Catholic Church releases guidelines for transgender care for Catholic hospitals

The Catholic Bishops of the United States have issued guidelines aimed at preventing Catholic hospitals from providing care for gender reassignment, which LGBTQ advocates say could harm the physical and emotional health of transgender people in the church.

A 14-page doctrinal note titled “The Moral Limits of Technological Manipulation of the Human Body” contains recommendations for gender reassignment, especially for young people. The document, released on Monday, said that Catholic hospitals “should not carry out interventions, whether surgical or chemical, aimed at converting the sexual characteristics of the human body into those of the opposite sex, or take part in the development of such procedures.”

Related: Catholic health organizations can deny transgender care, court orders

Transgender Catholics have drawn controversy in the US church. Some of these have found acceptance in certain parishes and rejection in certain dioceses, including those that prohibit church personnel from using preferred transgender gender pronouns. Bishops’ latest guidance to Catholic health centers could prevent transgender people from getting the health care they need, said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministries, which advocates for greater acceptance of LGBTQ people in the church.

Catholic hospitals make up a large part of the US healthcare system, and in some communities they are the only option. The Catholic Health Association, which includes more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other healthcare facilities in the United States, reports that more than one in seven US hospital patients receive care in a Catholic facility.

“These decisions are made at a much higher level, without knowing individuals and individual cases,” DeBernardo said. “When transgender people are not allowed or restricted to transition in ways they deem appropriate, it can result in depression, anxiety, or even self-harm, including suicide.”

Bishops’ leadership “isn’t going to change much” when it comes to caring for transgender patients in Catholic hospitals, said Rev. Charlie Bouchard, CHA’s senior director of theology and sponsorship. Transgender people will always be accepted in Catholic hospitals and treated with dignity and respect, he said, but they may not receive all the necessary gender assistance they ask for due to the theological and moral teachings of the church.

“Looking at the document from the bishops, we remember that we have a history of caring for marginalized people and we view transgender people as a marginalized group,” he said.

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Catholic hospitals are accepting transgender patients with a variety of medical needs, from bone fractures to cancer treatment and heart attacks, Bouchard said, adding that hospitals will not perform cosmetic procedures such as reconstructive surgeries, hysterectomy or treatments such as sterilization upon request. unless they have a medical need.

He said Catholic hospitals also train staff to be respectful of transgender patients: “When a patient is registered, we ask staff to be respectful in the way they ask questions. We want to affirm transgender people as individuals and provide them with spiritual help and psychological counseling.”

Bouchard said Catholic hospitals “will base healthcare on science and will continue to follow science when it comes to transgender people.”

“But we don’t treat ideology,” he said. “We treat patients who are really suffering. There are things about gender variability that we don’t agree with. But in Catholic hospitals, we adhere to the same standards of service as in other hospitals.”

DeBernardo disagreed, stating that the doctrinal principles of the bishops hurt rather than heal people, ignoring science.

“The reluctance of bishops to refute any evidence from the scientific community or the experience of transgender people is neither good theology nor acceptable pastoral concern,” he said.

On the subject: Minnesota Governor Signs Decree to Protect Gender Affirming Care

DeBernardo said he sees hope in many more Catholics in the pews demonstrating a greater understanding of the lives of transgender people. He noted instances of Catholic parents supporting their transgender children against restrictive policies in Catholic schools, including the ban on puberty blockers and preferred pronouns on campuses and parishes.

Christine Zuba, a transgender woman living in New Jersey, said she feels accepted in her local parish but upset that the national church “continues to deny our existence and our need for medical care.” Zuba said she was disappointed to see that transgender people were not even mentioned in the 14-page document.

“In my parish, I feel accepted unconditionally for who I am,” she said. “But this is missing in our hierarchy. There is no desire to interact with us and understand our life.”

Zuba said she is glad to see more engagement and interaction in some dioceses. In Davenport, Iowa, Bishop Thomas Zinkula formed a Committee on Gender Issues, urging Catholics to “listen to the marginalized,” calling service to LGBTQ people, especially transgender people, “a matter of life.” In a column published in The Catholic Herald, Zinkula said he was haunted by the story of a transgender youth who tried to commit suicide after being denied communion.

“Things like this should never happen again,” he wrote.

Zuba said she would like to see such a commitment to listening and learning in the higher echelons of the church.

“All we ask is that you listen to us as a group and as individuals,” she said. “Open your hearts and try to understand.”

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