Theresa Farnan, Ph.D., (left) of the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Person and Identity Project responds to a question as her colleagues, Mary Rice Hasson, J.D., and Dcn. Patrick Lappert, M.D., listen. (Photo by Larry Hanson)

Catholics cannot hide from or avoid the cultural debate over gender ideology.

That was the message from Theresa Farnan, Ph.D., during workshop on “Pastorally Responding to Gender Ideology,” held Tuesday, March 28, at Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center.

“This is like a tsunami hitting the culture,” said Farnan, who made a point of saying how surprised she constantly is by how pervasive gender ideology is. “We have to talk about it so people know that we care, that we’re there for them, and then pray for them because that matters a whole lot to these families that are suffering and really struggling. The pain they go through is incredible.”

Farnan, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., focusing on the challenges of gender ideology as part of the Person and Identity Project, presented along with Mary Rice Hasson, J.D., and Dcn. Patrick Lappert, M.D., for approximately 180 school and parish leaders.

“We received a lot of positive comments from a variety of Church leaders, which tells me it was well received,” said Pete Burds, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Director of Evangelization and Catechesis. “They are all seeing the effects of gender ideology in their areas of ministry.”

The presenters delivered content based on Christian anthropology, the cultural impact of gender ideology, medical issues related to it, how to pastorally care for individuals and families, and the formation of young people.

The day-long event was the next step in a discussion that began with the January 2022 release of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s “Catechesis and Policy on Questions Concerning Gender Theory,” a document that has served as a blueprint for other dioceses across the nation in crafting their own policies.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s policy defines gender ideology as “An ideology or theory that denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman, and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. Thus, it promotes a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes a choice of the individual, one which can also change over time. Ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.”

That presents a great clash of anthropologies in which the Christian worldview holds that we are created male or female by God, whereas gender ideology supports the fallacious notion that gender is self-creating and appears on an infinite spectrum of identities.

The Catholic Church has released several clear teachings that gender ideology is incompatible with Catholic doctrine and is harmful to young people.

According to Dcn. Lappert of the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, these issues used to be isolated to a very small percentage of young boys who experienced gender dysphoria. Now, it is a much larger number and is disproportionately affecting females in their teens and early 20s, which indicates it is most likely a social phenomenon. He added that experts say as people mature, the gender dysphoria dissipates, so the most compassionate action is to provide counseling for other issues and take no action toward transitioning, socially or physically.

“Our young people deserve to know that (gender transition) is a medical scandal that exploits and harms vulnerable people,” Farnan said. “They need to hear it from us.”

Hasson said part of the appeal of claiming a transgender identity is the positive affirmation that comes along with it.

“Kids want to be appreciated,” Hasson said. “They want to know they matter. If they don’t feel that, they’re looking for a way to get that kind of feedback. The de-transitioners talk about when they’re feeling left out and they have no friends, you get love-bombed by this online community. They will take you no matter what and they validate every choice you make, whether it’s your names, your pronouns, your latest expression, how you’re changing yourself. It’s all good as long as you’re going in that direction. Unfortunately, as these young people learn, it doesn’t last, so one of the painful things for the de-transitioners is when they realize this is starting to hurt my body, they get repudiated and they risk losing all of their friends.”

“Your kids need you to love them,” Farnan said.

According to the presenters, the first step in pastorally responding to young people who are experiencing gender confusion is strong catechesis and formation, such as providing the correct understanding of freedom (that it is always directed to the good), identity (that they are a child of God) and an authenticity grounded in a relationship to God.

Catholics have to have the courage to be counter-cultural, grounded in the conviction that following God’s plan leads to happiness.

When accompanying young people, Church leaders, teachers and family members are encouraged to ask open-ended questions (such “What does it mean …” and “Tell me more”), along with empathizing and being a rational guide through the process.

Farnan added that youth aren’t the only ones who need accompanying; parents and siblings of children facing these issues also need support, along with peers, extended family and friends. She said they are affected by the issues raised by gender ideology, such as girls who lose scholarships to biological males who identify as female, students who self-censor for fear of being rebuked and boys who are being told their masculinity is toxic.

“We need to broaden our understanding of who we need to accompany, so we’re not just hyper-focusing on the child who claims a transgender identity,” Farnan said. “We have to realize it has ripple effects throughout the entire community.”

Archdiocesan resources for the pastoral response to issues raised by gender ideology can be found at The Person and Identity Project can be found at