Saint Mary’s Compromising its Identity as A Catholic Woman’s College

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Statement of Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades Regarding Change in Admission Policy at Saint Mary’s College

I learned last week that the Board of Trustees of Saint Mary’s College, a Catholic women’s college in our diocese, has changed its admission policy and will now consider for admission not only applicants “whose sex is female,” but also applicants “who consistently live and identify as women.” In a letter to colleagues and students at Saint Mary’s, the president explained that “Saint Mary’s will consider undergraduate applicants whose “sex assigned at birth is female or who consistently live and identify as women.”

The president’s letter expressed a commitment to operate as “a Catholic women’s college.” It included a quote from Pope Francis about love for others and recognizing the value and worth of others.
This was evidently part of the rationale for the change in admission policy. The letter states that Saint Mary’s, “as an inclusive community leader,” aims to continue to “create an environment where all women belong and thrive.”

It is disappointing that I, as bishop of the diocese in which Saint Mary’s College is located, was not included or consulted on a matter of important Catholic teaching. Bishops have a particular responsibility to “promote and assist in the preservation and strengthening” of the Catholic identity of the Catholic colleges and universities in their dioceses (cf. Ex corde Ecclesiae #28). For this reason, I am writing about this recent decision of Saint Mary’s College.

One of the four essential characteristics of a Catholic college or university is “fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church” (Ex corde Ecclesiae 13). This institutional fidelity includes “a recognition of and adherence to the teaching authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals” (Ex corde Ecclesiae 27).  In this new admissions policy, Saint Mary’s departs from fundamental Catholic teaching on the nature of woman and thus compromises its very identity as a Catholic woman’s college.

To call itself a “women’s college” and to admit male students who “consistently live and identify as women” suggests that the college affirms an ideology of gender that separates sex from gender and claims that sexual identity is based on the subjective experience of the individual. This ideology is at odds with Catholic teaching. In his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis wrote: “It needs to be emphasized that ‘biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.’… It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift” (#56).

On many occasions, Pope Francis has re-affirmed the Church’s teaching on the sexual embodiment of the human person and has criticized various forms of gender ideology. The letter from the president of Saint Mary’s quotes Pope Francis on the importance of love but does not mention the Holy Father’s continual rejection of gender ideology – the same ideology behind this new policy. The Church has always rejected a dualistic anthropology that separates body and soul, and which consigns sexual identity to one’s individual self-declaration. Th