Boston Archdiocese’s Process for Writing Transgender Policy Detailed in New Article
Like other dioceses around the U.S., the Archdiocese of Boston is crafting gender identity guidelines for its parishes and schools. The National Catholic Reporter obtained some insight into this typically opaque process in a recent interview with a member of the committee appointed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
“My number one priority in this process is the children,” explained committee member Maureen DiMilla, a mental health counselor and former director of the archdiocese’s child advocacy office. She wanted a psychologist who worked with transgender youth and a trans person themself to speak with the drafting group. Bishop Mark O’Connell, a Boston auxiliary and the committee’s chair, agreed to hear from a Boston Children’s Hospital psychologist, but not from a transgender individual.
“It was not entirely unexpected, but still pretty depressing,” said Michael Sennett, a transgender Catholic contacted by DiMilla, who hoped Sennett could share his experience with the committee.
Sennett serves as communications director and coordinator of social justice programming at St. Ignatius of Loyola parish in Chestnut Hill and is a regular contributor for Bondings 2.0. He responded enthusiastically to DiMilla’s request, willing to assist in any way possible.
“If a child thinks they might be transgender and if a community doesn’t feel safe, it can create a sense of isolation and self-hatred within the individual,” Sennett tells NCR. “When faith communities are supportive, it’s huge. Having that sense of community is what helps people thrive.”
Despite not involving a trans person in the initial process, O’Connell said he would contact Sennett to review policy as it was finalized. However, he says the bishop never reached out. Sennett is disappointed by this omission of trans voices:
“’Communication with the archdiocese would be a step in the right direction, but dialogue with the transgender community cannot simply be an afterthought. I don’t think Cardinal Sean or Bishop O’Connell have this crusade against transgender people. They have hard jobs and I think are trying to do the right thing. But I wish they’d listen and let us be part of the conversation. The U.S. bishops have been making or approving these policies, and they try to say we love and respect everyone and we need to dialogue, but that’s just not happening. We are not present at the table.'”
Few dioceses have been transparent about their processes, according to NCR, which surveyed all dioceses with such policies in 2022. From the roughly one-third of dioceses which actually responded, a marginal number included LGBTQ+ people in their policy development.
In Boston, the committee members instead studied gender identity documents from other dioceses, as well as resources from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pope Francis, and the American Psychological Association. Mary Hasson of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, an anti-LGBTQ+ group, also gave a presentation in which she referred to gender-affirming care as mutilation. DiMilla described this presentation as simply “provocative and salacious.” Hasson denies the characterization.
But, according to DiMilla, the committee’s eleven members are diverse in their understanding of how to proceed. She believes O’Connell is trying to “walk down the middle on this, trying to wrap all these guidelines into something palatable for both extremes.” This may result in acceptance of gender-neutral uniforms and restrooms, while forcing the use of names and pronouns consistent with a person’s assigned sex, rather than their gender.
Sennett also affirms the difficulty of the bishop’s task and what he thinks are genuinely good intentions. But this policy would also be “highly concerning,” he said, pointing to the data correlating supportive environments for trans youth with more positive mental health. With violence against the LGBTQ+ community rising over the last few years, “it’s a pro-life issue.”
Concretely, Sennett suggests that the final guidelines could “direct schools, parishes, and institutions on the importance of cura personalis,” or “care for the whole person.”
“So many of the policies emphasize the dignity of every person, and the love God has for each of us, yet the language throughout does not reflect this reality,” Sennett explains. He continued:
“‘I really do think they are doing the best they can with the knowledge they have–and that is why it’s so important to listen to the voices of transgender people and allies. In Isaiah, we read, ‘Enlarge the space for your tent’…There is room for all of us.'”
—Angela Howard McParland (she/her), New Ways Ministry, March 6, 2023
Re: Transgender Policy
The Roman Catholic Church is not in the position to lead at this point in time, because it has not yet learned to follow: science, lived experience of transgender
people , and success of other faith traditions in this area, including the Episcopal Church:
I had a graced encounter with a trans woman who graciously explained to me the misunderstanding and false arguments against transgender people . For instance, she explained that there is absolutely NO surgery for children or adolescents yet the Texas legislature here uses terms like child mutilation to paint a frightening and terribly erroneous image. When consistent, persistent and insistent behavior of child is observed then when they are 18 and consultation with parents, psychologists, and the person all agree THEN there might be some kind of surgery. The only thing this woman would have needed and deserved was a hormone suppressant as an adolescent, and interiorly I felt a sincere sense of understanding and compassion. The first time I saw her her masculinity was inconsistent with her name, identity, and inner being. There is no surgery for children. Btw, she listed all the reputable medical associations that recommend hormone suppressants in children who consistently and persistently voice and demonstrate that their bodies do not match their interior (brain) identity, I am so grateful for this encounter as it helped my understanding tremendously.
Thank you for sharing your encounter with a transgender person. Stories such as these help people understand.