Sunday, November 19, 2023

New Ways Ministry criticizes letter on gender ideology by San Francisco, Oakland bishops

 New Ways Ministry

Catholic parents and community members have strongly resisted a transgender-negative joint letter from two California bishops this fall.

The letter, titled “The Body-Soul Unity of the Human Person,” was co-signed by San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Oakland’s Bishop Michael Barber, SJ. The bishops condemned so-called “gender ideology” as being “opposed to reason, to science, and to a Christian view of the human person.” 

This ‘ideology’ (which seems to refer to attitudes and attempts to promote inclusivity and acceptance of transgender and nonbinary people) is framed by Cordileone and Barber as “[denying] certain fundamental aspects of human existence, such as male-female sexual difference, the reciprocal complementarity of man and woman, and the essential unity of body and soul in the human person.”

It is notable that in this letter, there are no specific policies or guidance, a contrast to numerous U.S. bishops who in the past two years have sough to deny transgender and nonbinary identities with such restrictions. 

According to a statement made by Peter Marlow, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of San Francisco:

“The intent [of the letter] was to provide clarity and resources related to the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the nature of the human person…the pastoral letter was designed to provide clarity and guidance. Its purpose was not to set explicit policy.”

Much of the Catholic response to this letter, however, has been LGBTQ-positive and critical about the possibility of anti-transgender policies deriving from the letter. In recent months, some Catholic school leaders in the Bay Area suggested anti-transgender policies might be imminent. 

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that “some parents were so alarmed by the prospect that they removed their children at the end of the school year.” Simply the idea of such a policy was “met with angry, emotional responses from many parents, students and staff.”

Deborah Simon-Weisberg, a parent at Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School, Alameda, strongly considered not sending her son back to the school in the face of possible LGBTQ-negative policies, but she has been feeling more optimistic since the school has taken deliberately LGBTQ-positive steps, including hiring an openly gay teacher.

Robert Shine, associate director of New Ways Ministry, was quoted in the Chronicle article as suggesting that the Bay Area bishops may have opted for a letter rather than putting forth specific policies precisely because of “the potential negative fallout” that a policy would cause, given the clearly and loudly-voiced pro-LGBTQ+ views of many Catholics in the area.

The text of the letter echoes the Doctrinal Note on the Moral Limits to Technological Manipulation of the Human Body issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, which denounced gender-affirming care and denied the lived experience of transgender and nonbinary individuals, who identify with a gender that does not align with their sex assigned at birth.

The letter from Cordileone and Barber concludes by quoting former Pope Benedict XVI, who said “each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary.”

Indeed, each of us, transgender and nonbinary siblings included, is the result of God’s creative and loving will. Each of us is loved, in the totality of our being and multiplicity of identities. And each of us is necessary, in the world and in the church. 

The pro-LGBTQ response of the Bay Area Catholic community to this letter reflects such a reality, and that response hopefully sends a message to Catholic leaders about what it means to welcome, embrace, and accompany our transgender siblings.