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Truth, sex and gender

First slide

The Virginia Department of Education recently posted its “Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools.” This radical document is to serve as a template for school divisions throughout the state in addressing the transgender issues. The incoming Biden administration is sure to press the transgender issues as well. In light of these developments, Catholics should understand the church’s role and teaching in such discussions.

A Teaching for All

What the church proposes in the public square is not uniquely or exclusively Catholic. It is the truth of the human person accessible to all people. In this regard, the church simply bears witness to what is true.  

It is important for the church to be involved in this discussion because “gender identity” is not ultimately a legal and political matter. It is a fundamental question about the human person — about man and woman, the human body, human sexuality, etc. Central to the church’s Gospel message is the full truth of the human person. So the church has a great deal to contribute to the discussion about the human person and human sexuality. 

Now, the church has no teaching on “gender identity” per se. She articulates the truth about the human person and within that we find authoritative guidance on this particular issue. Although confirmed, deepened, and defended by divine revelation, this teaching is nonetheless entirely accessible to human reason. We can identify three principal points of this teaching.


First, the human person is created. “Man does not create himself,” Pope Benedict XVI bluntly stated. To be created means to accept ourselves as having a certain nature and design — those defining features that make us human. Shortly before his resignation, Pope Benedict described our culture’s current misunderstanding:

“The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be.”

Pope Francis returned to this same point in both “Laudato Sí’, On Care for our Common Home” (155) and in his 2015 speech to the United Nations. This is indeed the most fundamental principle. If we do not accept humanity as a created reality with certain essentials and defining characteristics, then we will claim complete authority over ourselves and become our own creators.

A Body/Soul Unity

Second, the human person is a body/soul unity. The human person is not a soul with a body, but the body and soul as one organic whole. The body as we receive it at our creation is essential to who we are. 

Now, most people probably see the human person as a soul with a body. The body is a mere possession, incidental to the person. Thus transgender advocates argue that certain people are one gender physically and another interiorly. This posits an opposition between body and soul that contradicts the truth of the human person. Pope Francis has spoken out against this “ideology of gender” that would divide soul from body, the spiritual from the physical. In “Amoris Laetitia” he clarifies: “It needs to be emphasized that ‘biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated” (AL 56).

Male and Female

Third, the human person is male and female. “Being man” or “being woman” is a reality which is good and willed by God (CCC 369). This truth, confirmed by divine revelation (see Gen 1:27), is known by human reason. Science witnesses to the fact that our identity as male or female is not merely anatomical; we are male or female right down to our cells. Further, this “being man” or “being woman” does not apply to either body or the soul but to the person himself or herself — the body/soul unity. It is the entire person — body and soul — who is either man or woman, male or female.

Fallen and Wounded

One additional and important teaching that the church brings to this discussion — as we all experience, the human person is fallen and wounded. Original sin caused a rupture in the harmony of God’s creation. One such rupture was in the human person’s body/soul unity. In place of the harmony that we know we should have, we instead experience a disharmony, a conflict and feeling of division between them. 

This truth about our fallen human nature provides the means by which we can understand the deep division some experience between their biological sex and their “gender identity.” For that reason, we do not make light of it. But, acknowledging it as a departure from the design of our created nature, neither can we affirm it as good.

Fr. Scalia is episcopal vicar for clergy. 


Find out more


Read the Virginia Department of Education’s “Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools” or comment


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021