The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference will advise schools that, for the vast majority of children and adolescents, gender incongruence is a psychological condition through which they will pass safely and naturally with supportive psychological care. Catholic schools have been strongly advised not to assist in efforts to affirm gender transitions in students through the use of drugs or surgical interventions and that “a human being’s sex is a physical, biological reality”. The guidance urges Catholic schools to avoid assisting in the issue of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones or surgery to limit possible infertility, “unnecessary damage” and “future possibilities for healthy human growth”. The nation has more than 1700 Catholic schools educating about 780,000 students.

The guidance voices grave concerns over an affirmation-based approach to students experiencing gender dysphoria and instead steers educators to a “biopsychosocial model” based on research showing a high correlation between “childhood gender incongruence and family dynamics”. “In this model, practitioners promote ongoing psychological support for the child or young person through engaging with families,” the guidance says. “By discovering the child’s and family’s stories, practitioners are able to understand the gender variance felt by the child or young person within the context of family and their domestic environment.” Pastoral care initiatives that are “in conflict with the generosity of the Christian vision” are also to be “respectfully avoided”, including concepts that say gender is arbitrarily assigned at birth, gender is fluid and that gender is separate from biological sex.

“Studies quote between 80 to 90 per cent of pre-pubescent children who do not seem to fit social gender expectations are not gender incongruent in the long term.” Catholic school leaders are told to recognise that society has “widely adopted the belief that each person’s innermost concept of themselves determines their gender identity”. But they are warned these recent changes were “in conflict with the Catholic understanding of creation, in which every person is created good and is loved unconditionally as they are”. Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli, the chair of the Bishops Commission for Life, Family and Public Engagement, said the guidance document elevated the dignity of every person rather than “defining that person by any single characteristic”. He said Catholic schools adhered to the “foundational principle that each person is created in the image and likeness of God, and is loved by God”.

“That principle guides this document, which we offer to our schools to support them in walking compassionately alongside each student we are invited to educate,” he said. The document is aimed at providing support and care to students. It makes no recommendations that would result in students being expelled because of their gender identity. Catholic schools are encouraged to cater to the needs of students experiencing gender incongruence, a term recommended for use by educators over the term “transgender”. The document recommends that schools provide unisex toilets or a change room area not aligned to biological sex to increase safety and options for vulnerable students. It also proposes to offer “flexibility with uniform expectations” to cater to the diversity of the student body. However, all school documentation is to record students’ biological sex at enrolment.

The guidance notes that “it may be lawful” to exclude a student from single-sex competition if they are over the age of 12 where the “strength, stamina or physique of competitors is relevant.” It advises educators to refer to commonwealth guidelines when developing school policies, and argues it is “paramount” for all sporting environments to be inclusive and safe. The guidance comes amid public debate surrounding the ability of transgender students to participate in school sports. In the new guidance, Catholic schools are encouraged to be diligent in “resisting the incursion of political lobbying, ideological postures” and various organisations which may be “at odds” with the school’s mission. It also gives licence to principals who may feel the need to decline the involvement of politically motivated organisations.

National Catholic Education Commission executive director Jacinta Collins said the guide would be discussed at the National Catholic Education Conference underway in Melbourne. “Recent comments by eminent psychologist Professor Ian Hickie highlight the increasing number of medical professionals who are challenging the gender-affirmative approach and are supporting the biopsychosocial approach, which is less invasive, holistic and more closely aligned with a Catholic world view,” she said. Hickie went on “It remains critical that our Catholic schools can speak about the Church’s teachings on these matters in an informed way, underpinned by the principles of respect and human dignity.” The guidance recommended that schools review a number of subjects in the curriculum to ensure schools were well placed to deal with “most matters that may surface if a student is undergoing psychological and/or medical intervention”.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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