By GINA CHRISTIAN (OSV News)
(OSV News) – Close to 30 US women religious communities, who say they represent “over 6000 vowed Catholic religious and partners in mission in over 18 states”, released a joint statement endorsing the March 31 observance of International Transgender Day of Visibility.
The March 31 statement said that the observance, which was established in 2009, is “a time to celebrate, acknowledge and uplift folks who identify as transgender, nonbinary, and/or gender-expansive”.
“As vowed Catholic religious and our partners in mission, we wholeheartedly affirm that transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive individuals are beloved and cherished by God,” read the statement, which was posted to the website of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, US Federation.
According to the website, the text was prepared by representatives of the US Federation of the Sisters of St Joseph; the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana; and the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation office of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas. The 27 endorsers included women religious communities across the nation.
Among the orders listed on the statement were several communities of Sisters of St Joseph, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of St Francis and Sisters of Loretto, as well as the Medical Mission Sisters. Individual Dominican, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Presentation, Providence and School Sisters of Notre Dame communities also signed the message.
“As members of the body of Christ, we cannot be whole without the full inclusion of transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive individuals,” the statement read.
The text said that “at this moment in the US, transgender people are experiencing harm and erasure” due to “anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across several states”, “daily discrimination and violence”, and “harmful rhetoric from some Christian institutions and their leaders, including the Catholic Church”.
The “Gospel call of unifying love compels us to actively interrupt harmful interactions in daily life and dismantle the systems that reinforce this rhetoric and violence in society, particularly for Black, Indigenous, and other folks of colour”, said the statement, which included calls to action and advocacy on behalf of those who identify as LGBTQ+.
“We will remain oppressors until we – as vowed Catholic religious – acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ+ people in our own congregations,” the text said. “We seek to cultivate a faith community where all, especially our transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive siblings, experience a deep belonging.”
On March 20, the US bishops’ doctrine committee issued a 14-page statement declaring that surgical, chemical or other interventions that aim “to exchange” a person’s “sex characteristics” for those of the opposite sex “are not morally justified”.
“The human person, body and soul, man or woman, has a fundamental order and finality whose integrity must be respected,” said the committee, chaired by Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas. “Because of this order and finality, neither patients nor physicians nor researchers nor any other persons have unlimited rights over the body; they must respect the order and finality inscribed in the embodied person.
The doctrine committee acknowledged that “many people are sincerely looking for ways to respond to real problems and real suffering”.
“Certain approaches that do not respect the fundamental order appear to offer solutions. To rely on such approaches for solutions, however, is a mistake,” it said. “An approach that does not respect the fundamental order will never truly solve the problem in view; in the end, it will only create further problems.”
The doctrine committee said that “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”.
Asked to comment on the statement from the religious communities, Jesuit Father James Martin – whose pastoral ministry has focused on the LGBTQ+ community – told OSV News he was not surprised by the message, since “Catholic sisters have always placed themselves on the side of those who are poor, struggling or marginalised”.
Father Martin described people who identify as transgender as “an extremely ‘at-risk’ population” that suffers from “extremely high incidents of violence, bullying and harassment”.
“I hope that the support of women religious, and other vowed religious, will help them feel God’s love,” he said.
However, John Di Camillo, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told OSV News that the statement from the religious communities was “terribly sad and a source of theological scandal”.
“Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned (gender ideology) as a form of ideological colonisation and exploitation of the vulnerable,” he said. Di Camillo added it does not help “those who experience gender incongruence or dysphoria learn to love themselves and their bodies for the great gifts that they are”.
“True healing, rooted in Christ, does not come through hormonal and surgical mutilations that are falsely labelled as ‘gender affirmation’,” he said, “but only through respect for bodily integrity and for one’s true identity as man or woman.”
OSV News has asked the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for comment on the women religious’ March 31 statement, but has not yet received a response.
Photo: A person holds a “Trans” banner in this illustration photo (OSV News photo/Sergio Perez, Reuters)