Gender Identity: Choice or Given?

In March the diocese of Shrewsbury hosted a series of talks by the German writer and sociologist, Gabriele Kuby, author of “The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom”.

During the course of a three-day visit, Mrs Kuby (above) addressed clergy and lay people of the diocese, calling on them to oppose at all costs the new ideology, which holds individuals are not born male or female but can construct their own genders. She warned her audiences that the ideology was part of a deliberate attempt to subvert the family and to destroy traditional marriage.

Children across the Western worldwere now facing indoctrination in the “false” claims of the ideology from their early years, she said, as schools were compelled by governments and the courts to promote them without question. Mrs Kuby suggested that the faithful should draw inspiration from the example of the White Rose, the student resistance movement that opposed Nazism during the Second World War and also of the German officers who attempted to overthrow Hitler.

Six members of the White Rosewere beheaded after the Lichthof of Munich University was flooded  with leaflets urging students to rise up against “Nazi terror”. Some of the group had been partly inspired by the “theology of conscience” of Blessed John Henry Newman.

Speaking to clergy on the first day of her visit, Mrs Kuby said: “There  is resistance. Everywhere there are very serious disciples of Christ putting their lives into this battle. Of course we want to be successful and of course we want to have the best strategies we could have, but it is worth doing it even if we fail. Even if we are not successful, it is worth putting our lives into this.”

Introducing his guest, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury (below) said that because Christians were called by Jesus Christ to “love every person perfectly” they must be ready to challenge the “damaging errors and false ideas that threaten the well-being of souls and human society as a whole”. In October 2016, Bishop Davies had told educators in parishes and private Catholic schools in his diocese, “While the Catholic Church must minister to people with real psychological confusion over their sexuality, it can never compromise the truth that our gender and sexuality are God-given and flow directly from our biological bodies”.

Clifford Longley, a columnist and Editorial Consultant for The Tablet, writing for the international Catholic weekly in April considered the position taken by conservative Catholics, including, he added, “unfortunately, both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis”, that gender is a choice not a given and, therefore, “gender theory” represents a dire threat to the family. Longley posited the dilemma of a Catholic head teacher presented with the news that an enrolled student is transitioning to the other gender. He argued that it would be wrong to assume that traditional Church teaching has all the answers and that what matters most is the short- and long-term welfare of the child and not the inflexible application of Catholic doctrine. Despite what many people assume, the Catholic Church does not have an official teaching on gender dysphoria, i.e. the mismatch between a person’s biological sex and their gender identity. The internet contains many definite opinions denouncing gender dysphoria, but the Magisterium is silent on the matter. This is not the case regarding persons who define themselves as of non-binary gender, i.e. those do not fit the male and female binary. In this instance, the Church insists that human dignity requires us to view sexuality in its unique and transcendental character, rooted in the truth that sexual identity as male or female persons is an intimate part of the original and divine plan of creation. “The mystery of what it means to be human – incarnate, embodied and therefore sexual – is bound up in the mystery and purpose of God, who is the author of all life, and love itself” (Human Sexuality – An all-embracing gift, Gerald D. Coleman, SS, Alba House, new York, 1992, p. 3).

There are three instances where the Church has supposedly taught on transgender issues, and these are epeatedly put forward as evidence against identity and legal rights. In brief these are:

1. Pope Benedict’s 2012 Christmas greeting to the Curia of the Church. Midway through his greeting he addressed the issue of gender theory quoting some words of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so.” He added: “These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality . . . According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves.”

2. Paragraph 2297 of the Catechism: “Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.”

3. An article released by the Catholic News Service in 2003 entitled, “Vatican says ‘sex-change’ operation does not change person’s gender.” The article was later removed but it claimed that a secret document had been sent to Papal representatives globally advising local bishops on how to deal with transsexuals on a case-by-case basis. Bishops were supposedly told not to recognize the gender identity of transsexuals and to bar them from the sacraments of marriage, ordination, and religious11life. The existence of such a document is in serious doubt.

In his column, Longley states that “human sexuality remains a mystery with many surprises still to come . . Wherever gender identity comes from, it seems to be very deeply rooted.”

He continues, “There is an unfortunate parallel here to the way traditional Catholic language talked [sic] about homosexuality. That is not to say the two conditions are related: indeed seeing them as different is an insight. But the Church does not deal well with individuals who do not fit the standard pattern. This ‘one size fits all’ sexual anthropology led to the treatment of homosexuality as a sinful choice that could and should be reversed, or at very least suppressed as an ‘intrinsic disorder’”. It is not without interest that Bishop Davies has actively sought to establish a chapter of Courage International in the Shrewsbury diocese. Courage is a Catholic apostolate dedicated to the support of people who experience same-sex attraction and who seek to live chaste lives.

Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry in the United States has contributed two articles on the Bondings 2.0 blog (The Church and Transgender Identity). In them DeBernardo contrasts the positions taken by two American theologians, David Cloutier and Luke Timothy Johnson, referencing an article published in Commonweal magazine. He points out that “though Cloutier and Johnson have opposing positions, they do share some ideas in common. Just as Cloutier took a negative position, but also expressed sympathy and respect for transgender people, Johnson takes a positive position but also turns a critical eye to some of what he sees as excesses of the pro-trans camp. Both lament the speed with which decisions on transgender issues are being made and both decry the hardening of polarized camps which the discussion seems to have fostered.”

Longley in his article says, “The Church hadn’t [Ed: and still hasn’t] listened to what homosexuals said about themselves. If it had, it would have heard them say that they were convinced they were the way they were because that was how God or Mother Nature intended them to be. They profoundly felt themselves to have a distinct sexual identity. But it had chosen them, not the other way round. On the contrary, freedom came from accepting who they were; and being loved and accepted by others as such.

“That is close to what transgendered individuals say about themselves. And just as homosexuality was once commonly  regarded as a perversion or a treatable mental disorder, the same mistaken assumptions are being made about gender dysphoria.”

The Diocese of Shrewsbury’s report on the visit of Gabriele Kuby and Clifford Longley’s column agree on at least one point and that is the resistance among some radical feminists to the idea that a person born male can transition, by way of surgery and hormone treatment, to female. Cynically, the diocese enlists the feminists Germaine Greer and Julie Bindell as allies because of disparaging remarks they made about trans women, resulting in them being denied platforms at the universities of Cardiff and Manchester respectively. On its website the diocese also refers to a warning given to Dame Jenni Murray, a presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, after she suggested in the Sunday Times that men who have sex change operations were not “real women”.

Francis DeBernado believes the discussion on transgender identity in the Catholic Church is only just beginning. Clifford Longley, while stating that he has some sympathy for the argument put forward by some radical feminists, nevertheless believes that men and women who are profoundly convinced they have been born into the wrong body are not “trespassers intruding into another’s private space”. In this regard he may be referring to transgender women using women’s public toilets, currently a flashpoint for transgender rights.

Returning to the scenario with which he began his column— referring to a head teacher confronted by the news that a student has begun the process of transitioning—Longley concludes that, “unfathomable though it may be, [the head teacher] would do well to begin simply by assuming they are right. And with maximum
compassion take it from there.”

Pope Francis in his letter to the Church, The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia), says that the challenge “posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female’” (AL 56).

The Pope has expressed his views on transgender issues. on other occasions. For example, on the return flight from Azerbaijan to Rome in October 2016 he commented, “It is one thing for a person to have this tendency, this option, and even to have a sex change, but it is another thing to teach this in schools in order to change mentalities . . . This I call ideological colonisation.” He described teaching school children about being transgender as “indoctrination.” However, it was reported that he also spoke about visiting a trans man and his wife. He praised a bishop who had spent time with the man as “a good  bishop” while condemning a new bishop who “would shout at him from the sidewalk, ‘You will go to

One thing we know for certain about Pope Francis is that he listens. He is a bridge-builder – he
often repeats the mantra, “build bridges, not walls” – and even if at times we are exasperated by his
ambivalence in tackling certain matters, he seeks dialogue and encounter even with those with
whom he disagrees. We can but hope that he will continue to give an attentive ear to the voices of
those the Church has excluded.

Adam McIntosh


  • The Tablet, 8th April 2017,
  • New Ways Ministry Blog
  • Bondings 2.0
  • Catholictrans blog
  • Diocese of Shrewsbury website.
  • www.commonweal

Further reading: This is my body – hearing the theology of transgender Christians, edited by Christina Beardsley and Michelle O’Brien. (Darton, Longman and Todd, 2016).

Also see, at Queering the Church: