Archbishop Aquila on gender confusion and bathrooms

The recent letter from the Department of Education on bathroom and locker room policy for students with gender confusion has generated a great deal of concern among parents and people of good will. Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s actions are creating even greater confusion in an area of life that is vital for our children to develop as boys and girls. The brokenness of our society will not be healed by indiscriminately embracing every subjective behavior but by accepting the truth found in creation. As a Church, we must compassionately promote these truths. In the words of Pope Francis, “the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created” (Amoris Laetitia, 285).


Statement by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

In the wake of the Obama administration’s decision to issue guidance for public schools to allow students with gender confusion to use any bathroom or locker room, I have asked the Denver Catholic to publish this statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I would also like to reassure concerned Catholics that our schools and institutions will not adopt this policy.

The statement: USCCB Chairmen Respond to Administration’s New Guidance Letter on Title IX Application

WASHINGTON—Two Committee chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued the following statement in response to guidance issued May 13 by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education entitled “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students”:

The Catholic Church consistently affirms the inherent dignity of each and every human person and advocates for the wellbeing of all people, particularly the most vulnerable. Especially at a young age and in schools, it is important that our children understand the depth of God’s love for them and their intrinsic worth and beauty. Children should always be and feel safe and secure and know they are loved.

The guidance issued May 13 by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education that treats “a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex” is deeply disturbing. The guidance fails to address a number of important concerns and contradicts a basic understanding of human formation so well expressed by Pope Francis: that “the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created” (Amoris Laetitia [AL], no. 285).

Children, youth, and parents in these difficult situations deserve compassion, sensitivity, and respect. All of these can be expressed without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security on the part of the other young students and parents. The federal regulatory guidance issued on May 13 does not even attempt to achieve this balance. It unfortunately does not respect the ongoing political discussion at the state and local levels and in Congress, or the broader cultural discussion, about how best to address these sensitive issues. Rather, the guidance short-circuits those discussions entirely.

As Pope Francis has recently indicated, “‘biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated'” (AL, no. 56, emphasis added). We pray that the government make room for more just and compassionate approaches and policies in this sensitive area, in order to serve the good of all students and parents, as well as the common good. We will be studying the guidance further to understand the full extent of its implications.

The statement was issued by Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Archbishop George Lucas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education.

COMING UP: Made in His image

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On May 13th, the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Education issued a joint directive to public school districts, regarding the rights afforded to students identifying as transgender.

The section following the “Sex-Segregated Activities and Facilities” is of course what has people talking.  For it is here, under the heading Restrooms and Locker Rooms, where we read that a school “may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity.  A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.”  (Emphasis mine.)

As a parent with seven children presently enrolled in public schools, this is more than a little disconcerting to me.  Although it has certainly not been an issue for us yet, I am now aware that the federal government would have my sons and daughters dressing in locker rooms among peers of the opposite sex.  That this does not at all give the civil rights divisions of the DOJ and DOE pause is particularly baffling, because what about the rights of my children?

I will confess, though, that what I ultimately find most heartbreaking is the utter confusion that reigns among young people today, particularly when it comes to their sexuality.  Amidst all of the (well-deserved) objections to such short-sighted and dangerous government policies, we Catholics must also take care not to lose sight of the fact that people are lacking and grappling for answers to the questions of, “what does it mean to be created as a man?”, and “what does it mean to be created as a woman?”

That is of course not to say that there aren’t those who struggle–due to any number of factors, and I suspect the factors are many–with things like gender identity and sexual orientation.  As Catholics we certainly must seek to love, extend mercy, and acknowledge the dignity of each and every human person, especially persons in the margins of society, or who are prone to experiencing feelings of worthlessness.  Statistically speaking, men and women who are transgendered are more likely to battle depression, suicidal ideation, and to be victims of violence.  But it is also true, as Pope Francis writes in Amoris Letitia, that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated” (no. 56).  This reality must not be obscured or overlooked, and the bishops are right to point out that the federal government has essentially short-circuited some crucial elements of this important conversation.

So what is a parent like me to do in this cultural age of brokenness and confusion?  In addition to protecting the privacy of my children (if and when we cross this bridge at their respective schools), I must all the more continue instructing them in the ways of our Lord.  I will take them to Mass and tell them they are desperately loved by Jesus.  I will encourage them to love, respect, and engage others.  When we see an employee at the store who is clearly transgendered, and my twelve-year-old daughter asks if it’s a boy or a girl (yes, this really did happen a few months ago), I’ll tell her once again of God’s beautiful plan for men, women, marriage, and the good of society.  I’ll remind her about the dignity and value inherent in every single person, regardless how that person struggles.  We’ll talk about being charitable, and about seeing Jesus in the faces of those she encounters.

And, I will take Pope Francis’ words to heart when he writes that “the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 285).  I’ll do my best to cultivate a healthy, God-centered, realistic body image in my children, and to listen to their questions, doubts and concerns–and then reply with both humility and honesty.  The beautiful thing is that as Catholics, even amidst the messiness of the world, we can look to the future with confidence and hope.  Why?  Because we not only have the Sacraments, but also the truth: that Jesus came to save and redeem, that God is perfect love, and that we are each of us created, male and female, in His image.