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NEW YORK – Although the Archdiocese of Omaha insists a new transgender policy for archdiocesan schools changes nothing, merely formalizes current practices, one Catholic LGBTQ+ advocacy organization nevertheless has called the policy exclusionary.
The new six-page “Policy on Human Sexuality” says students must conduct themselves in accord with their biological sex at all times publicly and at school, including with uniforms, competitive and recreational activities, bathroom usage and dates at school-sponsored functions.
The policy also stipulates that behaviors which cause “disruption or confusion regarding the church’s teaching on human sexuality are prohibited,” and that “social media activity and other conduct by students shall be respectful of others and not promote, advocate, or endorse a view or conduct contrary to the Catholic Church’s teachings, including on human sexuality.”
A separate portion of the new policy applies to school employees and volunteers. It states that they must publicly be in accord with their biological sex at all times, including with dress, bathroom usage and names and titles.
In all, the policy covers students, parents, guardians, teachers, and volunteers. Violation can be grounds for dismissal or disciplinary action. The policy will officially become a part of each of the 70 archdiocesan school’s handbooks on Jan. 1, 2023.
“I think as society continues to normalize gender ideology, we have to anticipate that we could have more students present themselves as transitioning, so we gave our schools guidelines and now a policy on how they could respond when a student or parent might come forth,” Deacon Tim McNeil, the chancellor of the archdiocese, told Crux.
“This is what’s been practiced for many years, so it should be no surprise,” McNeil said.
However, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry – an organization that works to bring together the Catholic Church and LGBTQ+ community – told Crux in an email that the document looks like it “was designed to exclude and turn people away.”
“It is astonishing that church officials would consider a child’s personal problems to be a threat to the church’s magisterium,” he said. “It is disheartening that church officials would rather expel a student with such problems than work to help the child become healthy and whole.”
The Omaha announcement follows a similar move from the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, earlier this month, and from the Dioceses of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Lafayette, Louisiana in July. In recent years, a number of other Catholic dioceses have issued similar policies as the conversation on gender ideology has become more prevalent.
The “Student Admission and Retention” portion of the Archdiocese of Omaha policy states that a student experiencing gender dysphoria – a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity – should not be denied admission or dismissed from the archdiocesan school they attend for that reason, so long as the student and his or her parents “agree that the child will abide by the expectations and standards of conduct set forth in this policy.”
The section outlines similar regulations for prospective students, and further states that a child whose parent(s) permit gender-affirming care and medications, or authorizes sex procedures or surgery cannot be enrolled in an archdiocesan school. It continues that every current and prospective student and his or her parent(s) must respect Catholic teaching.
Further, the policy states that while critical questioning of Catholic teaching in the classroom is acceptable, “showing hostility toward or defiance of church teaching demonstrates that a student is not a proper fit for the school,” and the student will be dismissed.
“[The school] will welcome and enroll a student who may present him or herself as wanting to transition, or show signs of gender dysphoria, but we want to make it clear how, based on the teachings of the church, what the expectations are so that the parents and the children can decide whether this is the right school for them,” McNeil said.
“If a student and parents can agree that we’re going to use the biological pronoun, no change of names, no uniform that’s in opposition to a student’s biology, that if they’re fine with that, then we can have a flourishing relationship,” he continued.
DeBernardo and New Ways Ministry have been critical of such moves. Last year, Pope Francis wrote two letters to the organization commending its outreach efforts – placing a spotlight on LGBTQ+ ministry.
The topic has also been present in many diocesan Synod on Synodality synthesis reports nationwide, of which the continental phase begins in the coming weeks. The Omaha synthesis report highlights that the LGBTQ+ community feels “alienated from the church,” and states that “it is clear that the Lord is inviting the archdiocese to grow in being places of welcome.”
In terms of the schools, McNeil isn’t concerned that the new policy will have a negative impact. He said it was made at the request of school administrators, who were seeking guidance and clarification on how to handle issues of gender ideology.
“It’s not a concern [that the schools will be negatively impacted] because I think our approach is truth and charity, truth and love, and I think we just have to stand by embracing the gospel in church teaching,” McNeil said.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg