Transgender Woman Prepares to Enter Carmelite Convent

July 14, 2014

One of the places where Catholicism and gender are most strongly inscribed together is the area of vowed religious life.  There are communities for only men and other communities for only women.  What if your gender doesn’t fit into this binary?

Tia Michelle Pesando

That question is being answered in London, Ontario, where a transgender woman is preparing to enter a community of Carmelite women.  When Canada’s Tia Michelle Pesando, who is already living as a consecrated virgin, is accepted into the community, it is being said that she will be the world’s first transgender nun.

CTV News reported that Pesando, who is a hermaphrodite* (born with physical characteristics of both male and female) has already begun a process of taking hormones to live as a woman.  But the process of becoming a nun is more a spiritual, than a physical, notion for her.  As CTV News stated:

“Two years ago Pesando heard God calling her and she knew she had to take her transformation farther.

“ ‘I’m very convinced of the reality of God and the importance of such a calling,’ she says.

“When Pesando decided to become a nun, she received her priest’s blessing and is now going through the process to become a Carolinian sister and the first ever Roman Catholic transgender nun.

“ ‘I’m in the training process which is starting this August, so it’s a positive start that I’ve undergone.’ “

While there is always the possibility of hierarchical intervention in the admissions process,  Pesando remains positive:

“ ‘Forgiveness needs to begin somewhere,” she says. “It needs to begin with us, all of us, those in the LGBT community and those of the Christian faith.’

“Pope Francis has made huge strides with the gay community, preaching for greater inclusion and acceptance of homosexuals. This in part has helped to fuel her decision. She says the time is right for a transgender nun.”

Pesando recently published a book, Why God Doesn’t Hate Youin which she develops the theme of God’s unconditional acceptance and love of everyone, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation.  In a wide-ranging interview with London Community News  where she describes her spiritual development and challenges,  she also explained the need for the book’s message:

“ ‘From a theological perspective, I think I have a solid argument,’ Pesando said. ‘People are leaving the church because they feel the God of love has betrayed them, and betrayal is one of the worst feelings you can imagine. So I am reaching out to people saying this is what the Bible actually says.’

“Her purpose in writing Why God Doesn’t Hate You is to reach out to everyone ‘who feels like they are rejected by God, who feels like they are a second-class citizen in God’s eyes.’ ”

And she notes an interesting detail about the Bible:

“ ‘There is actually nothing in the Bible to condemn the trans community because they were simply not aware of it,’ Pesando said. ‘Just like there is nothing in the Bible that talks about aerospace engineering, both of these things were discovered about 1,500 years after the it was written.’ ”

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  The same is true about constitutional homosexuality.  Biblical authors did not have the awareness that some people are naturally homosexually oriented.  Therefore, in the places where homosexual acts are Biblically condemned, the authors are not condemning what is now known to be a natural, normal way of loving.  More often, they are condemning homosexual rape, pagan rituals, or sexual novelty.)

My only minor gripe with this story is not about Pesando’s eligibility to become a nun, but the claim that some have made that she will be “the world’s first transgender nun.”  I would probably want to modify that to “the world’s first OPENLY transgender nun.”   Though I have no historical evidence, I imagine that over the centuries, other transgender women have joined convents, though probably being secretive about their identities.   We do know that transgender characteristics have often been very accepted in Catholic spirituality and practice (St. Joan of Arc).  And it was always common practice for nuns to take male religious names, and for religious men to often add “Mary” or “Marie” to their religious names.

If you know of other examples of Catholic transgender history or cultural details, please add them in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

*There has been some discussion in the “Comments” section of this blog as to whether “intersex” or “hermaphrodite” is the correct word to use.  There has also been some discussion as to whether Tia Michelle Pesando is actually transgender.  I recognize that language is a sensitive and powerful arena, and I am open to correction.  Upon reflection, I have decided to keep the original terms I used.

To answer the first issue, I have used “hermaphrodite” because that is the term that Tia Michelle Pesando uses to describe herself on her website: http://www.whygoddoesnthateyou.com/.   It is also the term used in the original article upon which this post is based, so I have assumed that it was the term she used while being interviewed.

To answer the second issue,  because Tia Michelle Pesando lived the first thirty years as a man and has now decided to live as a woman, including taking hormones, I think it is accurate to describe the process she went through as “transitioning,” and thus “transgender” seems to be an accurate description.  Again, I assume, based on the fact that news articles about her use the term “transgender” that this is a label of which she approves.

 

 

 

 


London School Is a Model for Church and LGBT Community Working Together

May 19, 2013

A story from London, England, offers a model of how Catholic schools and LGBT-rights group can  help each other out, all to the students’ benefit.

St. Mary's Catholic Primary School

St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School

London’s Evening Standard reports that Sarah Crouch, headteacher of St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Wimbledon, invited Stonewall, the United Kingdom’s premier LGBT-rights group, to give the school’s teachers a lesson in how to eliminate homophobic bullying. Crouch said:

“We want to give our staff the tools to know what to do should an incident of homophobic bullying occur…It is important that children know it is not OK to use the word gay in a derogatory way.”

This positive action was not without controversy, however, as some people felt it was inappropriate for a Catholic school to bring in advisers from the LGBT community.  The Standard reports:

“Antonia Tully, national coordinator of the Safe at School campaign, said: ‘Many parents will be very concerned that a gay rights organisation is considered to be an appropriate source of advice on how to deal with children using inappropriate language in the playground.

“ ‘If a primary school takes on Stonewall’s agenda, young children will be exposed to homosexual issues, which they are too young to understand properly. Parents expect a school to provide an education, not subject their children to gay propaganda.’ ”

But Tully’s comments, exaggeratedly alarmist, ignore the facts of this case:

“Ms Crouch said that children were not involved in the training, which was carried out for teachers on one day in September.

“She added that Stonewall’s programme was tailored specifically for the Catholic school and did not mention same sex relationships or gay marriage. It concentrated on how teachers should tackle incidents of homophobic bullying.”

Boston’s Edge newspaper notes that the program, in fact, was approved by the local diocese:

“The authorities of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark and all but one of the governors approved the event. Now, St. Mary’s stands as the first and only Catholic primary school to be listed as a Stonewall ‘Primary School of Champion’ of gay equality.”

Headteacher Crouch affirmed the goodness of the program presented and that it synchronized with the school’s Catholic tradition:

 “As a school, and as Catholics, we are opposed to prejudice of any kind and felt it was important to tackle the issue of homophobic language and bullying.

“The training was very successful and we feel confident that if any incidents occur our staff have the means to address them appropriately.”

Such an example deserves wide circulation as a model of how Catholic schools can be taking steps to eliminate homophobic bullying.  Ms. Crouch and St. Mary’s school show that concern for their students was able to outweigh any sensitivity about church and secular politics.  Their example of pragmatic partnering is one that principals–and bishops–should emulate.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Two More Cardinals on the Record Endorsing Civil Unions

April 12, 2013

The number of cardinals endorsing civil unions for lesbian and gay couples continues to grow.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn

Thanks to QueeringTheChurch.com, we have this report from London’s The Tablet magazine:

“A leading cardinal has said that same-sex relationships should be respected and recognised in law amid signs of a change in church thinking on the subject.

“Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, made the remarks in a lecture at the National Gallery evening titled “Christianity: Alien Presence or Foundation of the West?” on Monday.

“ ‘There can be same-sex partnerships and they need respect, and even civil law protection. Yes, but please keep it away from the notion of marriage. Because the definition of marriage is the stable union between a man and a woman open to life,’ Cardinal Schönborn said.

“ ‘We should be clear about terms and respect the needs of people living in a partnership together. They deserve respect,’ he added.

“Two other cardinals, Colombian Ruben Salazar and Theodore McCarrick have recently suggested the Church should not oppose same-sex civil unions.”

Bondings 2.0 had already reported about Cardinal McCarrick’s comments.  You can read the blog post about them here.

Cardinal Ruben Salazar

Cardinal Ruben Salazar

We had not heard of Cardinal Salazar’s support for civil unions before this news, and a web search revealed that his comments were only minimally noted in the Spanish-language press. Colombia’s El Tiempo reports that his support for civil unions was stated in the context of declaring that the term “family” can only be used by heterosexually-headed households.  What follows is a translation from the original Spanish text:

“There can be no true marriage but between a man and a woman, and only on this basis can there be a real family,” said Salazar, President of the [Colombian]Episcopal Conference, who said that it is not a personal position but of vision of the universal Church, reflected also in the Constitution. . . .

” ‘The other unions have a right to exist; no one can ask them not to exist, but they should not try to equate themselves with the family.  They should not not assume the role of the family within the state, that’s where it starts to subvert the social order,’  Archbishop of Bogota also said and cautioned that these statements are not looking to attack the country’s gay community, much less violate their rights.”

Cardinal Salazar was elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2012, during the pope’s last consistory of naming cardinals.

Over the past year,  more and more cardinals and bishops have been speaking positively about either the need for civil unions or for greater respect for lesbian and gay couples.  A recent survey of many of these endorsements can be found here.

Cardinal Schonborn, who was often spoken of as a papal candidate,  made headlines last year when he reinstated an openly gay man to a parish council after the local pastor had removed him.

While it is disappointing that many of these church leaders  support civil unions out of a a desire to reserve marriage for only heterosexual couples, I think we need to keep this step forward in perspective.  We need to see it for what it is:  a step forward that was unthinkable a year ago.  More importantly, the fact this this strategy of supporting civil unions was also endorsed by Pope Francis when he was Cardinal Bergoglio in Argentina makes it even more possible that this strategy can develop.

Is hierarchical support for civil unions ideal?  No, especially not when it is a stopgap measure against marriage.  But none of us know how the Holy Spirit works, other than that even our imperfect ways can some times be used for good purposes.  Who knows what the Holy Spirit has in mind with this new trend?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


London’s Archbishop Welcomes LGBT Community to a New Pastoral Home

March 7, 2013

soho MassesAt the beginning of January, Bondings 2.0 reported on London’s Soho Masses for the LGBT community being transferred to a new location and operated under a different model of pastoral ministry.  That story made headlines because the Soho Masses were a pastoral accommodation made by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, but had also been the subject of some criticism by conservative Catholics, reaching to the Vatican.

This past Sunday, the Soho Masses community moved to their new location at the Jesuit-run Immaculate Conception parish, Farm Street, in the Mayfair section of London.  In the new model of ministry, the LGBT community will not have a separate Mass, but will attend the Sunday evening Mass of the parish with the rest of the worshiping community.  Additionally, the Soho Masses Pastoral Council will work with the parish to expand outreach and ministerial programs to the LGBT community of London.

The new model of ministry got off to a good start, with a noteworthy visit from Archbishop Nichols himself to welcome the community. The Independent newspaper reports:

“In a remarkable gesture of goodwill, the Archbishop of Westminster made a private address to the united congregation after yesterday’s service – the first time a senior figure in the Roman Catholic church has formally engaged with the LGBT community.”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

When the change had been announced, there had been some suggestion that Archbishop Nichols was forced by the Vatican to try to close down the pastoral outreach.  His presence at the first Mass to welcome the community shows that he is firmly committed to making the church a welcoming place for LGBT people.  His gesture shows how pastoral leaders can help to ease any discomfort that a change may entail, and it also stands as an example to the rest of the faith community about the importance of welcoming LGBT people.

The leadership of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council are excited about the new opportunity for community and ministry, while realizing that the transition may be difficult for some.  The Independent carried the comments of one leader:

“Despite a sense of betrayal in the LGBT Catholic community, some churchgoers, including Soho Masses Pastoral Council member Mark Dowd, were hopeful about what an integrated service would mean:

” ‘I’m excited because a lot of Catholics still don’t know any gay men or lesbians… This is a chance to make our face known and become formally part of the community,’ he said yesterday. ‘In a perfect world none of us would describe or define ourselves by our sexual orientation… there wouldn’t be a need for a special designated space. But it’s not a perfect world.’ “

Dowd also commented on the significance of Nichols’ pastoral visit to the first Mass:

“There are those critics of Vincent Nichols who would say that he is not on the progressive side of the argument, but to sit down and actually acknowledge the existence of our community has to be something.”

Here in the U.S., LGBT Catholics have sought such opportunities for many years, with few opportunities to dialogue with a bishop.

Catholic blogger Terence Weldon, at QueeringTheChurch.com, attended the first Mass and described the positive atmosphere of the event, as well as his hopes for the future:

“Tonight (Sunday 3rd March) I went up to London for the first Mass of the integration of the Soho Masses Community into the Farm Street parish of the Church of the Immaculate Conception – and came home more confident than ever that this transition will work out to our advantage. There will be short-term disappointments and teething problems, but these will be dealt with in time. In the longer run, we will benefit from the improved physical space, the greater resources of the Parish and the Mount Street Jesuit Centre for growth in faith and spirituality, and for opportunities to grow as part of a wider community – simultaneously influencing and learning from them.”

Weldon’s post describes the event in full, and he also corrects some of the inaccuracies of a press report of the event.  You can read his entire comments here and here.  If you want more information on this topic, they are an excellent resource.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

One final note about the new parish location.  This is the same parish which rejected Oscar Wilde as a parishioner back in the 1890s after he completed his prison sentence on “gross indecency” and sodomy charges.   Reconciliation can happen on all levels, even the historical one.   In an International Businss Times  article, Dowd commented on the historical significance of the parish:

“Oscar Wilde was turned away; they didn’t want to be associated with him. Now the Jesuits are saying: ‘It’s OK, it’s fine.’ “

We pray the Soho Masses community receive every blessing as they settle into their new pastoral home.  We pray, too, that similar models of ministry here in the U.S. be accorded the pastoral support that Archbishop Nichols has demonstrated.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Bondings 2.0 and New Ways Ministry In the News

January 13, 2013

newsBondings 2.0  and New Ways Ministry have been in the news three times this past week.

1. Praise from “Across the Pond”

QueeringTheChurch.com, the premier Catholic LGBT blog in the United Kingdom, noted Bondings 2.0’s 500th post milestone with a post of their own commending us for our own blog work.  Editor Terence Weldon offered this evaluation:

“I began following Frank’s blog [Bondings 2.0] soon after [it launched]. Although its focus is heavily on the American church, I still found much of interest and value.”

Coming from Mr. Weldon, one of the pioneers of Catholic LGBT blogging, this praise makes us blush a bit!

He continues by noting the joint effort between New Ways Ministry and London area Catholic LGBT folks in the summer of 2012, when I conducted a “Next Steps” workshop in the UK.  Weldon adds that he continues to discern his next steps with regard to Catholic LGBT ministry:

“I have been contemplating going from a narrow focus on blogging, to a greater emphasis on direct face – to – face work, promoting the Next Steps workshops, and perhaps adopting and adapting some of the other New Ways methods.”

We are very honored that our model of ministry may be replicated somewhat by our friends in the UK.

2.  Bob “Shines” on Another Blog

Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry’s Young Adult and Social Media Coordinator, and a regular contributor to Bondings 2.0, had an essay appear on Catholics United’s young adult blog, OurDailyThread.com.

Shine’s post, entitled “Correcting the Bishops’ Course in 2013,” is a summary of U.S. Catholic bishops’ political involvement in 2012, while it also offers a new course for the coming year:

“The bishops can continue to have their identity be defined by the partisanship, ecclesial legalism, and aberrant traditionalism or they can prepare the way of God anew.”

Among the many topics that Shine covers is the bishops’ campaigns to prevent marriage equality from becoming law in several states.  He notes that the widening gap between the bishops and the Catholic laity and the American electorate on questions of sexual justice hamper the bishops’ ability to speak out on other issues of the day:

“Taken together, the bishops’ deep political investments that failed are deeper losses for their credibility and relevancy in American society. Without swift, major, and lasting course corrections, the bishops will not even be a part of conversations around political matters of great importance. “

Congratulations and thanks to Bob Shine for offering this insightful post on the future of the bishops’  political profile.

3. New Ways Ministry on HuffPostLive

New Ways Ministry’s Co-founder Sister Jeannine Gramick and Executive Director Francis DeBernardo were guests on a segment of HuffPostLive this past week.  The topic of of this online talk show was the ordination of women in the Catholic Church.  Both Sister Gramick and DeBernardo spoke in favor of ordaining women.

You can watch the segment by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


London’s Archbishop Ends Masses in Soho for LGBT Catholics; Ministry Continues at Jesuit Parish

January 3, 2013

soho MassesThe popular Soho Masses for the LGBT community in London, England, will be coming to a close after six years because of a new pastoral plan for LGBT people that the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster has issued.  But the ministry to LGBT people will continue. The archbishop has moved the LGBT ministry to a London Jesuit parish, under a new model of service and organization.

London’s Catholic Herald has printed the entire text of the pastoral plan by Archbishop Vincent Nichols.  In the section on why he is ending this successful pastoral program, he states:

“At this point, and after six years of the pastoral care offered at Our Lady of the Assumption Church [Warwick Street], it is time for a new phase. Two considerations give shape to this new phase. The first is to recall that the original aim of this pastoral provision at Warwick Street was to enable people with same-sex attraction ‘to enter more fully into the life of the Church’ ‘specifically within the existing parish structures’ (Diocese of Westminster press statement 2 Feb 2007). The second is the importance of recognising that there is a distinction to be made between the pastoral care of a particular group and the regular celebration of the Mass. The Mass is always to retain its essential character as the highest prayer of the whole Church. This ‘universal’ character of the Mass is to be nurtured and clearly expressed in the manner of every celebration. The purpose of all pastoral care, on the other hand, is to encourage and enable people, especially those who are in difficult circumstances, to come to participate fully and worthily in the celebration of the Mass in the midst of the whole Church, the people summoned by the Lord to give him, together, worthy service and praise.

” . . . I am, therefore, asking the group which has, in recent years, helped to organise the celebration of Mass on two Sundays of each month at Warwick Street now to focus their effort on the provision of pastoral care. This includes many of the activities which have recently been developed and it is to be conducted fully in accordance with the teaching of the Church. Such pastoral care will include support for growth in virtue and holiness, the encouragement of friendship and wider community contacts, always with the aim of helping people to take a full part in the life of the Church in their local parish community. It will not include the organisation of a regular Mass.”

The new pastoral program will begin in Lent of 2013.

For many years, Archbishop Nichols has been criticized by traditionalist Catholics for permitting the Masses.  Indeed, the Vatican has also questioned his reasoning for establishing the liturgies.  For some, his decision will surely be viewed as capitulating to these pressures.

However, England’s Terence Weldon, who blogs at QueeringTheChurch.com, and who is a regular participant at these Masses and a member of the Pastoral Council there, has a different point of view.  He is optimistic that this decision is not an ending, but a moment of transformation for the community.  He sees the archbishop’s plan as an opportunity for growth for the burgeoning community. On his blog, he wrote:

“The real issue here is not simply one of a ‘gay Mass,’ but of the wider issue of effective  Catholic LGBT ministry. For many years, the Soho Masses as we know them have provided a richly valuable to those people able and willing to make the journey to get to them – but does nothing for those who by reason of location or inclination, are not. One of the obvious problems with the existing model as we have it at Warwick Street, is that it is not one that can be simply transplanted to other areas, of the diocese or pf the country. If we can make a success of developing a new model at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, we should find that although the ‘Soho Masses’ may end – Catholic LGBT ministry will be strengthened, and expanded.”

The Soho Masses Pastoral Council issued a statement on January 3rd, welcoming  the archbishop’s directive.  The following are excerpts:

“The purpose of the Soho Masses has been, and remains, to encourage the LGBT Catholic Community to participate fully in the life of the Church, the diverse body of Christ, through participation in the Mass, and through shared prayer.
In this we have become victims of our own success, in terms of the number of people who have joined the Eucharistic Community of our congregation. This means that, while the body of the church in Warwick St. is still adequate to our number, the lack of other facilities in the 18th Century building has become a limiting factor in organising social and pastoral activity and prayer, in particular for elderly, infirm or disabled people.

“We therefore look forward with much anticipation to the opportunity of using the greater space offered by the Church of the Immaculate Conception, and, since we have kindly been relieved of our responsibility of organising the Mass, to respond positively to the Archbishop’s challenge to develop our pastoral work in this ‘new phase’ of our peripatetic existence.

“The Masses at Farm Street will, clearly, continue to be at the heart of our life in communion, and of our pastoral activity, and we look forward to participating fully in them. . . .

“Our only reservation regarding the transfer of base is that our title becomes somewhat of a misnomer, in that we shall be in Mayfair, rather than in Soho. However, given the value of the title Soho Masses we shall continue to use it.”

I attended the Soho Masses when I was in London in the summer of 2012 for the World Pride celebrations.  I found them the liturgy to be very traditionally Catholic, and I met many people afterwards who said that coming to this Mass community was their way of returning to Catholicism after a period of alienation.  Many of the participants were heterosexually identified people with no connection to the LGBT community, but who had heard that the spirit at these Masses was welcoming and rich. In one sense, all theological arguments aside, I imagine that this decision  will probably feel very much like a parish closing or consolidation to some.

Even if there are better days ahead, I am sure it will be a difficult transition for many, and I will keep them all in my prayers, and ask you to do the same.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Where in the World is ‘The National Catholic Reporter?’

July 27, 2012

 

While in England for World Pride conferences and celebrations earlier this month, New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo (your humble blogger) had his photo snapped in front of London’s iconic Tower Bridge reading one of his favorite newspapers, The National Catholic Reporter.

This summer, The National Catholic Reporter has been requesting that its readers pose with the newspaper in front of recognizable landmarks during their travels and send the images to support@ncronline.org.  They will print as many photos as possible.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


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