Archbishop Robert J. Carlson has published a document addressing transgender theory and gender ideology, examining the issues through the lens of faith.
The document was written after Archbishop Carlson’s ad limina meeting with Pope Francis in January 2020. During the visit with the bishops of Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas, the Holy Father affirmed that while abortion is the “pre-eminent moral issue of our time,” other problems currently facing modern society are issues related to gender. He asked the bishops to address the topic.
“I do not intend to give a comprehensive treatment of the issue here,” Archbishop Carlson wrote in a preface to the document, dated June 1. “But it is a growing concern, and I want to address some of its principal aspects.”
In addressing individuals who consider themselves as having a gender identity at odds with their biological sex, Archbishop Carlson said that people of faith should first respond with compassion. He also acknowledged that they are at risk for poor health outcomes, including higher rates of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, and a much higher rate of suicide attempts than the general population.
“Knowing these things, what should be our first reaction? The first thing we need to do is not to draw away in suspicion, fear, or condemnation, but to lean in with compassion,” Archbishop Carlson wrote. “If you’re uncomfortable with your biological sex, or if you consider yourself as having a gender identity at odds with your biological sex, here’s the first thing I want you to know: God loves you. He loves you right where you are. He has a plan for you.”
Compassion should not be the only response from the Church, the archbishop continued. Gender ideology maintains that sex can be separated from gender, but this is contradictory to Catholic teaching. We must be willing to reconcile ourselves to the physical facts of sexual identity, and not try to change the facts according to how we think and feel, he added.
“The Catholic understanding of the human person holds that sex and gender cannot be separated, and that there are limits to how we should manipulate our bodies,” Archbishop Carlson wrote. “According to the Catholic understanding there is, and is meant to be, a profound unity in the human person.”
One of the greatest tasks for humans is “to integrate the powers of our sexual identity into how we live our lives,” he wrote. “It’s no small task. It’s no easy task. But in His body Jesus reveals God’s plan for our bodies” through the Eucharist and on the cross.
The document provides basic guidelines in addressing specific transgender and gender ideology issues. Topics include addressing individuals with pronouns, the use of bathrooms and locker rooms on archdiocesan or parish properties or at archdiocesan or parish events, admission of individuals to Catholic schools or participation in archdiocesan or parish events, and the use of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgery at Catholic hospitals.
Talking about gender issues
It’s important for parents to have conversations about gender even before high school, and to continue those conversations throughout the teen years as exposure to gender ideology increases, said a parent whose child has dealt with these issues.
The parent, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her child, said it was in places she least expected that her child encountered people who condoned transgender ideology and encouraged the child to consider having a gender at odds with the child’s biological sex. The parent also referred to social media outlets, where it’s “easy to find charismatic individuals exhibiting the appeal of being transgender.”
“Kids inevitably will find people championing lifestyles at odds with what’s ultimately good for them,” the parent said. “Our culture, with the support of health professionals, is bombarding kids with lies. Rather than helping kids bravely ride out the waves of discomfort that accompany adolescence, people, many with good intentions, poison their minds with the notion that they could have a wrongly sexed body.”
Transgender theory and gender ideology are topics that are often addressed within the context of youth ministry, said Amy Eschelbach, director of the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry. “Youth ministers are pretty regularly addressing issues of sexuality with teens whether (teens) themselves are confronted with something or with a friend at school,” she said. Numerous youth ministry programs look to St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body as a lens through which to approach the issues.
“As is true for every person, teens too have the desire to be known, seen and loved by God the Father,” Eschelbach said. “Accompanying young people on that journey is the root of youth ministry. Along the way there will inevitably be questions about who we are as sons and daughters; human sexuality, chastity, gender ideology, etc. perhaps pertaining to themselves, a family member, or a friend. Youth ministers have the great gift of journeying with young people through these questions and the hope is that we can provide support and resources; that this accompaniment may reflect the Father’s love, in compassion and charity.”
Dr. Paul Hruz, a pediatric endocrinologist, noted that the affirmation of transgender issues has been a more recent development in the last decade or so. He described the issue as a discrepancy between what the body is and what the brain is thinking.
Studies have shown that among children who have an experience of gender identity that is different from their biological sex, the majority (anywhere from 50-98%) with a watch and wait approach will have an eventual realignment of the two, also called desistance.
“It’s very clear that the children do need psychological support and counseling to help with these issues,” Hruz said. “But the controversy is what is the intended goal — to affirm them, to encourage desistance or to take a watch and wait approach?”
Archbishop Carlson’s document “reinforces the compassion we should have and that people have inherent human dignity and we need to embrace the difficulties they have,” Hruz said. “There’s a clear need and an issue that needs to be addressed. We have to be able to get people together to find the best response with the knowledge we currently have.”
Archbishop Carlson’s document presents a balance between a need for sensitivity and loving acceptance of a person, while also “being true to what our Lord Himself teaches about the human person,” said Msgr. Vernon Gardin, a clinical psychologist and pastor of Immacolata Parish in Richmond Heights
“We have to be compassionate, and above all we have to listen to hear that each situation is different,” Msgr. Gardin said. The document “is good in retaining what we believe is God’s teaching on the human person and sexuality and helping people to follow God’s way.”
>> Pope Francis on transgender issues
• “The biologic and psychological manipulation of sexual difference, which biomedical technology allows one to see as open to free choice —which it’s not! — is thus likely to dismantle the source of energy that nourishes the alliance of man and woman and makes it creative and fruitful.” — 2017 address to the Pontifical Academy for Life
• “People must be accompanied as Jesus accompanies them, when a person who has this condition arrives before Jesus, Jesus surely doesn’t tell them ‘go away’ … It’s a moral problem. It’s a human problem and it must be resolved always … with the mercy of God, with the truth … always with an open heart.” — In addressing gender theory, from a 2016 press conference.
• “Let’s think ... of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.” — from a 2015 interview with Italian journalists for a book, “Pope Francis: This Economy Kills.”
•Pope Francis in May offered financial support to a small transgender community near Rome, as reported by Religion News Service. Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, administrator of the pope’s charitable work, said, “This is ordinary work for the Church, it’s normal. This is how the Church is a field hospital.”