WASHINGTON – Surgical, chemical or other interventions that aim "to exchange" a person's "sex characteristics" for those of the opposite sex "are not morally justified," said the U.S. bishops' doctrine committee in a statement released March 20.
Bishops: Medically changing sex characteristics to opposite sex 'not morally justified'
"What is of great concern, is the range of technological interventions advocated by many in our society as treatments for what is termed 'gender dysphoria' or 'gender incongruence,'" it said.
The statement urged "particular care" be taken "to protect children and adolescents, who are still maturing and who are not capable of providing informed consent" for surgical procedures or treatments such as chemical puberty blockers, "which arrest the natural course of puberty and prevent the development of some sex characteristics in the first place."
Technological advances that enable the cure of "many human maladies" today and "promise to cure many more" have "been a great boon to humanity," but there are "moral limits to technological manipulation of the human body," it said.
"The human person, body and soul, man or woman, has a fundamental order and finality whose integrity must be respected," the committee said. "Because of this order and finality, neither patients nor physicians nor researchers nor any other persons have unlimited rights over the body; they must respect the order and finality inscribed in the embodied person."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Administrative Committee March 15 approved release of the 14-page statement by the USCCB's Committee on Doctrine, chaired by Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas.
The doctrine committee acknowledged that "many people are sincerely looking for ways to respond to real problems and real suffering."
"Certain approaches that do not respect the fundamental order appear to offer solutions. To rely on such approaches for solutions, however, is a mistake," it said. "An approach that does not respect the fundamental order will never truly solve the problem in view; in the end, it will only create further problems."
"Any technological intervention that does not accord with the fundamental order of the human person as a unity of body and soul, including the sexual difference inscribed in the body, ultimately does not help but, rather, harms the human person," the committee added.
It noted that "a range of pastoral issues" needs to be addressed regarding "those who identify as transgender or nonbinary," but said these issues "cannot be addressed in this document."
Catholic health care services, the committee said, "are called to provide a model of promoting the authentic good of the human person."
"To fulfill this duty, all who collaborate in Catholic health care ministry must make every effort, using all appropriate means at their disposal, to provide the best medical care, as well as Christ's compassionate accompaniment, to all patients, no matter who they may be or from what condition they may be suffering," it continued. "The mission of Catholic health care services is nothing less than to carry on the healing ministry of Jesus, to provide healing at every level, physical, mental and spiritual."
Medical intervention that uses available technology to repair defects in the body, "usually when it has been affected by some injury or ailment … shows respect for the fundamental order of the body, which is commendable," the committee said. "In fact, each of us has a duty to care for our bodies."
The benefits of such intervention also must be "proportionate to the burdens involved," it said, and must be undertaken "with the correct intention and in the correct circumstances."
The committee's statement quotes numerous Second Vatican Council documents, other Church documents and the teachings of several Popes, including Pope Francis and his encyclicals "Laudato Si'" and "Amoris Laetitia," on the goodness of the natural order of men and women being created differently, the importance and the meaning of sexual difference "as a reality deeply inscribed in man and woman."
"In our contemporary society there are those who do not share this conception of the human person," the committee said. "Pope Francis has spoken about an ideology that promotes 'a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female.'"
The committee referenced Pope Francis' teaching that "young people in particular need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for 'thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. … An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves.'"
Among the reaction to the doctrine committee's statement was a response from the ethicists of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in suburban Philadelphia, who said they joined the U.S. bishops "in unequivocally reiterating that Catholic anthropology and moral teaching are incompatible with medicalized mutilations that hide behind the misnomer of 'gender-affirming care.'"
"The body-soul union and human sexual differentiation are principles of human anthropology, whose validity has been demonstrated time and again by medical science," the ethicists said in a March 20 statement.
"By promoting incorrect gender identities, so-called transitioning interventions tear away from reality and reject the dignity of the body," they added. "They put patients on the road to heartache, leading to only apparent happiness with deeper suffering and, for many, a lifetime of destructive chemicals and surgeries."
Julie Asher is senior editor at OSV News. Follow her on Twitter at @jlasher.
The full text of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Doctrine's statement, "Doctrinal Note on the Moral Limits to Technological Manipulation of the Human Body," can be found at https://www.usccb.org/resources/Doctrinal%20Note%202023-03-20.pdf.