Vatican’s denouncement of gender-affirming surgery is harmful, LGBTQ+ advocates say

Vatican's denouncement of gender-affirming surgery is harmful, LGBTQ+ advocates say
THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Alessandra Tarantino
Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 3, 2024. A leading Canadian LGBTQ+ rights group says the Vatican's declaration that gender-affirming surgery and surrogacy are violations of human dignity is

The Vatican’s declaration that gender-affirming surgery and what it calls gender “ideologies” violate human dignity is disappointing and “deeply harmful,” LGBTQ+ rights advocates in Canada say.

The Vatican’s doctrine office issued a 20-page declaration Monday that describes “gender theory” and surrogacy as “grave violations of human dignity” that are on par with abortion, euthanasia, war and human trafficking.

At the same time, the document says the Catholic Church is against “unjust discrimination” related to sexual orientation and that it denounces violent persecutions on that basis as “contrary to human dignity.”

The declaration was approved by Pope Francis, who had previously called “gender ideology” a threat and the practice of surrogacy “despicable.”

Although the Pope has called on Catholic bishops to welcome LGBTQ+ people in the church and last year approved the blessings of same-sex couples, his outreach has been both applauded and criticized.

The president of Dignity Canada Dignité, an organization of Catholics urging the church to update its stance on sexual minorities, said Monday’s declaration is “both one of the best documents I’ve read and one of the worst.”

On the positive side, Frank Testin said the document affirms the dignity of migrants, refugees, victims of war, people who live in poverty and women who are subjected to violence.

But on the other hand, he said, the declaration shows that the Vatican completely misunderstands gender identity, and its idea of “gender ideology” is that people change their gender “on a whim.”

“The problem I have with that…is that it simply does not describe transgender persons,” Testin said in an interview. “This is not at all what psychiatrists, other medical professionals, sexologists mean by gender identity.”

The Vatican states “any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception,” but it distinguishes between gender-affirming surgeries and medical procedures to resolve “genital abnormalities” that are present at birth or develop later in life.

Testin said he found the Vatican’s suggestion that those who seek gender-affirming surgery are trying to play God “astoundingly offensive and insensitive.”

“Overall, the Vatican does not know what it’s talking about,” he said. “I’ll be that blunt about it.”

Egale Canada, a leading LGBTQ+ rights group, said in a statement Monday that the Vatican has now taken “many large steps” back in any progress it may have made.

“The release of their declaration that gender-affirming surgery and surrogacy are violations of human dignity is not only offensive, it is deeply harmful and discriminatory,” the statement said.

Egale Canada’s executive director Helen Kennedy added in an interview that the declaration is especially harmful “when we’re dealing with state-sponsored violence in many countries and jurisdictions around the world targeting members of the 2SLGBTQI community, and particularly those seeking gender-affirming care.”

“And this doesn’t help at all actually,” she said.

Kennedy said that although she has seen “pockets of hope” in Pope Francis’s past comments about LGBTQ+ communities and what some individual Catholic dioceses are doing to promote inclusivity, the damage done by some of the Vatican’s proclamations is “pervasive” and can be co-opted by groups seeking to limit transgender rights.

Egale also called out the Vatican’s statement on surrogacy because it “impacts everybody who wants to have a child and potentially can’t,” Kennedy said.

In listing surrogacy as one of the affronts to human dignity, the Vatican said the process makes children a “mere object” and “also violates the dignity of the woman,” even if she freely chooses to participate.

“That’s one of those issues that is much broader and I honestly feel that the church is out of touch with their congregation when they’re coming out with statements like this,” Kennedy said.

Egale Canada said it will continue to engage with faith-based communities to advocate for equity, dignity and acceptance.

By Sonja Puzic, The Canadian Press

-With files from The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2024.

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