UPDATE: Msgr. Barltrop has responded. Please see update at bottom of article.
WESTMINSTER, July 21, 2015 (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Catholic bishops conference of England and Wales, is pushing to expand the Church's ministry to those in the LGBT community.
Monsignor Keith Barltrop, parish priest of St. Mary of the Angels in London, has been appointed to head this new ministry. He describes his parish as "one of the most fascinating and welcoming communities" he has served in, "[w]ith a great mix of people from all sorts of social and ethnic backgrounds" and "a parish everyone can feel at home in."
In a recent interview to GayStarNews, Barltrop makes controversial statements about transgenderism, claiming the Church has "no official position" on it, and that She "should be fully supportive of individuals" who choose to become transgender.
As far as I am aware, the Church takes no official position on transgenderism: It is a pastoral issue, not a matter of doctrine. Insofar as the Church were to be involved in any individual's decision to transition, it would counsel caution, because this is not a step to take lightly: but it should be fully supportive of individuals who have made that decision.
But Catholic ethicists would disagree and claim Barltrop's claims are in error. The National Catholic Bioethics Center writes:
Changing one's sex is fundamentally impossible; these procedures are fundamentally acts of mutilation. ... Doing violence to one’s body when there is nothing wrong with it is an unjustifiable mutilation. Furthermore, seeking such a mutilation manifests a self-hatred inconsistent with the charity we owe to ourselves. Persons seeking such operations are clearly uncomfortable with who they really are. Loving such persons properly demands addressing the beliefs and self-understanding that give rise to this fundamental rejection of self.
This refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church's teaching that "[except] when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law" (2297).
One priest in the Arlington, Virginia diocese raises another point as to why transgenderism can be gravely immoral. Such persons
will never be able to enter validly into the sacrament of Matrimony. A man who undergoes sexual reassignment will never really be a woman, or vice versa; rather, a man will be a man (or a woman will be a woman), except with a mutilated body and profound psychological disordering. Moreover, a transsexual will never be able to consummate the marriage in the fullest expression of love of husband and wife, and never will there be a real openness to life and the creation of children. ... Such surgery which purposefully destroys the bodily integrity of the person must be condemned.
And Dr. Richard P. Fitzgibbons, whose paper on the topic is cited approvingly by the Courage apostolate — the Church's only officially approved ministry to homosexuals — repeats the established understanding in the medical field that transgenderism is a mental disorder, and the the truly Catholic and compassionate way to deal with those suffering with this is to provide therapy to reinforce their true sexual identity.
The Vatican itself has affirmed that transgenderism is a mental disorder. In 2000, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith sent a confidential report to the papal representatives of each country stating that the Church refuses to recognize sex change operations as valid. Thus bishops were never to change the sex of a person on the baptismal register or parish records after the individual had chosen to become transgender. Such people were also not to be permitted into the priesthood nor could they validly enter in a sacramental marriage.
Monsignor Barltrop's ordinary Cardinal Nichols has caused controversy in the past for speaking favorably about the possibility of homosexual unions, and also allowing gay Masses to continue in his diocese for six years, in spite of numerous complaints from the faithful. Although he finally shut down the offending Masses, the group has moved to a Jesuit parish and continue to offer their controversial liturgies there. The cardinal also made history earlier this year by being the first cardinal to preside officially over a Mass dedicated to the LGBT community.
ChurchMilitant.com reached out to Msgr. Barltrop for clarification of his remarks, but as of press time we have not heard back.
UPDATE, July 22, 2015: Monsignor Barltrop only received our request for a comment after the deadline. He e-mailed the following reply:
The more controversial the issue, the more important it is to distinguish the teaching of the Church from personal opinion. When the Church teaches, like her Lord she teaches clearly, explicitly, openly and with authority.
It seems unlikely that no. 2297 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to gender reassignment surgery, since the context is the subject of torture and the kind of sterilization performed by Nazis and terrorists. If the Catechism had wanted to teach about gender reassignment it would have said so explicitly.
The so-called secret instructions to Nuncios cannot be classed as official teaching, since, if they exist – which is disputed – they are not public.
It is possible to hold the personal opinion that the Church is against gender reassignment, but it is only an opinion. When the Church teaches, it is not ambiguous or "spoken in secret" (cf. John 18:20).
ChurchMilitant.com reached out to the National Catholic Bioethics Center for a response. President John Haas replied, citing Pope Pius XI's encylical Casti Connubii (1930), no. 73, which states:
Furthermore, Christian doctrine establishes, and the light of human reason makes it most clear, that private individuals have no other power over the members of their bodies than that which pertains to their natural ends; and they are not free to destroy or mutilate their members, or in any other way render themselves unfit for their natural functions, except when no other provision can be made for the good of the whole body.
This forms the basis of the Catechism's teaching against mutilation of the body, and as Casti Connubii was written well before the Nazi experimentation or the widespread concern over terrorism, it belies Msgr. Barltrop's claims to the contrary.
Doctor Haas also cited the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (2009), which states:
29. All persons served by Catholic health care have the right and duty to protect and preserve their bodily and functional integrity. (emphasis added)
Ethicist Dr. Marie Hilliard, Director of Bioethics and Public Policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, wrote:
[T]he catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2297, clearly is referencing deliberate and non-therapeutic mutilations, not limited to kidnapping and torture. The title of this section is "Respect for Bodily Integrity." The last sentence of that section states: "Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law." It concludes with a footnote from Denzinger's Sources of Catholic Dogma, which cites ... Casti Connubii. ... Thus, clearly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 2297, is not limiting itself to kidnap and torture.
As to the directive issued by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2000, its existence was confirmed by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, then President of the U.S. bishops' conference, who issued a letter to the U.S. bishops telling them of the document and noting its order not to change parish records in the case of gender reassignment surgery. "The altered condition of a member of the faithful under civil law does not change one's canonical condition, which is male or female as determined at the moment of birth," the archbishop wrote.