Last week, I heard in the news that the Vatican released a statement essentially saying that transgender identities simply doesn’t exist. It seems unlikely to be a coincidence that this was done during Pride Month.
Dismissing transgender identities brings to mind a similar question to what’s raised by the abortion debate bubbling away in the United States. Why do certain groups feel that they have the right to broadly dictate which individual experiences (in the case of gender) and choices (in the case of reproductive rights) are or are not valid?
The Vatican and Catholic education
The document announced by the Vatican, “Male and Female He Created Them“, was put together by the Congregation for Catholic Education to address the “educational crisis” regarding how the issue of gender should be handled by Catholic schools.
The document rejects what it calls “gender theory”, which “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.” It argues that while some curricula “allegedly convey a neutral conception of the person and of life, yet in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and to right reason.” It adds that this has “undoubtedly helped to destabilize the family as an institution.” Under gender theory, “human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.”
The document explains that in the spirit of dialogue, it’s important to listen to what people espousing “gender theory” have to say, including: “The ideal presented is that the individual should be able to choose his or her own status, and that society should limit itself to guaranteeing this right, and even providing material support, since the minorities involved would otherwise suffer negative social discrimination.” So the Vatican considers this a bad thing?
This quote, by referencing progress towards maturity, speaks to the document’s underlying purpose, informing Catholic education. “In fact, it is from [their] sex that the human person receives the characteristics which, on the biological, psychological and spiritual levels, make that person a man or a woman, and thereby largely condition his or her progress towards maturity and insertion into society.”
Who gets to decide?
While the Vatican obviously can and does make decisions about things pertaining to the Catholic faith, I still wonder why they feel entitled to dictate to the faithful what identities are or are not acceptable. What’s most concerning about this particular document is that it’s intended for use by Catholic schools. This means there are going to be kids attending Catholic school and being told that who they are inside—well, that simply does not exist. Not because God told Moses on the mountain “thou shalt not be transgender”, or because Jesus didn’t welcome trans people with the same love shown to the rest of his followers, but because the Vatican has decided that only a certain way of being is acceptable.
There’s also an unmistakable whiff of hypocrisy given the numerous instances of child sexual abuse by priests that the Church hushed up and dealt with by shuffling priests off to another parish. It’s not acceptable for someone to identify as transgender, but pedophiliac priests, many of whom engaged in homosexual acts, are welcomed and allowed to be in positions of power and administer sacraments.
Potential for harm
The potential harms associated with this stance on the part of the Catholic Church are high. Children are placed in Catholic schools because of their parents’ choices, whether or not they themselves have made any sort of conscious choice to adopt the Catholic faith. Transgender individuals are already at an increased risk of suicide, and if a kid’s school is teaching them that what they’re feeling is entirely unacceptable, and in fact simply doesn’t exist, what kind of outcomes is that likely to produce?
Conversely, what are the potential harms to accepting people as they are? Obviously, the Church isn’t going to jump up and suddenly embrace transgender identities or start marrying homosexual couples, but can’t there be a comfortable medium of live and let live? Why not welcome people as they are and let God do the judging? Because when organizations start telling people who they can or cannot be, and what choices they can or can not make, we move away from love and towards division and strife.
Personally, my choice is love.