‘Transsexual Baptism’: Two Perspectives

Note: Our deep thanks to all of you who have already responded to the end-of-year fundraiser that we began yesterday. It’s a good beginning, but we need to hear from many, many more of you. Please, don’t wait. Click the button and make your contribution to our work. We only exist because of your support. And we can only carry out the work we think necessary if we know we’ll have the resources. Our gratitude as well to the over 30,000 of you who watched the podcast discussion between Fr. Gerald Murray and myself about Bishop Strickland and the recent Vatican policies towards “trans” people. Though we’re determined not to become Catholic ambulance chasers at this site (please see my column yesterday), we’re almost weekly facing confusing, sometimes perilous developments in the Church. So we’re back again today with two deeper theological reflections on the very acceptance of the category “trans” by some of the highest authorities in the Church which we think will have consequences of great interest to our readers. – Robert Royal

The Radical Implications of “Transsexual Baptism”

Eduardo Echeverria

Does the Church now accept transgenderism, that is, “gender diversity,” in virtue of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s recent response to the question of whether so-called “transsexuals” may be baptized? If so, does it therefore eliminate the normative status of the creation-based anthropology wherein sexual difference between male and female is fundamental to our humanity, and hence to conjugal marriage?

And is the DDF’s apparent rejection of sexual differentiation inconsistent, not only with the 2019 document from the Congregation for Catholic Education (hereafter CCE), namely, “Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education,” but also from Pope Francis’s teaching (following John Paul II and Benedict XVI) in Amoris Laetitia? And even more worrisome, what is to prevent the logical slippage of this position to transsexual marriage and transsexual priestly ordination?

The Dicastery responded to the question of whether a “transsexual” can be baptized.

A transsexual – who had also undergone hormone treatment and sex reassignment surgery – can receive baptism, under the same conditions as other believers, if there are no situations in which there is a risk of generating public scandal or disorientation among the faithful. In the case of children or adolescents with transgender issues, if well prepared and willing, they can receive Baptism.

What is a so-called “transsexual”? This term refers to a “transgendered individual” whose gender self-identity is contrary to the biological, chromosomal, and genetic sexual identity he has had from conception. Or someone having made a “transition” from female to male, or vice-versa through hormone treatment and sex reassignment surgery.

If a so-called transsexual may be baptized, does that mean that the Church now accepts the claim that gender dysphoria between the body and the mind is not a mental illness, reflecting the brokenness of our fallen world, but actually an indication that a person was born in the wrong body?

Pope Francis has rejected transgenderism as an ideology that “promotes a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.”

He holds that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 56) That means that an individual’s sexual identity is composed of biological, physical, psychological, and social dimensions in an integral anthropology.

The CCE suggests it might still be useful to study this distinction between sex and gender in order to “achieve a deeper understanding of the ways in which sexual difference between men and woman is lived out in a variety of cultures.” (no. 6)

Francis agrees but remains critical: “It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality.” But isn’t that sundering exactly what is presupposed in the recent permitting of “transsexual baptism”?

Given the Church’s affirmation of the normative significance of humanity’s sexual differentiation, grounded in the structures of Creation (i.e., the sexual difference between male and female is a creational given), all mankind is bound to that structure. The idea of a “transsexual” or “transgendered individual,” then, has no anthropological foundation in Catholicism. (Amoris Laetitia, no. 56)

Furthermore, as the CCE argues, so-called transgenderism presupposes a “dualistic anthropology, separating body (reduced to the status of inert matter) from human will, which becomes an absolute that can manipulate the body as it pleases.” (no. 20) On this view, there is “a gradual process of denaturalization, that is a move away from nature and towards an absolute option for the decision of the feelings of the human subject.” (no. 19)

But the Church’s normative anthropology holds that a sexually differentiated body in its integral totality is intrinsic to self-identity, and hence that subjectively experienced gender cannot properly be treated independent of a person’s biological nature.

Genesis 1:27 asserts that God made man in his image, male and female he created them. This assertion is an objective reality that excludes a state of affairs in which God created sexuality on a “spectrum” between male and female.

The CCE makes clear the metaphysical implication of Genesis:

There is a need to reaffirm the metaphysical roots of sexual difference, as an anthropological refutation of attempts to negate the male-female duality, from which [conjugal marriage and] the family is generated. The denial of this duality not only erases the vision of human beings as the fruit of an act of creation but creates the idea of the human person as a sort of abstraction who [as Benedict XVI puts it] “chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is [conjugal marriage and] the family any longer a reality established by creation. (no. 34)

If an individual’s sexual identity is permanent in virtue of being creational, and the Church now apparently accepts a transgendered individual, does that mean that the Church now holds that a man can get pregnant? Menstruate? What if that individual was formerly baptized before his so-called transition, doesn’t baptizing him now mean that he is no longer the same person who was originally baptized? This entails not only the anthropology presupposed by the phenomenon of “transgendered individuals,” which is rejected by Francis and the CCE, but also rebaptism. But then how can the Church maintain the integrity of the sacrament?

Finally, what is to prevent the logical slippage of the baptized transsexual from seeking a transsexual marriage and transsexual priestly ordination? Nothing, if the Church accepts transgenderism. This slippage to transsexual ordination is not farfetched. The German Synodal way document has already made it. All of this is, however, a moot point if there is no such objective reality as a “transsexual” individual.



The Transformation That Baptism Promises

Fr. Brian A. Graebe

The Vatican made headlines yet again last week in answering questions about the eligibility of transgender persons to be baptized and serve as sponsors or witnesses to sacraments. In itself, much of the document should not be controversial. With baptism in particular, the bar for denying someone the sacrament is high. Absent outright hostility to the faith (in which case one is unlikely to seek the sacrament anyway) the presumption should always be in favor of baptizing.

The Church’s normal praxis speaks to this broad access: the sacrament requires a common element – water – and allows anyone, even an atheist, to administer it validly. Whatever psychological issues a transgender person may be experiencing and struggling with, God’s saving grace is available to all who seek it with a sincere heart. Insofar as it affirms these basic truths, the response from the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith underscores the welcoming and inclusive vision of the Church that Pope Francis has prioritized.

At the same time, however, the document remains deficient in what it leaves unsaid. In the rite of baptism, the Church, in the person of the minister, must affirm not only the supernatural truth about the sacrament but also the natural truth about the recipient.

Throughout the rite of baptism, the minister (usually a priest) chooses between male or female pronouns based on the sex of the one being baptized. A man may believe himself to be a woman, and perhaps even choose a woman’s name.

In itself, that should also not be disqualifying. Nonetheless, the priest must refer to him as a man. For example, in the prayer before the baptism itself, the priest says, “Dearly beloved, with one heart and soul, let us by our prayers come to the aid of this our brother in his blessed hope, so that, as he approaches the font of rebirth, the almighty Father may bestow on him all his merciful help.” Four times in this one prayer the maleness of the catechumen is affirmed.

 The Church cannot be complicit in error. To refer to this catechumen as a woman, and use the corresponding language, would be to partake in a lie and sow further confusion. On a pastoral level, the use of this language in the rite should be part of a longer discussion with the candidate well before the ceremony itself, with the priest explaining, sensitively but clearly, the Church’s anthropology, and gauging more perceptively the candidate’s own understanding and motivation in seeking the sacrament. These considerations – pastoral, doctrinal, and liturgical –were sadly absent from the recent response.

Nor is the document’s deficiency limited to baptism. The affirmation of biological sex extends to the role a transgender person may play as a sponsor or godparent. The Church calls for a godparent whenever possible. At least one is generally required; there may be, and usually are, two, in which case there is to be one godfather and one godmother.

This spiritual parenthood mirrors physical parenthood. Should a transgendered man, who believes himself to be a woman, present himself as a sponsor for a baptism, and assuming he fulfills the other criteria, it must be clear that he stands as that child’s godfather, alongside the godmother.

To accede to a request that this man be a godmother, and stand alongside a godfather, would distort the spiritual significance of godparents and also, once again, confirm and perpetuate the error about the personhood under which this individual suffers. Such accommodation represents false compassion and subordinates objective truth to subjective feelings.

The Church’s sacraments are not her own, but Christ’s. They conform the soul more closely to him, who is the truth and invites us to remain in that truth. That truth includes the fundamental biology of the human person, whom God made male and female.

In leaving important considerations unsaid, the recent document raises more questions than it answers. The confusion of the current age requires the Church to be even more forcefully a voice in the wilderness, however unpopular or uncomfortable that may be.

The transgender phenomenon shows no signs of abating. Indeed, there is an aggressive push in every sector of society – and among some in the Church – to make transgenderism “normal,” and even to penalize people for using the “wrong pronouns.”

As a result, the Church must have the courage of her own convictions. Her welcome is also and always an invitation, a challenge, to conversion, calling every soul to leave behind the “old self” and to put on Christ. That is the identity that baptism offers, and the transformation that it promises.


*Image: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by Herri met de Bles, c. 1545 [Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Quebec]

You may also enjoy:

PODCAST: Strickland Out, Trans Baptism In?  (Robert Royal with Fr. Gerald Murray)

Brad Miner’s Further Thoughts on Transgenderism

Eduardo J. Echeverria is Professor of Philosophy and Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. His publications include Pope Francis: The Legacy of Vatican II Revised and Expanded Second Edition (Lectio Publishing, Hobe Sound, FL, 2019) and Revelation, History, and Truth: A Hermeneutics of Dogma. (2018). His new book is Are We Together? A Roman Catholic Analyzes Evangelical Protestants.

Fr. Brian A. Graebe, S.T.D., is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. He is the author of Vessel of Honor: The Virgin Birth and the Ecclesiology of Vatican II (Emmaus Academic).