In an earlier, one-page article, ‘Is sex-change possible?’ (Matrix 21.10.2016, at https://amaiceducation.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/is-sex-change-possible-fr-david-watt/), I answered my own question in the negative. I had deliberately used the word ‘possible’ rather than ‘moral’, arguing that not even Omnipotence can change a man into a woman or vice-versa.
The reason for my re-entering the arena from a slightly different angle is that there continues to be great confusion surrounding this subject. Some well-known Catholic authors, for instance, without meaning to undermine their Faith, have been defending (albeit sometimes tentatively) such practices as cross-dressing, the use of hormones, and even a certain amount of surgery.
These authors are aware of Magisterial statements that one’s sex is God-given rather than chosen, and the use in this connection of Gen. 1:27: ‘Male and female He created them’. However they defend themselves from the charge of disobedience to the Church by saying that the Magisterial statements in question are not of the highest degree of authority.
I cannot help wondering if there is, underlying this defence, a kind of positivism, restricting our Catholic Faith to what is explicitly enunciated by the Magisterium. Rather we should think of our Faith as the growth of a tree, with Magisterial statements as branches, instantiating and developing the Faith, but not exhausting it.
There is I believe an analogy here with the question of women-priests. Before the publication of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis by St John Paul II, there was not, to my knowledge, any Magisterial statement answering this question in the negative in a manner which was irrevocable per se. Did this imply that, previously, female priests were compatible with our Catholic Faith? Au contraire, the impossibility of such ordinations was taken for granted and therefore, as a rule, not explicitly stated. In the history of the Church, Magisterial statements of the highest degree of authority have often come only when the doctrine in question has been controverted.
Regarding “trans” issues we are, I submit, in a similar situation to that regarding women-priests before Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, i.e. with Magisterial statements against this possibility but not of the highest authority. When St John Paul II finally settled the question of such ordinations (the ex cathedra status of the document is clear from, inter alia, the work of Fr Brian Harrison OS on the Vatican I conditions for papal infallibility) he did not, of course, see himself as introducing any new doctrine, but merely as stating what must be held as having always been part of the Faith of the Church.
Unlike St John Paul II, Pope Francis, that I am aware, has issued no ex cathedra definitions other than canonizations; however, arguably it would be worth doing so inter alia on “trans” issues.
Returning to Gen. 1:27, it is noteworthy that this text applies only to the human race; raising the possibility of androgynous specimens in other species.
Even outside the human race, however, not all differences are equally determining of subdivisions within a species. For instance, as Bryan Cross perceptively remarks, if a dog is born three-legged, we do not conclude that there are two equally legitimate types of dog; one with four legs; the other with three. Rather, we classify the three-legged specimen by reference to what a dog ought to be.
Similarly with the extremely rare phenomenon of humans who, when born, are so-called hermaphrodites; this does not constitute a third sex. Indeed, at any rate before the ‘thought police’ of political correctness attained such sway, these cases were straightforwardly recognized as anomalies even in secular texts (see eg Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropedia, 1986, ‘Hermaphroditism’).
Even if we are unable to tell whether a human specimen is male or female, this does not mean that God is unable to do so. Just as He is able to do this for a very early embryo, so too He can do so for a new-born displaying, to our eyes, equivalent instantiating of male and female characteristics. In actual fact one or other set of characteristics has usually (always?) visibly predominated, either at birth or at any rate by puberty, enabling medical intervention regarding the secondary characteristics.
The human race has existed for many thousands of years. Is it only now, in recent decades, that we have discovered there are more than two sexes?
Many more, it would seem, if proponents of “transitioning” are to be believed. For if, say, a man turns into a woman, there must be multiple intervening stages.
This I believe poses a problem for one Catholic author, who draws the line at such a man doing anything which might constitute mutilation; eg removal of the genitals. The difficulty is that the traditional prohibitions on mutilation, in this case, apply to a man, whereas the would-be woman can say ‘By the time I come to perform such acts, I will no longer be a man, but already, say, 70% female!’
Also, this particular author (and he is not alone) seems caught in logical ‘no-man’s land’. He favours a certain amount of “transitioning”, but not “going the whole hog”. Surely, if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well!
For another author, there can be deception involved in presenting as the opposite sex; however, this may sometimes be defensible; mention being made of different cases from everyday life where, it is claimed, deception is lawful. However, I accept as justified, only cases of deception which would be admitted by classical Catholic authors, eg disguise (not lying) in a just war. So for instance I do not accept the legitimacy of feigning greater interest in a conversation than one feels. (What one could do, of course, is try to force oneself to take greater interest, by sitting up straight, looking attentively at the speaker and so forth, which might, as an unintended consequence, have the effect of portraying greater interest than one feels.) Nor do I accept that setting a watch fast so as not to be late, need involve self-deception. To see that the time is ‘probably about 7’ rather than ‘probably about 6.58’, may be more likely to galvanize oneself into action, and involves no untruth.
These Catholic authors are aware of the Biblical prohibition on cross-dressing, but say that it must be placed in context. It is true that Deut. 22:5 occurs in the midst of a whole raft of strictures, some permanent, some temporary, so to see which is which we must be guided by the whole history of the Church. Cross-dressing has been the subject of many ecclesiastical prohibitions (see eg Catholic Encyclopedia 1913, vol. XV, p.697a). True, exceptions were made for cases of necessity, as in the life of St Joan of Arc; however, how many Catholic authors, for nineteen and a half centuries, would have seen ‘necessity’ in the mere desire to belong to the opposite sex? Would they not have been more likely to see this as precisely the kind of disordered desire which the prohibitions are designed to discourage?
In so far as I can detect a unifying argument underpinning Catholic defences of “transitioning” (I think this could be clearer) it seems to be something like this: ‘There are those who identify with the opposite sex, not as a passing fancy, but as a deep-seated desire. Therefore we would not be compassionate if we failed to accommodate these desires as much as we can, within the limits imposed by the Church’.
What this type of argument fails to acknowledge sufficiently is the effects of Original Sin, whereby even a deep-seated and enduring desire may be completely disordered. Note also that the rise of would-be transitioners has coincided with the rejection of Humanae Vitae and the consequent downward spiral in morality, eg laws enacted to justify abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex “marriage”. This has been a long enough time for an ever-increasing number of former “transitioners” to be speaking out, sharing their realization that it was all a terrible mistake.
Even those who have not yet come to this realization are, in a backhanded way, paying tribute to the truth of Gen. 1:27. For it is normally a case of a male wanting to be a female, or vice-versa. Why, if there are more than two sexes? Why not say: ‘I want to become 70% female, and then stop there?’
To conclude, far be it from me to impugn the good intentions of those Catholic authors who to some extent defend “transitioning”. However, they have presented no evidence for their views; nor do I believe it is possible to do so. Those who are suffering from mental illness, are not assisted by being encouraged in their fantasies.