New Ways Ministry Criticizes New USCCB Guidance on Transgender Healthcare

Yesterday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine issued a doctrinal note about transgender healthcare that seeks to stop Catholic institutions from providing gender transition care. Bondings 2.0 will offer further reports on the document and reactions to it in the coming days.

Below is a statement from Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, on the new USCCB document:

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ new document on transgender healthcare states its intention as continuing Jesus’ healing ministry. Yet, in neglecting the experiences of trans people and in not attending to contemporary science, it harms people instead of healing them.

The bishops’ document, coming from its Committee on Doctrine, does not begin with the experience of transgender people. In fact, there is no evidence that a single trans or nonbinary person was consulted in preparing it. Further, the document follows a typical ecclesiastical style of refusing to engage with or even acknowledge experts’ advice. Nearly every major medical and psychological organization finds that gender-affirming medical interventions positively aid transgender people’s human flourishing. This professional consensus about the best standards of care for transgender people is absent from the bishops’ text.

The bishops’ unwillingness to counter any of the evidence from the scientific community or the experience of transgender people is neither good theology nor acceptable pastoral care.

The document’s authors state that they rely on the natural law for their conclusions, yet they ignore that the world has undergone an enormous transformation in understanding what is natural about gender. It is astounding that the document relies on papal statements from the mid-20th century, but does not acknowledge any new understanding of gender. Some Catholic theologians now employ natural law for a more trans-affirming approach, understanding gender diversity to be very much in line with God’s creation. Ignoring this sea change means that the document’s advice is comparable to the medieval practice of bleeding patients to rid them of ill humors.

The science and theology of gender deserve wide and careful exploration because they are a part of the gift and mystery of God’s creation.

Because this document intentionally disregards the vast, complex conversation about gender and identity that is occurring in the world—and in the church, its policies ring hollow, devoid of human reality and closed off from the human suffering that they say they want to alleviate. They ignore the reality that when transgender people are denied appropriate medical care, many see their only alternative as suicide instead of living a painfully inauthentic life. In the past, the Catholic Church did not allow medical interventions in childbirth, thus resulting in death for many women. The bishops are making a similar mistake now by prohibiting interventions that would save the lives of many transgender people.

Catholics who support transgender and nonbinary people’s access to medically-necessary gender transition care do so because they want to promote human flourishing and to help their transgender loved ones achieve integration.

Thankfully, this document is limited in its power at this point. Whether it becomes a national policy remains to be seen. Each bishop can still determine for himself if the recommendations in this document are helpful for the pastoral care of the transgender people in their communities. We hope that local bishops will turn to transgender people and to the wider medical community to decide what policies about transgender healthcare they will pursue.

This document makes clear just how much church leaders have to learn about LGBTQ+ people. Bishops and leaders in Catholic healthcare should model the hallmarks of Jesus’ healing ministry to which they say they adhere: encounter, listening, accompaniment, and love.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 21, 2023

5 replies
  1. Reggie Birks
    Reggie Birks says:

    Well said, Francis! Although it’s discouraging to realize how uninterested the USCCB is in either listening to LGBTQ people, or learning anything from the last 50 years of scientific, theological, and biblical scholarship…and the pain and heartache their ignorance causes on LGBTQ individuals throughout the world.

  2. Pearl Raz
    Pearl Raz says:

    Interesting how this issue highlights the right to bodily autonomy. The same hospitals that deny women the right to abortion are being asked to deny transgender people the right to gender affirming surgeries.

  3. Michael Vargas
    Michael Vargas says:

    I’m left wondering what, if anything “The Church in the Modern World”means to the U.S. bishops. To engage with trans and nonbinary people, and consult scientific research is what listening requires. Without listening, teaching is hollow.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *