US Bishops to Draft Document on Transgender People in Religious Life

Canonical affairs committee hopes to release a document this fall, according to Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois.

USCCB's Spring meeting took place this month in Louisville, Ky.
USCCB's Spring meeting took place this month in Louisville, Ky. (photo: Screenshot / USCCB)

A committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops plans to address whether people who identify as transgender can enter religious life in the Catholic Church.

At the request of several bishops, the Canonical Affairs and Church Governance Committee hopes to produce a document on that question by this fall, Bishop Thomas Paprocki, the committee chairman, told the Register.

“This is likely to present itself more often, and that’s why bishops are asking about it,” said Bishop Paprocki, who leads the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, in an interview Tuesday. “That’s why we’re trying to give guidance here.”

The question took center stage in May, when a hermit in the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, publicly identified as transgender, as the Register reported last month.

Bishop Paprocki told the Register he would not comment on the Kentucky case, saying he is not familiar enough with the details. But the widespread attention the announcement received prompted several bishops to ask questions about it, said Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, during a June 14 news conference at the USCCB’s spring assembly, as Catholic News Agency reported.

Bishop Paprocki noted that Pope Francis has condemned what he calls “gender ideology,” as he did during a speech in March at the Vatican.

“A transgender person is basically denying some basic teachings of the Church that actually go back to the Bible. In Genesis, it says God created them male and female. In this regard, Pope Francis has been very strong in his teaching about that,” Bishop Paprocki said.

“The Church’s teaching, as clearly stated by Pope Francis, is gender ideology is not consistent with our Catholic beliefs,” he said.

The Register asked Bishop Paprocki about the case of a hermit who lives a solitary consecrated life and how that differs from someone attempting to enter a religious community of men or a religious community of women.

“Well, a hermit is living alone, but still that person is vowed to God to live according to the Bible and according to the teachings of the Church. I don’t know how that person could be admitted into consecrated life if they’ve rejected these teachings,” Bishop Paprocki said.

The new document on transgender people in religious life, he said, would amount to a follow-up of a memo that Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, Bishop Paprocki’s predecessor as the chairman of the canonical affairs committee, sent to fellow bishops in 2021 urging them to consider requiring DNA tests or physical examinations to make sure that candidates entering seminary to prepare for the priesthood are men.

Archbishop Broglio said that the transgender-hermit case came up at the committee level during the meeting of the bishops’ conference in Louisville last week.

“There certainly hasn’t been any discussion in the general assembly of the bishops. There is concern that has been expressed at some of the committee levels because of the nature of what hermetic life is in the Church and also the preparation necessary for that,” Archbishop Broglio said during the news conference.

The archbishop added, “And also it’s just the general honesty that should be a part of that whole process of determining a vocation and responding to that vocation. At this point, that’s basically where the discussion is.”