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Being transgender, or transsexual.
Gender dysphoria, & gender identity

Part 1 of 2 parts:

Status of, causes of, & cures for, transexuality
according to
the Roman Catholic Church

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As noted elsewhere in this section a transgender individual is a person who experiences sustained Gender Dysphoria.This was once called Gender Identity Disorder, or GID. These terms are no longer used because they are seen to be stigmatizing.)

Their genetic gender is different from their perceived gender. Some describe themselves as a woman trapped in a man's body, or vice versa. Others view themselves as having a male brain in a female body, or vice versa.

There are two obvious ways to resolve this conflict:

  1. Change the person's thinking so that the accept their genetic gender: Our scientific knowledge of the workings of the human brain are not developed to the point where this is possible; it may never be. A full range of therapies have been tried in an attempt to cure Gender Dysphoria in adults. However, there has allegedly been not a single cure during many decades of attempts. What there has been is a massive suicide rate, claimed by some to have been about 50%. Attempting to change the thinking of transgender persons does not appear to be a safe or encouraging path.
  2. Change the person's physical appearance to match their perceived gender. In this way, a woman who felt trapped in a man's body can be altered to appear to be female through hormone therapy and perhaps gender reassignment surgery. Similarly, a man who felt trapped in a woman's body could pass as a man. Their perceived gender and their physical appearance become harmonized. The vast majority who try this path are pleased with the changes.

This second approach is forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church, because of their system of morality, ironically called the "Culture of Life," even though it would probably lead to a significant increase in the rate of suicides if the Church's ban is followed.

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2001: Response by Fr. William P. Saunders:

A reader of the Catholic Herald from Roseville, CA asked Father Saunders -- a columnist from the magazine:

"I know a man who had a 'sex change' operation and is now a 'woman.' What moral teaching does the Church give on this subject?" 1,2

Father Saunders quoted a Vatican II document titled: "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World." It stated that:

"Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day."

When applied to transsexuality, the document implies that a person with Gender Dysphoria must accept their body as it is. Surgically modifying one's body would be a serious sin.

He also quotes Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:19:

"What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?"

The implication is that one's body is not one's own to be changed at will.

Finally, he quotes the Catholic Catechism, item 2297:

"Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reason, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law."

The process of sexual reassignment involves major changes to the persons body:

  • For a male-to-female (MTF) transsexual, this typically involves removal of the penis, testicles, and scrotum. It involves hormone treatment and perhaps surgery to enlarge the breasts, removing part of the Adam's apple, and/or changing the shape of her face.

  • For a female-to-male (FTM) transsexual it generally involves the surgical removal of the breasts, uterus, ovaries, as well as hormone treatment and perhaps the construction of an artificial penis,  Fr. Sanders refers to this as:

    "... a radical and grotesque mutilation of the body....To destroy organs purposefully that are healthy and functioning, and to try to create imitation organs which will never have the genuineness and functioning of authentic organs is gross and lacks charity. Such surgery which purposefully destroys the bodily integrity of the person must be condemned."

Still, such surgery is the only way to bring peace to many transgender persons and to reduce their thoughts of suicide. Althoug a ban on sexual reassignment surgery is consistent with the Church's teachings, if applied universally it would drastically increase completed suicides. Some observers would consider such surgery moral and consider the Church teachings immoral because of the loss of life.

For matters like marriage and ordination, the church considers only the genetic gender of the individual. Thus a MTF transsexual could not marry a man in a Catholic Church. This is because the church would regard this as a same-sex marriage of two males. A MTF transexual might not be able to marry a woman even though the church considered them as an opposite-sex couple. The church has refused to marry some couples in the past who cannot conceive children. Similarly a FTM transsexual would not be eligible for consideration for ordination, no matter what his appearance, personality, talents or knowledge are.

Fr. Saunders notes that transsexualism appears to stem from psychological development, and thus should be treated by psychotherapy. He may not be aware that this has been tried countless thousands of times with transgender adults, apparently without a single successful outcome.

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2000-2003: An official, although initially secret, ruling by the Vatican:

After extensive study, the Vatican issued a "sub secretum" (secret) document in the year 2000 to papal representatives in each country. Unfortunately, it became obvious that many bishops did not learn the contents of the document, so copies were sent to the presidents of bishops' conferences as well. Finally, in 2003 it was discussed in the Catholic News Service. 3

The document allegedly states that:

  • Bishops must never alter the gender listed in baptismal records to match the individual's new gender identity. However, a margin note is acceptable.

  • Persons undergoing sex reassignment surgery are not eligible to marry, to be ordained to the priesthood, or enter religious life.

An unknown source stated:

"The key point is that the (transsexual) surgical operation is so superficial and external that it does not change the personality. If the person was [born] male, he remains male. If she was [born] female, she remains female."

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. bishops' conference, sent a brief letter to U.S. bishops in 2002-OCT informing them of the Vatican document and emphasizing the instruction to not alter baptismal records. He wrote:

"The altered condition of a member of the faithful under civil law does not change one's canonical condition, which is male or female as determined at the moment of birth."

Bishop Gregory may not have been aware of the existence of intersexual babies who are born with ambiguous genitalia and whose birth gender cannot be determined "at the moment of birth."

This topic continues in the next essay.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Straight Answers: The Morality of 'Sex Change' Operations," The Catholic Herald, 2005-OCT-19, at:
  2. "Straight Answers: Surgery That Destroys Bodily Integrity," The Catholic Herald, 2001-JAN-10, at:
  3. John Norton, "Vatican says 'sex-change' operation does not change person's gender," Catholic News Service, 2003-JAN-14, reprinted at:

Copyright 2007 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2015-DEC-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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