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Cardinal Anders Arborelius, Bishop of Stockholm, is one of the Catholic bishops who signed the letter, which was read out in churches throughout Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland over the Easter weekend. Photo: The Catholic Church

Care prompts bishops to criticize transgender ideology

The Catholic bishops of the Scandinavian countries presented an open five-page letter criticizing transgender ideology on March 21, just before Easter. The document primarily expresses care and advice and was read aloud in Catholic churches in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland. Cardinal Anders Arborelius, Bishop of Stockholm, is one of the signatories of the document.

Published: May 17, 2023, 10:32 pm

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    Publications of this kind are known as pastoral letters because their purpose is to show care and provide advice based on Christian conviction. The thoughts in the “Letter on Human Sexuality”, which is the official title, can hardly be doubted, but the Swedish expressing them is linguistically somewhat intricate. The letter was originally written in Norwegian and has now been published in eight languages: three Scandinavian and five European. No other church institution in Scandinavia has published a similar statement to date. Some of the thoughts expressed are recognizable from papal statements.

    Initially, it is stated that the perceptions of what it means to be a human, and thus a sexual being, are changing. “What is taken for granted today may be rejected tomorrow.” Because of this, they claim to feel a responsibility towards “the Lord, ourselves, and our world to explain what we believe and why we believe it is true”.

    The bishops see their task as showing care by “pointing towards the peaceful, life-giving way of Christ’s commandments,” which may seem narrow at first for those who want to follow it but “widens as we advance”.

    The purpose of the manifesto is therefore to present the fundamental principles of Christian anthropology (view of humanity) and do so in a spirit of friendly dialogue readiness and respect for different thinking.

    The problem situation discussed today

    Already at the beginning, the letter refers to the rainbow, which in our time is alleged to be the symbol of a movement that is both political and cultural. To the extent that the rainbow flag is perceived as a message about the equal value of all people and their longing to be seen, the church shares and agrees with this message, according to the statement.

    In a way that is customary when the church enters into dialogue, they recognize at the beginning “all that is noble in the aspirations of this movement”. It is further stated that “the Church condemns unjust discrimination of all kinds, including in terms of gender and orientation”.

    Once this has been established, the bishops move on to critical views of the modern rainbow movement and transgender ideology. They argue that it “promotes a view of human nature that removes the embodied integrity of the person, as if physical sex were irrelevant”.

    They particularly protest against the perception that gender is irrelevant being forced upon children as something they have to decide for themselves. According to the letter, this becomes a heavy burden, something minors are not prepared for.

    The bishops find it strange that our society, which is so intensely body-conscious, in fact takes the body lightly and refuses to perceive bodily sex as important for identity. They protest against the idea that “the only ‘I’ that matters is the one produced through a self-constructed subjective self-perception”. Against this, they posit that according to Christian faith, the human being is created in the image of God, something that not only refers to the soul. The body also essentially belongs to the person. The unity of soul and body in creation is eternal.

    Identity conflicts are also part of the life of faith

    After these fundamental beliefs have been established, the letter addresses the issue of identity conflicts. The bishops recognize that human self-perception often involves contradictions and wounds, as well as a focus on what we are not, “on gifts that we have not received, on feelings or affirmations that are missing in our lives”. Many are forced to struggle with themselves. The integration of masculine and feminine traits within ourselves can be difficult. The Church wishes to encompass and comfort all who experience such difficulties. Those who seek personal integrity are said to be “worthy of respect, and deserve encouragement”.

    The Apostle Paul’s statement “By the grace of God I am what I am” becomes a guiding star in the letter. They assert that the Bible and the lives of the saints show “that our wounds, through grace, become sources of healing for ourselves and others”. The bishops remind that the path to self-acceptance goes through engagement in what is real, i.e., the order that God has given creation.

    The rainbow is a biblical symbol of wholeness and blessing

    In the biblical story of Noah in Genesis chapters 6-9, a flood is described that drowned all living beings that did not fit in Noah’s ark. After the flood, the rainbow appeared as a sign of the first covenant established between God and all living creatures of the earth. No devastating flood would ever strike again, according to God’s promise. The promise corresponds to demands. God demands righteousness: Humans are called to live in righteousness as a blessing for the earth, to bring joy to one another, revere God, and establish peace.

    The letter highlights that God’s image in human nature is revealed in the reciprocity and complementarity between man and woman. Man and woman are created for each other. They have been commanded to be fruitful and have a “longing for love and seek sexual wholeness”. In Holy Scripture, the marriage between man and wife is portrayed as an allegory of God’s communion with humanity. It is emphasized that the point of the church’s teaching is not to restrict love but to enable it.

    “The joy of friendship allows us to see that great, liberating intimacy can also exist in non-sexual relationships.”

    So far, not many reactions to the open letter have been heard.

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