New USCCB Document Seeks to Stop Transgender Healthcare at Catholic Institutions

The U.S. bishops conference’ doctrinal committee has issued guidance on transgender healthcare that seeks to stymie Catholic institutions from providing gender transition care.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine issued the document, entitled “Doctrinal Note on the Moral Limits to Technological Manipulation of the Human Body,” this past Monday. The 14-page document is primarily concerned with how Catholic healthcare systerms should respond to the increase in gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary people –care that the document frames as “interventions that are injurious to the true flourishing of the human person.”

The bishops’ criticism of gender transitioning is described as a continuation of Jesus’ healing ministry and rooted in their interpretation of natural law theory, repeatedly citing Pope Pius XII’s teachings and, occasionally, Pope Francis. After explaining the two types of “technological interventions” permissibly in church teaching, namely to repair a bodily defect or to sacrifice part of the body for the good of the whole body, the document narrows its focus to transgender care:

“What is widely in practice today, however, and what is of great concern, is the range of technological interventions advocated by many in our society as treatments for what is termed ‘gender dysphoria’ or ‘gender incongruence.’ These interventions involve the use of surgical or chemical techniques that aim to exchange the sex characteristics of a patient’s body for those of the opposite sex or for simulations thereof. In the case of children, the exchange of sex characteristics is prepared by the administration of chemical puberty blockers, which arrest the natural course of puberty and prevent the development of some sex characteristics in the first place. . .

“Catholic health care services must not perform interventions, whether surgical or chemical, that aim to transform the sexual characteristics of a human body into those of the opposite sex or take part in the development of such procedures. They must employ all appropriate resources to mitigate the suffering of those who struggle with gender incongruence, but the means used must respect the fundamental order of the human body. “

The bishops’ claim is premised on the idea that transition-related care is neither an attempt to repair a bodily defect or sacrifice a part of the body for the good of the whole. Rather, they contend, transition care “attempts to alter the fundamental order and finality of the body and to replace it with something else.” Acknowledging there is a “wide range” of transition-related care, the document nevertheless condemns all such care saying that it does not “respect the fundamental order of the human person as an intrinsic unity of body and soul, with a body that is sexually differentiated.”

In footnotes, the bishops explain they have set aside pastoral concerns about trans and nonbinary people as they “cannot be addressed in this document,” and dismiss intersex people’s realities by suggesting, in the end, such persons can ultimately be definied as male or female. The document concludes with an exhortation to evaluate “according to sound moral principles” the ways that medical treatments develop, stating:

“[A]ll who collaborate in Catholic health care ministry must make every effort, using all appropriate means at their disposal, to provide the best medical care, as well as Christ’s compassionate accompaniment, to all patients, no matter who they may be or from what condition they may be suffering. The mission of Catholic health care services is nothing less than to carry on the healing ministry of Jesus, to provide healing at every level, physical, mental, and spiritual.”

The Committee on Doctrine’s members listed in the document are: Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Michael Barber of Oakland, Richard Henning, auxiliary of Rockville Centre, Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, James Massa, auxiliary of Brooklyn, Robert McManus of Worcester, Michael Olson of Fort Worth, and Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore is listed as a consultant. The document was authorized for publication of the USCCB’s Administrative Committee.

A press release from the bishops’ conference states that “numerous parties, including medical ethicists, physicians, psychologists, and moral theologians” were consulted in the document’s development. Just one of the 36 footnotes references a non-theological text, however. There is no evidence any transgender person was consulted.

Several Catholics involved with transgender healthcare and ministry reacted strongly against the U.S. bishops’ attempt to stop gender-affirming care. The Catholic Health Association issued a statement emphasizing that it would remain “committed to careful analysis of new scientific evidence and its application to guidance from the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs).” Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, the organization’s president, commented:

“‘Catholic health care providers will continue to respect the dignity of our transgender patients and provide them with the same quality care we provide to all our patients. We recognize that the well-being of the whole person must be taken into account in deciding about any therapeutic intervention or use of technology in caring for our patients. . .Our goal is to create a dialogue between patients and providers that will assure the health of the whole person. As our Church continues our process of listening and dialogue, we have an opportunity to embrace the spirit of Pope Francis by creating a culture of encounter. We look forward to our active participation in this important dialogue.'”

More critical were trans Catholics and pastoral ministers. Michael Sennett, a trans Catholic who serves in parish ministry and is a contributor to Bondings 2.0, told the National Catholic Reporter that ideas about gender are “not as simple as we learn in high school” and the bishops “may be dismayed to learn that biological sex is not necessarily binary — chromosomes and sex characteristics do not always line up.” He continued:

“‘This is yet another document that lacks any compassion or love for transgender folks. . .[Documents like this] serve to make our lives harder and promote discrimination against us. I pray for the bishops who have fallen victim to this culture war, that they find peace and healing, and seek to share the love of God with everyone in their flock.”

Sennett added that gender transitions are not an “agenda,” but a “lifeline.”

Craig Ford, Jr., a theologian who studies gender identity from a natural law perspective, commented to NCR that it would be more appropriate to be in a humble “posture of listening. . .in the face of the stories that transgender people tell about who they are as well as in the face of the emerging scientific and medical discussions around gender identity.” He continued:

“‘We should be especially humble in our use of words like “nature” and “natural order,” especially since these have been used in the past to justify a number of moral atrocities, such as slavery.’ . . .

“‘To truly be Christ’s community of care for all, we must strive to protect the dignity of transgender persons, making clear to all that their lives are sacred and worthy of respect. . .the document indirectly factors into the suffering — told and untold — that transgender people endure.”

Sr. Luisa Derouen, who has ministered with trans people for three decades, stated:

“‘The reality is that a statement like this from bishops can have negative and serious ramifications for transgender people and their families in every arena of their lives.'”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, commented in a statement:

“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’ 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.

“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.”

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, March 22, 2023

( Editor’s Note: Bondings 2.0 will report on additional reactions and analyses of this document as these become known,)

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3 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    Using the scaffolding of theological gravitas, the USCCB stirs up the wrong sort of passion. My understanding of the gospels, of Catholic social justice and charity for all doesn’t seem to mesh with most USCCB positions. The millions of dollars spent by the Church lobbying against marriage equality was shameful . Now, the targeting of trans persons seems more political than spiritual in its scope. Consider this–the percentage of American identifying as ‘trans’ is 0.5%. Surely, the USCCB could be more helpful using their ‘bully pulpit’ in support of the poor, undocumented, un-housed, under paid and food insecure. I guess it’s a matter of the pulpit they choose.

  2. Duane Sherry
    Duane Sherry says:

    As a cradle Catholic with a transgender family member, I reject the statements of the USCCB, even if it means rejecting the teachings of popes on the matter. They are wrong. If this means I’m a protester, so be it.

  3. Carl
    Carl says:

    Clergymen are not doctors, not psychologists, and have not studied the transgender phenomenon since it’s introduction to this country in the 1950’s.

    The sad fact is, in states where gender affirming care is outlawed, in many cases, ANY AND ALL healthcare for those individuals who are transgendered. This reflects the same sort of prejudice that was prevalent in the 1930’s and 1940’s against Black people, except now it’s “this is a heterosexual only hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office, no transgendered people allowed.

    The casting out of transgendered people also comes with a cost to the heterosexual community that I don’t think many have considered. 15 percent of the adult men are 5’8″ or shorter, and 12 percent of women are over 5’8.” They are being verbally attacked for “being transgendered, even though they are heterosexual men and women.

    It may be that any child in any playground in America, may be targeted and attacked by the other kids, simply for the fact they don’t like them for whatever reason.

    The religious may see gender dysphoria as a “mental disorder” (which it’s not, according the the standards of care–look it up), but hatred, violence, and unreasoning fear IS a mental disorder!


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