10/10/2015 10:08 EDT | Updated 10/10/2016 05:12 EDT

Affirming Transgender Persons Is a Catholic Value

Rainbow flag on a church.
Rainbow flag on a church.

"Don't act like the hypocrite who thinks he can conceal his wiles by loudly quoting the Qur'an." ~ Hafez (14th century Persian poet)

Recently, a parochial vicar in Edmonton added to the debate on an issue as trivial as the use of washroom facilities by a transgender student in an elementary Catholic school. In his seven-point missive, he seemed to justify the use of the words "mental illness" and "disorder" used by the Catholic authorities for transgender persons.

According to him, gay straight alliances (GSAs) would be "redundant" in Catholic schools as such schools "foster an environment reflecting the truth of the human person." He opines that some psychiatric diagnostic manuals refer to gender dysphoria as a "mental disorder," and that by identifying as transgender one "admits of this mental disorder." He further states that in "Catholic moral theology -- and the natural law," moral norms are "discoverable by the light of reason alone," and that "feelings" do not determine the "truth-values of statements."

However, Gary Simpson at McDougall United, who graduated from a Catholic seminary and takes a strong position against "Catholic bashing," disagrees with the points made by the vicar. Simpson quotes a Catholic professor as, "there is no single Catholic theology regarding LGBT people." He further states that "we can find over 50 American Catholic colleges and universities that either have GSAs or offices to provide support to LGBT students" and that "the Alberta Archbishops do not speak for all Catholicism."

Simpson also remarks that some of the Catholic colleges mention on their websites that, "GSAs are in harmony with Catholic beliefs." Likewise, Unitarian minister Rev. Brian Kiely, who grew up as a Roman Catholic, has responded to the vicar's letter, stating that "if young people feel the need of the GSAs," then the kind of Catholic environment described in the vicar's letter "would be happy to provide."

Muslim writer Mark Brustman, who has formerly attended Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist Churches, finds the vicar's words "disingenuous." He observes that, "it is like people who respond to 'Black Lives Matter' by saying 'All Lives Matter' -- which is just another way of telling people with grievances to shut up."

Simpson on his part is a committed Christian and takes his faith seriously. His criticism of the vicar's points include the observation that "using the word 'disorder' when you know it hurts LGBT people is not in harmony with Catholic values." He elaborates that if, "we know that language is offensive and when there is a way to use language that is not offensive, we are guilty of dehumanizing people when we choose the offensive language."

Simpson believes that "a case can be made that gender reassignment surgeries are in harmony with Catholic values." He elaborates that "using surgery or drugs to correct problems that are in the biology of human bodies is showing respect for God's creation and is showing respect for the inherent worth and dignity of each person."

In this manner, his opinions are reflective of Muslim scholars who allow such surgeries based on the framework that the inner soul takes precedence over the external biological form.

On natural law, Simpson feels that "even with a rigorous process of determining morality and ethics, mistakes can be made." Likewise, president of the Catholic organization Dignity Canada, Frank Testin, elaborates that "natural law" as applied to sexual ethics is a philosophical creation of Plato, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. It is not based on any evidence." He further states, "it is time to reject the antiquated logic of sexual 'natural law' that has done untold harm to LGBT persons and even our heterosexual brothers and sisters."

Finally, Simpson opines that, "calling on hurting people to not be so emotional is challenging." He concludes that "trying to use appropriate language helps reduce the pain" and that "we can allow trans students and adults to use the bathroom that affirms their inner soul ... without violating Catholic principles."

In light of the above statements by Catholics and religious people of other faiths, the parochial vicar can only speak for himself.

The wise religious leaders understand that "the laws are there to serve human beings; we are not there to serve the law." Some even caution against excessive zeal by alluding to a rabbinic teaching that "when the evil urge tries to tempt people to sin, it tempts them to become super righteous."

In short, affirming transgender persons is a Catholic value.


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