In recent decades, discussions around gender have challenged core assumptions about the biological function of humankind. But a continuing challenge in this area is a growing close-mindedness to honest debate in secular society.
Lecturer in moral theology at Catholic Theological College Rev Dr Paschal Corby addressed these issues at the Sex, Gender and the Human Person online forum on Saturday, hosted by the Australian Catholic Medical Association.
‘One of the biggest challenges that we face is the threat of restrictions to debate this issue and to treat cases adequately,’ says Fr Paschal, who studied bioethics under renowned Australian bioethicist, Prof Nicholas Tonti-Filippini at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne.
In his address, Fr Paschal discussed his broader body of work in bioethics in a discussion called Post-Modernism, Freedom and Christian Anthropology.
‘Along with attempts to criminalise so-called gay conversion therapy, several State Governments in Australia have or are considering legislation that would support only “gender-affirming” medical interventions in cases of gender dysphoria.’
This challenge, says Fr Paschal, has meant that an individual is not given choice should they choose to be treated for gender dysphoria.
‘Such legislation would also restrict the capacity of medical practitioners and society in general to question the wisdom of transgenderism, to provide alternative therapies that seek to integrate the person with their body, or indeed to preach a theology of the body.’
‘This would include cases of children and adolescents, in which the freedom of parents to seek help for their children in keeping with their faith and moral beliefs would be denied.’
Central to Fr Paschal’s work is the belief of the human body as a gift from God, drawing from the teachings of Humanae vitae. ‘This truth of the human person in his or her capacity for divine love is the fundamental teaching of Humanae vitae,’ says Fr Paschal.
More than fifty years after its promulgation by Pope St Paul VI, Fr Paschal believes this encyclical remains largely misunderstood and sadly ignored.
‘Episcopal conferences around the world deferred its teaching on contraception to the domain of personal conscience, while failing miserably in their duty to help form those consciences to the truth of its teaching,’ says Fr Paschal.
‘It is in the body that we discover our true identity as created in the image and likeness of God, that we know our Creator, and therefore know how to choose and act accordingly.’
These teachings, collectively known as the Theology of the Body, ‘not only serves as a guide for sexual ethics but resonate with all questions of bioethics,’ says Fr Paschal.
‘Since the human person in their bodily reality is a revelation of God, then he or she possesses a dignity that must be respected.’
Within the wider program of the web conference, Fr Paschal sought to situate the gender debate within the predominant cultural influences of our day.
’We are essentially free to create ourselves through our choices,’ says Fr Paschal, ‘and when applied to sexuality and gender, this existential freedom means that we are free to choose our sexual identity, and to change our bodies accordingly. ‘In response, Christian anthropology qualifies our freedom.’
‘Physical creation in our sexual identity establishes a program for us – our way to God,’ he says. ‘It is not through a liberated rejection of this nature that we find fulfilment and meaning, but through its integration.’
In saying this, Fr Paschal says that people who struggle with gender dysphoria deserve and demand compassion, care, and accompaniment. ‘But they also need our wisdom that accepts the goodness of what is given, that does not negate nature, and helps them to be at home in their own bodies,’ he adds.
‘It is a wisdom and compassion that rejects the lie of unfettered freedom and seeks wholeness in truth.’