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Australia’s bishops unveil gender and identity guide for schools

The document outlines principles for ‘effective pastoral care for gender variant students.’

The transgender pride flag. Torbakhopper via Wikimedia.

Australia’s bishops issued Tuesday a guide on gender and identity for Catholic schools.

The 12-page document, “Created and Loved,” underlined that Catholic schools “naturally wish to provide effective pastoral care for gender variant students.”

But it rejected views that are “inconsistent with a Christian understanding,” such as that “gender is something entirely separate from biological sex.”

The guide made practical recommendations, including that schools “provide a unisex toilet and change room area” and offer “flexibility with uniform expectations.”

The text also said that schools should ensure they record “students’ biological sex at the point of enrolment” and suggested they could exclude students from sports teams “where the strength, stamina or physique of competitors is relevant” and it is lawful to do so.

It added that schools must provide “appropriate bathroom and sleeping arrangements where all students feel safe and supported” at school camps and other events.

In a section entitled “Christian anthropology,” the document noted the rise of a “gender affirmative” approach.

“Whilst providing psychological support this medical intervention often consists of using puberty blockers followed by cross sex hormones, and for some, when they are older, gender reassignment surgery,” it said.

It added: “Many medical and healthcare professionals do not endorse this form of treatment, finding it medically and ethically controversial. Traditional medical ethics and Catholic Church teaching maintain that health professionals should not disable or destroy healthy bodily organs or systems, or perform and/or advise actions that render a person incapable of parenting a child.”

“There are also serious concerns regarding a young person’s capacity to consent to these treatments, as well as concerns with the safety of using puberty blockers and cross sex hormones on children and adolescents, particularly as many research studies continue to note the absence of reliable longitudinal data on this approach.”

“A school community has a responsibility to avoid cooperation with actions which risk unnecessary damage, or which limit a student’s future possibilities for healthy human growth and development.”

The text was released as teachers gathered in Melbourne for the 2022 National Catholic Education Conference, which includes a session on the new document.

Jacinta Collins, executive director of the National Catholic Education Commission, said that the guide was informed by theological, psychological, medical, and legislative expertise.

“Recent comments by eminent psychologist Professor Ian Hickie highlight the increasing number of medical professionals who are challenging the gender-affirmative approach and are supporting the biopsychosocial approach, which is less invasive, holistic and more closely aligned with a Catholic worldview,” she said.

“It remains critical that our Catholic schools can speak about the Church’s teachings on these matters in an informed way, underpinned by the principles of respect and human dignity.”

“Catholic schools are uniquely pastoral communities, but it is vital that the Catholic vision of the whole person informs our understanding. ‘Created and Loved’ outlines a sound basis for that approach.”

The document included a glossary of widely used terms related to gender. It recommended that schools use the phrases “gender dysphoria” or “gender incongruence,” rather than “transgender,” which it said “should not be used for children or adolescents of any age who are ‘testing’ a new gender presentation.”

It also discouraged schools from using the term “cisgender.” It said that the word, which “refers to those who believe that their biological sex is merely a category to which they were assigned at birth and that their gender matches their biological sex,” reflects “a misunderstanding of the significance of biological sex.”

The guide also outlined five basic principles for Catholic schools.

The first is that schools must be “strong communities of faith where the love of God is witnessed through the care, respect and love shown by the staff to those in their care.”

The second is that staff should be given “ongoing formation in Christian anthropology and human sexuality.”

The third is for school leaders to be up to date with current legislation.

The fourth encourages staff to create “a safe and trusting relationship with the student presenting with concerns about their identity, and with their family.”

The fifth says that “Catholic schools should always communicate openly and clearly with all parties involved with the student.”

Archbishop Peter Comensoli, chair of the Australian bishops’ commission for life, family, and public engagement, said: “The Catholic Church and our schools begin from the foundational principle that each person is created in the image and likeness of God, and is loved by God.”

“That principle guides this document, which we offer to our schools to support them in walking compassionately alongside each student we are invited to educate.”

He added that the text would “be reviewed in time” and “evolve.”

The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education (now known as the Dicastery for Culture and Education) addressed questions related to gender in a 2019 document, “‘Male and female he created them’: towards a path of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education.”

The Vatican document said that it was “becoming increasingly clear that we are now faced with what might accurately be called an educational crisis, especially in the field of affectivity and sexuality.”

Both the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and the U.S. bishops’ conference are believed to have drafted documents on gender identity that remain unpublished.

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