Vatican document clearly rejects "gender reassignment"

Transgender: Dignitas infinita turns human dignity on its head

Bonn/Ostfildern - The paper from the Vatican recently published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has been labelled a document on human dignity. However, "Dignitas infinita" contradicts human dignity, especially when it comes to transidentity, writes theologian Ursula Wollasch in a guest article for

Published  on 12.04.2024 at 00:01  – by Ursula Wollasch

Transidentity is incompatible with the Catholic view of humanity. This is once again confirmed by the "Dignitas infinita" declaration on human dignity recently published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. The paper clearly rejects so-called "sex reassignment surgery". The reason given is that "any sex-change operation generally harbours the risk of threatening the unique dignity that a person possesses from the moment of conception" (60). Transgender people, their families and friends, queer initiatives and associations reacted with horror, disappointment and anger.

From a magisterial point of view, it is clear that if human dignity is based on the likeness of God and if this likeness is passed on to the child in the act of procreation - as Pope John Paul II explained in his Evangelium vitae (43) - then if a person owes their dignity to natural procreation by a man and a woman, then everything that hinders or prevents this act of procreation must be consistently avoided and prevented. The only exception to this rule that the paper allows relates to intersex people, but not to transgender people.

According to the Vatican, even body hair removal should be refrained from

In concrete terms, this means hormone treatments and gender reassignment surgery, but also body hair removal and logotherapy, even counselling services and psychotherapy: they are all to be refrained from, as they interfere more or less directly with biological gender. Insofar as they prepare for or accompany a transition, they have a lasting effect on male or female fertility.

This positioning is not new. As early as 2004, the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, stated: "In contrast to those theories that regard gender identity merely as a cultural and social product of the interaction between community and individual, without taking into account personal sexual identity or the true meaning of sexuality in any way, the Church never tires of clearly formulating its own teaching: 'Every person, whether man or woman, must recognise and accept his or her sexuality. Physical, moral and spiritual diversity and mutual complementarity are centred on the goods of marriage and the development of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on how reciprocity, neediness and mutual help are lived by husband and wife. [CCC 2333] From this point of view arises the obligation to harmonise positive law with natural law, according to which sexual identity as an objective condition for forming a couple in marriage is not arbitrary (224)."

Pope John Paul II in Poland
Bild: ©KNA-Bild/KNA

Pope John Paul (1978-2005) provoked with his "Theology of the Body". The new Vatican document "Dignitas infinita" is based on this.

"Dignitas infinita" not only borrows its title from Pope John Paul II, it also corresponds to his "Theology of the Body " in terms of its content, with its spiritual exaltation of human sexuality and fertility, which only recognises a strict separation of man and woman and which does not even raise the question of gender identity.

What appears strictly logical and consistent from a Catholic perspective is by no means compelling when viewed from the outside. The concept of human dignity that "Dignitas infinita" develops is not a universal one, but a very specifically Catholic one. The Church definitely does not identify with the protection of the human dignity of queer people, which has been pursued by the UN since the 1990s and which is explicitly expressed in its SOGIESC strategy[1]. It is remarkable how the Catholic Church, on the one hand, honours the 75th anniversary of the UN Human Rights Charter of 1948 with its current declaration and, on the other hand, enters into open confrontation with the UN and its stance on sexual self-determination. From a human rights perspective, the question of the human dignity of trans people is quite different, almost contrary.

It is not gender reassignment surgery that contradicts human dignity, but the compulsion to live in a body in which a person simply cannot live. In other words, it is contrary to human dignity to deprive a person of the right to relate to their biological sex, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with it. Human dignity is jeopardised when people are denied the right to decide their own gender identity. This act of self-determination is a human right that the Catholic Church is once again ignoring. In this sense, "Dignitas infinita" turns human dignity on its head.

„Was ist in ihm vorgegangen, als er die Ziffer 60 in "Dignitas infinita" freigab? War ihm nicht klar, dass trans Menschen eine gesellschaftliche Gruppe bilden, die am meisten von Ausgrenzung und Diskriminierung, von Hass und Gewalt betroffen ist?“

It must be recognised that there are certainly treatment methods that are very problematic from an ethical point of view, such as puberty-blocking drugs for children and adolescents. However, these require a professionally differentiated and, above all, individual consideration and cannot be dealt with with a generalised reference to a threat to human dignity. Anyone who argues with human dignity in this way can ultimately confirm or reject any behaviour. In this way, human dignity itself is ultimately devalued. It is then no longer suitable as a consensus-building compass.

In the meantime, it looked as if Pope Francis would take a special interest in transgender people in particular. Last year, for example, the Vatican officially announced that they could, of course, be baptised. In connection with the coronavirus pandemic, the Pope has also drawn attention to the plight of trans people in particular. Since then, he has received individual trans people together with their relatives and friends in audiences on several occasions. Vatican News has reported on this regularly. He himself spoke about it at his press conferences.

What was the Pope thinking?

Today we have to ask ourselves what he really took away from these encounters. What was going through his mind when he released the number 60 in "Dignitas infinita"? Did he not realise that trans people form a social group that is most affected by exclusion and discrimination, hatred and violence? That they are often rejected by their families and friends, suffer disproportionately from depression and are more at risk of suicide than others? And that transitioning is the only survival strategy for many of them? Against this background, is it morally justifiable to withhold the necessary treatment methods from them?

Apparently, the responsible dicastery is not entirely sure of its own reasoning. Why else did Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernandez, the leading prefect for the doctrine of the faith, emphasise to the press at the presentation of the declaration that trans people are welcome in the Church? One looks in vain for this statement in the text of the declaration itself. But how are trans people supposed to feel accepted in the Catholic Church if it brands urgently needed treatment methods as an offence against human dignity?

Bild: ©Katholisches Stadtdekanat Stuttgart

Will the dicastery of faith change its mind on the subject of trans identity? We can only hope so, writes Ursula Wollasch.

But it is not only trans people alone who are under pressure, but all those in the Catholic Church who support trans people in the future. They are exposed to the accusation that their actions jeopardise human dignity and thus violate their own professional and Christian ethos. Who can still be involved in church hospitals, counselling centres, daycare centres, schools and pastoral work under these circumstances? Will Catholic doctors still carry out hormone treatments in future? Will Catholic hospitals carry out gender reassignment surgery? Will there be parallel pastoral care for trans people in hospitals? Will there be trans children in Catholic day-care centres? Will they be found in Caritas youth welfare centres? In vocational training centres? In youth organisations? Will families find Caritas counselling services? Will counsellors continue to provide open-ended advice? Will pastoral counsellors show unrestricted acceptance in their counselling, even if the catechism demands otherwise? Are trans people conceivable in church ministry? As religious education teachers? Or - as is already the case in the USA today - will church organisations everywhere be banned from providing medical treatment to trans people at some point? Close church counselling centres? Expel trans children from Catholic schools?

What remains to be said is that according to "Dignitas infinita", trans people also have a transcendent, inalienable human dignity, but it is not possible for them to live this in a self-determined way, in freedom and responsibility from God and people. By claiming to protect human dignity, the magisterium deprives trans people of the very medical, social and pastoral infrastructure they need to live and survive.

According to Cardinal Fernandez, the discussion of the topics addressed in "Dignitas infinita" is not yet complete. The paper is intended to provide food for thought that needs to be pursued further. With regard to the topic of trans identity, this further thinking is urgently needed at the centre of the Roman Catholic Church. One can only hope that the dicastery will revise its position on trans people in the foreseeable future.

[1 ] Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC)

by Ursula Wollasch

About the person

Ursula Wollasch is a Catholic theologian and holds a doctorate in social ethics. She worked for more than twenty years in various social fields of Caritas organisations and has been working as a freelance author and publicist since 2020. From 12/2022 to 11/2023, she was the "independent contact person" for transgender people in the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart. During this time, she wrote a book that was published in February of this year.

Book tip: Ursula Wollasch, trans und katholisch. Für eine Kirche in der trans Menschen dazugehören, Patmos Verlag, Ostfildern 2024.