Podcast: Two Catholic theologians model healthy debate on transgender issues
Conversations around sex and gender today are rife with acrimony and seemingly irreconcilable viewpoints. It can be hard to find places of agreement or even commonly held definitions. But Elizabeth Sweeny Block and Abigail Favale are two Catholic scholars who have modeled civil debate around sex and gender in the pages of America and do so again this week on “The Gloria Purvis Podcast.”
Dr. Elizabeth Sweeny Block is an associate professor of Christian ethics at Saint Louis University, and Dr. Abigail Favale is a professor at the University of Notre Dame. Together, Elizabeth and Abigail co-authored two articles in America: “How should Catholics think about gender identity and transgender persons?” and “What Does God Reveal in Transgender Bodies?: A Conversation on Catholic Teaching and Gender.”
Animating much of their conversation is Gloria’s question, “How do we come to understand the truth of a person?” And, in light of that truth, how do we foster authentic human flourishing? For instance, what should we make of gender-affirming care, which may include taking cross-sex hormones and surgeries?
“There’s not an objective physiological condition that is being treated by these medical interventions,” Abigail argues. “Instead, you have a healthy functioning, normally sexed, oftentimes fertile body that’s being disrupted and sterilized. And I think that’s at odds with human flourishing.”
Elizabeth counters that this understanding of a “perfectly healthy, functioning, fertile body” at odds with a person’s interior psychology only reasserts a false dichotomy in which body and mind are separate. Instead, Elizabeth posits that “it’s not a healthy functioning body if this person is in distress in this body, if this body is causing pain to this person.”
While Abigail and Elizabeth offer differing perspectives on how to approach transgender medicalization and public policy around facilities like restrooms, they demonstrate great respect for the human person—body and soul—that is unshakeably Catholic.
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