The Most Rev. Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Arlington (Virginia) recently issued a Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology. This document is vitally important,
not only for the truth that it states, but also for the courage the Bishop has shown in addressing this matter from a biblical perspective in one of America’s most liberal and secular communities – suburban Washington, DC.
You can read the entire document through this link, and it is well worth it, regardless of your Christian faith or denomination.
While the entire document is worthy of your study, Bishop Burbidge correctly identifies public schools as a major source of this error in science and biblical principles, as Pope Francis has warned, said Bishop Burbidge:
Today children-children!-are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex. Why are they teaching this?
Let us not play with truths. It's true that behind all this we find gender ideology. In books, kids learn that it's possible to change one's sex. Could gender, to be a woman or to be a man, be an option and not a fact of nature? This leads to this error. Let us call things by their names.
Situations involving gender dysphoria must always be addressed with pastoral charity and compassion rooted in the truth, wrote Bishop Burbidge. Any unjust discrimination or needless insensitivity in addressing such situations must be avoided and/or corrected.
At the same time, the Bishop said, in responding to this question justly and charitably, one cannot deny or obscure the truth of our created nature and human sexuality. Indeed, charity always requires the clear presentation of the truth. As Pope Saint Paul VI observed, “[I]t is an outstanding manifestation of charity toward souls to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ.” 5 From medicine, natural law, and divine revelation, we know that each person is created either male or female, from the moment of conception. “It needs to be emphasized,” writes Pope Francis, that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated … It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality.”
The Bishop eloquently states the Church's teaching and explains how it rests on three principles, all knowable by way of human reason, but it is his further discussion of gender dysphoria that we wish to particularly commend to your attention.
As Bishop Burbidge explained:
A person may experience this tension and alienation between body and soul so profoundly that the person claims an “internal sense” of sexual identity different from his or her biological sex. This condition was labeled by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013 as “gender dysphoria.” 16 From a theological perspective, the experience of this interior conflict is not sinful in itself but must be understood as a disorder reflecting the broader disharmony caused by original sin. It is a particularly painful experience of the wounds we all suffer as a result of original sin. Every individual experiencing this condition should be treated with respect, justice, and charity.
What is new in our times, however, is the growing cultural acceptance of the erroneous claim that some people, including children and adolescents, are “in” the “wrong body” and therefore must undergo “gender transition,” either to relieve distress or as an expression of personal autonomy. Sometimes this involves psycho-social changes: The person asserts a new identity, reinforced by a different name, pronouns, and wardrobe. At other times it involves a medical or surgical change: The person seeks chemical or surgical interventions that alter the body's function and appearance and even impair or destroy otherwise healthy reproductive organs.
At its core, this belief in a “transgender” identity rejects the significance of the sexed body and seeks cultural, medical, and legal validation of the person's self-defined identity-an approach called “gender affirmation.” Culturally, these claims have brought challenges to law, medicine, education, business, and religious freedom. They also raise significant pastoral challenges for both the shepherds and the faithful of the Diocese.
In the section of the Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology titled The Witness of Science Bishop Burbidge makes this crucial point:
We know from biology that a person's sex is genetically determined at conception and present in every cell of the body. Because the body tells us about ourselves, our biological sex does in fact indicate our inalienable identity as male or female. Thus, so-called “transitioning” might change a person's appearance and physical traits (hormones, breasts, genitalia, etc.) but does not in fact change the truth of the person's identity as male or female, a truth reflected in every cell of the body. Indeed, no amount of “masculinizing” or “feminizing” hormones or surgery can make a man into a woman, or a woman into a man.
Finally, the Bishop offers this important Christian Response, that should inform the thinking and action of all Christians faced with the scientific, religious, and cultural challenge of confronting gender ideology:
A disciple of Christ desires to love all people and to seek their good actively. Denigration or bullying of any person, including those struggling with gender dysphoria, is to be rejected as completely incompatible with the Gospel.
In this sensitive area of identity, however, there is a great danger of a misguided charity and false compassion. In this regard, we must recall, “Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral.” 17 Christians must always speak and act with both charity and truth. After the example of the Apostle Paul, they are to seek to speak the truth in love (cf. Eph 4:15).
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. 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 18 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.
Indeed, there is ample evidence that “gender affirmation” not only does not resolve a person's struggles but also can in fact exacerbate them. The acceptance and/or approval of a person's claimed transgender identity is particularly dangerous in the case of children, whose psychological development is both delicate and incomplete. First and foremost, a child needs to know the truth: He or she has been created male or female, forever. Affirming a child's distorted self-perception or supporting a child's desire to “be” someone other than the person (male or female) God created, gravely misleads and confuses the child about “who” he or she is.
In addition, “gender-affirming” medical or surgical interventions cause significant, even irreparable, bodily harm to children and adolescents. These include the use of puberty blockers (in effect, chemical castration) to arrest the natural psychological and physical development of a healthy child, cross-sex hormones to induce the development of opposite-sex, secondary sex characteristics, and surgery to remove an adolescent's healthy breasts, organs, and/or genitals. These kinds of interventions involve serious mutilations of the human body, and are morally unacceptable.
Although some advocates justify “gender affirmation” as necessary to reduce the risk of suicide, such measures appear to offer only temporary psychological relief, and suicidal risks remain significantly elevated following gender-transitioning measures.19
Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to claims that “gender transition” will resolve their difficulties. Long-term studies show “higher rates of mortality, suicidal behavior and psychiatric morbidity in gender-transitioned individuals compared to the general population.” 20/21 In addition, studies show that children and adolescents diagnosed with gender dysphoria have high rates of comorbid mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, are three to four times more likely to be on the autism spectrum, and are more likely to have suffered from adverse childhood events, including unresolved loss or trauma or abuse.22 Psychotherapeutic treatments that incorporate “ongoing therapeutic work … to address unresolved trauma and loss, the maintenance of subjective well-being, and the development of the self,” along with established treatments addressing suicidal ideation are appropriate interventions.23 Gender transition is not the solution.
Indeed, to disregard or withhold information about the harms of pursuing “transition” or about the benefits of alternative, psychotherapeutic treatments constitutes a failure in both justice and charity.
We commend Bishop Burbidge’s Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology to all CHQ readers and friends as a comprehensive guide on how to think about and address the challenge of gender ideology and gender dysphoria from a Christian perspective.
Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology
Most Rev. Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Arlington (Virginia)