Day for Catechists Addresses Gender, Identity Challenges
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
January 26, 2023
ROCKFORD—History will see this as a terrible time, said John Jelinek in his talk at a workshop for parish catechists, youth ministers and others as they work with youth and families during great social change.
Jelinek, the diocesan director of religious education, youth ministry and adult faith formation, was one of four main speakers on the topic of “Human Sexuality, Gender and Identity” at a Jan. 19 training event held at St. Rita Parish.
Father Ryan Browning: Theology of the Body
The day began with a talk from Father Ryan Browning, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Elgin and director of the EnCourage ministry of the diocese who spoke of the current competing worldviews: an “old heresy” view of the human body as bad and the soul as good versus the Catholic understanding that God made everything and everyone on purpose out of love. Father Browning encouraged his audience to help their students understand their God-given, intrinsic dignity.
Drawing on St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” his points included: God made humanity in His image and likeness for relationship with God and others; You are your body … the body is what it means to be human (and) the visible makes the invisible known; because we are meant to be a gift to others, what you do with your body matters; Jesus reveals God is love through His body and we can love truly or falsely; and Jesus came to restore through his crucifixion the brokenness from the fall of Adam and Eve, and love transforms us through the cross.
Father Browning asked attendees to ponder each of those truths and stand firm on the foundation of Christ in the storms of society.
Father Jared Twenty: Gender Dysphoria
Father Jared Twenty, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Batavia, then provided an overview of Gender Theory, which he defined as a “cultural and political movement that seeks to exploit gender dysphoria.” 
Gender dysphoria, where someone feels they are a gender that differs from their physical body, “is very real,” he said, adding that it causes great stress and anxiety for those who experience it.
Teachers, he said, must understand gender ideology to provide an adequate response to the cultural shift that has been heavily promoted in the last decade. 
“We have to learn the language and be able to dialogue” with students and others with “patience and understanding,” he said, calling it an “opportunity” for the Church to clarify the beauty of the truths of the Catholic faith.
Father Twenty then charged through several aspects of gender ideology. The first transgender surgery took place in 1906 (female to male) and 1930 marked the first male to female surgery. The 1950s and 1960s saw a growth of a philosophical movement that expanded and clashed with feminism in the 1970s. Its roots are in existentialism — a view of things as having no essence, no categories, where “I figure out what I am,” he said. 
Catholics instead point to essentialism, a belief that things have a set of characteristics which make them what they are. 
The Catholic Church says gender dysphoria is a real thing that people need help with, Father Twenty said, but society just wants to help the anxiety that comes with it.
Although the effects of the cultural and political agenda are confusing for children and adults and is damaging marriages and families, Father Twenty again said that now is an opportunity for the Church to build up a structure of holiness and of reconciliation, saying that if personal sin leads to social sin, then personal holiness leads to social holiness.
Therese Stahl: Catechists’ Challenges
Therese Stahl, diocesan director of the Life and Family Evangelization Office, spoke as a catechist, noting the challenge brought by public schools’ embrace of transgenderism with materials geared to youngsters, including a “gender unicorn” and invitations to young children to identify what sexually attracts them.
“In the public schools,” she said, “protection of children is ignored” and what is presented actively undermines parental rights. She told the catechists, “We are on the frontlines,” and emphasized the need to “lean on prayer, the Eucharist” and the Catholic faith, remembering that “identity is defined by our relationship with God.”
Responses to a confused youth who comes to them, she said, should include an invitation to pray with them, and to ask if they’ve talked with their parents, who must be brought into the discussion.
“We can’t condone, encourage or celebrate a gender change, but we can invite them to develop a relationship with God,” she said, pointing to the need to protect and love the kids and that truth and love must operate together.
John Jelinek: Listen and Accompany
Jelinek began his talk by reminding catechists that their purpose is to help student reach the goal of salvation. The freedom of students and parents to stay or leave must be respected, and unfortunately many have been “indoctrinated against you,” he said, because others label the Church as “bigoted” and say that affirmation of desires is love, while any disagreement is hatred. 
Children may also be told their dignity depends on others’ validation. That means, Jelinek said, there is a need to fill our programs with things that celebrate each person’s dignity as intrinsic … we need to counter the constant lies they hear with the constant dignity of life and beauty … proclaiming truth in love.
Expectations as outlined in the 2021 diocesan document, “Living the Truth of Our Creation,” should be shared at the beginning of the catechetical year to prevent things from festering and causing greater problems later. “When we pretend away the truth, the devil can work,” he said, emphasizing that the “difficult discussion with parents” must be done at the beginning, and that, “We want (to provide) the sacraments but not in a false way.”
A catechist’s communications with students must be in conjunction with a child’s parents, and the parish pastor should be made aware in order to provide counseling, he said. Youths can, and should be invited to, question Catholic policy to help the dialogue.
“We listen and accompany,” Jelinek said.
Any questions? 
A panel to answer questions wound up the workshop. The panel included the four speakers plus General Counsel Ellen Lynch and Catholic Charities director of counseling Richard Parsons. All six contributed their expertise to the discussion. 
Questions included what to do with restroom doors and how to help parents who are worried about their children.
The answer to those parents included: in a society where everything is being sexualized, there is a need to give children the freedom to step away from that focus on sex to identify the different kinds and levels of love, such as friendship.


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