Bishop Claims Transgender and Nonbinary Identities Are Result of Original Sin

Archbishop Michael Jackels

In a new letter on gender, a U.S. bishop has suggested that being transgender is a result of the Fall described in Genesis, and he made other negative comments on the topic, as well.

Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa issued his letter, “Gender: Bend but Don’t Break,” in late October. In a little over one page, the archbishop acknowledges the contemporary discourse around transgender and nonbinary identities before rejecting their validity. At one point, in a section on Catholic anthropology, Jackels writes:

“In our human nature we enjoy free-will, which isn’t a limitless autonomy, but circumscribed by the sovereign will of God (Genesis 2:17).

“Our first parents violated those boundaries by trying to commandeer the sovereignty of God, resulting in our soul and body feeling divided (Genesis 3:5).

“One form of that divide is feeling shame when naked (Genesis 3:7). Others may feel it as a disconnect between their chosen gender and their body.”

Jackels acknowledges in the letter that trans people do exist and deserve pastoral care, but claims such identities are a choice. He writes:

“Who knows why people experience that [gender dysphoria], but the suffering they experience is real, and they deserve to be met with respect and compassion, and helped to find relief.

“Advocates of gender theory say they can find relief by choosing their gender, and how they express that choice, even to the point of changing their bodies to correspond to that choice.”

People who transition and may use new names or pronouns present “a challenge for those who embrace the Catholic worldview,” according to the archbishop. He roots this claim in a theology of gender complementarity, reiterating standard language about the male-female sex binary and citing the Book of Genesis.

Ultimately, Jackels claims that Catholics “aren’t able to go along with the idea that people can choose and change their gender, rather than see it as a fact of nature.” He continues:

“We aren’t sticks-in-the-mud. We’re open to other perspectives, to see if we might find truth there, or to seek common ground, or to promote acceptance, even if we don’t agree.

Others may consider Catholics unenlightened, but we too deserve respect when in our various ministries we aren’t able to accommodate someone’s preferred gender expressions.

“What we can do though is imitate Jesus: accompany transgender people, feel their pain, listen to their story, tell them another side of the story, share life and love with them (Luke 24:13).”

Archbishop Jackels’ bizarrely-titled letter models a poor response to the church’s discourse about gender today. While he repeatedly claims that trans people deserve respect and care, his own words are disrespectful, particularly the suggestion that trans and nonbinary identities are a result of Original Sin. Jackels’ letter reveals the archbishop’s lack of a proper understanding about such identities, which are neither chosen nor sinful. Further studying the issues and engaging the trans community would be helpful going forward as the archbishop continues addressing gender issues.

The Archdiocese of Dubuque’s own synod report recognized the exclusion LGBTQ+ people feel, a need identified at every level of the synodal process so far. But, instead of responding with informed compassion, Archbishop Jackels has sadly only furthered such exclusion.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, November 3, 2022

4 replies
  1. Anne Fry
    Anne Fry says:

    I am appalled at the ignorance and prejudice displayed by this Archbishop. I strongly recommend that he informs himself about interuterine genetic development in all its complexity. For heavens sake some hierarchy of the church are stifled by a dark ages mind set.

    Reply
  2. Loras Michel
    Loras Michel says:

    This article got my attention. Gosh, I met Archbishop Jackels many years ago while at New Melleray Abbey when he first came to my home town of Dubuque IA as their new Bishop. Would not a little more compassion and understanding of this complex issue from the Dubuque Archdiocese of persons and their families who are hurting be more helpful. Instead through no fault of their own they receive additional blame and judgment. His words that they deserve to be met with respect and compassion, and helped to find relief do not sound genuine. It’s an old rhetoric often used for GLBTQ people in general. Why would the Original Sin argument be selectively true only for certain people who are already marginalized and not applied to others in the general population?

    Meanwhile New Ways Ministry reported on February 15, 2022 that Bishop Thomas Zinkula, the head of the Davenport IA diocese, has taken a proactive approach to learning about gender and sharing this work with his diocese. Zinkula formed a Gender Committee in the Diocese of Davenport to help guide Catholic schools and parishes.

    Which of these two Bishops in the neighboring Iowa dioceses best displays the mind and heart of Jesus in promoting healing and unconditional love? Who is more open to the Spirit and peoples actual experiences with this issue. I leave that up to the reader to reflect upon.

    Reply
  3. Duane Sherry
    Duane Sherry says:

    The Fall, as described in Genesis is a piece of ancient, metaphorical literature, and needs to be taken in that context.

    It’s a story about our nature; our desire to do things our way; our ignoring the Spirit voice inside, which leads to a need to constantly re-focus our hearts and minds on God, love incarnate, which is always present to us.

    It wasn’t written to provide a scientific understanding of how the universe came into being billions of years, how the Earth was created; and it certainly wasn’t meant to be used as a dagger to the heart of transgender people.

    Our Church, both the hierarchy and laity, would be better served to further embrace science, anthropology, biology, and psychology; to welcome and love those who are different, who don’t fit the cisgender and heteronormative mold we created.

    We need to tune out voices of ignorance, division, and hatred–no matter how subtle or loud, including words from the mouths of misguided bishops. We need to focus on Love, as if our spiritual lives depend on it; because they do!

    Mary, our Mother, pray for us!

    Duane (he/him)
    Proud parent of a transgender adult

    Reply
  4. Chip
    Chip says:

    While I’m very disappointed and disheartened by Dubuque Archbishop Michael Jackels’s comments, I find them an all-too-common sentiment that is sweeping the Church on many levels, least of which among our leadership clergymen. In some ways, I find this a sad, obtuse pushback to many of the messages and calls for change (as seen from the Synod reports, even from his own archdiocese) that now undeniably loudly exist in present-day Catholicism—and far more widespread than many would like Catholics to believe. Though, at this time, the topic of gender identity exists primarily in the North American and European factions of the Church, it is assuredly something that exists in every culture, country, continent and corner of God’s green earth. I can empathize that the notion of a rapid shift in public opinion and acceptance is unsettling to those comforted by the status quo, but this is no excuse for bigotry, intolerance and a total lack of compassion for those most vulnerable in our Church and society. I challenge Jackels to look more deeply into his heart to discern what is truly right and wrong and what is evil or just. I argue that this free will which is “circumscribed by the sovereign will of God” extends to Jackels own thoughts, words and actions just as strongly, and that here he has most blatantly failed to do good despite his prominent platform within the American Catholic Church. Far too often, Catholics, clergy and laity alike, attack the most vulnerable with a ferocity (and ignorance) not seen in issues which otherwise directly affect the ‘accepted’ majority—instead, we see some of the Church’s members launch stigma-fueled, un-Christlike and cruel behavior toward topics pertinent to those who exist on the Church’s margins, including other sexual/racial minorities and unmarried/pregnant women among others. Disappointingly, this letter is no exception.

    Where he could have issued a compassionate, understanding reflection on the plight of those who struggle with gender identity and self-acceptance (at the hands of a still-intolerant world), he chose to shame, dismiss and belittle the often life-and-death suffering those with gender dysphoria experience, and undermined how truly serious this is to those affected by it. As a Church leader, the harmful aftermath his words will have is unpredictable, and certainly none of it good. I wholeheartedly agree with Jackels that transgendered and nonbinary people deserve pastoral care and do, in fact, “exist,” but draw the line at his egregious comment that gender dysphoria is a choice. Certainly, anyone who experiences any sort of sexuality or identity which strays from the heteronormative majority would tell you that this logic quickly falls apart; it is not a choice. While one may “choose” surgery and adopt other pronouns to live more aligned and authentically to who they truly are, the fact of the matter is that these individuals, regardless of where they are in their ‘transition,’ were created by God to be this way, irrefutably so—and we Catholics must acknowledge, accept and affirm this. Though neither Archbishop Jackels nor I may be transgendered or non-binary, it is imperative that we who have the ability to advocate for those on our Church’s fringe do so to our utmost—this is exactly what Christ did and, in part, what He calls us to do today. This response is a step in the wrong direction, and I hope in time he heeds the cries of his archdiocese and the Church-at-large to correct his dangerous message to one of inclusion, acceptance and tolerance. It is never too late to do the right thing.

    Reply

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