Diocese of Green Bay’s New Policy Compares Being Transgender to Sexual Abuse

Bishop David Ricken

Another U.S. diocese has issued new restrictive policies regarding LGBTQ issues in Catholic schools, and the new directives compare being openly transgender with sexual abuse.

The Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, led by Bishop David Ricken, included the gender policy in its “Education Policy Manual” for the upcoming school year. The manual includes detailed instructions for how to restrict the full participation in Catholic education of trans students, staff, volunteers, and ally parents. The document also includes a section on the theology upon which they these policies are based.

Preceding most of the manual’s content is a section titled “Catholic Principles of Human Sexuality,” which promotes the idea of complementarity of the sexes, denies the legitimacy of trans identities, and supports heterosexuality as the norm. Emphasizing chastity, this section at one point compares being LGBTQ to sexual abuse:

“Behaviors that are contrary to Catholic morality and the expectations of this diocese include but are not limited to: vulgar language and gestures of a sexual nature, immodest dress or deportment, expressions of lust, masturbation, pornography, fornication, homosexual activity, expressing a gender that is discordant with one’s biological sex, adultery, cohabitating in a sexual relationship outside of marriage, voluntary sterilization, artificial contraception, in vitro fertilization, procuring an abortion, and sexual harassment or abuse.”

The document goes onto reject the use of words like “lesbian” or “gay.” It also makes a broad and sspeculative statement about same-gender activity that is based on myth and stereotype, instead of fact:

“[It] should also be recognized that modern culture is actively attempting to  desensitize others and even entice others without such innate [same-gender] tendencies into broadening their sexual attraction and activity beyond natural inclination with empty promises of additional excitement, adventure and fulfillment.”

Section 5045 of the “Education Policy Manual” mandates specific policies, namely that trans and non-binary people be dealt with according to their assigned sex rather than their gender identity. This treatment is required, but not limited to issues like names and pronouns, use of gender-segregated facilities, participation athletics, and documentation.

Specific to students, the policy blocks trans students from receiving gender-affirming medical care, such as puberty blockers, on school property (though it does recognize some medical care as allowed in “in rare cases of true genetic or physical anomalies, such as hermaphroditism or intersex”). While being “a student diagnosed with gender dysphoria” is not grounds to be denied admission to Catholic schools, the condition is that the student and parents are expected to “abide with this policy.” The penallty for not doing so is described:

“A student of any Catholic school who insists, or whose parents insist, on open hostility toward, or defiance of, Church teaching, or who otherwise intentionally violate this policy, may be expelled from the school pursuant to this policy.”

The policy is quite similar in its section on employees and volunteers, who are also mandated to act according to their assigned sex rather than their gender. For both groups, the policy states that violating it could lead to “immediate corrective action, suspension, and possible termination.”

The Diocese of Green Bay joins a growing number of U.S. dioceses which are issuing sharply anti-LGBTQ policies in recent years, often targeting young people who are most vulnerable. In the past two years, policies have been announced in MilwaukeeMarquetteArlingtonLansingSt. LouisIndianapolis, Springfield, Illinois, and many other places.

Clearly, these policies actively harm LGBTQ people involved with Catholic education and pastoral ministry. But there is another cost to them: they make the church less and less credible, not only in society, but among the faithful. The bishops reveal themselves in these policies to be out of touch with contemporary science and theological developments. Comparing trans identities to sexual abuse is nonsensical. Sadly, most Catholics recognize the diocese’s mistake, and many will ignore it or walk away.  We hope that others will stay and challenge this policy with good scientific and social scientifc knowledge, as well as compassionate and tender pastoral care, which Pope Francis prescribes.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, July 20, 2022

5 replies
  1. Keith Henry
    Keith Henry says:

    I hate to frame the churn churn of awkwardness as “good news,” but I think it is. Bob notes some of the dozen+ official diocesan statements that have come out recently. All are based, more or less, in a couple of awkward USCCB notes and drafts. All have the stare of “the deer-in-my-headlights”, a common sight in the Upper Midwest where these pilot policies are being played.

    The good news is that each one, in it’s own way, is an improvement on the last. Each one elaborates a little more on the Church’s duty to be compassionate, sensitive, and respectful for human dignity – and what that just might imply by way of the responsibilities of parishes and schools. The elaborations are slowly becoming less like excuses and justifications for the opposite of respectful outreach, and more like honest grappling with some of the complexities.

    The pastoral advice sections are becoming less condescending. While still largely proscriptive (“how to restrict full participation” as Bob justly notes), the tone is improved by acknowledgement that the ultimate goal is, in fact, the full and active participation of people in the Kingdom of God.

    Which brings me to the specific contribution that Green Bay’s new “Catholic Principles of Human Sexuality” primer makes. The diocese added a 7 page reminder to educators that growth in the virtue of chastity is an important goal. As usual, it’s a blah blah of Catholic sexual anthropology talk. As usual, the exhortations about the Sacrament of Matrimony include hubris around sexual complementarity and sexual orientation. As usual, there is some very selective use of Scripture to frame the Church’s mission.

    Here’s where Green Bay is brilliant. – – – They’ve shaken up those chosen Scriptures, and they seem to be trying to edge the monologue of reflection into more of a dialogue. The last 3 pages of the policy section invite reflection on 6 Scriptures and offer guiding principles for discernment. The areas seem to be to be: (1) Everyone is different, and every situation is different. (2) Sexual orientation and gender identity are experienced differently by different people. (3) Everyone is oriented to the good. (4) Ultimately it is our relationship to God that matters more than anything. (5) Our goal is to discern the Truth. (6) We all approach the task with humility.

    I am curious to know how these wee dioceses are thinking about their roles as incubators of ideas. Perhaps Craig Ford’s (St Norbert theo prof) presence in Green Bay means that there were at least a few chats over coffee – better yet, beer! – between him and chancery folks?

    DON E SIEGAL says:

    I am concerned that diocesan directives as these will interfere with the implementation of any significant structural change in the Church during the process of the synod on synodality.

  3. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    I have long held that there should be no Catholic or other religious school system, but that all students should attend public schools. The Constitution says we are to separate church and state and then as a nation we have created an educational system that allow a religious system to educate large swaths of the public with a confusing religious gloss. Religious education should take place in a system that only teaches religion. Throughout the world the greater the mix of religion and public education, the more autocratic the state becomes. We don’t need the state to be worrying about our souls or the church to be worrying about physics or English history. Getting the Church out of the education business the better for all.

  4. C. Sweeney
    C. Sweeney says:

    Fake headline – the document doesn’t *compare* being openly transgender to sexual abuse, it just includes both of these in a list of behaviors that are contrary to Catholic morality and the expectations of the diocese.


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