Editorial: The Church needs to share the truth about gender and sexuality
In February, Gallup released a poll stating that 5.6% of adults in the United States now identify as LGBT — lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In addition, it reported that 1 in 6 adult members of Generation Z (ages 18-23 in 2020) is likely to consider him or herself something other than heterosexual.
The cultural change has been broad, sweeping and very fast. In recent years, a new vocabulary has been created around gender, and it has become increasingly common to believe one’s gender “identity” is divorced from one’s biological sex. As such, it has become en vogue to identify one’s preferred pronouns (e.g., he/him) on social media and other websites, and public schools have become worrying sources of affirmation where the gender “spectrum” is concerned.
What we need, as Catholics charged with bringing the light of Christ to the world, is clarity amid confusion and truth amid falsehood. And this is the gift that Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, has given to the Church in his new document “A Catechesis on the Human Person & Gender Ideology.”
In the document, Bishop Burbidge uses the magisterium of the Catholic Church, scientific fact and social science to provide guidelines for clergy, catechists, teachers and parents for addressing these specific challenges of our particular time and culture.
“This document presents the teaching of the Catholic Church on sexual identity and the transgender issue and offers some pastoral observations,” he wrote. “It is not intended to anticipate or address every situation. Rather, it provides the principles of Catholic teaching to encourage the faithful and to guide them in responding to an increasingly difficult cultural situation.”
At a time when there is increased encouragement of gender dysphoria — the belief by an individual that he or she has a sexual identity different from his or her biological sex — the catechesis significantly and clearly walks through the truth of the Church’s teaching on the human person and on human sexuality. This includes how “each person’s body, given by God from the moment of conception, is neither foreign nor a burden, but an integral part of the person”; how the human person is created either male or female; and how the differences between men and women — sexual differences “at the heart of family life” — are “ordered towards their complementary union in marriage.”
While staying keenly aware that any pastoral response to gender confusion must “be addressed with pastoral charity and compassion rooted in truth,” the document is also refreshing in its candor as it addresses leaders and educators in the Faith.
“The claim to ‘be transgender’ or the desire to seek ‘transition’ rests on a mistaken view of the human person, rejects the body as a gift from God, and leads to grave harm,” Bishop Burbridge wrote. “To affirm someone in an identity at odds with biological sex or to affirm a person’s desired ‘transition’ is to mislead that person. It involves speaking and interacting with that person in an untruthful manner. Although the law of gradualness might prompt us to discern the best time to communicate the fullness of the truth, in no circumstances can we confirm a person in error.”
To this end, Bishop Burbidge advises the faithful to avoid using “‘gender-affirming’ terms or pronouns,” despite the pressure that Catholics might receive from the culture. “The right to speak the truth inheres in the human person and cannot be taken away by any human institution,” he wrote.
He also, importantly, speaks directly to those struggling with gender dysphoria. He tells them of God’s “unrelenting love” for the entirety of each human person, how they should be “on guard against simplistic solutions” that promise relief from hardship by changing one’s name, pronouns or bodily appearance. He advises, instead, working with trusted professionals, ministers or friends “to come to an awareness of the goodness of your body and of your identity as male and female.”
Bishop Burbidge has tackled a difficult and highly sensitive issue head-on, with charity and clarity, and we encourage widespread reading and dissemination of this document. We also encourage more in Church leadership — perhaps even the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as an entity — to offer similar pastoral guidance to a culture greatly in need of it.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young