The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington has issued a letter to the Church community refusing to acknowledge the concept of gender identity, saying every person is created by God to be male or female, and calling gender confirmation surgery “wrong and harmful.”
“The Church teaches that a person is created male or female,” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge wrote in the letter, titled “A Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology.”
“No one ‘is’ transgender,” Burbidge added.
The document is intended to clarify the Catholic Church’s stance on sexual identity and transgenderism, and offer advice to various parts of the Church community — from parents to ministers to transgender individuals themselves — on how to deal with transgenderism, including a prohibition on the use of gender-affirming language, when they encounter it in the real world.
In his letter, Burbidge lamented that popular culture has become more accepting of what he calls “transgender ideology,” or the fact that a person may experience gender dysphoria, where their gender identity feels incongruent with their physical body. He said that the increase in people claiming to be transgender “presents a serious challenge for all members of the Church because it presents a view of the human person contrary to the truth,” reports The Washington Times.
Echoing the talking points being regurgitated by Republican politicians seeking office in 2021 and 2022, Burbidge criticized schools, governments, employers, and institutions that seek to affirm transgender people’s gender identity.
“Parents with children in public school must…discuss specific Catholic teaching on these issues with their children and be even more vigilant and vocal against this false and harmful ideology,” he wrote.
Burbidge also recommended Catholic parents censoring what their children are able to see, read, or watch, encouraging parents to closely monitor their children’s Internet and social media usage.
“Transgender ideology is being celebrated, promoted, and pushed out over all social media platforms and even children’s programming,” he added. “Much of your good work and witness can be undone quickly by a child’s unsupervised or unrestricted internet access.”
For parents of transgender children, Burbidge encourages them to discourage their children from pursuing a gender transition, and “find strength and wisdom through the grace of the Sacraments of Communion and Confession, and to seek pastoral support in the parish or diocese.”
Burbidge notes, that, similar to the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality, the Catholic Church does not condemn feelings or inclinations, whether same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.
“Every individual experiencing this condition should be treated with respect, justice, and charity,” he wrote, adding that people suffering from gender dysphoria are not innately “immoral or bad.” However, he added, a person who pursues a gender transition, especially through medical or surgical interventions “is pursuing a path that is objectively wrong and harmful on many levels.”
Regarding language, Burbidge exhorts Catholics not to give in by affirming a transgender person’s gender identity by referring to them by their preferred names or pronouns, saying doing so “presents a profound crisis.”
“We can never say something contrary to what we know to be true. To use names and pronouns that contradict the person’s God-given identity is to speak falsely,” he wrote. “The faithful should avoid using ‘gender-affirming’ terms or pronouns that convey approval of or reinforce the person’s rejection of the truth. It is not harsh or judgmental to decline to use such language.
“In the broader culture, Catholics may experience significant pressure to adopt culturally-approved terminology. However, in no circumstances should anyone be compelled to use language contrary to the truth. The right to speak the truth inheres in the human person and cannot be taken away by any human institution,” Burbidge said. “Attempts by the state, corporations, or employers to compel such language, particularly by threats of legal action or job loss, are unjust.”
He concluded his letter by telling transgender individuals that they are not alone and that they are loved by God in the body into which they were born.
“Be on guard against simplistic solutions that promise relief from your struggles by the change of name, pronouns, or even the appearance of your body. There are many who have walked that path before you only to regret it,” he wrote. “The difficult but more promising path to joy and peace is to work with a trusted counselor, therapist, priest, and/or friend to come to an awareness of the goodness of your body and of your identity as male or female.”
Robert Shine, the associate director of New Ways Ministry, an LGBTQ-affirming and inclusive Catholic organization, issued a response to Burbidge’s letter.
“The claims in Bishop Burbidge’s text are easily dismantled,” Shine wrote. “The truths that he should have instead promulgated? Transgender people do exist. The struggles they face are not due to their identities, but to society’s failure to be supportive and affirming. Medical interventions are beneficial. Using a person’s proper name and pronouns can make a significant positive difference, particularly for youth. And it is love, not sexual difference, which makes a family.
“Given the document’s failings, its exhortations for how Catholics approach questions of gender identity should readily be ignored,” Shine added. “Indeed, to follow the bishop’s advice would only cause more harm.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of the LGBTQ Catholic organization DignityUSA, said Burbidge’s remarks were part of a pattern of Church officials trying to deny the existence of transgender people in the same way they previously have with gays and lesbians.
“They rely on a narrow and terribly outdated sense of humanity based on biological determinism that most of the world has realized is insufficient to understand the human experience,” Duddy-Burke said in a statement emailed to Metro Weekly. “This depicts an arrogance that is shameful in our church. The incredible diversity among humans is better seen with humility, as a revelation of God’s amazing creativity and expansive love. The existence of transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people reflect aspects of the Divine we would not be able to experience otherwise.”
She added that school personnel and others who use gender-affirming pronouns and names to show respect for trans or gender-expansive individuals are simply being considerate and kind, and should not be chastised for their actions. Unfortunately, she noted, an increasing number of Catholic schools and diocese are adopting policies meant to silence or exclude transgender people.
“This is cruel, harmful to individuals and families, and unnecessarily divisive,” Duddy-Burke said.” We work for the day when all are truly welcomed and affirmed by our church.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include comment from DignityUSA.
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