|Briefing: Roman Catholicism and Transsexuals|
|Living - The Dialogue|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Tuesday, 18 December 2007 19:00|
Fairfax, VA, USA. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian church worldwide, representing over half of all Christians. It is the largest organized body of any world religion, with a worldwide nominal membership exceeding 1.1 Billion individuals (2005), approximately one-sixth of the world's population.
The Roman Catholic Church is on record as opposed to transition of individuals born transsexual because it is a "mental pathology".
This article is a summary of actions, associated with the Roman Catholic Church and recent Popes, that affect the transsexual population. The survey includes background information, the effects of papal influence, and an exploration of the future prospects for transsexual individuals within the Church.
BackgroundThe Catholic Church identifies a number of actions as, objectively speaking, gravely disordered. Among them are abortion, adultery, contraception, fornication, homosexual acts, masturbation, pornography, prostitution, and rape. The degree of sinfulness can vary with the intensity and frequency of the offenses.
People born transsexual are closely aligned, in the Church's view, with homosexual acts to the extent that many Church authorities refer to such people as homosexuals. This point of view depends heavily on the notion that males and females are viewed as having different essential natures, with different roles in life. There are two sexes, each with a “gendered” soul that defines their place in the spiritual order.
Generally, the ultimate destiny of man (male) and woman (female) is to be a spiritual unit within the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. As a consequence, marriage (and sexual relations) must be between a man and a woman, as the Church defines them.
As refined in recent pronouncements, the Church primarily focuses on M2F individuals born transsexual, viewing them as having a disorder extended from homosexuality. A M2F individual, in this view, merely changes outward characteristics in a manner that contradicts one's inward and essential nature. The existence of F2M individuals and M2Fs who identify as lesbians is problematic and receives considerably less analysis by Church authorities.
Papal InfluenceThe actual formulation of the Church's views on these subjects into a defensible whole has been subject to a slow evolution over time. Because of the concentration of authority within the Church, a succession of popes have played central roles to arrive at the current situation.
Pope Paul VI (Reigned 1963-1978) succeeded Pope John XXIII following a compromise between Vatican reformers and conservatives.
He presided over the majority of Second Vatican Council sessions (initially convened by John XXIII, his predecessor. Paul VI supervised the implementation of Council decrees.
Some of his statements in the 1970s seemed critical of the direction taken by the Church after Vatican II.
He expressed his dislike of some of the “pedestrian” language used in some translations of the New Mass. But he did not generally indicate such unhappiness in his public statements.
Many of Paul VI's statements were criticized by other Church leaders as vague, subject to multiple interpretations, and/or inimical to emerging Church doctrine.
Speaking of documentable “birth defects”, he declared in conversation with a prominent surgeon that we as humans are of different parts. If it could be shown that one part is out of alignment with the others, then the church would not have any objection to addressing the problem and correcting it. In fact, there are transsexual Roman Catholics from that period who acted on the Pope's guidance and fully transitioned within the Church.
Pope John Paul I (Reigned 1978-1978) died 33 days after his election. He made no more than conventional pronouncements in that period and had little impact on theological matters.
John Paul II (Reigned 1978-2005) took more forthright and clear positions on transsexuals than his predecessors. He halted the progressive efforts of Vatican II, becoming a standard-bearer for the conservative side of the Catholic Church. He gave a series of 129 lectures during his Wednesday audiences between September 1979 and November 1984, later compiled into a single work, entitled Theology of the Body.
The book contains the pope's integrated vision of the human person — an extended meditation that includes statements on the nature of human sexuality and masculinity in human life. He continued his staunch opposition to contraceptive methods, abortion and homosexuality. John Paul's most resolute comments were reserved for those who defended the cause of gays and lesbians.
John Paul II had an all-encompassing view of homosexuality and did not distinguish transsexuality from sexual orientation from other conditions commonly referred to as transgender. He considered them a collection of the same people characterized with “mental pathologies”.
He regarded transition as inteference with one's endowment. For instance, he wrote a letter when he was the cardinal in charge of religious matters. He said you are the gender you are born with. While sympathetic to people born transsexual, he specifically indicated that the Church should not recognize Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS). John Paul II supported the efforts of Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) and denied Church positions to transsexual and transgender individuals.
John Paul II's last book, Memory and Identity, referred to the "pressures" on the European Parliament to permit same-sex marriage. The pope wrote "It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man."
Overall, John Paul II recentralized Vatican power, cementing conservative social attitudes with a string of Encyclicals and other authoritative Church documents. He reaffirmed Church opposition to abortion at any stage of pregnancy and under virtually any circumstances. Stem cell research was opposed on the same grounds of self-proclaimed respect for the sanctity of human life. He opposed condom use in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
He re-emphasized the primacy of a male dominated church and its right to retain full control of the lives and bodies of women.
Pope Benedict XVI (Reign 2005-Present) was a Catholic theologian, prolific author, and defender of traditional Catholic doctrine and values. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger, he served as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Ratzinger had John Paul II's support when declaring that homosexual desires were “objectively disordered”. He also said the movement for same sex marriage was part of a “new ideology of evil” which attempts to pit human rights "against the family and against man”.
Dr. Paul McHugh, a Catholic layman and active in the Knights of Columbus, was a major influence on Ratzinger and Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. McHugh is an influential conservative Catholic who has long campaigned to "stop sex changes". He has described women born transsexual as "... caricatures of women".
McHugh became chairperson of the psychiatric department at Johns Hopkins in 1979. He ordered follow-up evaluations on their former transsexual patients, finding that most of the patients claimed happiness in their target sex.
Nonetheless, department investigators concluded that the patients’ psychological functioning had not sufficiently improved. McHugh concluded that physical reassignment cooperated ". . . with a mental illness” rather than trying for a cure [of the “illness”]. Johns Hopkins closed its clinic and has not performed any SRS surgeries since that time.
McHugh's conclusions have been widely criticized, with critics noting that the purpose of reassignment is to help transsexual people become happy and content with their bodies. Improvements in psychological functioning is seen as a different issue. The consequences of Hopkins’ qualification policies were not included in the departmental review.
As a consulting psychiatrist to the Vatican in 2000 on sexual matters, Dr. McHugh influenced the declaration that transsexualism is a mental pathology and "doesn't exist" as a medical condition.
Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) combined his previous declarations that M2F persons are actually male homosexuals with the positions of Paul McHugh and others who were in agreement with him. The result was a justification for applying and strictly enforcing a ban on both transsexual and transgender individuals from holding Church positions.
Future ProspectsThe Roman Catholic Church's position on transsexuality derives from a condemnation of homosexuality. Modern scientific assesments indicate that transsexuality has no connection with sexual orientation. As long as the Church sees an identity between transsexuality and homosexuality, it appears unlikely to most experts that Church teachings can or will change.
The acceptance of science by the Roman Catholic Church has progressed a great deal since the days of Galileo Galilei, with a more welcoming attitude evident in Vatican teachings. However, delays have been typical when paradigm shifts occur.
For instance, the Church's position on the theory of evolution has changed over the past two centuries. It began with scant mention at all, then advanced to neutrality in the 1950s. There has been more nearly explicit acceptance in recent years. The Church's position today states that faith and scientific findings regarding the evolution of man's material body are not in conflict. However, man is as a "special creation" — the existence of God is required to explain the spiritual component of man's origins. This view is significantly different from a more fundamentalist approach.
If the Church arrives at a point where it distinguishes between transsexuality and sexual orientation, the initial statement by Pope Paul VI regarding "misalignment" would again become current. However, strategic political considerations will most likely dominate future actions by the Holy See.
John Paul II appointed all but three of the 115 cardinals who voted on Pope Benedict XVI as his successor. In turn, Benedict is empowered to make further appointments. It appears unlikely that a reforming Pontiff with the intention of undoing the John Paul II sexual theology will arise very soon.
As with heliocentrism or evolution, it could be a very long time, if ever, before there is a papacy with a modern or progressive outlook that accepts the medical reality of transsexuals.
Church Membership The Roman Catholic Church is the largest of the world's organized religions. It has an estimated membership that exceeds 1.1 Billion individuals, approximately one-sixth of the world's population (2005).
The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian church, representing over one-half of all Christians.
The graphic shows Catholic membership as a percentage of each country's population. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
|Last Updated on Monday, 12 September 2011 08:36|