Portland Archdiocese Describes Gender Affirming Care as “Totalitarian” in New Policy

Archbishop Alexander Sample

The Archdiocese of Portland has become the latest U.S. diocese to issue a trans-negative policy on gender issues, which describes gender affirming care as a “totalitarian program that only causes more suffering and lasting damage.”

The policy, titled “A Catholic Response to Gender Identity Theory,” was issued by Archbishop Alexander Sample, and it is divided into four parts. The first section reiterates the gender complementarianism favored by more conservative church leaders, premised on the idea there are only two genders, male and female, and each has innate characteristics and roles. The second section attacks contemporary understandings of gender, relying on debunked reports and ideas.

The pastoral guidelines, which place restrictions on trans and nonbinary people in the church, come in the third section. Like policies in other dioceses, the archdiocese mandates that people be treated according to their sex assigned at birth, condemning any endorsement of “gender identity theory” or “any form of gender transition, whether social or medical.”

The guidelines mandate that the faithful involved in Catholic institutions must misgender and misidentify trans people, bar them from accessing the appropriate gender-segregated spaces, like restrooms, require trans students to wear uniforms inconsistent with their gender, and more. Medications which are part of someone’s transition are prohibited from being used on church property. No curricula, signs, and formation can be LGBTQ affirming.

So that the document does not list only prohibitions, the fourth section presents what is called a “Whole-Person Affirmation: A Catholic Response,” listing examples of how staff should approach gender issues. At one point, the policy claims that church leaders’ restrictive understanding of gender is actually freeing people from gender norms:

“The Catholic tradition is rich with saints and exemplars who lived out the vocation to love in myriad ways, and some of them did not conform with the gender stereotypes and norms of their time. Gender identity theory can at times reinforce restrictive gender stereotypes by claiming that a gender-atypical child is actually the opposite sex. Because the Catholic worldview affirms that gender—one’s identity as man or woman—is grounded in the sexed body, rather than cultural stereotypes that are currently in vogue, there is great freedom and diversity in how masculinity and femininity are lived out in the world.”

This section also focuses on accompaniment, citing Pope Francis’ model, and yet, the policy sharply condemns the ways which have been shown to best aid trans and nonbinary people. It states:

“Gender identity theory and gender affirming care offer a simplistic and a psychologically regressive response to a person in distress. GAC is neither patient nor inquisitive, but quick to impose a one-size-fits-all framework that obscures comorbid conditions, complex circumstances, and the developmental process of adolescent identity formation. Any therapeutic approach that does not address the whole person, body and soul, cannot lead to human flourishing and conflicts with the Catholic faith.”

The policy doubles down on its condemnation of gender transitions in a footnote which objects to alleged “scientistic solutionism” promoted by the “multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry,” concluding, “As with all ideologies and ‘-isms’, it seeks to impose on suffering humans a onesided and totalitarian program that only causes more suffering and lasting damage.”

The archdiocese’s policy comes from a small committee that worked for about a year to develop it. No details were provided about whether trans people, pastoral ministers to them, families, or other experts were included in the process.

Catholics in Portland and LGBTQ+ advocates more broadly are expressing concern about the policy, according to the National Catholic Reporter:

“Fr. Dave Zegar, pastor of St. Andrew, said he would argue the document is not a ‘Catholic’ response, ‘but rather a particular hierarchical response to the issue of gender identity.’

“‘The sources cited are sources that align with the archbishop’s personal views, while there are many, including Catholic theologians, who believe differently,’ Zegar told NCR.

“Zegar said he doesn’t see how the document helps those ‘who are struggling with their sexual identity, often a death and life moment.’

“‘I wish our archbishop would have been open to listening to the people of God,’ said the priest. ‘This document will be a source of deep hurt to many of our brothers and sisters.'”

David Palmieri, the founder of Without Exception, a network for LGBTQ-positive Catholic educators, tracks diocesan gender policies. He objected to the Archdiocese of Portland’s citation of foreign studies which “may not correlate one-to-one with what is happening in the United States.” Palmieri added:

“‘Yes, there are Catholic moral objections to the medicalization of things we don’t fully understand. But we must be careful not to step beyond our scopes of competence when establishing policies that affect the lives of children and families. Credentialed experts in all of the related fields should be working together for the most holistic solutions.'”

Educators in the Portland archdiocese spoke anonymously to NCR with one teacher saying:

“It breaks my heart because the people who are hardest to talk to are not the non-Catholics but Catholic families who have a child who is struggling with this issue and are torn between what the church tells them to do and keeping their student alive.”

Tim Uhl, superintendent of the Diocese of Buffalo’s schools, commented positively about some aspects of the policy, such as affirming every person’s human dignity, but ultimately said the archdiocese fell short. He told NCR that mixed messages were being sent, and that ultimately the “enveloping sense of judgment and restriction” will be what most people take away. Uhl concluded:

“‘I think it will succeed in excluding many people from the Catholic schools in Portland; and perhaps the aim is for a smaller, more orthodox church.'”

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, February 21, 2023

1 reply

    Is this high camp? The archbishop rails against recognizing transgender people and forbids medical treatment while wearing lace and elaborately brocaded vestments?

    I applaud Father Dave Zegar for daring to state that the document reflects the archbishop’s personal views and is not a “Catholic” response.


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