Gender ideology presentation offers pastoral, medical insight
From the April 23, 2023 edition of The Lumen
By DAWN PROSSER
Director of Communications
As the number of people identifying as transgender has skyrocketed, Catholics are confused and are not sure where to find answers.
The diocesan Office of Continuing Formation of Priests hosted The Person and Identity Project: A Pastoral Response to Gender Ideology at the April 20 Presbyterate Day to provide information to assist priests and deacons in the Diocese of Sioux City.
Speakers were Mary Rice Hasson and Deacon Patrick Lappert, M.D. Hasson, who is co-founder of the Person and Identity Project, is an attorney, public policy expert and a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
Lappert is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with over 30 years in practice. He served as chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital and the reconstructive surgery specialty leader for the Surgeon General, USN.
The two discussed church teaching on the dignity of the human person and how it aligns with medical ethics and the effects of culture on gender ideology.
Hasson cited a study of high school students in Pittsburgh where 9.2% were identifying as transgender. A “companion study in a rural area” reported 7.2% of respondents identifying as transgender compared to .02% just 15 years ago.
“It’s a tremendous jump that just doesn’t happen in nature but is driven by culture. This is a global phenomenon,” she said.
The Catholic perspective
Hasson explained the churches teaches that God created the human person as male and female, supported by science. She said today’s mindset is that “some people are born trans and if we can just validate that sense of who they are and affirm them and celebrate with them, then life will be good and they will flourish. It’s a lot more complicated than that,” she said.
She noted that both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have spoken out “strongly about gender ideology.” The attorney said that the pope emeritus saw the issue growing in Europe as early as 2008 and started to speak about it. Pope Francis often reaches out to the marginalized as “he really seems to have a heart for people who struggle with identity issues or identify as transgender.”
“He has a message for the rest of us. We need to remember when we encounter someone who is suffering and is marginalized, we are to accompany and never to abandon them. Have that love for the person in our hearts and in our minds,” the speaker said.
The Holy Father’s Mulieris Dignitatem is helpful in understanding the church’s theology of the human body, as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“Each person is called to accept his or her sexual identity,” Hasson quoted the catechism, noting it “reminds us we are connected body and soul.”
Where gender ideology can conflict with the church is the teaching that God created man and woman. In contrast, gender ideology claims people can create their own identity. Hasson pointed out that “there’s no room for God in this ideology,” as people are defining themselves and essentially acting as their own creator.
“What we have is a clash of anthropologies. Two irreconcilable visions of the human person, Christian anthropology and gender ideology,” she explained. “It’s a deep, deep problem when we have a false anthropology telling a generation and their parents something that just isn’t true.”
Medical and psychological insights
In past years, a person identifying as transgender would be diagnosed as having Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Deacon Lappert explained, noting it is “a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) animated by a typical recurring thought, often with depression, often with isolation. They feel they don’t fit in somehow.”
Those with OCD are treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, the deacon said, noting the therapists work to “get at why that thought keeps coming back. Why the thought was there in the first place.”
Deacon Lappert emphasized that individuals who experience identity issues often have significant vulnerabilities and are likely to experience other mental health issues.
“There’s a greater than 30% likelihood that the child is diagnosable as being on the autism spectrum. There’s a 40% probability that you can diagnose depression in that child,” he explained.
Deacon Lappert pointed out that historically, gender identity issues were mostly found only in males. They were treated with “conservative interventions into adulthood and 92% would resolve the issues without medicine or surgery.”
“’Watchful waiting’ was the term of that level of care,” he said, adding that family therapy was also utilized “because very often the child has misinterpreted something in the family dynamic.”
The surgeon said that although there is desire to understand the biology to explain transgender identification, “There’s no medical test for transgender. The diagnosis is based on the feelings of the patient and the diagnosis is often by an anxious (prepubescent) child,” he said.
Today, the affirmation care model begins with the diagnosis made by a child and a therapist would affirm the child’s declaration of transgender identity. When teachers, parents and therapists affirm the declaration, then the child’s anxiety diminishes – for a time.
“The parents are victims of this as much as anyone is. (They are told) the only hope is transitioning. The (patients) are told in therapy that people who don’t affirm you are the bad people,” the deacon said. “Instead of the child maintaining a connection with the truth of their nature and gradually discovering their identity in a process of maturing, they cling to the hope if they alter their bodies, they will find relief from their anxiety and sorrow.”
The surgeon explained in detail the long-term harm that puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgeries inflict upon physically healthy patients. “Bottom surgery” is especially harmful as sex organs are reconfigured in complicated procedures resulting in reoccurring wounds, urinary and fecal incontinence and sterilization.
These surgeries are irreversible and violate medical ethics as the procedures end the functions of the healthy organs.
Attorney and speaker Mary Rice Hasson. She is also the host of EWTNs "The Transgender Movement, What Catholics Need to Know," available here:
Deacon Patrick Lappert, M.D., offered a biological and medical perspective.
“Instead of the child maintaining a connection with the truth of their nature and gradually discovering their identity in a process of maturing, they cling to the hope if they alter their bodies, they will find relief from their anxiety and sorrow.” - Deacon Patrick Lappert, M.D.
Deacon Lappert explained some therapists will claim the transitioning treatment regimen is the only way to ensure that a person identifying as transgender would no longer have anxiety or depression. Therapists would often ask parents, “Would you rather have a live son or a dead daughter?” where parents would give consent, basically under duress.
The surgeon cited European medical databases, explaining that transitioning does not cure patients who may be considering suicide. In short, the data showed that the rates are curbed for a few years after transitioning, then “the suicide rate is way up.”
European countries, including the UK, Norway, Sweden, and Finland, have conducted their own reviews of the clinical evidence and, as a result, have ended the practice of giving minors puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, or surgery as a treatment for identity distress.
Clergy need to know how to assist families dealing with gender ideology concerns in their own parishes as the issue is widespread.
“I guarantee you there’s people sitting in the pews that are affected by this. They love someone that’s going through this or they see themselves going through this,” Hasson pointed out, noting parents want and need assistance from the local church.
“Families feel very alone and parents feel ill-equipped. …People are looking for leadership,” she said. “Some say shouldn’t we just be welcoming to all? Yes, welcome them and include them and then what? … People need guidance. They need to know how to go towards the truth. It’s not enough to say come on in and say nothing.”
Actively listening when talking to a person identifying as transgender or who has questions about their gender is important, Hasson said, and can be done while also sharing the church’s truth.
“Ask them, ‘help me understand.’ Understand what they are experiencing, what has led them to this … how are they feeling about this … Open up those conversations to ask those questions. I love you, I hear you, help me to understand. … We’ll work through this together but I can’t do something that will harm, you or be exploited,” Hasson suggested, noting it is important to communicate God’s love but not promoting something that would hurt the individual.
Diocesan priests said the program was helpful to them as they minister to the faithful in a time when many are confused about gender ideology.
“It was very affirming to hear that Catholic teaching working in concert with medical ethics will always speak the truth when discussing gender ideology,” said Father Tim Pick, pastor of Most Holy Name of Mary Parish, Remsen.
“It answered a lot of the questions I had and gave me some truth to keep people on the trail to salvation. Hopefully it will equip us to better speak to people in their confusion,” said Father David Hemann, pastor of Holy Cross Parish, Sioux City.