Ohio Catholics strongly criticized a new restrictive diocesan gender policy which threatens to ban LGBTQ+ people and allies from participation in the church should they act in what is labeled an “inappropriate or scandalous way.”
The Diocese of Cleveland’s new policy went into effect on September 1st, and applies to diocesan-run Catholic schools, parishes, and offices in the region. Relying on standard gender complementarity ideas, it places restrictions on how LGBTQ+ people, as well as those who support them, can participate in the church. While such a person should not be excluded based on an identity, the policy explains further:
“[t]hose persons who choose to openly express disagreement with Church teaching on matters of sex, sexuality, and /or gender in an inappropriate or scandalous way, or who act in ways contrary to the teachings of the Church, may be subject to restrictions on his or her participation in the life of the institution or, in appropriate cases, to disciplinary action, both for that person’s own good and/or the good of others.”
Specific restrictions include mandating that parents be notified if they are “experiencing gender dysphoria or gender confusion” unless there is concern that such a notification could result in abuse. The policy then explains: “The initial presumption, however, should be that such a disclosure should be made absent a compelling reason not to.” Misgendering one’s child or refusing to help them get gender-affirming care is not considered abuse for the diocese.
The policy also requires anyone involved in Catholic parishes or schools, of which there are 84 in the diocese, be treated according to the sex they were assigned at birth rather than their gender. This requirement applies to names, pronouns, personal appearance/dress, and admissions. It also bans Pride flags and celebrations of LGBTQ+ identities.
In response to Bishop Edward Malesic’s announcement of the policy, local Catholics and LGBTQ+ advocates alike condemned it. FutureChurch, a church reform group based in Cleveland, described the policy as “dangerous” and as seeking to erase transgender people. Co-Director Russ Petrus commented in a statement:
“The document acknowledges both the reality and the complexity of gender dysphoria, but the policies contained in it immediately seek to erase that reality rather than honestly and openly engage with it. This policy puts LGBTQ+ youth – a population that is already more susceptible to bullying, stigmatization, and death by suicide – at a greater risk of harm, by further ostracizing them from their school community and their Church and by pulling support systems out from underneath them.”
Susan Russell, president of Dignity/Northeast Ohio, said in a statement:
“The policies that our bishop has recently released send a clear message that welcome in our schools and churches is conditional. They say people who are LGBTQ+ must hide the reality of who they are to be part of our faith communities or to learn at our schools. This betrays the essence of Catholicism, will alienate many Catholics, and, worse, may pose real dangers, especially for children and teens coming to terms with their identities. . .This type of exclusionary policy wounds the Body of Christ.”
The diocesan policy was also criticized by Cleveland’s mayor, Justin Bibb, who called it a “shocking betrayal” of church teaching, as well as of the queer organizations, LOVEBoldly and LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. A report in Cleveland.com also raised objections by some that an increasing amount of public funding goes towards private schools, including Catholic ones, meaning taxpayers now potentially pay for anti-LGBTQ+ policies.
Finally, Dolores Christie, a theologian who has a transgender grandchild, wrote at Cleveland.com:
“Requiring parental notification will render students reluctant to be candid, or certainly to censor the pain they feel, when they talk with adults working in the school. They need confidants whose discretion they can trust, especially when parents do not yet understand. Not to mention the burden placed on those who now must ‘report’ such discussions, or the actual suicide rate for trans teens. . .
“At the core of both Hebrew and Christian scripture is the admonition to welcome the marginalized and to love one another (the greatest commandment) in community. This new decree is not congruent with the Christian — ‘the greatest of these is love,’ ‘always our children,’ — nor with biology or biblical scholarship, even if it’s in the current Catechism.”
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, September 21, 2023