‘Each of Us is Loved’: California Bishops’ Letter Shows Church Response to Gender Ideology

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Oakland Bishop Michael Barber issued the letter in September.

Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco.
Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco. (photo: Diocese of Oakland/Archdiocese of San Francisco)

In a recent joint letter to Catholics, two California bishops acknowledged that the “influence of gender ideology” has “become pervasive in contemporary society” and urged Catholics to respond to the zeitgeist with both “truth and charity.” 

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Oakland Bishop Michael Barber issued the September letter, they said, “to provide clarity and resources with regard to the teaching of the Catholic Church” on the matter of gender ideology.

Catholics, they said, have responded with “questions around the complex and sensitive topics of gender, sexual identity, and the nature of the human person.”

Like the bishops, many Church leaders have been working in recent months and years to determine just what the Catholic response to gender ideology should be since it touches on many practical matters as well as deeper elements of faith, including what the Catholic Church teaches about broad topics such as sexuality and bodily integrity. 

In their September letter, the California bishops noted that the Catholic Church “is called to do as Jesus did, to accompany in a spirit of solidarity those marginalized and suffering,” while still “affirming the beauty and truth of God’s creation.”

“Compassion that does not include both truth and charity is a misplaced compassion,” they wrote. “Support for those experiencing gender dysphoria must be characterized by an active concern for genuine Christian charity and the truth about the human person.”

Efforts by the Church to address these questions have taken several forms. In some cases, as with the California bishops last month, prelates have issued pastoral letters offering clarity and guidance. 

Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley composed a similar letter earlier this year, while the Diocese of Cleveland said in a guidance document in August that Catholic institutions there must respond to those suffering from gender dysphoria by offering “a loving environment” while also “upholding the truth of God’s created reality.” 

Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Nebraska, and Bishop Donald DeGrood of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, similarly issued policies last year directing schools to affirm the biological sex of their students rather than their “gender identity.” And bishops in Minnesota in 2020 issued directives to Catholic schools mandating that they follow Catholic teaching on biological sex, including keeping bathroom facilities and sporting events segregated by sex and not by “gender identity.”

Over the summer, meanwhile, the U.S. bishops voted to move forward with updates to their Ethical and Religious Directives to Catholic institutions, directing that health facilities “must not perform interventions, whether surgical or chemical, that aim to transform the sexual characteristics of a human body into those of the opposite sex.”

Those directives and instructions have not been limited to the United States. Bishops from several Nordic countries in March, for instance, also released a letter affirming what they called the “embodied integrity of personhood” in rejection of gender ideology. 

Clarifications have come from even higher up. 

In June 2019, a document from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education castigated the “cultural and ideological revolution” of gender ideology, arguing for the “need to reaffirm the metaphysical roots of sexual difference as an anthropological refutation of attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature.”

Pope Francis earlier this year described transgenderism as “one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations.”

It has even reached the highest levels of government, with the Biden administration this month directing employees of the massive Department of Health and Human Services to “affirm any co-worker’s self-proclaimed gender identity and preferred pronouns.”

In their letter, the bishops pointed out that the Catechism of the Catholic Church counsels against transgenderism’s rejection of bodily integrity. Man “may not despise his bodily life,” the Catechism states; rather, “he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.”

“The body and soul come into existence together, in an individual human being at the time of conception,” the bishops wrote. “From the beginning of his or her existence, the human person has a body that is sexually differentiated as male or female. … Consequently, one can never be said to be in the ‘wrong’ body.”

The bishops urged those suffering from gender dysphoria to remember: “Your most fundamental identity is that of a beloved child of God.”

Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, the bishops reminded the faithful that “each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary.”

“May our Christian witness and our care for those experiencing real suffering be a sign of our discipleship,” they wrote, “as we joyfully witness to the healing power of Christ.”

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