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Nullifying differences
(Part 1 of Thinking it through: The Church and “gender change”)

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 07, 2024

The recent exchange of letters discussing transgendered persons between Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Pope Francis led Sister Jeannine to write an article about it which was jointly and propagandistically published on the New Ways Ministry’s daily blog and in the National Catholic Reporter. One hardly knows what to make of this exchange, which is why we must think more deeply than these correspondents did in order to make sense of the issue.

Pope Francis clarified his position by writing that transgender people “must be accepted and integrated into society” while emphasizing that the negative judgment in the recent Declaration Dignitas infinita “refers not to transgender people but to gender ideology, which nullifies differences.” While it is clear that the intention of the text was not to deny that God loves (and the Church should minister to) the transgendered, but rather was to insist that the whole idea of gender manipulation is an afront to human dignity, Pope Francis shed no light on the reason for the Church’s teaching on this matter by suggesting that the key factor is that gender ideology “nullifies differences”.

Unfortunately, this expression must have a meaning imposed on it from outside to be used properly. For example, it is often a good thing to nullify differences in the sense of refusing to treat different people differently when the differences in question have no bearing on the situation at hand. Thus, for example, to deny rights or refuse assistance based on irrelevant criteria is wrong, while at the same time, tailoring our service to the different characteristics and needs of those we serve is right. In other words, it is important to distinguish whether particular differences demand different responses. We might do more for a suffering child than we would for a suffering adult who refuses to embrace adult responsibility. We might admit qualified individuals to certain professions while barring others. We might take a poor woman into a homeless shelter in preference to a man, or indeed an isolated child in preference to a woman. But when particular differences are irrelevant to how we should respond, then we sin by arbitrarily privileging some over others.

We could take a thousand examples, but the result would be the same: Any generic argument against “nullifying differences” is intrinsically confusing. If we take “nullifying” to mean “ignoring for this purpose”, the decision might be perfectly sound. But if we take “nullifying” to mean refusing to recognize the natural differences among people so that we fail to take them into account when they properly bear on our responses and service to them, then of course we fall into stupidity, error and sin. Moreover, if we refuse to acknowledge the natural differences that are actually constitutive of our very being, we find ourselves on the brink of massive violations of human dignity. If we attempt to brainwash one person into adopting the personality of another person; if we select embryos with only our most desired traits and kill the rest of them; if we develop “body shops” to implant longer legs in otherwise healthy short persons, or shorter backbones in otherwise healthy tall persons, or to accentuate female characteristics in men, or male characteristics in women—then, even if we do such things only on request, we are complicit in nullifying the God-given differences that make each of us who we are.

Presumably, it is precisely this last sort of nullification that Pope Francis has in mind. But it is interesting, telling and horrifying that Sr. Jeannine Gramick maintains that this is not at all what she is doing. She argues that she is in fact simply recognizing spiritual differences that are being denied by nature. Sr. Gramick (and many others) affirm that there can be female souls in male bodies, and male souls in female bodies. Criticizing the language of Dignitas Infinita, she arbitrarily asserts:

And I ask myself, “How must it feel to live in a body with an identity contrary to how you believe God created you in your soul?” …If “it is in the body that each person recognizes himself or herself,” as Dignitas Infinita (par. 60) asserts, what a serious burden the Church is placing on the person who does not recognize themselves in the body of their birth!.... It is precisely because a transgender person knows that there are gender differences that the person realizes that their body does not match their soul.

One is reminded of the story about a thoroughly modern woman who proudly told her four-year-old daughter that she “could be anything she wants to be when she grows up”. The daughter thought for a moment, and then blurted out, “I think I would like to be a horse.” The great problem with this totally arbitrary approach is that it denies the fundamental reality of God’s creation—that our sexuality (including our often loose and wayward concept of “gender”) is determined by our embodiment as demonstrably either male or female. In other words, gender dysphoria is not based on a conflict between the “gender” of the soul and the “gender” of the body. Gender dysphoria is a dissociative psychological illness. Moreover, no matter how much we try biologically to transform men into women and women into men, all we are really doing is mutilating their bodies so that they can more successfully engage in role playing.

There is no “sex or gender change”. After gender-changing procedures, a physically healthy male becomes merely a mutilated male, and a physically healthy female becomes merely a mutilated female. Even with the greatest sympathy in the world, we must recognize that this is a wretched extension of cross-dressing that grossly disrespects the body itself. We must also recognize the high incidence of serious discontent among those who undergo sex-change procedures, including the high rate of suicide. Denying reality never solves anything.

Next in series: 2: Male and female He created them

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: rfr46 - May. 12, 2024 5:08 AM ET USA

    And Sister Gramick is the kind of person whom we are told we need more of?

  • Posted by: dsharples13215 - May. 08, 2024 7:04 AM ET USA

    Perhaps the greatest expression of Antinomianism, is that there are no male nor female persons. No "rules" at birth.