Psychologist's 'biggest concern' is its effects on children
By Mary Rezac
Photo: A gender-neutral bathroom is seen at the University of California in this 2014 file photo. (Lucy Nicholson, Reuters / CNS)
There are few Catholic ministries that exist today that minister particularly to those struggling with transgenderism and gender dysphoria.
Other than a handful of local ministries, Courage, the Church’s outreach to people with same-sex attraction, is one of the few ministries addressing the issue of transgenderism on a national and international level.
“Until recently, pastoral care to individuals who struggle with their sexual identities as male or female has largely occurred at a local and personal level,” said a spokesperson for the U.S. Bishops Conference.
“As attention to and awareness of this experience has grown, we are seeing more efforts regionally and nationally to respond in a way faithful to the Catholic understanding of the human person and God’s care for everyone.”
Part of the problem is the issue of transgenderism and its acceptance in popular culture is so new that mental health experts are still trying to catch up to the trend, said Dr. Gregory Bottaro, a Catholic psychologist with the group CatholicPsych.
“I think the mental health profession hasn’t really had time to thoroughly catch up on it, besides those in the field who kind of just flow with the current of whatever is popular in the moment,” he said.
But mental health professionals who are willing to follow any current trend are only “furthering the divide” between Catholic and secular practitioners, he added.
At the moment, the biggest concern regarding the popularizing and normalizing of transgenderism is the effect it’s having on children, Dr. Bottaro said.
“With kids, it’s really important to recognize that their sexual development is so fragile, and the influence of what’s popular in the culture needs to be really, strongly filtered and studied and understood,” he said.
“The Catholic response is a return to true anthropology – ‘male and female he made them’ – to understand that our biology and our psychology are not separate things, and so to encourage the development of a curriculum of human nature that is consistent with a true anthropology,” he said.
It’s not just the Catholic Church that is concerned with the effects of transgenderism on children. In a paper titled “Gender Ideology Harms Children,” the American College of Pediatricians lays out specific reasons they are concerned about the popularizing and normalizing of transgenderism among kids.
“A person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking. When an otherwise healthy biological boy believes he is a girl, or an otherwise healthy biological girl believes she is a boy, an objective psychological problem exists that lies in the mind not the body, and it should be treated as such. These children suffer from gender dysphoria,” the group said in its paper.
To encourage a child into thinking that “a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse,” the college added.
“So while there are biological abnormalities (children born with ambiguous genitalia or an extra chromosome), they’re certainly not circumstances to build philosophical systems on, so we see those as abnormalities and anomalies,” Dr. Bottaro said.
The U.S. Bishop’s Conference referred back to Courage as an example of a ministry that was providing pastoral care and guidance on transgenderism.
Dioceses that have their own chapters of Courage, including Vancouver, to accompany those with same-sex attraction are also “in a good position to help people who have questions regarding their sexual identity as well,” the spokesperson said.
Father Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage International, said the organization will continue to discern how best to serve transgendered persons and their families.
“There seem to be some similarities between the experience of confusion regarding one's sexual identity and the experience of same-sex attraction, but there are also many differences,” Fr. Bochanski said.
The Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese introduced a gender dysphoria policy in 2014, allowing schools to respond with special accommodation for students who have the condition. The document can be found on the CISVA website.