“Ask a Priest: Could Brain Scans Prove the Case for Transgenderism?”

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Q: What are the Church’s thoughts on transgenderism? I ask because I read an article in a scientific publication about how, apparently, brain scans have revealed that the brain of a transwoman (a male who identifies as a woman) is structurally more like the brain of an average woman than it is of an average man, meaning that such a person is indeed a woman born in a man’s body. Does the Church recognize the existence of such a neurobiological anomaly? And if so, how does that work when it comes to doctrines pertaining to, say, marriage and family? For example, is it wrong for such a transwoman to pursue romantic relationships with men? Or are the article’s findings, in fact, nonsense, and if so, how do we know? Thank you and God bless. – T.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your questions touch on a big area, far beyond what could be thoroughly dealt with in this forum.

Suffice it to say that it sounds like a stretch to imply that brain scans are required to detect the sex of a person. That simply flies in the face of common sense.

We don’t rely on brain scans to tell the sex of a baby or anyone else. It’s the visible body that counts.

As for the veracity of what that report said about the brain scans, that is for scientists to discern.

But to claim that a few brain scans prove that a woman can be born in a man’s body is, yes, nonsense. Here, the burden of proof is on the claimants; it’s not up to the rest of us to disprove it.

The Church understands that we are a unity of body and soul. And it’s the complementarity of male and female that can lead to the generation of new life. This is part of God’s plan from the start (see Genesis 1:26-28).

Pope Francis touched on this general theme in his encyclical Laudato Si’. He wrote:

“Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an ‘ecology of man,’ based on the fact that ‘man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will.’ It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings.

“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different” (No. 155).

One upshot of all this: the idea of a “transwoman” being able to marry a man is baseless.

In fact, transgenderism has the feel of a fad. So why has it come along now?

The reasons are varied. Broken families, abuse, a culture of promiscuity and contraception and abortion and pornography, and unhealthy trends in philosophy—all these and more have helped to confuse people about their very identities as human beings.

For more reading you might turn to the National Catholic Bioethics Center website. Also helpful might be a Vatican document on gender theory, as well as the film Dysconnected.

I hope that some of this helps. Count on my prayers.


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