Fr. Dan Horan Criticizes Two U.S. Bishops for Taking Anti-Transgender Actions

Fr. Dan Horan

Responding to two bishops’ transphobic statements, a popular Franciscan theologian has called for the church to listen to transgender persons rather than using abstractions to dehumanize the trans community.

Fr. Daniel Horan, OFM, a regular contributor to the National Catholic Reporter, wrote in that publication about the approach of Bishops Michael Burbidge of Arlington and William Joensen of Des Moines to transgender issues. Burbidge issued anti-transgender diocesan policies earlier this year, while Joensen attacked trans people in a post on the diocesan website.

Horan comments in NCR:

“In both cases, these bishops — whose intentions I believe are sincere, but whose knowledge, expertise and pastoral competence in this area are sorely lacking — resort to the tired straw man of ‘gender ideology’ as the catchall for everything that frightens or confuses them about transgender persons or those who are otherwise gender nonconforming.”

The Franciscan adds that “gender ideology” is “convenient for those who seek an ideological bogeyman or frightening specter to haunt congregations into greater transphobia.” The term, he points out, has “no universally agreed upon meaning” and is used in a derogatory fashion.

Horan challenges the bishops on the emptiness of their claims:

“Burbidge and Joensen claim to ground their transphobia in the ‘truth’ of church teaching. . .what is striking about this alleged recourse to truth is the stark absence of facts or evidence invoked to support their concerns about the experiences and identities of actual human beings in the world.”

Horan explains:

“The way that these bishops talk about truth is with a Platonic abstractionism that does not bother to take into consideration the multiplicity of experiences of actual people living in the world. Sadly, we have seen this disconnection between some church leaders’ desire for truth and truth that is actually grounded in fact play out over the course of church history before.”

Horan cites the church’s history of antisemitism, misogyny, and complicity with slavery as examples of the dehumanization that can result when church leaders use abstractions to avoid questions about how to protect real persons’ human dignity.

Are transgender people a problem? No, says Horan, writing “the real problem is church leaders who exercise a kind of intellectual and epistemological hubris that leads them to conclude that their experience of being in the world is an authentic measure of everybody’s experience of being in the world.”

Horan concludes with a call to intellectual humility and an openness to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. He writes that Christ asks us to start with “something as simple as addressing other human beings with basic respect.” This begins with the commandment to “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” 

In order to adequately respond to the real human needs of our transgender siblings in Christ, we need to pay attention to the evidence of their own experience, rather than our abstractions. Holding too firmly to abstract conceptions of the world can cause us to ignore the persons actually in front of us. The love of Christ demands humility and attention to transgender people’s actual needs so that we can love them in the ways they need to be loved.

Madeline Foley, New Ways Ministry, September 30, 2021

4 replies
  1. Duane Sherry
    Duane Sherry says:

    Does it occur to clergy who disparage transgender people that they risk losing them as part of the Body of Christ? Not only transgender Catholics, but also their parents, siblings, friends? Love runs deep, and given the choice, many will chose supporting a loved one over the remaining in a church that rejects them.

    The Catholic faith tradition is rich with spiritual mystery. The life of Jesus begins with the mystery of a virgin birth; his earthly departure with a bodily resurrection.

    We Catholics are taught about apostles who raised the dead; saints who performed supernatural miracles… all part of our faith tradition.

    Creation itself is both a scientific phenomenon and a spiritual mystery: a momentary bang, billions of years ago, resulting in celestial creation beyond our human understanding, our wildest imagination.

    Yet when it comes to transgender people, the Church hierarchy has little room for scientific phenomenon or spiritual mystery.

    Whether it’s the complexity of hormonal development of the brain in the womb; the mystery of woman being formed from the rib of man, accepting transgender people, as they are appears to be a bridge too far for many in the hierarchy. They appear afraid of what they don’t understand; in fact, so paralyzed they close themselves to learning, growing in faith.

    It’s time to remember the words of Jesus:

    “Be not afraid.”

  2. Jacy Ward
    Jacy Ward says:

    Seems more and more in the US Catholic hierchy are aligning themselves with Trumpism and far-right Christian churches. The far right have their own made up terms like “cancel culture” or “alternative facts” and most recently “gender ideology” to show they are somehow victims of a non-white, anti-white, secular, communist movement that wants to destroy them.

    I believe “gender ideology” is meant to confuse recognizable and generally understood sociologically studied terms such as “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as something being forced down their throats.

    Jacy Ward from Hawaii born in the U.P. of Michigan
    Btw, Jacy is my Native American name. It’s a male name meaning ‘the moon’ or the ‘light in the darkness’ for one who is meant to have a destiny as a teacher or spiritual leader in the community – it’s seen as a unique gift. In European White culture Jacy or Jacqueline is a female name. So for me to use my given name, Jacy probably would be considered part of the “gender ideology” anti-white movement 😉


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