Dr. Lawrence V. McCrobie, Ed.D.
Transgender identity is a topic that has garnered significant attention in recent years, with growing visibility and acceptance in many parts of the world. However, the Catholic Church’s position on transgender identity is complex and multifaceted, reflecting both the Church’s traditional teachings on gender and sexuality and its evolving understanding of human dignity and pastoral care.
At the heart of the Catholic Church’s teachings on gender and sexuality is the belief that God created humanity male and female, with inherent differences and complementary roles. This understanding of gender is rooted in the Genesis creation story, where God creates Adam and Eve as complementary beings, each with unique characteristics and responsibilities. The Church also teaches that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman, and that any sexual activity outside of this context is considered sinful.
For transgender individuals, these traditional teachings can present significant challenges. Transgender individuals experience a disconnect between their gender identity and the sex they were assigned at birth. This can lead to feelings of distress, discomfort, and dysphoria, and many transgender individuals seek to transition to live in a way that aligns with their gender identity.
The Catholic Church’s position on transgender identity is rooted in its understanding of the human person as created in the image and likeness of God. The Church recognizes that all people, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, are called to a life of holiness and are deserving of dignity and respect. At the same time, the Church also recognizes the importance of the biological and psychological aspects of gender, which are seen as integral to the human person.
In 2019, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education released a document titled “Male and Female He Created Them,” which reaffirmed the Church’s traditional teachings on gender and sexuality. The document states that “gender theory” is “an attempt to remove the difference between the sexes, and proposes a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family.” The document goes on to state that the Church recognizes the suffering experienced by those with gender dysphoria, but also emphasizes the importance of accepting one’s biological sex as part of one’s God-given identity.
The document received significant criticism from many LGBTQ+ advocates, who argued that it was a step backwards for the Church’s relationship with the transgender community. Some critics argued that the document showed a lack of understanding of the complexity of gender identity and the experiences of transgender individuals. Others saw it as a missed opportunity for the Church to show greater compassion and understanding towards those who are marginalized and often excluded from religious communities.
Despite the controversy surrounding “Male and Female He Created Them,” the Catholic Church has taken steps in recent years to engage with the transgender community and offer support and pastoral care to those who are struggling with issues of gender identity. In 2019, the Jesuit-run Georgetown University hosted a conference titled “Transcending Boundaries, Transforming Lives,” which brought together theologians, pastoral ministers, and healthcare providers to discuss ways to better support transgender individuals within the Catholic Church.
The conference was an important step towards greater engagement between the Catholic Church and the transgender community, and it highlighted the importance of offering pastoral care that is both compassionate and grounded in Church teaching. Participants in the conference emphasized the importance of listening to the experiences of transgender individuals and working to create a more inclusive and welcoming Church community.
In addition to conferences and other initiatives, there are also individual priests and pastoral ministers who are working to provide support and pastoral care to transgender individuals within their communities. These individuals recognize the challenges faced by transgender individuals, and they are committed to offering support and guidance rooted in Church teaching and a deep sense of compassion and understanding.
However, the Church’s position on transgender identity remains a source of controversy and tension, both within the Church and in broader society. Many critics argue that the Church’s teachings on gender and sexuality are outdated and out of touch with modern understandings of gender identity and expression. They also argue that the Church’s emphasis on binary gender roles and traditional family structures can be harmful and exclusionary to those who do not fit into these narrow categories.
On the other hand, supporters of the Church’s teachings on gender and sexuality argue that these teachings are grounded in the natural law and reflect the inherent dignity and value of every human person. They also argue that the Church’s teachings provide a framework for healthy relationships and families, and that they offer a path towards greater happiness and fulfillment.
The complexity of the Catholic Church’s relationship with the transgender community highlights the ongoing tension between tradition and innovation within the Church. While the Church is committed to upholding its traditional teachings on gender and sexuality, it is also recognizing the importance of engaging with and supporting those who do not fit neatly into these categories. This tension can be difficult to navigate, and it is likely to continue to be a source of controversy and debate in the years to come.
Ultimately, the Catholic Church’s position on transgender identity reflects its broader understanding of the human person and the importance of respecting human dignity and promoting the common good. While the Church’s teachings on gender and sexuality may be challenging for some, they are also grounded in a deep sense of compassion and a desire to offer support and guidance to all who seek it. As the Church continues to engage with the transgender community and offer pastoral care to those who are struggling with issues of gender identity, it will be important to maintain a sense of openness, compassion, and understanding, while also remaining faithful to its traditional teachings and values.