Advisory council suggests bishops guide ministries on gender dysphoria

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- An advisory body to the U.S. bishops has called for the development of practical and pastoral guidance on gender dysphoria to help laypeople and clergy in their ministries in parishes, schools and other settings.

The suggestion was among a series of proposals from the National Advisory Council that was included in a report Nov. 16 delivered to the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.

The council's work is to review, discuss and advise the bishops on the agenda items from Administrative Committee meetings that may be coming before the full USCCB for action at the bishops' annual fall general assembly. It includes about three dozen members, including clergy, women religious, laypeople and four bishops.

Mark Sadd of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, who is chair of the council, told the assembly that members of the advisory group had been discussing the issue of gender dysphoria for several years and that it felt it was time to make the request through a nonbinding resolution adopted during its September meeting.

"Currently, families, parishes and schools are daily encountering difficult conversations with their children and feel ill equipped to explain or accompany them through this journey," Sadd said in his report.

"Gender dysphoria" is a term that describes a sense of unease or distress that a person may experience by feeling there is a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.

Sadd shared that a NAC member, a teacher, had described having to confront this challenge at her school.

"Our schools are having weighty and frequent discussions about policy and catechesis. We urgently need guidance on proper terms, approaches and Catholic teaching," he quoted the teacher as saying during the NAC's September meeting.

In response, he asked the bishops' assembly: "If it is not you, our bishops, who speak on these (issues), then who will speak? ... If it is not now in the present, then when?"

Sadd said the NAC adopted four other nonbinding resolutions on issues related to USCCB, including one about the importance of communications in the work of the conference.

The resolution specifically urges that the bishops draft a "framework for the responsible participation of publishers, journalists and platforms to reflect the influence of modern communication including social media."

Sadd explained that NAC members were not looking for the bishops to officially approve Catholic media outlets but that they set forth principles that guide how the bishops and dioceses "affirm and express Catholic values."

"The church must be seen not only as the guardian of the faith, for life, for family and for her institutions, but also as the leading advocate of the Gospel values of charity, mercy and of love," Sadd said.

Social media, he added, has polarized society and he said the NAC sees such outlets as presenting an opportunity "to teach people how to use old media, new media and social media in a manner fitting to their discipleship."

Sadd's report described how the council recently heard about the restructuring of the USCCB Department of Communications from James Rogers, the conference's chief communications officer The restructuring includes the closing of Catholic News Service domestic operations Dec. 31, and the shuttering of the USCCB Publishing Office.

Regarding the closing of CNS, Sadd said NAC members were "wistful but accepting" of the decision while suggesting that the "restructuring presents an ideal time to ensure that the mandate of the communications department is sustainable and achievable."

The two remaining resolutions ask the bishops' Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations to share leadership development resources with clergy and lay leaders alike and to distribute a report on the effectiveness of existing practices to prevent clergy sexual abuse, respectively.

The report would cover steps under the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," now 20 years old, and the Catholic Bishops Abuse Reporting System regarding allegations against bishops as well as bishops' handling of abuse charges.

The NAC report also credited the bishops for their three-year eucharistic revival, which will culminate in a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in 2024.

"The states of belief or unbelief of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament remain of highest concern to the members of the advisory council," Sadd said.

At the same time, NAC members urged the bishops to devote more time during their assembly to presentations on life issues, saying the time allotted to such concerns during this year's fall assembly "was grossly inadequate."

"Our members are calling on the bishops to ramp up the church's advocacy on other life issues and to reconfigure the church's resources through all of its institutions to more life-centric ministries, especially to mothers and children in need," Sadd said.