Bishops’ Guide on Identity and Gender
We are living through a period in which the Christian beliefs about marriage, sexuality and gender, which have undergirded and directed western civilisation, are being increasingly challenged, overthrown, and replaced with radical ideological beliefs about sex and gender.
In recent years this ideology has been strongly advocated by activist groups and promoted in the media. It is now embraced by many in the society and is increasingly being enshrined in legislation.
One place where these changing social trends can have significant impact is in our Catholic schools.
The Australian Catholic Bishops have just released a guide for Catholic schools on the question of gender dysphoria, titled “Created and Loved”.
Quoting from the Prophet Isaiah (Is 43:1,4), the bishops’ guide reminds us that it is God who created us in love, we are made in His image and likeness, and precious in His eyes.
The bishops teach that our response to people who experience issues of gender incongruence must be based firstly on the principles of Christian anthropology (the Christian understanding of the human person).
It emphasises that when a child or young person experiences discordance between their biological sex and their gender, then “a spirit of discernment, engagement and care” is needed.
The guide advises that those young people experiencing gender dysphoria in our schools need sound and specialised medical and psychological support from experienced clinicians, along with appropriate ethical and pastoral guidance.
At the heart of our Christian response is our understanding that each person is made either male or female, which is a physical and biological reality.
As the guide states “Sex is how human beings’ bodies are organised with respect to reproductive function.” It is not something that is “assigned” but an irrevocable physical reality that is the outcome of “complex genetic and hormonal processes”.
The guide notes that 80-90% of cases where children and young people experience some incongruence between their biological sex and their feelings about who they are, will resolve “naturally with supportive psychological care”.
Yet the dominant form of treatment being provided to young people experiencing this incongruence is what is described as “the gender affirmation model”, which seeks to settle the incongruence through “affirming and normalising the child’s self-belief.”
The bishops state clearly that Church does not support this gender affirmation approach, and schools must be especially clear not to cooperate in any way “with actions which risk unnecessary damage, or which limit a student’s future possibilities for healthy human growth and development”, particularly with regard to their fertility.
The bishops instead commend what has been referred to as the ‘Biopsychosocial’ approach which is a more holistic model, including engagement with their parents and family. The school community would support this model by accompanying the student as they grow and mature, directed by the Christian anthropological understanding of the human person.
In this most difficult area such an approach offers a way in which the individual can be supported with compassion and sensitivity which will best assist them to fully flourish.
The Guide produced by the Australian Catholic Bishops makes a very important contribution to our understanding of these complex issues, and in particular will provide support to families caring for children experiencing such incongruence. It will also greatly assist our Catholic school leadership who have been trying to navigate these complex questions, in helping them better care for our young people on the basis of our Catholic understanding of God’s plan and purpose for human life.