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