Church Statements on Gender Identity
Magisterial teaching on transgender identities and transitioning is emerging, but there is not yet a comprehensive doctrine. The following quotes are relevant teachings and pastoral remarks.
Though made of body and soul, man is one. Through his bodily composition he gathers to himself the elements of the material world; thus they reach their crown through him, and through him raise their voice in free praise of the Creator.(6) For this reason man is not allowed to despise his bodily life, rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and honorable since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day. Nevertheless, wounded by sin, man experiences rebellious stirrings in his body. But the very dignity of man postulates that man glorify God in his body and forbid it to serve the evil inclinations of his heart.
Now, man is not wrong when he regards himself as superior to bodily concerns, and as more than a speck of nature or a nameless constituent of the city of man. For by his interior qualities he outstrips the whole sum of mere things. He plunges into the depths of reality whenever he enters into his own heart; God, Who probes the heart,(7) awaits him there; there he discerns his proper destiny beneath the eyes of God. Thus, when he recognizes in himself a spiritual and immortal soul, he is not being mocked by a fantasy born only of physical or social influences, but is rather laying hold of the proper truth of the matter.
Papal Teachings in Encyclicals
“Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.”
—Pope Francis, Laudato Si 155, 2015
Beyond the understandable difficulties which individuals may experience, the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for “thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation… An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment”. Only by losing the fear of being different, can we be freed of self-centredness and self-absorption. Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension “to cancel out sexual difference because one no longer knows how to deal with it”.
—Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 258, 2016
Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time”. It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated”. On the other hand, “the technological revolution in the field of human procreation has introduced the ability to manipulate the reproductive act, making it independent of the sexual relationship between a man and a woman. In this way, human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities, subject mainly to the wishes of individuals or couples”. It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created.
—Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 56, 2016
Informal Papal Comments
Pope Benedict XVI, Christmas Address to the Roman Curia, 2012:
“When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker [Godself] is denied and ultimately [the human being] too is stripped of [their] dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of [their] being.”
From Joshua J. McElwee, “Francis: Sexual morality determined case-by-case, even for transgender,” National Catholic Reporter, October 2, 2016, :
[Pope]Francis recounted a meeting at the Vatican he had last year with a Spanish transgender man who had written to the pontiff to describe his own case and had asked for a personal encounter together.
“She is a young woman who suffered much because she felt like a young man,” the pope explained. “She felt like a young man, but she was physically a young woman.”
The woman, Francis said, had undergone gender reassignment surgery and had then married a woman. “He wrote me a letter saying that, for him, it would be a consolation to come [see me] with his wife,” the pope said, clarifying: “He that was her but is he.”
Examples of Bishops/Clergy Commentary
“[T]hrough a demonic ‘gender ideology,’ a deadly impulse that is being experienced in a world increasingly cut off from God through ideological colonialism.”
—Cardinal Robert Sarah, Congregation for Divine Worship
“I see no reason why transgender people would not be welcome in church. There is more and more evidence coming forward that a lot of this is biological, that it’s not just something that a person just makes as a kind of fashionable choice or cultural choice, but that these transgender people are really struggling with the idea of gender identity and that they’ve struggled with it for years, and that’s through no fault of their own. . .This is who they are . . . everyone is God’s creatures, and I would invite anyone to come to the table. And I would hope that none of my priests, most especially myself, would ever say anything that would be hurtful or harmful to transgender folk.”
—Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, VT
“As far as I am aware, the Church takes no official position on transgenderism: it is a pastoral issue, not a matter of doctrine. . .Insofar as the Church were to be involved in any individual’s decision to transition, it would counsel caution, because this is not a step to take lightly: but it should be fully supportive of individuals who have made that decision.”
—Monsignor Keith Barltrop, head of LGBTQI outreach for the Diocese of Westminster