Iowa Diocese’s New Gender Policy Refers to Transgender Healthcare as “Mutilation”

Bishop William Joensen

An Iowa diocese is being criticized after its new gender policy was leaked last week, which refers to gender-affirming healthcare as “mutilation” and bans any gender-affirming medical treatments on church property.

The Diocese of Des Moines’ is set to release new gender identity documents on January 16th, which will affect all the Catholic institutions in the region. Ahead of that release, local outlet KCCI reported on the documents’ contents:

“The policies will go to all diocesan parishes, schools, organizations, and institutions. They will apply to all church employees, personnel, volunteers, and those ‘entrusted to the care of the church.’ . . .

“The document also quotes verses from the Bible for the policy, saying if the church ratifies or reinforces someone’s disconnect between biological sex, it is ‘not genuine compassion.’ It also says ‘the disruption of normal sexual development… or the removal of healthy sexual and reproductive organs, is a type of “mutilation.”‘ The document also says that everyone, man or woman, ‘should acknowledge and accept their sexual identity.'”

Coupled with the statement on “mutilation,” the policies insist “no person can have on-site, or distribute, medications meant for gender reassignment.” Like similar gender policies in the U.S., the Des Moines documents mandate that people in Catholic institutions be treated according to their assigned sex, rather than gender, including when it comes to restrooms, uniforms, and athletics. In addition, “no one may designate a ‘preferred pronoun’ in speech or writing, when related to minister activities.”

The diocese, headed by Bishop William Joensen, is now facing intense criticism from Iowan LGBTQ+ and faith groups over the trans-negative policies, according to CBS 2 Iowa. Courtney Reyes, executive director of One Iowa, issued a statement, saying, in part:

“Every child deserves to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of if they’re gay, straight, transgender, or cisgender. The Diocese releasing a policy that restricts medically necessary care, forces staff to misgender students, and creates major safety issues with regard to restroom usage does none of that. . .Calling this ‘compassion’ is equivalent to confusing ‘hate’ with ‘love’. You cannot pretend to be compassionate while misgendering people and denying them access to any and all spaces under your control.”

Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, also released a statement. Ryan questioned whether the Catholic Church should still receive public funding if it chooses to discriminate, commenting further:

 “These policies are harmful — promoting the bigotry that transgender Iowans have come to experience every day from some elements of society, including the conservative church. . .The Des Moines Catholic Diocese and others who follow suit do not speak for all people of faith or all Christians.”

The Diocese of Des Moines’ new gender policies follow a blog post from Bishop Joensen last year which took aim at transgender people. Ostensibly writing about the Feast of the Assumption, the bishop proceeded to compare being trans with illnesses like dementia and disordered eating. He also rejected trans people receiving appropriate medical care, suggesting instead that trans identities may result from “sexual or other forms of trauma.”

Promoting the idea that gender-affirming healthcare can be a form of “mutilation” and banning such care from being provided on church property are harmful actions. These policies will negatively impact trans and nonbinary Catholics, students in church-run schools, their loved ones, and others.

Bishop Joensen has an opportunity to stymie the harm. He hould consult his neighbor, Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, who has chosen to establish a diocesan gender commission focused on listening to and learning from trans people, their families, pastoral ministers, and other experts in the field. Bishop Joensen should pause the release of the current policies and pursue a more constructive, loving path instead.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, January 9, 2022

3 replies
  1. Jeanne Christensen, RSM
    Jeanne Christensen, RSM says:

    Breaks my heart to read this…I lived in Des Moines under previous bishops, as far back as Bishop Maurice Dingman who were true church leaders, compassionate and saw themselves as servant leaders not as righteous power holders. Currently living in Omaha NE — our bishop isn’t better but his directive was less vicious but equally damaging. When will these bishops listen to the voices of the people of God? Gratefully, some of our bishops are listening and responding as the servant leaders they are meant to be.


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