The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other conservative religious leaders have released an open letter condemning the concept of transgender identity, saying “that a man can be or become a woman or vice versa” is a “false idea.”
After an opening paragraph stating that “natural marriage” is a union between a man and a woman, the letter continues, “We come together to join our voices on a more fundamental precept of our shared existence, namely, that human beings are male or female and that the socio-cultural reality of gender cannot be separated from one's sex as male or female.”
“A person's discomfort with his or her sex, or the desire to be identified as the other sex, is a complicated reality that needs to be addressed with sensitivity and truth,” the missive goes on. But it opposes any gender-transition procedures, saying, “Children especially are harmed when they are told that they can ‘change’ their sex or, further, given hormones that will affect their development and possibly render them infertile as adults.”
“Gender ideology” sows “confusion and self-doubt,” says the document, posted on the bishops’ website Friday, adding that the state “has a compelling interest, therefore, in maintaining policies that uphold the scientific fact of human biology and supporting the social institutions and norms that surround it.”
The affirmation of transgender identity, it continues, “compels people to either go against reason—that is, to agree with something that is not true—or face ridicule, marginalization, and other forms of retaliation.”
The lead signature is from the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, who is the Roman Catholc Bishop of Scranton, Pa., and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Other signatories include leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, North American Lutheran Church and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (both separate from and more conservative than the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is LGBT-affirming), the Presbyterian Church in America (separate from and more conservative than the LGBT-friendly Presbyterian Church USA), the Church of God in Christ, and the Islamic Society of North America.
New Ways Ministry, a Catholic organization that advocates for LGBT equality, today issued a rebuttal to the letter. “This statement is dangerous because it distributes false information which can lead to attitudes, policies, and practices which will do physical and emotional harm to transgender people, a community already with a high risk of becoming victims of hate crimes,” writes Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry.
“The main problem with the statement is that it claims that gender is determined only by genitalia, a view which modern science and people’s experience have shown to be insufficient,” he continues. “Gender is also determined by other biological factors, often not immediately visible, such as hormones, genetics, brain composition, and internal self-understanding.
“The statement also assumes that people are questioning their gender identities because of socio-cultural norms about gender are changing. That is false. Cultural history shows that in every society people have always existed who do not fit the male-female binary system of categorizing gender. Gender identity questions are not a modern phenomenon brought on by what some people see as a permissive culture. If anything, modern attitudes about gender are allowing people who do not fit the gender binary to live authentically and truthfully the way that God has created them.”
DeBernardo adds that the signatories appear to be unfamiliar with the experiences of transgender people and do not realize that transitioning brings people closer to God and is therefore something religious people should support. He also says those who signed the letter represent “only a small handful” of the many religious traditions in the U.S. He urges fellow Catholics to write to the Catholic signatories to express views about transgender acceptance.
Pope Francis has also made statements opposing the concept of gender transition. Yet in 2015 he met with a Spanish transgender man who had become estranged from the Catholic Church. The man, Diego Neria Lejárraga, said he found the pope to be “kindness personified.”