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Dignity Twin Cities responds

Position Paper on The Minnesota Catholic Conference Guiding Principles for Catholic Schools and Religious Education concerning Human Sexuality and Sexual Identity

            In his letter, dated January 1, 2020, announcing a conference for Catholic school and parish leaders in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens states that the purpose of the conference would be to “engage emerging questions on sexual identity and gender theory as they relate to Catholic schools and religious education programs.”  The letter references the Holy See’s Congregation for Catholic Education 2019 document, “Male and Female He Created Them,” as the source document for the conference where, on February 20 and 21, the Archdiocese unveiled the statewide Minnesota Catholic Conference “Guiding Principles for Catholic Schools and Religious Education Concerning Human Sexuality and Sexual Identity.”  

            Concerned about the potentially harmful effect that these new Guiding Principles will have on LGBTQIA+ ( (i.e. lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and other) Catholic students and parishioners, Dignity Twin Cities asks all concerned to look closely at several documents. First, they should examine the source document, “Male and Female He Created Them,” ,

and then at the resulting Guiding Principles (GP) that come from it,

in the light of the experience of LGBTQA+ Catholics.

             The document, “Male and Female He Created Them,” published by the Vatican in February, 2019, begins with a problematical condemnation of “an ideology that is given the general name of ‘gender theory,’ which ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences” (#2).  After this introduction, the document quotes Pope Francis (#6) as saying that the ideologies of gender seek “to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised” (quoting Amoris Laetitia, 56). It excoriates “the separation of sex from gender” (# 11) which leads ultimately to “a culture and ideological revolution driven by relativism, and secondarily a juridical revolution”. (# 20) 

According to “Male and Female He Created Them”: 


"... this ideology inspires educational programs and legislative trends that promote ideas of personal identity and affective intimacy that make a radical break with the actual biological difference between male and female.  (#22)  

There is need to reaffirm the metaphysical roots of sexual difference, as an anthropological refutation of attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature, from which the family is generated.  The denial of this duality not only erases the vision of human beings as the fruit of the act of creation but creates the idea of the human person as a sort of abstraction who “chooses for himself what his nature is to be”.(#34)  

            A casual but careful reader of “Male and Female He Created Them” will surely ask, “Where is this frightening ideology written down, and by whom?”  Although it is extensively footnoted with citations from Church documents, especially St. Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, there are no citations anywhere for the sources of its bête noire, gender theory, and the ideology of gender. 

            Since the Vatican does not offer specifics on who created gender theory and where it is located, its criticisms of this body of thought are academically and theologically illegitimate.  Rather than waste time jousting at gender theory windmills, Dignity Twin Cities asks the real and pressing question of whether The Guiding Principles serve the pastoral needs of transgender young people, transgender adults, their families, friends and allies. 

             In our opinion, the Guiding Principles, for many reasons, do not serve the pastoral needs of transgender young people and those who love and advocate for them. These principles:  

     are based on an anthropology derived from a cultural narrative that does not include contemporary scientific data on sex and gender; 

     define the human person in relation to God as cisgender, thus excluding transgender and gender non-conforming people from a right relationship with God;   

     prohibit students from expressing experiences of incongruent gender identities; 

     block transgender and gender non-conforming students, their families, and their teachers from naming gender incongruities and, therefore, from recognizing genuine needs; 

     circumvent the process of forming a gender identity that works toward a healthy, joyful, spiritual life; 

     thwart the purpose of Catholic education to help students and adults form a Christian Catholic spirituality valuing the dignity of each individual as made in the image and likeness of God; 

     prohibit students from necessary and prudent participation in their own development, an inhumane limitation thatdiminishes the credibility of the Minnesota bishops and hinders the mission of the Church. 

   The heart of the case against LGBTQIA+ people, in the eyes of the Vatican, and the Minnesota bishops, comes down to a problematical notion of gender essentialism as detailed by St. Pope John Paul II in his series of 129 lectures given during his Wednesday Vatican audiences between September 1979 and November1984.   Gender essentialism posits that, as created beings, all humans have an ontological and metaphysical identity as male or female.   Thus, they possess the “metaphysical roots of sexual differences” quoted above.  One’s sexuality does not fall into the Aristotelian category of a mere appearance or accident. That sexuality is an ontological reality.  

            In asserting its position, the Magisterium opens a metaphysical can of worms because gender essentialism goes along with gender complementarity, asserting that each male needs to be married to a female, and vice versa, in order to be metaphysically perfected.  How then can celibate priests and nuns be ontologically whole? Hard to answer, but JP II tried in 129 lectures.   

            The heart of the Magisterium’s argument for the Theology of the Body, a name that summarizes St. Pope John Paul II’s lectures, is scriptural but anachronistic.  The title, “Male and Female He Created Them,” is a quote from Genesis (1:27).  However, since the publication of Divino Afflante Spiritu by Pope Pius XII in 1943, and its reaffirmation in Vatican II’s Dei Verbum in 1965 ( no.12), the Church has taught that a correct interpretation of scripture must be done using historical criticism and an understanding of what the original authors of texts meant at the time that they were writing.  It is totally inappropriate to impose the modern category of “homosexuality,” a term and concept originating in nineteenth century Germany, on ancient scriptures.  Sexual orientation and gender dysphoria were not understood in Biblical times. To crudely summarize modern scholarship’s take on the texts the Church uses to condemn homosexuality and gender theory, scholars note that, when ancient writers condemned same-sex sexual activity, they are condemning heterosexuals engaging in this behavior.  The concept of homosexual and LGBTQIA+ orientations did not exist.  (See Boswell, John 1981, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, University of Chicago Press; Helminiak, Daniel,?2000,?What the Bible ReallySsays About Homosexuality. Alamo Square Press) 

            In his February 20 and 21, 2020 remarks on the new Guiding Principles for dioceses in Minnesota, Auxiliary Bishop Cozzens says that they have been established partly for Catholic parents who were distressed by having transgender school age children who wanted to transition from male to female or from female to male.  In striving to control the transitioning of this range of students, The Principles overreach significantly both developmental and pastoral common sense. In public schools, according to State of Minnesota Department of Education guidelines, social transitioning is generally allowed as part of what has now become an almost 50-year-long recognition of developmental norms associated with the transitioning process for adults and  youth. However, the Catholic parents who came to Bishop Cozzens were not comfortable with that transitioning process, so they came to the Church for an alternative.  The alternative, as stated in the new Guiding Principles, is that social transitioning will simply not be allowed.

According to the overly deterministic Guiding Principles, a students’ sex, as assigned at birth, locks in their sexual identity at a Catholic parish or school permanently. We quote:   “Expressions of a student’s sexual identity are prohibited when they cause disruption or confusion regarding the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.” (Application # 5 from The Guiding Principles.) 

            In his remarks, introducing the new GPs in February 2020, Auxiliary Bishop Cozzens strives to exercise the Church’s political and social influence in the arena of gender identity – a realm where a child’s own internal development should have much more sway. The Bishop says that the Church is acting now to “get” children by the sixth grade because, if they delay until the ninth grade, “the culture” will have “got them.”  In other words, the bishops of Minnesota, with these new guidelines, have opened a new front in the culture wars in their schools and parishes where, if they were true pastoral leaders, they would know that because they are dealing with the lives of children troubled with gender dysphoria, it is the absolutely most inappropriate place for them to do so.  We can only trust that the Holy Spirit will guide the bishops to see the error of their ways and rescind what we should call “The Misguided Principles.”   

            Dignity Twin Cities calls on the Catholic bishops of Minnesota, and those staff in Catholic schools and parishes who agree with them, to come out from the barricades behind which they have entrenched themselves with the Theology of the Body. We ask them to welcome, to be in dialogue with, and to work closely with transgender-supportive parents, educators, medical and counseling practitioners, and researchers, regarding students with transgender and other-gendered identities.  The overriding message from Church staff should include humble acknowledgements that they do not have an answer for everything, especially the medically and psychologically complicated issues of all these gender differences, and that they will do their best to relate to all people -- especially trans and other gender-nonconforming children and adults -- through unconditional, yes, UNCONDITIONAL love. 

            Contrary to what “Male and Female He Created Them” maintains (# 6), most transgender students and adults are not protagonists for an ideology of gender.  They are individuals who discover that the cultural and biological norms that work for most people do not work for them. They discover that they are, by cultural, biological, and theological norms, queer, or different. To cope with the differences that they experience they may need to seek out help to grow and thrive. They must look to experts in a variety of fields to help them understand, live with, and thrive with their differences. 

            At a young age, besieged by a discriminatory society, peers, parents, and even teachers -- and by the consistent harassment, assaults, suicidal thoughts, and impending unemployment and poverty that goes with that discrimination -- these students may seek support from their educators in their Church. The Church must open its arms and offer a safe place for its own youth to learn and to be. We hope that someday soon these young people, like others in our Universal Church and its schools, will be able to explore and celebrate their differences. We hope that the Church will move quickly from denying these differences to honoring them, just as it supposedly strives to honor all of God’s Children.