Tulsa Bishop Konderla Discusses the Church’s Response to the Transgender Movement

Bishop David Konderla, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, also discussed the Equality Act and how it would affect religious freedom if enacted.

Bishop David Konderla.
Bishop David Konderla. (photo: Courtesy photo / Diocese of Tulsa)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been voicing grave concerns over the Equality Act that recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill would redefine civil rights law to include “sexual orientation and gender identity” as protected classes, but does not contain religious freedom exemptions and could potentially expand abortion funding. 

In a joint letter, the heads of five USCCB committees wrote to the House before their vote warning, “the Equality Act purports to protect people experiencing same-sex attraction or gender discordance from discrimination. But instead, the bill represents the imposition by Congress of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations. This includes dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct.” 

One of the letter’s signers is Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the USCCB chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. Bishop Konderla spoke with the Register last week about the USCCB’s concerns regarding the Equality Act as well as the Church teaching on the matter and how the faithful can address these issues.

 

What are the bishops’ main religious liberty concerns with the Equality Act?

The first thing that we would say is that as Catholic Christians we operate many charities and hospitals and schools and various things for the sake of the public good. We don’t have tests about faith. We don’t ask people what their denomination is or anything. 

We serve whoever comes and that’s because of our Catholic faith that we do it that way, but the Equality Act would try to force people of faith to violate their own conscience by accepting a false view of human anthropology, by accepting the whole idea behind transgenderism or what is called LGBTQ. 

For example, in the case of an adoption agency, we rightfully choose who we think would make adequate parents for children in an adoption agency and we believe that a child is better off in a family with a father and a mother and this kind of a bill would force people of faith to not be allowed to do that. It would discriminate against people of faith by forcing them to abandon their religious beliefs in the public square.

We also have, of course, a grave concern that there is a desire on the part of many who are supporting this bill to expand abortion availability even to Catholic hospitals to force doctors and nurses who for reasons of conscience don’t want to perform abortions or be associated with abortion to nonetheless do that or lose their medical license or lose their job. I’m sure there are those who would welcome the opportunity to force Catholic hospitals to fund abortions or lose funding that may serve the poor, for example, so that’s a grave concern, as well. 

When you talk about the schools, parents may have objections, religious objections to teaching their children gender ideology but those would be ignored and parents would be forced to accept what the school gives. Girls would be forced to compete with biological males in sports. That’s already happening. 

Basic issues of decency and decorum, things that we teach our children once they reach the appropriate age, would just be thrown to the side and it is to enforce a view of the human person that expands what is true or real. In other words, a person’s understanding or perception of their sex and their gender is not a permanent attribute of the person, not like race or sex or even ethnicity. It’s something that’s transient. 

For some people, it turns out to be something that is with them throughout their life but for many people, many children, many adolescents experience a gender confusion or an attraction to persons of the same sex while they’re young, grow out of it naturally as they go through adolescence and their teen years and then into early adulthood. 

There’s a distinction to be made between people, our friends, our family members who actually are suffering from gender confusion or from unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction or feelings like that, a distinction to be made between those persons who we certainly want to support and help in every way we can and the social questions surrounding those persons, which has to do with what’s the best way to help them. And people are now pushing this idea of transgender and this idea of LGBTQ because they think that’s the best way to help them, but it’s not real. They’re pushing something on them that’s false.

 

What does the Church teach about biological sex and sexual difference?

In general, Church teaching on these questions is simply to say that we, of course, oppose unjust discrimination against anyone at any time for any reason, but asking men and women to be men and women is not unjust. Ask a group of men to list the components of masculinity, that list may vary one man to another. They may have very wide, different lists that include many and different things, but they’re all men and the same would be for women. 

We certainly oppose unjust discrimination but all persons are created male and female. Our sex is a gift to us from God and our gender goes with our sex. 

Now, that’s where the variability comes in. Certainly it has been the case in the past that what the culture would have seen as masculine is very narrow and boys can only do this and can only do that and now that’s much wider, and the same for girls, but that doesn’t lead one to “boys can be girls.” It doesn’t lead to that and chastity is the vocation for each of us. It’s what each of us is called to, chastity is the right use of our sexuality. Our sexuality is created for the purposes of marriage. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life and for the purpose of also creating a family. All of these things are right and true and people of faith believe them very deeply, and then when you pass legislation that forces people of faith to put aside what they believe, their deeply held beliefs, that’s not going to create any kind of unity. That’s not going to help the society or the culture, it’s not even going to help the people that struggle with these issues.

 

For faithful Catholics, what are thoughtful and sensitive ways to respond to the growing societal belief in transgenderism?

I think that all persons need and desire friendship, love, intimacy. These are things that all of us need and desire because we’re human, we’re created as social beings. We should seek to befriend people that we meet in our workplace, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, in our communities who want to try to get along with people. 

Some people have a different view than we do on matters of sexuality, for example. That’s what we’re talking about here. They certainly are free to have different views, we live in a free country, but their different views should not require that we give up our views about these issues either. 

We want to uphold marriage. We think marriage is a great good for society. We see the great good that it does. It’s the original human community. It’s the first school, you could say, the first formation place for persons to be in relationship with each other, but marriage is undermined when we start calling anything marriage. 

The next thing on the docket I think for those who are pushing these things is polyamory so you’ll start seeing a narrative develop that wants to propose that not just any man with any man or any man with any woman but any group of people will want to call themselves a marriage or a union should be allowed and so forth. These things are harmful to the family, harmful to the institution of marriage.

 

The Equality Act is a “No. 1” priority for President Biden who is a baptized Catholic, and he has called transgender rights the “civil rights issue of our time.” How can the bishops address the confusion this causes for Catholics in the U.S.?

It is important for us as Catholic Christians, to remember that Jesus gave us in the Church a structure and in that structure, the bishops are the authorized teachers. President Biden professes to be a Catholic but by his actions and his aggressive support for things that are contrary to the Catholic faith, he doesn’t seem to show it. What he says and does is not the teaching of the Church and in his case in many instances, not in all of them — he certainly is promoting things that we also promote and support — but in many instances what he’s promoting, particularly when it comes to abortion, he’s going diametrically opposed to the Church. And so he can’t serve as an adequate model or example. 

We have a concern for every soul, every person, their faith, their life, their future. We would hope to be able to instruct any person who claims to be Catholic and to help them to better understand and to help them to live the Catholic faith but at the same time we recognize it’s necessary for the bishops now, since President Biden does profess to be a Catholic, to point out when he is not proposing things that are true to the Catholic faith. Otherwise precisely the confusion you mentioned can come about. 

The other people that we want to reach and that we want to accompany and be solicitous to are precisely Catholic men and women, Catholic young people, who themselves experience same-sex attraction or who themselves experience a gender confusion and yet who know that that’s not true of them, that’s not who they are. It’s something that they experience and who nonetheless are trying to live chaste lives even in spite of these feelings that they might have or experience. How disheartening it would be for them if they thought that no one supported them, no one cared for their struggle and so we certainly want them to know that no, we do. We applaud and respect them for their efforts to live the faith even though they struggle with these issues themselves, to not give in to the LGBTQ movement or to the false theories of gender ideology.

In the world that we live in now with a media that is very untrustworthy in other words most of media news, etc. are very biased and in such a world and with social media coming at us all day. ... It’s very easy for people to be driven by narratives that other people are putting together for various reasons and agendas but if we would remember the story in the gospel of Jesus in the boat with his disciples. ... They come running to him, “Master, master don’t you even care that we’re going to die?” And he wakes up and rebukes the wind and the waves, calms the sea and they’re amazed at him. They didn’t know who he was at the time. 

Well, we know who he is so whoever claims the office of president at any one time in our country should not cause us to lose sight of the fact that we already have a king. We live in his kingdom. He cares for us and watches over us and we will have to fight the battles that belong to our age and we should, but we shouldn’t let those things be taking priority in our lives because we already know what is right and true. He has revealed it to us and we will live our lives accordingly.

Palazzo Madama, the seat of the Senate of the Italian Republic in Rome.

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