Catholic Schools Must Be Faithful and Welcoming on Gender Identity, Cleveland Diocese Says

Bishop Edward Malesic of Cleveland promulgated the policy as particular law for the Diocese of Cleveland, meaning it has canonical status.

Gender pronouns written out in cursive on a chalkboard inside a classroom.
Gender pronouns written out in cursive on a chalkboard inside a classroom. (photo: Kryvosheia Yurii / Shutterstock)

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland has issued a policy on gender identity and related LGBT issues for its Catholic schools, stressing the need to accompany and welcome people with gender dysphoria while also showing consistency with Catholic teaching and respect for God’s creation.

“Catholic institutions must accompany people experiencing gender dysphoria and be committed both to providing a loving environment and to upholding the truth of God’s created reality,” the introduction to the Ohio diocese’s policy says. “As the Catechism teaches, individuals who experience these perceptions or feelings are to be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity and that every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

The three-page policy document, dated Aug. 31, largely formalizes existing policy and practice, according to the diocese’s website. The policy applies to diocesan offices, parishes, parish schools, and diocesan schools. There are about 42,000 students in Catholic schools in the diocese.

Bishop Edward Malesic of Cleveland promulgated the policy as particular law for the Diocese of Cleveland, meaning it has canonical status.

“All are welcome,” says the policy, adding that by being a part of a Catholic community a person accepts the responsibility of acting in a way “consistent with moral teachings” and in a way that upholds “the rules and expectations of that community … designed to reflect the fullness of the Church’s teachings.”

Pronouns, Bathrooms, Dress Codes, and More

Regarding parental notification, the policy says that a Catholic institution should notify parents or guardians if faculty or staff become aware that a minor is experiencing “gender dysphoria or gender confusion.” If there is “reasonable concern” that notification will result in physical abuse, the institution should consult the diocese’s legal office and the moral theologian designated by the bishop. However, the policy states that the “initial presumption” should be that parents are notified unless there is a “compelling reason not to.”

The policy clarifies that if a parent or guardian declines to affirm a child’s newly claimed identity it should not be considered abuse or a reason not to disclose the child’s gender confusion.

The policy bars student or staff use of “preferred pronouns” in speech or writing, including institutional correspondence and communications. With parental agreement, nicknames may be used for a person with gender dysphoria or gender confusion “as a pastoral accommodation,” provided their use does not obscure or contradict a person’s biological sex.

Bathroom use must correspond to biological sex. In some cases, an institution’s leaders may accommodate requests for the use of single-person bathrooms.

Dress codes require a person to dress “consistent with their God-given biological sex and complying with any applicable sex-specific dress code.”

Admissions to institutions, programs, and activities that are single-sex must be based on a student’s biological sex. Exceptions could include special cases, such as when a girl seeks to play certain roles on a boy’s football team.

Same-sex couples may not attend dances, mixers, or similar events as a couple.

The policy says it does not ban “open and respectful discussion or debate” on sexuality and gender dysphoria in appropriate forums for Catholic institutions. However, it bars the display of pride flags or other symbols that may be construed as opposition to Catholic teaching.

“No person may publicly advocate or celebrate sexual orientation or identity in ways that are contrary to the Catholic Church’s teaching and that could cause disruption, confusion, or scandal regarding the Catholic Church’s teachings.”

The policy bars purported gender transitions through social behavior, surgery, or medical treatments. It also rejects changes to or purges of institutional records and documents. These must reflect “a person’s God-given biological sex and legal name.”

Policy Based on Catholic Teaching

“A person experiencing gender dysphoria or confusion will not be denied admission to an institution or be excluded from an institution’s life and activities simply because he or she is experiencing gender dysphoria or confusion or same-sex attraction,” the policy adds. It outlines cases in which accommodations should or can be made for people with gender dysphoria.

At the same time, the policy notes, those who openly voice disagreement with Church teaching “in an open and scandalous way” or who act contrary to Catholic teaching may face restrictions, or, as appropriate, disciplinary action.

Catholic institutions must act and speak in ways consistent with Catholic teaching, the policy document says. This includes Catholic teaching that “the human person is a unity of both body and soul and that, body and soul, each person is created in God’s image.”

“Our bodies, created male and female, are part of God’s intentional design in creation and are, therefore, imbued with meaning and purpose,” the policy explains. “As stewards of these gifts, we are called to accept, love, and care for our bodies as they were created.”

Similar to Policies in Other Catholic Dioceses

The Cleveland Diocese policy is similar to policies of other Catholic dioceses, such as the Archdiocese of Omaha, the Diocese of Sioux Falls in North Dakota, and the Archdiocese of Denver.

In June 2019, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education issued a document on gender theory and identity “Male and Female He Created Them.” The document discussed Catholic responses to gender theory, which it criticized as “cultural and ideological revolution.” The congregation said that the aim of the Church at the institutional and individual level must be the education of children in line with authentic principles that defend and instill authentic human dignity.