Amid questions at some Catholic schools about how to approach problems related to LGBT identity, philosophy professors told CNA that Catholic schools must remain true to their mission of helping parents to raise their children in the faith.
"At the end of the day, the philosophy underlying transgenderism is radically opposed to Christian anthropology,” Dr. Theresa Farnan, a professor of philosophy at St. Paul Seminary, the minor seminary of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, told CNA.
Part of the mission of Catholic schools, she said, is to help students develop self-mastery, to grow in virtue, to understand that the body has meaning and significance, and to understand that a person’s happiness lies with their relationship with God, their creator.
In contrast, Farnan said, transgenderism involves a rejection of a person’s God-given body.
"Transgenderism involves a child with a healthy body rejecting that body,” she said.
"There is no way that a school can facilitate or support a gender transition without violating its mission and identity...we need to be very clear about this," Farnan said.
In addition, Farnan advised that a Catholic school should not use “preferred pronouns,” as this will signal to other students that a gender transition has in fact taken place.
"It doesn't mean you don't support the student, but you need to say to the student: we love you, we want to have you here as a student, but understand we can't support this."
At public schools in particular, Farnan said, kids are absorbing the message that some people are born in the wrong body, and some people can change from being a boy to being a girl.
"For a school to buy into that, or to in any way endorse it, is something that is very harmful to everyone's faith," Farnan said.
In 2010 and 2011, Benedict XVI described transgender ideology as "an erroneous view of the person" that would have long-term implications.
Pope Francis addresses the problem in Amoris laetitia and Laudato si', Farnan pointed out, and has expressed dismay about the teaching of gender theory to children.
In the long run, Farnan said, a Catholic school facilitating or supporting a gender transition isn't compassionate for the child, partly because they are agreeing to a radically life-altering process that doesn't resolve underlying problems, such as mental illness.
"It's damaging to the other students in the school but also for that student, because you're affirming something that runs contrary to reality, and involves affirming the child in rejecting the givenness of their creation," she said.
The medical process by which a transgender person “transitions” is often referred to as “gender-affirming” therapy.
Both Farnan and Dr. Susan Selner-Wright, who holds the Archbishop Chaput Chair in Philosophy at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, offered an alternative, Catholic view of “affirmation.”
“For us, 'affirming' the person – and I hesitate to even use that word, since it's been so co-opted...but understanding that people want to show compassion and love to the person, the best way to show compassion and love toward the person is helping them to realize that their dignity lies in their relationship to God," Farnan said.
"The difference lies in a different understanding of the dignity of the person. So for us as Catholics, your dignity comes from the fact that you are a created child of God. And God loves you so much that he created you as an embodied person.”
Selner-Wright had a similar insight.
"For a Catholic, what it means to 'affirm' someone is to affirm them in their dignity as a person created in the image and likeness of God, and we are completely for that," Selner-Wright said.
"But what the other side wants to do is say: no, to affirm someone you not only have to affirm them in their person, you have to affirm everything that they think about themselves and everything that they do...no good parent thinks that that is what affirmation is."
Selner-Wright commented on a recent case in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas that made national news, in which a Catholic school denied admission to a child of a same-sex couple.
The school had deferred to the archdiocese for guidance, which advised against the students’ enrollment.
“Our schools exist to pass on the Catholic faith. Incorporated into our academic instruction and spiritual formation, at every grade level, are the teachings of the Catholic Church,” a statement from the archdiocese read.
“It is important for children to experience consistency between what they are taught in school and what they see lived at home. Therefore, we ask that parents understand and be willing to support those teachings in their homes,” the statement continued.
It added that “the Church respects that some may disagree with essential elements of our moral teaching. We do not feel it is respectful of such individuals, nor is it fair, loving or compassionate to place their children in an educational environment where the values of the parents and the core principles of the school conflict. For these reasons, the Archdiocese has advised against the admission into our Catholic schools of children of same sex unions.”
Selner-Wright commented: “Because we have a tradition of welcome and openness, there are a lot of other people who are not Catholic using our Catholic schools, and that's great.”
“But people have to remember that the purpose of Catholic schools is to assist Catholic parents, who are the primary teachers of their children, in executing the parents' duties.”
Their recommendations are not “one size fits all,” and there are some situations in which a child could be admitted, Selner-Wright emphasized.
For example, there could be a situation in which a single parent – who experiences same-sex attraction but is trying to live a chaste life – wants to enroll their child in a Catholic shool. The attraction itself isn't the issue, Selner-Wright said, as long as the parent is not living in a way that generates a contradiction between what the child learns in school and what they learn at home.
Similarly, if a child enrolling in a Catholic school claims to be in the “wrong body,” Selner-Wright said, but the parents are faithful Catholics who are not on board with it, then the school could be a good place for the child and it may even be “a corporal work of mercy” to enroll them, she said.
A very different scenario, she said, would be one where the parents are fully on board with the child’s transition.
"I think it's important for the Catholic Church to be that voice of reason," Farnan commented.
"The Catholic Church has always been clear, unequivocally clear, about the sanctity of human life, and I think right now, given the statements of our Popes...I think our Church is providing that voice of clarity that is much needed in this debate."