Fr. James Martin: Respecting Transgender People “Fairly Simple Thing to Do”

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Jesuit Fr. James Martin again affirmed LGBT inclusion, saying transgender people using restrooms according to their gender identity “seems a fairly simple thing to do.” Meanwhile, U.S. bishops intensified their criticism of expanding transgender equality.

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Martin was asked about the federal government’s new directive mandating transgender students be allowed to use gender-segregated facilities, like restrooms and locker rooms, according to their gender identity. Martin responded:

“I don’t know a whole lot about that issue, but I would say that I don’t understand the problem with letting transgender people use bathrooms that they feel comfortable in. Personally, I think it’s overblown and that people’s responses are really strange. I don’t know that much about transgender people but that’s all the more reason for us to try and treat them with dignity.

“I thought the comment from Attorney General Lynch was beautiful, that we are with you, we’re going to try to help you. Just as the church needs to treat gay and lesbians with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ which is in the catechism, it should be the same with transgender people. And letting them use the bathroom seems a fairly simple thing to do.”

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and on Catholic Education, called the federal directive “deeply disturbing” in a statement. They said the directive failed to balance “legitimate concerns about privacy and security” and “short-circuits” ongoing conversations about gender. Malone and Lucas quoted Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia which says youth must “accept their own body as it was created.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, pushed back against the bishops’ statement and their use of Pope Francis to justify discrimination:

“We believe, as do many Catholics, that our transgender kin reflect the immensity and diversity of God’s creativity. They challenge us to humbly re-examine traditional beliefs about sex, gender, identity, and human relationships, and to acknowledge the limitations of our current understanding in these areas. We urge the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to engage in dialogue with transgender youth and adults, as well as their families, so they can better understand the pastoral and practical needs of these communities.”

Fr. Martin also commented on Pope Francis’ impact on LGBT issues  generally. Martin said it is “hard to overstate the impact” that Francis’ papacy has had in welcoming LGBT people. But the Jesuit priest criticized the institutional church for not providing more outreach to LGBT people, and offered three points to enhance pastoral care and improve ecclesial inclusion:

“First, by listening to their experience. Usually LGBT people are preached at instead of listened to. Second, by going out [of] their way to make them feel welcome. Third, by including them in leadership positions as anybody else would be, as Eucharistic ministers and lectors and things like that. But the first thing is listening to them. What is their experience?”

What is readily apparent from these Catholic responses to the federal directive protecting transgender students in public schools is who has listened to and come to know LGBT people–and who has not. Too many bishops have not asked themselves nor informed their ministry with the question proposed by Martin, “What are the experiences of LGBT people?” Pope Francis’ own deficiencies on matters of gender and sexuality, readily apparent in Amoris Laetitia, seem to stem from a failure to ask this question more publicly and proactively.

LGBT non-discrimination protections, for students and for everyone else, can be readily defended using Catholic teaching. But personal stories and relationships are perhaps more powerful sources for our theology and our advocacy today. So before another top Vatican official condemns trans identities as “demonic” or more U.S. bishops keep opposing LGBT civil rights, perhaps a pause for listening and for dialogue would be an appropriate next step. After that, respecting LGBT people should easily become a “fairly simple thing to do.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

12 thoughts on “Fr. James Martin: Respecting Transgender People “Fairly Simple Thing to Do”

  1. Glenn Slocum May 19, 2016 / 3:01 am

    When I read Bob’s numerous accounts of current statements by public officials, especially those of so-called Catholic organizations, there is an increasing divide between Christian expressions and “Catholic” expressions. This is very disturbing. Cardinal Sarah’s statement this week, not widely covered but thanks to Borders 2, we are informed, made me think this man may be Catholic, but he is certainly not Christian. Why Francis appointed him to his current senior Vatican position is beyond me. But the growing divide between so-called Catholic views and Christian views can only be regarded as catastrophic.

  2. Amelia Herrmann May 19, 2016 / 3:04 pm

    Thank you Fr. James Martin. Is it any wonder why our younger Catholics have left the Catholic Church. This is one of the reasons our 4 out of 5 children do not participate in the church because they have a gay sister. Thank goodness we have a LGBT ministry in our San Bernardino Diocese that ministers to families and friends and our LGBT community. But with comments from Cardinal Sarah and others like him from church leaders, it is very disheartening.

  3. John Hilgeman May 19, 2016 / 5:01 pm

    Thank goodness for the freedom and protection of religious orders. I doubt many diocesan priests would feel free enough to say the same things.

  4. Tim MacGeorge May 19, 2016 / 10:23 pm

    I am saddened, though not surprised, to see yet another statement from Bishop Richard Malone that fails to recognize some fundamental realities about human development, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. Bishop Malone was a professor of mine when I was in the seminary in the early/mid 1980s. He was known then to be a thoughtful and reasonable instructor. He taught students — myself included — to think critically and to use the gifts of reason and the tools of scientific inquiry even when dealing with issues related to faith.

    Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, Dick Malone seems to have changed. He has been a long-time foe of anything that positively and respectfully recognizes the rights of God’s LGBT sons and daughters not only in the life of the Church, but in the public square as well.

    As a psychotherapist, I have had the privilege to work with transgender persons. I admit that the concept of what it means to be transgender can be somewhat difficult to grasp, especially for the vast majority of us who seem to fit in quite well with the binary perspective of sex as either male or female. However — as with most things within the beauty of God’s creation! — human sexuality is more diverse and complex than that simple paradigm. I wish Bishop Malone and his confreres would simply take the time to meet with, listen to, and learn from Catholic persons who identify as transgender. Perhaps that direct, personal experience is what’s needed for Catholic leaders to open both their minds and their hearts, and begin to see our transgender siblings as they see themselves.

  5. mrnickvirga May 20, 2016 / 4:17 am

    Father Jim is consistently one of the best. Compassionate, intelligent and thoughtful. Great priest.

  6. Terence Weldon May 21, 2016 / 5:37 am

    “youth must accept their own body as it was created.” But which part of their “body” – external genitals, internal genitals, chromosomes, hormones, or brain physiology? All of these have male/female dimensions, but they do not always coincide. This is why for some people, external genitals at birth are sexually ambiguous, why there are intersex people, and why others experience gender dysphoria. Gender, biological sex and sexual orientation are far more complex than assumed by a simplistic gender binary.

    See also http://queerchurch.com/?p=47391

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