Recent Catholic Statement endangers Intersex Children

Intersex kids who have been subjected to medicalization without their consent often grow up with unnecessary surgeries, secrecy, shame, and life-long trauma. That’s why it’s so troubling to see official Catholic teaching recommending the medical interventions in Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education released June 10, 2019.

In this document the authors insist that there are only two sexes, derived from Adam and Eve, and deny the difference between biological sex and gender identity. Transgender people, activists, and allies are rightfully outraged, but most of the press has failed to notice the document’s impact on intersex people—those born with physical markers of biological sex that don’t fit medical definitions of male and female.

 The document acknowledges the existence of sex variations, but denies intersex people agency over their bodies and identities by insisting that doctors somehow “establish” the sex of an intersex child as male or female.

In the past, medical interventions have included the removal of gonads (castration) and long-term hormonal treatments, often resulting in trauma and chronic health problems. The UN considers non-consensual intersex surgery a violation of human rights.

For decades, intersex activists have encouraged parents to delay irreversible medical treatments until the child has a sense of their own gender. In spite of their having a mix of male and female physical characteristics, a majority of intersex people end up identifying as male or female. But it should be their choice rather than “established” by medical science.

The Church should look to the words of Jesus in Matthew 19 where Jesus quotes from Genesis one and two, but also affirms the existence of “eunuchs from birth,” one of the categories created by ancient Rabbis for those who didn’t fit into the male-female pattern. Saint Augustine wrote of “androgynes and hermaphrodites” in City of God (16.8).These texts show that Catholic tradition has historically acknowledged those born outside of the male-female binary.

Intersex activists from around the globe have responded in a Joint Statement asking the Congregation on Catholic Education to reconsider its views in light of the lived experiences of intersex people, particularly Intersex Catholics, Intersex Christians.

We hope you will join us in adding your name to Joint Statement before June 24 and by speaking to Church leaders in your community. The signed Statement will be sent to the Vatican on June 25, 2019.

Our documentary Stories of Intersex and Faith shares the experiences of intersex Christians from various traditions, including the Roman Catholic tradition, as well as Conservative Judaism. If you would like to bring our documentary to your community, congregation, religious leadership, university, etc., please contact us. We would gladly share it with any Catholic clergy willing to take the time to listen to these important stories.

Our curriculum, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, walks Bible Study Groups and Sunday School classes not only though the stories of intersex people of faith but also the Scriptural passages and resources in history that can help inform more compassionate and careful discussions in your own faith community.