Intersexed People

Something that occurred to me today, was how would an individual who is intersex, born with both male and female characteristics, be viewed by the Church? Of course we are to accept them, but how should a Catholic person born with the intersex changes, identify as? Their outward appearance, or, whether they have the male or female sex organs?

The second part to my question is if an inter-sexed male was born (with male sex organs), but yet had various female features, would such a fellow be able to avail of the surgical techniques to remove the female characteristics? Or would this be an immoral action?

Would such a man or woman be able to become a Priest or a nun, sister, religious brother, etc? Or are they called to a chaste life of prayer?

I’m not a doctor, but from what I have heard about these conditions, there are two types… one where the person is genetically one gender, but whose genitalia is ambiguous. The other is a chimera, where a male and female twin’s embryos fused on the first day, literally making the person both male and female. Usually some parts carry the male DNA and other parts carry the female DNA.

The first example, one is either male or female. There isn’t a question of gender. The second is not so clear, and I’m guessing that that person would have to be carefully examined by a knowledgeable physician. It may simply be a tragedy.

Anyone can become a religious sister or brother, but one has to be able to perform the sexual act (not to be confused with fertility) in order to be a priest or married. So, I’m guessing if the person is unable to give of him/herself in the sexual act, they are unable to marry or become a priest.

As for SSA, it’s a growing problem. We know that all these hormones that women are taking and being dumped in our food are now affecting our fish and other animals. Fish’s genders are being affected, which begs the question, “are human’s genders/attractions being affected?”


Why on earth would a person have to be able to “perform the sexual act” to be a nun or a priest? That sounds plain ridiculous to me, if indeed it is required.

These are the transgendered folks so many refer to. Also among this group would be hermaphrodites…those with both female and male sex organs and features. It can occur in varying degrees. Most often this can be attributed to the influence of hormonal levels during the first 12 weeks of development, and in particular during the 12 week of development because this is when the sex organs differentiate into male or female. Prior to that time, despite the presence of the X or Y chromosome, the sex organs are not differentiated.

They use to make the horrible mistake, and I mean horrible, of “assigning gender” shortly after birth based on the appearance of the genitals. If they looked more male they did surgery that favored male, and if they seemed more female the did the opposite. All too many times the doctor was left to decide and/or the parents based on the sex the parents wanted the child to be. So wrong.

Most of these individuals will display behaviors that are either more male or female on their own, and by the time they are two years old. In some very clear cases that have been reviewed for example, parents wanting a boy would provide for a male oriented environment and play, but the child would always want to play with dolls, use makeup and wear dresses.

This choice should be made by the affected person only, and there would be nothing immoral in their choice or related surgeries or treatments. We also now know that there are differences in the chemical makeup of those who are transgendered as well as those who are homosexual, that are more typical for the gender they choose to be.

What you are saying is confusing me. Are you referring to unnaturally transgendered people? Because I am fairly sure the OP is referring to those who are born with ambiguous gender, something that DOES happen, without outside influence.

So God created man in his image, in the divine image he crated him; male and female he created them. - Genesis 1:27

This at least defies Scripture. I mean, I know these people exist, but normally I’d like to reply to those in the gay movement who talk about “transgendered people”, that all people are made as either male or female.

But, then there are these rare, androgynous, hermaphroditical persons which you mention. I think you should honestly take this question to the big guns. You should submit this question on the “Ask an Apologist” sub-forum. I’m sure they’d take it up and answer it, seeing as how no lay Catholics are likely to have an answer here.

I don’t believe this is the case. If a person is born impotent, there is no issue. If a person mutilates himself so that he cannot have sex, I believe that would exclude him from receiving Holy Orders.

With regard to the a person that is really insexed, I would venture to guess that the person could not receive Holy Orders, since it is a requirement to be a male.


There’s actually some scientific evidence that it’s possible for the brain to not get the same gender patterning as the chromosomes. A lot of cases are where something goes wrong with the hormones in utero, or with how the body reacts to them. An extreme example is androgen insensitivity syndrome - the condition is complete enough that it’s often not even discovered until the girl is checked for amenhorrea, because the appearance and mind are all that of a woman.

Several years ago, a canon lawyer offered her understanding on the matter:

(I quoted the heart of the post, there is more written which can be seen at the link)

He was referring to people born with ambiguous sex, who were randomly assigned and surgically altered to the most “convenient” sex by doctors after birth, since society hasn’t traditionally liked the fact that not everyone are born “purely” male or female. Some of those individuals turned out to have gender identities that didn’t match their assigned sex, and have needed gender reassignment as adults because their doctor (or parents, in some cases) made the wrong decision.

That said, what you call “unnaturally” transgendered people also DOES happen, without outside influence. Studies have shown that transgendered individuals have brain structures like the gender they identify with; this is easily seen during an autopsy, but brain imaging techniques aren’t advanced enough to show this while the person is alive yet. But still, close to 100% of the transgender individuals who were autopsied, had brains like the gender they identified with. The study also included pre-hormone treatment individuals, to ascertain whether this change happens because of the treatment; it doesn’t.

There’s also the fact that many people who are known to be intersex today, were considered transsexual a few decades ago, since their intersex conditions weren’t known at the time - sometimes, ambiguous sex isn’t very visible on the “outside”. With the multitude of intersex conditions we know about today, it is more than likely that transgender will be history in a few more decades, because it may turn out that it simply was another form of intersex.

But whether that happens or not, today we know that the transgender condition most probably happens because the brain is exposed to the wrong hormones during pregnancy, which e.g. causes the brain to develop to a female brain, while the genitals develop according to XY chromosomes; these processes don’t happen at the same time, and while they’re usually congruent, they’re sometimes not. With the amount of knowledge we have about these conditions today, speaking about transgender as “unnatural” is uninformed at best.

Note that Gen 1:27 does not say “male or female”, it says “male and female”. It is a statement about the default state of man, it does not say there can’t be exceptions.

That said, I believe the ideal (“pre-fall”) state of the world does not have gender identity incongruence, intersex or other anomalies related to gender. But the ideal state of the world also does not have Down’s syndrome, cleft palates or cystic fibrosis. God didn’t create those either, they are a product of the fall, but yet, I don’t see many Catholics deny their existence. I also don’t see a lot of condemnation regarding fixing a cleft palate.

They aren’t really that rare - intersex/ambiguous sex characteristics, either chromosomal or physical, happen in around 1 of 500 newborns. Transgenderism happens in around 1 of 30,000 individuals - I’ve seen estimates of 1 of 10,000, though, but that’s still a lot less than 1 of 500.

Also please be advised that intersex individuals usually don’t like being called “hermaphrodites” - it’s a bit like calling people with Down’s syndrome “mongoloid”.

Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (more often just written as CAIS since typing it out is a pain) is regarded as intersex, not transgender, but you’re right. In the old days, CAIS women would simply be regarded infertile women - today, we know their chromosomes are XY, but they still generally have female identities, since their brains also weren’t masculinized during pregnancy.

There are also (but this is less common) men with XX chromosomes, and then of course you have people with XXY, XXXY, XXX etc. There are more varieties within sex characteristics and chromosomal abnormalities than we’ve even been able to imagine just a few decades ago - it’s been a while since anyone with more than a primary school knowledge about this thought that “XX = woman and XY = man”. In some individuals, sex is simply impossible to determine - there are too many inconsistencies.

This is “our time’s heliocentrism” - sex and gender have proved to be way less clear cut and “pretty” than we thought it was, and right now, this seems to be contrary to our Faith. But yet, “we” thought the same about heliocentrism (actually, the condemnations of it have not been cancelled by the Church - I suspect it would simply be too embarrassing to formally recognize that it is not a heresy to believe that the earth revolves around the sun at this time), and managed to find theological ways to accept it. I think the same will happen regarding gender.

That’s actually not true. Everyone IS born male OR female, without exception. How one is defined into their category, however, is still up for discussion. But you cannot be a third category or both or neither. You and everyone else are either male or female.

In rare cases some people have been born with both sex organs. They use to ask the parents what they wanted and then operated on the child to make them what the parents wanted, until they found out that was a big mistake. They found out to let the child tell them what they were since the brain is also male or female and it was a tragedy when they got it wrong.

Today, with modern techniques, they may be able to do a DNA test to find out what sex a child is, I’m not sure, but I do know they have never found a gay gene to prove a child is born a homosexual.

I think the church would view such a person as handicapped as any other person born with difficulties. Thankfully I think a lot can be done for these people when modern surgery is available to them,

Metaphysically, this is (probably) true. I was pointing to the physical reality, where people truly are born with mixed sex - Klinefelters for example is generally characterized as being “both male and female”.

But I agree about the metaphysical reality (as implied by my statement about the ideal state of the world). It just can’t be applied to the physical world, and hence not to disprove the possibility of a male body and a female mind.

That said, some of the “gender fluid” crowd seem to really have an innate lack of gender identity. There is reason to believe that a brain can start out being masculinized, but then have this process interrupted, leaving the brain floating “in the middle” so to say. But in those cases, they may still very well be (and probably are) metaphysically one of the genders; I doubt they will be resurrected in the “fluid state”. Yet, I see no reason to deny their suffering in our fallen world. At best, their true gender is indeterminable in this world. And if switching gender expression from day to day helps relieve their turmoil, I don’t see how that really does any harm.

And lastly, I do suspect some of this may turn out to not be as set in stone as we think it is - I agree dogma can’t change (obviously, I’m Catholic after all), but there’s always the discussion about exactly what constitutes dogma. If you asked a (let’s say) 13th century theologian whether it was conceivable that the earth revolved around the sun, he would tell you that it contradicted dogma and hence would be a heresy. Which is why I’m generally hesitant to be too definitive about doctrine that can be disproved by science.

It doesn’t defy Scripture as that is prelapsarian; after the Fall, things became a whole lot messier.

Not really, Galileo got in trouble because he was a pompous jerk who was preaching about theology without any qualification about a theory he didn’t really have proof for.

But if one is not supposed to have sex outside marriage, how is one to know if one is able to have sex? Many a man has proved impotent on his wedding night and thereafter, although he gets erections at other times, such as in his sleep. Having an erection does not mean one can have sex - everything can go pfffffffft at the last moment. And does.

I’m aware of that side of the story, and I often use it when in apologetic mode. It’s also a fact that the terracentric view with epicycles is actually still accurate (if I’ve understood correctly), and hence still could be held as true, if one rejects Occam’s Razor.

But that said, the Church did see his view as contrary to doctrine, and it did challenge the Church’s world view in a way that was considerably more radical than the current discoveries regarding gender. It shook the very foundations of how the Church saw the world. From the Papal Condemnation:

[quote=Assorted 17th-century cardinals]This Holy Tribunal being therefore of intention to proceed against the disorder and mischief thence resulting, which went on increasing to the prejudice of the Holy Faith, by command of His Holiness and of the Most Eminent Lords Cardinals of this supreme and universal Inquisition, the two propositions of the stability of the Sun and the motion of the Earth were by the theological Qualifiers qualified as follows:

The proposition that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from its place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scripture.

The proposition that the Earth is not the center of the world and immovable but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically and theologically considered at least erroneous in faith.

And in order that a doctrine so pernicious might be wholly rooted out and not insinuate itself further to the grave prejudice of Catholic truth, a decree was issued by the Holy Congregation of the Index prohibiting the books which treat of this doctrine and declaring the doctrine itself to be false and wholly contrary to the sacred and divine Scripture.

We say, pronounce, sentence, and declare that you, the said Galileo, by reason of the matters adduced in trial, and by you confessed as above, have rendered yourself in the judgment of this Holy Office vehemently suspected of heresy, namely, of having believed and held the doctrine—which is false and contrary to the sacred and divine Scriptures—that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west and that the Earth moves and is not the center of the world; and that an opinion may be held and defended as probably after it has been declared and defined to be contrary to the Holy Scripture; and that consequently you have incurred all the censures and penalties imposed and promulgated in the sacred canons and other constitutions, general and particular, against such delinquents. From which we are content that you be absolved, provided that, first, with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith, you abjure, curse, and detest before use the aforesaid errors and heresies and every other error and heresy contrary to the Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church in the form to be prescribed by us for you.

( )

As you see, it was not just about his person, it was (and still technically is, since the verdict hasn’t been cancelled) condemned as heresy, and by the wording of the documents, his ideas truly did challenge the Church in a very fundamental way.

The current changes in gender theory are insignificant compared to heliocentrism, in many ways - it simply challenges our anthropology, which is nothing compared to our entire cosmology, especially when said changes also affected our metaphysics in a very fundamental way.

Um no. Transgender means you identify with one gender (the roles and clothing associated with one set of plumbing) while your BODY (your plumbing) does not align with that gender.
Hermaphrodites is just that your plumbing is… muddled. Considering that some hermaphrodites are put surgically in one box or the other as infants, I guess a hermaphrodite could be transgender. But they aren’t synonymous.

Galileo tried to use tides to prove motion of the Earth. Bellarmine was rather ambivalent about the theory.

As to Ockham’s Razor: For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. The lex parsimoniae is rather badly misunderstood by large swaths of society.

Oh, and check out Oresme on the heliocentric theory.


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