The ongoing debates over transgenderism have produced a great deal of acrimony and hurt feelings, not to mention a schism in the mental healthcare field. But I’ll confess that one authority I didn’t expect to see weighing in on it was the Vatican. They did it this week, however, releasing new guidance for Catholic educators. And their conclusion didn’t beat around the bush, either, stating flatly that you can’t change the gender you were assigned at birth and as determined by God. The document was 31 pages in length and was titled, “Male and Female He Created Them.” (Washington Post)
Warning of a society “without sexual differences,” the Vatican on Monday dismissed the idea that a person’s gender can differ from the assigned sex at birth and said a fluid idea of identity was not “based on the truths of existence.”
The right to “choose one’s gender,” the Vatican said in an official document, is in “direct contradiction of the model of marriage as being between one man and one woman.”
The document, released as a guide for Catholic educators, held firm to the religion’s traditional teaching on gender and sexuality. But LGBT members of the faith said it put an official and updated stamp on viewpoints they had hoped were changing.
It’s worth pointing out that this document wasn’t signed by Pope Francis. It was authored by a Cardinal and an Archbishop from the Roman Curia. It’s unlikely that it would have gone out without a thumbs up from His Holiness, however. Pope Francis spoke on this subject back in 2016, noting that children were being taught in school that they can choose their own gender, a trend he described as “terrible.”
Reading through the details, this wasn’t really a document focused on transgender individuals so much as an expansion on the church’s teachings regarding marriage. They oppose gay marriage, saying a family needs a mother and a father, but those findings are now apparently being expanded to specify that the mother and father need to stay in those roles and can’t be substituted for those who are “differently gendered.”
The guidelines also touch on the subject of “gender corrective” surgery. That’s one area where we can, if you wish, leave the religious aspects of this debate behind and get back to the science. Does this “affirmation” surgery somehow change you from a man to a woman or vice versa? Let’s take a trip down memory lane to the 1800s.
In the 19th century, German evolutionary biologist August Weismann cut off the tails of 20 generations of mice and demonstrated that not a single tailless mouse was subsequently born. Cutting off the mouse’s tail doesn’t create a tailless mouse. It creates a standard mouse that has been mutilated. But if that mouse reproduces, it’s true nature is revealed. Similarly, if you remove the genitalia from a man or add some new bits to a woman, assuming they were born with non-anomalous chromosomal structures, their underlying gender hasn’t changed. They’ve simply been artificially modified.
How much impact the release of this document will have on the discussion remains to be seen. We live in an era when even many Catholics have been largely ignoring some of the rulings of the Vatican, particularly when it comes to questions of gay marriage, abortion and other practices traditionally condemned by the church. And for those of a less religious nature who are involved in the debate, it’s unlikely that any findings from the Vatican are going to influence their opinions one way or another.