Archbishop Alexander Sample of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon released A Catholic Response to Gender Identity Theory: Catechesis and Pastoral Guidelines on January 25th. In an introductory letter, he explained that its purpose is “to provide clarity on the Catholic Church’s teaching on gender identity theory.” He said the guidelines are offered as “a teaching and formation resource and also as encouragement and hope for everyone working with those dealing with gender identity issues.”
“This document,” he continued, “aims to provide preliminary guidance for Catholic schools, religious education programs, sacramental preparation programs and youth ministry activities for our youth up to 18 years of age in the Archdiocese of Portland, in order to support and accompany gender-questioning students and their families in a way that ensures our Catholic institutions fulfill their Catholic mission.”
Archbishop Sample noted, “In the light of the Catholic faith, the human body is a gift, good and willed by God. Our bodies are part of the harmony of the created order, and our sexual difference is part of God’s self-revelation, as well as a sign of our ultimate calling: to give and receive love.”
He described gender identity theory as the belief that “one’s identity as a man, woman, or both/neither is based solely on subjective self-perception. … [Gender identity theory] separates ‘gender’ (man-ness and woman-ness and the masculine and feminine principles found in nature itself) from biological sex, rooting sexed identity in a dissociated self-perception rather than the body.”
His pastoral guidelines include that in Catholic institutions one must use the following in accordance with one’s biological sex: pronouns, restrooms and locker rooms, and dress. Participation in sex-segregated activities such as sports competitions must be according to one’s biological sex. Additionally, Catholic institutions may not have on-site or distribute medications for the purpose of gender transition and cannot display signage that support gender identity theory.
Archbishop Sample, 62, has led the Portland Archdiocese since 2013. There are 125 parishes and 23 missions in the archdiocese, and 400,000 baptized faithful.
CWR: Why did you decide to write and distribute this document?
Archbishop Alexander Sample: It began as an initiative of my archdiocesan presbyteral (priests) council. The topic came up about a year and a half ago. Our pastors who oversaw schools were beginning to be confronted with the phenomenon of transgenderism. There were not a large number of such persons, but enough to make it an issue of concern. The pastors were looking for guidance and consistency.
After a long discussion, we agreed to work up a teaching document that would express our Catholic anthropology of the human person, point out the errors of gender identity theory, and offer an approach to pastorally respond to those who struggle with this issue so we can affirm the whole person.
CWR: What assistance did you have in preparing this document?
Archbishop Sample: We formed a working group to develop this document that included priests, a Catholic psychiatrist, a theologian, and people from our Catholic schools. Working as a small group, they developed it, kept me apprised of its progress and submitted drafts for my review. So although I did not develop this document, I now regard it as my own and take full ownership of its contents.
CWR: What reaction have you received?
Archbishop Sample: It has been largely positive. Many people, especially parents, have thanked me for releasing a clear teaching document.
The Church is strong here and we have many faithful Catholics, but we live in the Pacific Northwest, which has a very secular culture, which has embraced gender ideology theory. So, I’ve received some pushback or disagreement, but nothing that causes me any grave concerns.
This document offers preliminary guidance, and we’re introducing guidelines slowly and carefully. We are welcoming feedback, and looking for ways to make this document stronger. We are being patient and careful, and not trying to impose a hard, fast policy from on high. We are hoping this will help people receive the document with open minds.
CWR: How many other U.S. dioceses have adopted similar guidelines?
Archbishop Sample: I believe 30 or more have issued documents on this topic. When we first talked about this in the presbyteral council we thought we might not have to reinvent the wheel, but could take an existing document from somewhere else and modify it for our own purposes.
But we looked at policies from many other dioceses and ended up creating a document largely of our own composition. It is our contribution to the conversation. I am proud of it. I think it is one of the best out there.
CWR: In the document, you note that the number of “trans-identified” people in the U.S. has doubled since 2017. Why do you believe this is so?
Archbishop Sample: This phenomenon has really felt somewhat like a tsunami coming at us. I am at a loss to explain how it has taken such a foothold in our culture. The cultural shift that has happened has been quite stunning. Forty-three percent who identify as transgender are below the age of 25, and I think it is undeniable that social media has had a great influence on them rather than older persons or the wisdom of the Church. In a moment of confusion young people are exposed to these ideas that say you can be something other than what you’re created to be and you can define what you are.
I also suspect that making money is involved, in the area of treatment for transitioning.
CWR: You note that gender identity theory separates biological sex from gender, “rooting sexed identity in a dissociated self-perception rather than the body.” So, whatever in my brain I choose to be, that is what I am, and everyone else should go along with my choice. Is that a fair summation?
Archbishop Sample: There are really no new heresies; it is a recycling of dualism, the idea that my mind and spirit can be separate from my bodily experience. I can have a perception of myself which defines myself apart from what my bodily existence tells me I am.
We know from Catholic anthropology that we are the unity of body, soul, and mind, one reality that we cannot separate into parts. We are rooted in our “bodyliness”. Pope St. John Paul II teaches us in the Theology of the Body that we cannot dissociate our mind and spirit from our bodily reality, it is one unity, but that is what gender theory ideology is seeking to do.
Anorexia nervosa provides a useful analogy. We might look at a person who has this condition, and see a body that resembles that of a concentration camp survivor. But such persons look at themselves in the mirror, see some skin around their middle section, and they see themselves as fat. They think they need to lose weight. There is a divorce between what their mind and their body tell them.
We would not encourage a person with anorexia nervosa to lose weight. We would offer them our love and support, but not affirm their belief that they need to eat less.
People who have gender dysphoria genuinely suffer and we must have great compassion for them. There is a disconnect from what their minds are telling them and what their bodies are telling them. It is a genuine psychological condition, and we need to love people in this situation. However, we cannot give in to gender identity ideology, which has taken over our culture. Pope Francis has referred to it as the ideological colonization of the culture and has stated that it must be resisted.
CWR: Can your letter be described as a calling of people back to reality? That there is an objective truth about what we are, and the wise, healthy choice is to accept it?
Archbishop Sample: Yes. What we do is try to exhibit compassion with this document, to be clear but faithful to the truth. We have to tell the truth, and not lead anyone down the path of falsehood.
CWR: You mention “gender affirming care” (GAC) which includes such medical practices as puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgeries; you also mention studies that show the adverse psychological effects of among those who receive GAC, such as a suicide rate 19 times higher for those who have undergone medical transition than the general population.
Archbishop Sample: The evidence is not real robust, but we can conclude that medical transition, at best, does not solve, and at worst exacerbates the problems of those with gender dysphoria. Changing the body does not address the deeper core issue inside of the person; adjusting the body does not fix what’s wrong. We are saying the body is wrong, rather than this being a psychological condition. Instead, we need to evaluate if this person’s perception needs to be treated.
Some years ago, we had a presentation by a pediatric endocrinologist in the archdiocese. He noted that when a young person experiences gender dysphoria, if we do nothing, if we do not intervene at all, up to 80% of the time the person will naturally realign with his biological sex. However, if we start them down the GAC path, beginning with the social changes, they will naturally go down that path, even to medical intervention and to surgery.
We need to intervene with positive support and love. We need to treat the whole person, affirm them as a whole person, their belovedness, reminding them they are good and loved. This is the kind of affirmation they need.
CWR: A large number of those in the “transgender” community today are teenage girls. But in order to transition, these girls need approval and assistance from parents or guardians, therapists, medical personnel, and people who work for drug companies. While it may be understandable why a struggling teen (at an age known for being immature and impulsive) may fall prey to gender identity theory, why do you think so many adults who should know better are going along with it?
Archbishop Sample: I am at a loss to understand that reality. I am sure that parents who have a child genuinely struggling with these issues want to do everything to love and support their child, but I can’t imagine why adults are going along with this. I suspect they are driven by fear. They believe if they don’t affirm their child’s chosen identity they are putting him or her at risk for suicide, depression, and other sorts of mental illness. But I cannot imagine that parents would be driven by ideology to this extent.
That is why in our document we discuss affirming the whole person. With care and counseling, a person struggling with gender dysphoria can work through his or her problems.
CWR: Is it important for parents to understand that medical GAC is irreversible … you can’t reattached removed body parts or undo the effects of these drugs.
Archbishop Sample: Yes. That is what is heartbreaking for me. It begins with social transitioning—names, pronouns, dress, use of facilities—and leads to medical interventions—puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgical procedures. My heart goes out to those who have gone through these things and now bitterly regret what has happened to them. Parents need to hear the stories of these people.
A parent may not think social transitioning does any harm; new names, pronouns and dress are nothing permanent and we can live with these things. However, the danger is that once you start down this path, it will lead to more.
CWR: Are you aware of the growing community of those who have “de-transitioned” and are now speaking out against it, such as 18-year-old Chloe Cole? Is it important that we hear their testimonies?
Archbishop Sample: Yes, we should listen to these good folks, and learn from their experiences.
We also need to listen to the wisdom of the Church, which has been guided by the Holy Spirit through the centuries and is deeply rooted in biblical realities throughout all of creation history. This is the first time in all of human history that we’ve struggled with the question of biological sex vs. gender. The Church provides biblical and spiritual wisdom to which we need to listen.
We also need to listen to Pope Francis, who has strongly condemned gender identity theory. He believes it has done great harm and it is the ultimate denial of the Creator when we define ourselves.
CWR: You conclude your document with a section entitled: “Whole-Person Affirmation: A Catholic Response.” Suppose someone you care about has embraced gender identity theory perhaps even to the point of considering “transitioning” him or herself. Talk about accompaniment and what a proper Catholic response might be.
Archbishop Sample: As we outline in the document, these young people need to be reaffirmed in their belovedness. As we accompany them, they need to know up front unequivocally that they are loved, and that we love them, and we will be there for them. We will not abandon them, and will not judge or condemn them. We will walk with them and lead them to the truth and to Jesus.
We need to affirm the sacramentality of their bodies, and that the body is good. We need to declare that there is no hard, fast right way to be a boy or a girl. We have lost sight of this; we don’t have to live with gender stereotypes, there is a lot of diversity in how one can live out masculinity and femininity.
We have to walk with them, talk with them, engage with them, hear them and love them deeply. This is especially important for parents to do with their children.
CWR: Any final thoughts?
Archbishop Sample: In responding to some of the resistance the document has received, I wonder how many have read it. We are heavily influenced by the culture around us, and many of our own Catholic people may have adopted gender identity theory. I want them to read this document—not just the guidelines, but to dig deep into the teaching. Read it carefully, slowly and prayerfully. Read it again. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you through the wisdom of the Church, and the wisdom of the Creator.
One comment by the “de-transitioned” Chloe Cole that struck me was that she said adults need to take a stand. Complacency is what let this to happen to her in the first place. For the sake of our children, we have to be the adults in the room. We need to help these young people, guide them, and lead them in mercy and in love.
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