My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Recently, in consultation with our Diocesan Pastoral Council and Presbyteral Council, I promulgated for our diocese a Policy on Gender Identity, which states, “It is the policy of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois that all Catholic agencies, including parishes, schools, institutions, departments, or other entities, shall respect the biological sex with which a person is born and shall apply all policies and procedures in relation to that person according to that person’s biological sex at birth.” This policy also respects the rights of others and helps keep all those entrusted to our care safe, especially in locker rooms and restrooms, and seeks to ensure fair competition in athletics.
One would think that gender identity is a matter of common sense, as it was for most people until recently, but in our world today unfortunately common sense does not always prevail.
Anticipating that this policy would be misunderstood and criticized by those who are proponents of transgender theory, which denies that sex can be defined in the binary categories of male and female, I published a Pastoral Guide to accompany and explain the Policy on Gender Identity. The Pastoral Guide starts out by emphasizing the “Pastoral Imperative of Compassionate Concern” for dealing with gender dysphoria and transgenderism, saying, “Gender dysphoria is a real psychological condition, in which a biological male or female believes he or she is the opposite gender. It is of paramount importance to handle such situations with gentle and compassionate pastoral skill and concern.” These policies make clear that we are obligated to respect the biology given to us by God, while also supporting and loving those with gender dysphoria. This includes our churches and schools working with those with gender dysphoria to provide them a private bathroom and appropriate counseling.
Unfortunately, however, some family members and others “likely wrestle with a sense of confusion, guilt, and uncertainty over how best to support their loved one; and they face pressure, either directly or indirectly, from the prevailing culture to celebrate and reinforce their loved one’s gender dysphoria and feel compelled to ‘solve’ the problem by surgically and hormonally changing the biological sex of the affected person. Such treatments, especially for children, are invasive and disruptive physically, chemically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.”
In this regard, the Pastoral Guide quotes Pope Francis, who has questioned whether “the so-called gender theory is not an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it. Yes, we risk taking a step backwards. The removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution” (General Audience, April 15, 2015).
The Pastoral Guide also points out that our Policy on Gender Identity is in keeping with the official teaching of the Catholic Church, which states, “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life.” See Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), §2333. “Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way.” See, CCC §2335.
The entire text of the Pastoral Guide and the Policy on Gender Identity can be found online at https://www.dio.org/policy-book/77-650-gender-identity/file.html.
While most people that I have heard from have welcomed this policy and pastoral guide, there are some, as expected, who have denounced both the policy and me personally, often with harsh and hateful vitriol.
Then there are those who feel that our policy is not as “woke” or enlightened as they are, criticizing it as supposedly not based on science. Since I am not a scientist, I will refer these critics to scientific experts who in fact demonstrate that transgender ideology is contrary to proven scientific principles. In an article entitled, “The Dangerous Denial of Sex,” published in the Feb. 14, 2020 issue of The Wall Street Journal, Colin M. Wright and Emma N. Hilton argue that “transgender ideology harms women, gays — and especially feminine boys and masculine girls.” It should be noted that Wright is an evolutionary biologist at Penn State and Hilton is a developmental biologist at the University of Manchester. They point out, “In humans, reproductive anatomy is unambiguously male or female at birth more than 99.98 percent of the time … . No third type of sex cell exists in humans, and therefore there is no sex ‘spectrum’ or additional sexes beyond male and female. Sex is binary.”
With regard to cases of hermaphroditism or intersex, that is, where a child is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that cannot be clearly identified as either male or female, our policy states that “the Church recognizes that appropriate medical care may be necessary in rare cases of true genetic or physical anomalies, such as hermaphroditism or intersex.” Wright and Hilton point out, “But intersex individuals are extremely rare, and they are neither a third sex nor proof that sex is a ‘spectrum’ or a ‘social construct.’ Not everyone needs to be discretely assignable to one or the other sex in order for biological sex to be functionally binary. To assume otherwise — to confuse secondary sexual traits with biological sex itself — is a category error.”
Wright and Hilton conclude, “Biologists and medical professionals need to stand up for the empirical reality of biological sex. When authoritative scientific institutions ignore or deny empirical fact in the name of social accommodation, it is an egregious betrayal to the scientific communitythey represent. It undermines public trust in science, and it is dangerously harmful to those most vulnerable.”
An example of the societal harm caused by transgender theory can be seen in the policy in Connecticut allowing transgender student athletes to compete in the sport of their “preferred gender identity,” not their biological sex. The conference includes many of the state’s Catholic schools. As result of this ideological policy, two males identifying as female have won 15 women’s state championship titles, and a single male has set 10 state records that were previously held by 10 different girls. Three female high school track-and-field athletes filed a lawsuit on Feb. 12 in a federal district court, saying they were denied an opportunity for fair competition under Title IX, which mandates that federally funded education programs or activities cannot discriminate on the basis of sex. The girls’ lawyer, Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel with the group Alliance Defending Freedom, said, “Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field. Forcing them to compete against boys isn’t fair, shatters their dreams, and destroys their athletic opportunities.”
As our society continues to wrestle with these nonsensical challenges to common sense, let us pray that all people will come to appreciate that our identities as male and female are part of God’s good design in Creation, that our bodies and sexual identities are gifts from God, and that we should accept and care for our bodies as they were created.
May God give us this grace. Amen.