trans people’s suffering.
What Joensen gets right is the need for Catholics to be guided by the Holy Spirit, particularly in the cause of unity–both of our own beings and of the community. Sadly, he fails to discern properly that gender transitions can be the most beneficial course for trans people to find that inner unity and that affirmation benefits the larger community’s unity when all are welcome to be who God created them to be.
In case you missed it, Bondings 2.0 contributor Michaelangelo Allocca wrote a more LGBTQ-positive reflection on the Feast of the Assumption, which you can read here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 25, 2021