This past August, Pope Francis traveled to a church in Rome that has opened a shelter for homeless transgender-identifying people. “No one should encounter injustice or be thrown away, everyone has dignity of being a child of God,” Sister Genevieve Jeanningros told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
The good sister is quite right. We do not earn our dignity; it is a gift from God. Our equality is grounded in this: we are all equally and deeply loved by our Creator.
Some advocates express consternation that Pope Francis supports the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage while expressing so much kindness toward people who live at odds with these teachings. But no one should be surprised. This is what Christ teaches us to do: love thy neighbor and teach the truth.
In the midst of the AIDS crisis, for example, the Church forged the world’s largest network of AIDS care centers. Sick people need care. Homeless people need shelter. Abandoned people need to know they are loved. It is precisely to express Christ’s love that the Catholic Church has so many caring ministries: for the sick, for women in crisis pregnancies, for migrants, for the poor, and for others on the margins. The Catholic Church remains the largest private provider of social services in the world.
Meanwhile, Church teaching on sex and marriage is grounded in both faith and reason. All around us, we see that sexual desire inflicts much suffering unless it is placed in service to love. Moral rules exist to protect people from damage and help them to a better way.
Our bodies have meaning. We are not mere ghosts in machines. Our bodies are part of who we are and they point us to love, toward what Pope St. John Paul II called the “nuptial meaning of the body.” Men and women are made for union with each other. This call affects even those who, like me, are vowed to celibacy, which is another way of giving one’s whole self in love. To reject that reduces another human being to a mere object of desire. We see the profoundly painful results of the breakdown of this marriage norm in increased crime, poverty, mental illness, and loneliness. These are the crises that fatherlessness brings, something that social science studies have been showing us for over fifty years now.
Pope Francis calls attacks on these truths of our maleness and femaleness “gender ideology,” and, as he put it in 2021, “an attack on difference, on the creativity of God and on men and women.” He even referenced this in his popular encyclical letter on the environment, Laudato Si’, affirming that “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.”
Things go wrong in this world. The best way to care for people suffering a painful rift between their bodies and their minds is a matter of debate. Even though we share the impulse to care, the descent into gender ideology is shutting down that discussion, with ideologues insisting that all medical professionals and loving parents agree that surgically mutilating and possibly sterilizing even children with puberty blockers, hormones, and surgery is “health care.” And yet, the British National Health Service recently shut down its principal “gender-affirming” clinic because it had been “rushing children into life-altering treatment.” Thank God for those who are committed to putting patients above profits.
Amid this rapidly changing situation, the Department of Health and Human Services proposes so-called “nondiscrimination” rules that would prevent our ministries from helping people. In its public comment on the proposed regulation, First Liberty’s public interest lawyers say “Religious healthcare providers and institutions will continue to be targeted, sued, and eventually forced out of the healthcare field if Federal regulations do not permit them to follow their consciences.”
These new regulations are no service to the vulnerable. We want to serve people who struggle with gender identity. We also love them enough to protest an ideology that is doing great harm to real people.
But meanwhile, tens of thousands of young teenagers are being physically medicated and sometimes mutilated for life, the majority of whom would probably have found the way to reconcile with their bodies if left uninterrupted. Parents are threatened with being cut off from their children. The opportunity to self-identify has also been exploited by some men claiming to be women. Imprisoned women have been raped and impregnated by biological males forced into their living quarters. Women in homeless shelters and young girls at swimming pools in many states are being denied a safe space, and even the haven of female sports is being invaded by biological males.
We cannot be silent. Authentic compassion compels us to speak out for people who struggle with gender identity and for the victims of gender ideology, in all of the forms that victimization takes.