Catholic Sister Says Bishop Invoked Her Name in Misleading Way on Transgender Healthcare

Sr. Luisa Derouen, O.P.

A Catholic sister long involved in transgender ministry has said a bishop made misleading claims about communication between them as the U.S. bishops discussed recommendations to ban gender-affirming care in Catholic hospitals.

In June, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to proceed with revisions to its Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs), which dictate norms for Catholic healthcare in the country. Part of those revisions could be a ban on gender transition care for transgender patients, consistent with a note on the topic that the conference’s Committee on Doctrine issued in March.

At the assembly, several bishops, including San Diego’s Cardinal Robert McElroy, asked the doctrinal committee to consult widely, and in particular with transgender people who would be most impacted, before proceeding with revisions. According to the National Catholic Reporter:

“Speaking to his fellow prelates, [Fort Worth’s Bishop Michael] Olson said prior to issuing the doctrinal note, committee members not only listened to ‘members who identify themselves as part of a trans community’ but also to theologians, ethicists and family members.

“The bishop said what became clear through the consultation process was that ‘there is still a lack of clarity between what is authentic gender dysphoria and then also the gender ideology that in part is preying upon these people and enhancing their suffering.'”

Olson mentioned by name Sr. Luisa Derouen, O.P., who has ministered with transgender people since the 1990s, as one of the experts he consulted. However, NCR reported:

“[Olson] said the bishops had done ‘a great deal of listening’ on the matter. But, in an interview this week, Derouen contended that Olson had used her name in a misleading manner to buttress the prelates’ claims of consulting trans individuals.

“Derouen told NCR June 19 she was ‘very surprised’ to see her name mentioned by Olson and that it appeared the bishop ‘intended to give the impression that he’s spoken extensively with trans people and with me.’

“The sister said she had two interactions with Olson three years ago — during a personal phone call and then a panel organized by the Catholic Health Association — but that the ‘extent of our conversation was minimal and he was not grasping what I was trying to say.'”

In 2020, the Catholic Health Association hosted a panel of Catholics to speak to the doctrinal committee on gender identity, which included Derouen, as well as Deacon Ray Dever, the parent of a trans child, and others. NCR‘s report continued:

“Before the gathering, held on Zoom due to the pandemic, Olson initiated a phone call with Derouen. The two spoke for about an hour, according to the sister.

“‘I give him credit for initiating the call, but at the end of it, I felt he really was not hearing what I was saying and we were not on the same page,’ she said.

“What she was trying to communicate, Derouen explained, was what she has articulated for years: ‘Transgender people are real, they are not psychotic, they are not following a gender ideology or led by gender ideology,’ she said. ‘They are struggling to live and they are trying to live with integrity and honesty.'”

Derouen, a previous contributor to Bondings 2.0, added that while she does not know how widely the bishops did in fact consult with transgender people, pastoral ministers, and other experts, none of what was shared by her and those she knows was reflected in the doctrinal note. In fact, the sister said, the doctrinal committee is “still denying that transgender people exist.”

Moving forward, Derouen said it was a positive sign that other bishops encouraged the doctrinal committee to proceed slowly with their revisions to the ERDs, particularly related to gender-affirming care. She commented:

“‘The Holy Spirit is alive in the church and will guide us through new learnings of medical science, the experience of trans people and the development of doctrine on all issues of sexuality. The development of doctrine is firm church teaching, after all, and this is how it happens. . .

“‘No ministry has shaped my life the way this has. . .Transgender people have made me a much better woman and a much better Catholic.'”

Sr. Derouen has called out church leaders who issue anti-transgender policies or make harmful statements, including leaders at the Vatican. Her courage is again displayed by this new, respectful refusal to let Bishop Olson mislead Catholics by invoking her name. Truth is crucial.

Criticism, however, is not Derouen’s primary message. She instead has a simpler, yet more important ask: listen. Repeatedly, she has said that bishops—and all Catholics—need to first encounter trans and nonbinary people as people, and be moved by their lives, as she has been. In 2020, she co-wrote an essay with a transgender doctor, Colt St. Armand, offering advice for parents whose children come out as transgender, though the words are widely applicable:

“Listening is a skill and a grace. It’s important that parents listen and ask questions in order to understand, not correct or judge. Listen to the pain, fears, hopes and dreams of their transgender child. Parents can listen respectfully even when they believe that being transgender is wrong.”

Whether or not Bishop Olson and the committee members really did listen widely to trans people and other experts before publishing March’s doctrinal note is unclear. The document does not reflect it if they did, and there has been almost no transparency about how it was developed.  With the ERD revisions to proceed, the committee has an opportunity to try again and get it right: be synodal, consult widely, be transparent, and, most of all, listen.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, July 19, 2023

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