DIALOGUE & FINDINGS
After the release of the Catechesis and Policy on Questions Concerning Gender Theory in 2022, the Archdiocese began a dialogue with Church leaders on how to best support individuals experiencing "sexual identity incongruence" and their families. A broad invitation was extended to Catholic leaders to discuss these matters, gain awareness of pastoral experiences, as well as discover which resources and best practices would be helpful for the Church to provide.
This dialogue resulted in 198 survey responses, five listening sessions with 39 local leaders, as well as multiple feedback sessions with 23 leaders on the various elements in development. In addition, the Archdiocese researched a broad range of scientific, psychological, moral, and sociological aspects of this issue, both within and outside of the Catholic Church and Milwaukee. One-on-one interviews with individuals experiencing "sexual identity incongruence," psychological experts, national Catholic ministry leaders, and parents, families, and friends gave further insight into this experience and how the Church can might engage these individuals.
Among the numerous responses, several threads developed from this dialogue.
We heard a need for a "person focused" vision for relating to and ministering to individuals experiencing "sexual identity incongruence"
Many leaders mentioned that they do not know how the Church ought to respond to individuals experiencing "sexual identity incongruence" or what caring for a person with these experiences looks like. Our leaders are searching for a concrete vision for how to relate to persons with these experiences and believe this should include a disposition that cares for the dignity of each human person.
There is a desire to journey together, inviting every person to (re)discover his or her ultimate identity in the person of Jesus Christ and to live as His disciples.
Our leaders desire to respond to the person and faithfully guide them closer to Jesus Christ. Although opinions on the issue and approach vary among leaders, every local parish and school leader wants to welcome people who have this experience with dignity and reveal the love of Jesus Christ through authentic relationship and care. Leaders in the Church wish for those experiencing this dynamic to be happy, healthy, and holy. They desire for them to encounter the love of Jesus Christ and find full human flourishing within and through the Church.
We heard a longing to be hospitable to individuals, families, and friends navigating these complex issues while remaining faithful to Christ and the teachings of the Church.
A person with this experience may find that “how they identify themselves” is the most uninteresting part about him or her, noting that life includes much more than this experience. Authentic desires for faith, family, friendship, community, career, hobbies, etc. are present in their lives. Many have spoken of a strong belief in Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to a relationship with Him. Unfortunately, at times their experience with and perception of people within the Catholic Church have caused them to turn elsewhere.
A need exists for advanced training in ministering to individuals experiencing "sexual identity incongruence" and their families, as well as cultivating additional spiritual and mental health resources.
There are various complexities surrounding these conversations: psychological, sociological, theological, cultural, generational, and political. Many persons with this experience articulated feeling "estranged" in their bodies prior to puberty. Those experiences included feelings of fear, shame, and uncertainty, which persist even as "transgenderism" becomes more normalized in society. In some instances, mental health issues existed as well. The influence of social media and its increased use among younger generations should also not be overlooked.
Leaders desire more practical guidance on how to care for individuals experiencing "sexual identity incongruence" and best practices for engaging the broader cultural conversation surrounding this issue.
Not uncommonly, individuals and families leave the parish, school, or the Catholic faith over the issue of "transgenderism." These experiences have left some leaders feeling alone or “on an island” in navigating the difficulties of these situations. Some leaders have failed in their attempts to be faithful to the Church while reaching out to people with this experience; others may struggle with what the Church teaches regarding human sexuality. The reality exists that, no matter what level of care or expertise leaders have in having these conversations, people have and will continue to walk away from Christ and His Church over these issues.
We heard the perceived need for providing support, guidance, and resources to families, particularly parents, navigating these complex situations.
Parents, family members, and friends of persons experiencing "sexual identity incongruence" face considerable challenges. They desire for their loved ones to be known and loved by Christ and the Church. They love this person in their life, want what is best for him or her, and want to be in relationship with the person. The unique challenges that arise around name and pronoun changes, stages of "transitioning," and mental health issues often leave parents, families, and friends, searching for resources on how best to respond. When they have looked to the Church for practical resources and guidance, they have been left wanting.
This dialogue is of utmost importance for leaders of Church institutions. Our society has become increasingly hospitable to “Gender Theory.” From preferred pronouns to athletic competitions to ideological promotions, there is an increasing acceptance of “Gender Theory.” This acceptance is communicated widely to those entrusted to the Church’s care, notably our children. There are a variety of situations where transgender issues complicate the Church’s ministry: who sleeps where on a Confirmation retreat, who competes against who in athletic competitions, and even how one identifies themselves as a Catholic high school, to name a few. Because no two situations are the same, leaders need customized and ongoing support when they face a concrete situation surrounding these issues.
From these findings, the Archdiocese has developed priorities to guide its ongoing response to the issue of "Gender Theory":
1. Develop a person focused and theologically faithful vision for relating to and ministering to individuals experiencing "sexual identity incongruence" and inviting every person to (re)discover his or her ultimate identity in Jesus Christ.
2. Provide strategies of support to families navigating these complex issues, while remaining faithful to Christ and the teachings of the Church.
3. Provide parishes, schools, and other Catholic organizations with the tools and resources to ground those in their care in an authentic human anthropology.
4. Provide practical guidance and resources for parish and school leaders on how to minister to individuals questioning being created male or female, or persons who identify as transgender, and how to engage in the broader cultural discussion around transgenderism.
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Associate Director of Evangelization & Catechesis | Adult & Family
Very Reverend Javier I. Bustos
Vicar for Healthcare