See Jesus in transgender people
In a recent column in the Catholic Times, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki addressed transgender issues in the context of the Boy Scouts’ recent decision to accept transgender youth among their ranks. After clarifying that local troops affiliated with Catholic schools and parishes will not follow suit, he proceeded to spread multiple falsehoods about transgender people, the medical community’s understanding of them and how the church must respond. There is actually no definitive Catholic teaching on transgender identity.
Providing nothing to support his claim, Bishop Paprocki asserted that there is “no physical basis for a person claiming to be transgender,” ignoring multiple studies indicating a biological basis for transgender identity due to physical differences in the brain. He then reduced transgender identity to a feeling of being “trapped in the wrong body,” exposing his lack of understanding of the transgender experience and the fluidity of gender.
Bishop Paprocki also claimed that hormonal and surgical treatments for transgender people are immoral and medically unsound, citing unnamed “studies” that contradict the positions of the vast majority of mainstream medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, among others.
He quoted Pope Francis to justify his assertion that transgender identity is not morally acceptable, although he failed to tell the whole story. Last October, when asked to clarify the comments to which Bishop Paprocki referred, Francis told reporters that the church must accompany transgender people through pastoral care, including granting them access to the sacrament of communion. And prior to this, in 2015, Francis personally invited a transgender man who felt betrayed by the church to the Vatican. In a phone call leading up to the meeting, Francis reportedly told this man, “You are a son of God and the Church loves you and accepts you as you are.”
Bishop Paprocki is right that transgender people are significantly more likely to attempt suicide. In fact, the average life expectancy of a trans woman of color is a tragically low 35 years, not only due to suicide, but also inadequate health care, substance abuse, homelessness and violence motivated by hatred. Perhaps the high suicide rate is not due to any mental illness, as the bishop implies, but a violent and unforgiving culture that marginalizes transgender people and leaves them with nowhere to turn.
Our bishop insists that the church must “reject the false ideologies being promoted in our secular culture and stand for the truth revealed to us by God,” but I challenge him to recognize the face of Jesus revealed in the transgender members of our human family. Perhaps these individuals have something to teach all of us: The common thread in the diversity of transgender experiences is that transgender people, and especially transgender Catholics, seek to overcome what they experience as a barrier to living, loving and interacting from an authentic place. They seek wholeness in body, mind and spirit, something that Jesus certainly affirmed in his own ministry.
As Catholics, we too are called to offer healing and wholeness to the world. If we fail in this regard, then we fail to live up to what God expects from us.
John Freml is the coordinator of Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic organizations that seeks the full inclusion of LGBT Catholics in the church and in society.