Gender Identity: A Bishop’s Answers to Common Questions

Gender identity is becoming an important topic in our society, with different gender expressions becoming mainstream in our culture. But how can we as Catholics show love for those around us while still upholding the Church’s teaching on gender?

Bishop Thomas Paprocki, of the Diocese of Springfield, recently released a pastoral guide on gender identity, to help foster an understanding of the policies in his diocese and a recognition of the sensitivities regarding this matter. Bishop Paprocki also stopped by Morning Air® last week to discuss the pastoral guide and answer some common questions regarding gender identity and the Catholic faith.

On the general premise of the pastoral guide, Bishop Paprocki explained, “The general theme as we start out with our pastoral guide says that gender dysphoria is a real psychological condition. So, you know, it’s not just people making this up. There is a condition that they are dealing with in which a biological male or female believes that he or she is the opposite gender. And so when we are confronted with such situations, we have to handle them with gentleness, and compassion, and pastoral skill, and concern. We don’t have any harshness or discrimination against that.”

“But at the same time, we have to deal with those situations compassionately, but realistically. And so this is intended to provide some guidance. Our teachers, our principals, and pastors have been asking, and these situations and questions at least seem to be coming up more. And so they were looking for some guidance on this. That’s what the policy is intended to address.”

Bishop Paprocki also fielded some common questions about gender identity and the Catholic faith from Morning Air hosts John Harper and Glen Lewerenz, including:

Human biology is a gift from God that we cannot change. How do we communicate that in a culture that pushes back against it?
We are conceived into this world and born into this world as a gift from God. And we can teach that from a very young age. Our very existence is a gift from God and our parents. We use a very wonderful word, we call that procreation. They are cooperating with God’s creation and bring us into the world. So when God gives us the gift of who we are, which includes our sexuality, that is a gift that we should not reject. It is a gift that we should appreciate, and celebrate who we are. And I think that’s a very basic lesson that can be taught to our children.

How should we talk to our kids about gender identity?
You have to do it in an age-appropriate way. And actually, the pastoral guide gives some links to some instructional videos, and there’s one video in particular that gives age-appropriate instruction on that. In the video they talk about how talking to a younger child, you can just use more general terminologies. You know, telling the children if the issue comes up that girls have girl body parts, and boys have boy body parts. And a girl you call she and a boy you call he. So you keep it very simple.

And as they get older into adolescence, you can get a little more technical with that and a little more explanation. But unfortunately, our children are being confronted with these issues at younger and younger ages. Many of them have their own smartphones, or they see these things and so they ask their parents. And so the pastoral guide tries to provide some guidance on how parents can can deal with those situations, even with very young children.

How can we best love those with gender dysphoria while affirming the teachings of our Catholic faith?
There’s a very good analogy that, in doing research for this pastoral guide, I found helpful and I think others have found helpful too. The analogy is to a person who’s suffering from anorexia, who thinks that he or she is overweight, but they’re not. Often, in those cases, they’re actually very underweight. So a school counselor, for example, that had a very thin student coming in and saying, ‘I think I’m overweight. Would you help me lose weight?’ that would be recognized pretty quickly as anorexia. And the counselor would say, ‘Well, no. I’m not gonna help you lose weight, but let me get you some help.’

And so, similarly, when a child says to their parent, counselor, or teacher, if a boy says, ‘I think I’m a girl’ or a girl says, ‘I think I’m a boy,’ to respond with compassion. The answer is not going to be to tell the boy, ‘Let me help you become a girl’ and to go down that path of chemical and surgical changes. But instead to respond with compassion, and say, ‘Well, it seems to me that you’re dealing with what they call gender dysphoria. There’s a disconnect between your psychological identity, who you are, and your biological identity. And so we will try to get you some help with that.’ And then to find a good psychologist who can deal with that person, who has the proper Christian anthropology of creation and how we are conceived into this world, who can really deal with that person in a compassionate way that could help.

What about those who are born with an ambiguous biological gender, such as intersex people?
The policy and the guide does recognize that there are some rare cases of what they call intersex or hermaphroditism. That’s where it’s basically a genital abnormality or birth defect, when someone is born with ambiguous sexual organs and/or duplicate sexual organs, both male and female. And the researchers on that say that’s actually less than .001%. So it’s rare, but we do say in the policy, in such cases, they should get proper medical attention to deal with that situation.

But I think in most cases that we’re talking about, we’re not talking about these rare, rare cases of intersex, so it’s more of a psychological situation. You have a student who is biologically one sex saying that ‘I just feel emotionally or psychologically that I’m really a person of the other sex.’ And that’s really the main and the predominant area of occurrence that we’re trying to address here.

Listen to the full conversation with Bishop Paprocki below:

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