Iowa Bishop Uses Occasion of Diocesan Anniversary to Criticize Transgender People

Bishop William Joensen

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

6 replies
  1. Tim MacGeorge
    Tim MacGeorge says:

    Thank you for this post, and it is so disconcerting and troubling when Church leaders wade into waters of human experience in which they seem to have little knowledge or understanding. It seems to me that such experience — the experience that we have as enfleshed, incarnate persons, created in the image and likeness of God — must be the starting point for discussions such as this. Those experiences, taken together, lead us to a point of deeper understanding about the experience of transgender persons.

    Without in any way excusing the bishop’s presentation, I must say that I do understand why he and others speak as they do. Frankly, I think that the vast majority of persons — cisgender as they/we are — have difficulty understanding the experience of transgender persons. To use the language of my own field as a mental health professional, most cisgender persons do not experience dysphoria when it comes to their bodies. Most cisgender persons feel “at home” in their physical bodies. There generally is not a “problem to be solved” when it comes to cisgender person’s sense of who they are as embodied persons.

    This generally can’t be said of transgender persons. By definition, the experience of transgender persons is generally understood to indicate a “marked discrepancy between their experienced or expressed gender, and the gender assigned to them at birth,” (cf. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/gender-identity-disorder).

    For decades, gay men and lesbians have had to educate our brothers and sisters about what it means to be homosexual, doing so not only with evidence from the various sciences, but most especially by sharing our inner experience (and life choices flowing from that experience) of being sexually attracted to members of our own sex. Similarly, I think we are in a period of educating society (including the society of the Church) in which both scientific information about and the lived experience of transgender persons is crucial to in/re/forming others’ minds and hearts.

    Personally, as a cisgender gay man, I do know know what it is like to be transgender. But I do know that I/we must listen to the voices of our transgender friends to learn from them about their experience as children of God in Whose image and likeness they, too, are created.

    Reply
  2. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    I used to have a neighbor who was French Canadian and very opinionated. We attended the same church. She disliked the new pastor and pronounced him boring. “The next time, I’m taking a magazine with me for when he starts the homily.” I thought that was funny and simultaneously disrespectful. Maybe Bishop Joensen should have the magazine experience. Has the good bishop not considered that suicide can be hastened by the way trans persons are treated and spoken of – especially when it is a cleric ?

    Reply
  3. John Calhoun
    John Calhoun says:

    Bishop Joensen seems to imply that ‘the creation in need of final redemption’ is exemplified by LGBTQ persons’ ‘condition’. This unfortunate situation will only be truly “overcome” in Christ’s total victory and his “handing of the ‘cosmos as it was meant to be’ to the Father. Does Bishop Joensen imagine that ‘the enemy has done this’? Must then the Church perforce treat LGBT persons as among the unfortunate in a wounded creation
    who must ‘bear their crosses’ accordingly if they’re to be part of that ‘righted’ world ‘handed over to the Father’? Theological reflection needed here?

    Reply
  4. Peter Canavan
    Peter Canavan says:

    I wonder if Bishop Joensen had ever personally spoken to a transgender person or the transgender community! Like most of these US Bishops it’s always a monologue!!! Not a dialogue!!! They fail in the most basic human quality of meeting the other and engaging! They fail to follow the example of Jesus—always in the marketplace of life engaging, listening and sharing!
    He and those like him fail to follow Christ’s example as disciples!

    Reply

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