As American society continues to sink into a mire of solipsism and nominalism, it’s the Church, and perhaps only the Church, that can proclaim and defend those things that are permanent, irreducibly real, and radically good. Such is the courageous and true directive on handling “trans” questions recently issued by Edward C. Malesic, Bishop of Cleveland.
Caring for his flock with moral clarity, Bishop Malesic has directed “all offices, parishes, parish schools, and diocesan schools of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland as well as their employees, personnel, volunteers, students, and youth participating in parish or institutional faith formation” to affirm the biological sex of all persons in the Church’s care or employ.
The bishop’s directive begins with first principles:
Our bodies, created male and female, are part of God’s intentional design in creation and are, therefore, imbued with meaning and purpose. As stewards of these gifts, we are called to accept, love, and care for our bodies as they were created.
In many places in the United States, teachers and whole educational institutions are encouraging or even enabling troubled students to forsake their divinely created sexuality for a “gender identity” of their own, even at the cost of mutilating their bodies to construct a facsimile of a different sex. Their commitment to this fiction often regards parents as potential enemies who must be kept in the dark.
But not, for this bishop, in the Diocese of Cleveland. If any student is experiencing gender dysphoria, the parents “shall with reasonable promptness” be notified. Knowing that teachers may slide away from that obligation by asserting that the student faces parental abuse from such a revelation, the directive puts forward clear criteria.
First, the evidence of potential abuse must be “compelling.” Second, even if the teacher asserts that there may be abuse, the teacher cannot on his or her own withhold information from the parent, but must first consult “with the Diocese Legal Office and the Bishop’s designated moral theologian.” Moreover, the directive rejects the claim that a parent refusing to use “preferred pronouns” is committing abuse.
It also explicitly forbids the use of “preferred pronouns” different from the minor’s biological sex. Nor can misleading nicknames be allowed. “Joe” cannot be “Josie.” Bathrooms and sports programs are to be differentiated exclusively by biological sex (with a possible exception of allowing biological females to compete in male sports).
All must dress in a way that is appropriate to their biological sex, nor can one attend a school or parish dance or mixer with a person of the same sex (platonic friends might be permitted). All school records must designate the minor by his or her biological sex without alteration.
Ryan Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has described the full range of harms to individuals as well as institutions wrought by the transgender movement. They include loss of privacy and safety, institutionalized coercion of children, corruption of the medical profession, disruption of the family, negation of the virtue of modesty, and an ideological program that brooks no dissent.
In contrast, the Diocese of Cleveland, relying upon the deposit of faith, chooses God over mammon. It erects a moral infrastructure of protection for the minor. Unyielding, the directive states:
No person may engage in so-called social transitions, surgeries, or medical treatments that seek to “transition” the person to a sex or gender inconsistent with his or her God-given biological sex. This includes, but is not limited to, puberty blockers prescribed or taken to delay puberty in those diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and hormone and surgical treatments to “feminize” a biological male or “masculinize” a biological female.
Gender dysphoria, however, is a real, though mostly a passing phenomenon, especially for teenagers. They are to be cared for, but in the context of what is true: “Catholic Institutions must accompany people experiencing gender dysphoria and be committed both to providing a loving environment and to upholding the truth of God’s created reality. As the Catechism teaches, individuals who experience these perceptions or feelings are to be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity and that every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
It’s common these days to see churches of various denominations with a sign out front, “All are welcome.” Many churches, including Catholic parishes, have an LGBTQ outreach. The Bishop provides a crucial caveat. “All are welcome, with the understanding that by voluntarily accepting the invitation to be a part of a Catholic community, a person also accepts the responsibility of striving to do good and avoiding what is not, consistent with Catholic moral teachings.”
Victim ideology cannot trump those moral obligations. Nor can one affirm through symbols what is patently contrary to those Catholic moral teachings. In a statement that has already roused the opposition of gay rights advocates, the directive declares, “No person [under the Diocese’s jurisdiction] may publicly advocate or celebrate sexual orientation or identity in ways that are contrary to the Catholic Church’s teaching. . . .This includes, but is not limited to displaying symbols such as ‘LGBTQ pride’ rainbows or ‘LGBTQ pride’ flags or other symbols that can be construed as being opposed to Church teaching.”
There are rough waters ahead for this bishop. The Cleveland LGBTQ center has started a petition to have the diocese “reverse” its directive. Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb has attacked it as a “betrayal of Church teachings.” It undoubtedly has gained the attention of Rome.
At first glance, one might not find Bishop Malesic particularly prepossessing. As I have seen him in person, he has a pastoral demeanor, but his approach to being pastoral is more than the effort to just be “nice” so common in the pulpit.
His encouraging call to the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist, is present in nearly every homily. His embrace of the Real Presence is palpable. There is an assuredness to his vocation, and from this directive, one can see that this is a shepherd who will lay down himself for his flock.