Earlier this spring, Commonweal magazine featured a pair of articles on gender identity, titled “The Church and Transgender Identity: Some Cautions, Some Possibilities.” You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of theologian David Cloutier’s piece here and theologian Luke Timothy Johnson’s piece here.
In response, a transgender person, who remained anonymous, wrote a powerful letter to the editor about their experiences with the church. “Anonymous” explained:
“I was a transgender child raised in a very religious Catholic family. . .the price of living ‘in the closet’ has been high: hundreds of hours of psychotherapy and spiritual direction, a lifetime of eating disorders and psychological suffering, and very little experience of deep, fulfilling friendships. When interacting with people, I am guarded, not myself. I feel as if I’m putting on an act, to spare other people from having to ‘freak out,’ as the people in my pre-school did.”
Still, the letter’s author has no clear answers about what the church or society should do with transgender children. The author only knows that their identity was “inborn” and nothing could change it. The letter concluded:
“Over the years I have longed for better guidance from the church. Nowhere does the vast literature of Catholic spirituality ask how a transgender person can lead a Christian life. All I can do is cling to the faith that, if the Creator made the kind of universe in which transgender people are possible, then the God ‘who wills everyone to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth’ must have a plan even for me. I just wish I knew what it is.”
Letters like this one clearly indicate how much the church must improves its pastoral care for trans Catholics and their families. To read the full letter from “Anonymous” in Commonweal, click here.
To read the latest updates on transgender Catholic issues, see Bondings 2.0’s “Transgender” category in the right-hand column or click here.
Though the Eucharist should be an unmitigated source of unity for Catholics, too often the Communion line becomes a place for exclusion. People deemed “unworthy” do not receive or are even denied Communion, and these “unworthy” people have too often included LGBT Catholics and their families.
But after several years of dialogue, and sometimes sharp debate, is Pope Francis’ desire for a more welcoming and merciful church being realized at the Communion line? Perhaps, answered one parish priest writing for Commonweal.
The priest, who uses the pseudonym “Fr. Nonomen,” wrote about an encounter he had in the produce section of his local market. A woman shared with him that she was moved greatly when she saw her former pastor, a Fr. Ed who left the priesthood to marry, receive Communion at the Easter Vigil this year. Fr. Nonomen quoted her:
“In that moment, I knew. . .I was suddenly filled with a joyful, peaceful assurance that the church I love would weather the storms and issues that seem sometimes to tear it apart. Seeing Father Ed with his wife showed me how God is always doing something new! As they received Communion, I saw that there is room for all in Christ. And that has helped heal my heart.'”
Fr. Nonomen reflected on the many other people who helped him see “that the depth and breadth of humanity was in the Communion line. . .drawn to one table, one altar, one Lord.” In them, he saw “a foretaste of what liturgists call ‘the heavenly banquet.'” When everyone who sought Communion received that night, there was not, as church leaders often warn of, “scandal.” There was healing. The priest concluded:
“The more intriguing question, perhaps, is not how but why this happened. I figure it to be a lesson in grace. At a time when elitism and intolerance have crept into so many facets of life, the Lord insists that the Kingdom of God will be otherwise and often surprises us with glimpses of it right here, right now. The people of the Kingdom are a richly diverse people, aware of their need and drawn to the God who welcomes all and lavishes grace on all, even that former priest, even that same-sex couple. . . “
Vatican II identifies eucharistic liturgy as the source from which and summit to which our Christian lives ebb and flow. There is no greater test for how inclusive the church is in reality than how many people feel comfortable to approach and be welcomed into the Communion line.
In Fr. Nonomen’s lesson of grace, I also see longer lines at Mass as a sign that the tireless efforts of LGBT Catholics and their allies are finally able to bear fruit in the new space Pope Francis has created.
Do you agree? Did you see longer, more inclusive Communion lines at Mass today? How have you witnessed the unity of God’s people being made real in liturgy?
A few times a year, Bondings 2.0 features pieces on different individuals’ experiences of being LGBT and Catholic. Even in the age of Pope Francis, many people outside the church cannot understand why an LGBT person or an ally would remain within Catholicism. And, indeed, many people in the church struggle to reconcile multiple identities.
Xorje Olivares has added his thoughts on this conversation at Vice[Editor’s note: the full article contains content which some readers may find inappropriate.] Olivares reflected:
“I, like most LGBTQ Catholics, am a modern-day, socially-conscious parishioner in a stunted and horribly antiquated institution, albeit one that I return to each week because it’s what I know best as the product of a devout Mexican-American household. It feels right to me, since I genuinely understood elements of my faith years before I ever had a grasp on the nuances of my sexuality.
“But my Catholic identity came first, and you may be surprised to hear that it was my faith itself that helped me come to terms with my sexuality during my adolescence. Despite growing up in a predominately Mexican-American community that placed a lot of value in the concept of ‘machismo,’ I felt then, and continue to believe, that God made me and millions of others different. And I never questioned His intentions or asked that ‘this cup be taken from me’ (as Jesus did prior to the crucifixion) because I always viewed my sexuality, and my individuality, as a gift. For God never errs, correct?”
“Being gay and Catholic are both choices—the only difference is that God made the first.”
Despite the challenges, and the criticism from queer friends who are not in the church, Olivares has thankfully found his place at the intersection of being gay, Catholic, and Mexican-American.
LGBT ministry in Hispanic Catholic contexts has its own particularities. Professor Elsie Miranda will be speaking on “Hispanic Catholic Culture and LGBT Issues” at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
Speaking yesterday at a Vatican event for International Women’s Day, Sr. Simone Campbell of NETWORK sharply criticized the Catholic hierarchy for being more concerned with retaining power than the realities of people’s lives.
Campbell addressed the Voices of Faith gathering, during which Catholic women from around the world share their stories under the banner of “All Voices Count.”
In her address, the sister behind “Nuns on the Bus” and who heads a national Catholic social justice lobbying group, referenced the resignation of clergy abuse survivor Marie Collins from Pope Francis’ commission addressing the church’s sexual abuse crisis. Campbell commented, according to Crux:
“‘The institution and the structure is frightened of change. . .These men worry more about the form and the institution than about real people. . . [Collins was blocked] by men. Isn’t this the real problem within the church?’
“‘The effort to keep the church from stopping this sort of thing is shocking. . .It is about male power and male image, not people’s stories. The real trouble is they have defined their power as spiritual leadership and they don’t have a clue about spiritual life.’
“‘Most of the guys who run this place haven’t dealt with an ordinary human being who’s been abused, an ordinary woman or a boy who has been abused. . .If you don’t deal with the people you don’t have your heart broken open. The bureaucracy is so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.'”
Pointing out the absence of any senior Curial officials at the women’s gathering, Campbell said she was unsure “if it’s a slap in the face or evidence of how much power they think we have.” That Campbell was invited at all is noteworthy, given NETWORK, the lobbying and education organization she leads, was one of the identified factors in the Vatican’s 2012 doctrinal investigation of U.S. women religious.
Though not directed at LGBT equality, Campbell’s words are easily applicable to matters of gender identity and sexuality in the church. The lives and voices of LGBT people have also been discredited and silenced by the Magisterium, whose present articulation of the Tradition is deeply tainted by patriarchy and homophobia.
Campbell provided a strong explanation for the hierarchical disconnect: the failure and/or inability of many clergy to have healthy relationships with those who are not like themselves. In her words, they are “so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.” Even in more forward-leaning gatherings formally sanctioned by the Vatican, like this Voices of Faith event yesterday or the Synod on the Family process, openly LGBT people have not been invited to share their stories.
But perhaps church leaders are right to be afraid of listening to the stories of people they marginalize, for these experiences possess a radical transformative power. The person who is “Other” makes a claim on the listener, compelling them to act for the good of that person to whom they have listened. Indeed, Maltese Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo has admitted it was meetings with the Catholic parents of LGBT children which helped shift his thinking on LGBT topics, and prompted him to make a speech at the Synod on the Family calling for greater LGBT inclusion.
Scripture’s most repeated exhortation to us is to “be not afraid!” I congratulate Sr. Simone for having the courage and wisdom to speak such prophetic truth within the Vatican itself. I pray her words will resound in church leaders’ minds and hearts, so they choose to listen and to be moved by people marginalized for their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS will lead a retreat preceding New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Other prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
“Taking a few steps is something most people take for granted. It is a fairly easy process at first thought, just one leg in front of the other. But the physical mechanics of beginning a journey are far more complex. Dozens of muscles must expand as others simultaneously contract, creating various tensions in the body that propel us forward. Though often viewed as something to be massaged away, tension is in fact a sign that we are alive.
“If the church functions like a human body, as St. Paul claims, then it follows that within it there must be tensions.”
It’s good to keep that in mind when the going gets rough.
Millions worldwide marched yesterday for gender justice, affirming the dignity of women and the need for intersectional justice. But after marching, we now take the next steps towards attaining equal rights for people of all sexual and gender identities, as well as of all races, creeds, ethnic backgrounds, immigration statuses, income levels, and abilities. And a Twitter user, @JesusOfNaz316, has offered a fitting next step. At the beginning of 2017, he tweeted:
“Still looking for New Years Resolution? Try this. Oppose racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of exclusion.”
The coming days and months will be difficult times not only to advance LGBT equality but to preserve what equality has already been attained. And we must similarly work for equality and freedom for all, making intersectionality a goal of our justice work. To focus our strategies, we can look to, spiritual leaders like Sr. Simone Campbell of “Nuns on the Bus,” and we can try to find hope in these dark times. However we carry through on our promise, today is a great day to resolve (or re-commit) to opposing every form of exclusion harming God’s people.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 22, 2017
As part of Sr. Camille D’Arienzo’s regular interviews with extraodinary “ordinary” Catholics in the National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Ron Cioffi reflected upon his 47 years as an ordained priest. He spoke about being raised Catholic, his call to ordained ministry, connections with the Catholic Worker movement, and most of all the parish in New Jersey where he has served for many years. Then, asked if there is anything else readers should know, the priest came out, tying together beautifully his sexual identity with his vocation:
“Yes, I am a gay person whose self-identity includes an abiding call to ministry in our church. I wish to testify that there is nothing in seriously living out my life as a priest that dissuades me from any other conclusion than that my orientation is a blessing from God for use in and for the church that is called to help each of us discern and celebrate the good and always affirming love of God for all persons.”
Earlier in the interview, Fr. Cioffi said he had an as yet unrealized goal of establishing an outreach committee with a “focus on welcoming and credibly supporting” LGBT people. He explained at the interview’s end how his coming out as a gay priest might advance that welcome and support:
“In sharing this deeply personal fact, I hope it will give courage and hope to so many people who find their minority status a deeply wounding and unrelieved burden that too few religious leaders have moved to redress with a healing that acknowledges one’s full human dignity.”
Despite research suggesting that a high percentage of Catholic priests are gay, there are very few priests who are out publicly. Like other out gay priests before him, Fr. Cioffi provides an example which helps combat the stigma that keeps too many clergy silenced. Such an example can heal the wounds of exclusion that too many LGBT people bear because of church ministers. This witness is, most certainly, a blessing from God!