LGBTQ Agenda: US bishops' document on trans health care 'harms people,' queer Catholics say

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday April 4, 2023
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The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a document on trans health care that queer Catholics say is harmful. Photo: Screenshot
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a document on trans health care that queer Catholics say is harmful. Photo: Screenshot

LGBTQ Roman Catholics are responding to a document from the United States bishops about how the church's health care services should respond to requests for gender-affirming care.

The document, issued March 20, predictably does not recognize that what it terms as "gender dysphoria" and "gender incongruence" should be treated with surgical intervention, stating, "Catholic health care services must not perform interventions, whether surgical or chemical, that aim to transform the sexual characteristics of a human body into those of the opposite sex or take part in the development of such procedures."

Written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on doctrine — which includes Diocese of Oakland Bishop Michael Barber — the document cites Pope Francis, who wrote in "Amoris Laetitia" (a binding document of church doctrine) that "biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated." Unlike homosexuality, the church's most recent catechism does not address this issue.

The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of health care in the nation. Barber's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this report but the Archdiocese of San Francisco did respond when the B.A.R. reached out Monday, stating that it "stands in solidarity with Pope Francis and the USCCB."

"The Catholic Church has always viewed the body and soul as integral to the human person. A soul can never be in another body, much less be in the wrong body," Peter Marlow, the executive director of communications and media relations for the archdiocese, stated. "Any technological intervention that does not accord with the fundamental order of the human person as a unity of body and soul, including the sexual difference inscribed in the body, ultimately does not help but, rather, harms the human person. Particular care should be taken to protect children and adolescents who are still maturing and who are not capable of providing informed consent."

Paul Riofski, a gay man who's the co-chair of Dignity SF — an affinity group for LGBTQ Catholics — told the Bay Area Reporter that "this document is just really misguided."

"It's just another example of the leadership of the USCCB going their own way, apart from the pastoral approach, when you deal with decisions on an individual basis, and look at how people can live fully as a Christian, a Catholic and a human being," Riofski said. "It [the document] totally denies modern medical and scientific knowledge. It totally disregards the reality of intersex people, the fact that when you look at human biology many people are born without XX or XY chromosomes and the definition of 'gender at birth' is determined by the medical professional who delivers the baby."

Intersex is an umbrella term for differences in sex traits or reproductive anatomy. People are born with these differences or develop them in childhood. There are many possible differences in genitalia, hormones, internal anatomy, or chromosomes.

Riofski said that the committee has failed to consider anything beyond its foregone conclusions.

"There's nothing in God's creation as narrow as gender is portrayed," Riofski said.

Sara Mullin, a nonbinary person who is also a member of Dignity SF, agreed.

"I do not get the sense these particular bishops consulted with transgender and transsexual people or the science behind standards of care for trans people," Mullin said.

Mullin also said that the document doesn't consider the consciences of individuals.

"It takes for granted it's not possible for a transgender person to undertake surgical or medical transition in a way that's thoughtful, kind to oneself, and prayerful in its discernment," Mullin said. "I think it's concerning the conference thinks people undertaking medical transition are in best case out of a delusion and, worst case, out of maliciousness against their own body."

New Ways Ministry, a national LGBTQ Catholic advocacy group, issued a statement of its own. Executive Director Francis DeBernardo wrote that "the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' new document on transgender health care states its intention as continuing Jesus' healing ministry. Yet, in neglecting the experiences of trans people and in not attending to contemporary science, it harms people instead of healing them."

DeBernardo clarified that it's up to each bishop to determine the policies in their own dioceses.

"Thankfully, this document is limited in its power at this point," DeBernardo said.

"Whether it becomes a national policy remains to be seen. Each bishop can still determine for himself if the recommendations in this document are helpful for the pastoral care of the transgender people in their communities," he added. "We hope that local bishops will turn to transgender people and to the wider medical community to decide what policies about transgender healthcare they will pursue."

A trans man who lives in the Bay Area who did not wish to be identified by name told the B.A.R. that "I feel I was naturally born this way and if I need surgery to match the inside of what I feel, that's what I need."

Though he isn't Catholic — he was a Seventh-day Adventist and Latter-day Saint when he was younger — he feels that conservative Christians often "don't like LGBTQ people. They don't want us to have rights and be OK with ourselves and our bodies. They don't see it — as what I said — a surgery to match the inside of how we feel. They think of it as a religious thing, and it's only because they don't understand anything about it."

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

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