To Whom Was the Pope Referring in Encylical’s Remarks About Body & Gender?

June 20, 2015

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Sii,” has made headlines around the world, and it will surely be the topic of frequent discussion in weeks and months ahead.  I’ve already commented on how some of the principles that Pope Francis puts forth in this encyclical could just as easily be applied to LGBT issues, and would greatly enhance the Catholic Church’s approach to issues of sexual orientation, lesbian and gay relationships, and gender identity.  But it is another section of the encyclical which is gathering the attention of LGBT advocates.

Paragraph 155 of the document is being perceived as part of Pope Francis’ continued attack on “gender theory.” As Pope Francis uses it, gender theory seems best defined as a concept used to refer to any and all progressive ideas about gender. (I am not trying to be facetious by this definition; the problem is that neither Pope Francis nor any Catholic prelate who has used this term has ever explained what it means or to what it might refer. )

The section in question reads:

Pope Francis

“Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “ecology of man,” based on the fact that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will,” It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek ‘to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.’ “

On America’s blog, Elizabeth Pyne, a Fordham University Ph.D. candidate in theology, analyzes this section in terms of its context within the encyclical, and its relationship to the pope’s other recent comments on gender complementarity.  Pyne does not see this section of the encyclical as a strong condemnation, and instead, she characterizes it something expected, but perhaps unusual for what is not said:

“A general, natural law-based statement in favor of gender essentialism is unsurprising. Nevertheless, interpretation must attend to specific silences, or in this instance, relative quiet on sexuality against the resounding demand for economic and ecological justice, cultivated at both personal and political levels.”

In effect, she seems to be saying that this section is not as important as the pope’s other recommendations in the encyclical.  Pyne concludes, too, with a hope that Pope Francis would expand his vision on gender:

“. . . [L]et’s take the pope’s keen insistence on the interconnections not only within ecosystems, but also among scientific, economic, political and cultural approaches to their functioning. Then there is Francis’ beautifully mystical spirituality of nature. He reminds us that humans, like all creatures, are of dust, “our very bodies made up of [earth’s] elements” (LS 2; Gen 2:17). These are precisely the bodies in which “each creature bears in itself a specifically Trinitarian structure” (No. 239) and in which a human person “enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures” (No. 240). Yet this complex interpretive dynamic falls by the wayside around certain aspects of embodied life; what might result from a more consistent interdisciplinary treatment of gender and sexuality as elements of the manifold diversity of creaturely life? ” (emphasis, mine).

Other headlines and stories did not see this papal digression on sexuality and gender as neutrally as Pyne did.  Buzzfeed’s story on paragraph 155 is headlined: “Pope Appears To Condemn Gender Reassignment.”  Passport Magazine entitled their story: “‘The People’s Pope’ Disses the Transgender Community.”

My own take on this section is best characterized by a sub-heading used on a Washington Post article excerpting 10 important quotations from the encyclical.  For the sub-section featuring paragraph 155, they used the headline: “Gender differences matter.” I think that Pope Francis here is referring not to transitioning from one gender to another, but that he is expressing his objection to the blurring of genders or eliminating the idea of gender.

Pointing this out does not mean I agree with him, but that I am trying to figure out exactly what he is saying.

Still, if the pope is making indirect references to transgender people in these remarks about “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity,” then I think he should educate himself about the nature of the transgender experience.  Transgender people do, in fact, value their femininity and masculinity, often so much so that they take courageous steps to live fully as the gender that they know they are.  Transgender people know that gender is much more than a physical reality of their bodies, but is, more often, an interior sense of self.  For many transgender people, it is only when they learn to respect what they have learned is their true gender identity that they are able to fully have “an encounter with someone who is different.”

When I re-read paragraph 115, I realize that I think the key difference as to how to interpret this section is whether the reader thinks there is a strong connection between these three sentences:

“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.”

I suppose that I do not see a strong connection between the last sentence on masculinity/femininity and the first two sentences about power over our bodies.   Actually, when I read the first two sentences, my interpretation is that the pope is referring to birth control and abortion.

I suppose, too, that my interpretation is influenced by my thought that masculinity and femininity are more psychological or internal dimensions than they are physical or external dimensions. Yesterday’s Bondings 2.0 blog post on J. Peter Nixon’s views of transgender issues explains this idea more deeply.

Regardless of what his reference point is,  the fact that this pope included this reference to gender in an encyclical on the environment reflects poorly on his knowledge and awareness of this important topic concerning human self-understanding and relationships.

Moreover, as I’ve said before,  Pope Francis needs to start writing more clearly and directly, and less elliptically, so that people can be more confident about knowing where he actually stands.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Related article: “Is the Pope’s Environmental Encyclical Anti-transgender?”


How Do Transgender People Experience the Divine Will for Themselves?

June 19, 2015

Now that all of the media hype about Caitlyn Jenner’s gender transition has quieted down, it’s good to take a look at some of the more serious questions that Catholics may have concerning such an event.

Caitlyn Jenner

One of the more interesting things that I have read on the subject is a dotCommonweal blog post by J. Peter Nixon earlier this month.  Nixon begins his examination with an important question that often gets unasked in Catholic discussions about transgender issues:  Is a person’s true, God-given gender the one that a person’s body reflects or the one that a person’s mind experiences?

Too often, people err on the side of the former, as Nixon points out:

“. . . .the argument is that a person’s chromosomal/physical gender represents an expression of divine will and that living contrary to that chromosomal/physical inheritance is contrary to God’s will.”

Nixon pokes an important hole in that argument:

“There are many aspects of our lives as human beings that are expressions of our genetic inheritance.  Not all of these are positive and some (e.g. a genetic predisposition to juvenile diabetes) are potentially lethal.  I’m not aware of the Church ever holding that it would be illegitimate to treat such a condition simply because we were born with it.”

Nixon dismisses religious conservatives’ criticism of transgender people, noting that they actually seem to fear excessive expressive individualism and rejection of the idea that gender is inherent in the natural fabric of things.  Nixon states:

“. . . [T]he actual experience of the small number of transgender people I have known appears to cut against the idea that gender is primarily a social construct.  They spent most of their early years working extraordinarily hard to conform to their genetic/physical gender identity without success.  Once they made the decision to transition, they worked equally hard to conform to their new gender identity and incurred large expenses to obtain reassignment surgery.  It was not a decision motivated by ideology.”

While Nixon makes some good points, and ultimately his intent is to affirm the experience of transgender people, there are a few points in his essay which raise an eyebrow or two. For example, when he discusses whether or not gender questions can be labeled disease, he stated:

“. . . [T]he disease we are treating is the breakdown in the communications pathway between the genetic inheritance and its expression in the centers of the brain that produce (at least partially) the psychological experience of gender.”

Nixon makes this point to say that there is perhaps a medical reason why transgender people exist, but his answer seems to indicate: 1) that this idea is a definite cause, which it is not; and 2) that if a person is transgender, then that is a problematic situation that needs to be corrected.

Nixon ultimately answers that correcting “communication” between brain and body is not inherently preferable to gender transition (both seem to involve correction of physical features, either the brain or the outward appearance), his analysis fails to take into account the experiences of transgender people, many of whom see their unique gender situation as a gift, with many blessings, not as a “disease.”  Just like with LGB people, the biggest problems that transgender people face is not with their own experience of gender, but with the discrimination they experience from other people’s rejection of the possibility that someone does not fit neatly into the male/female binary structure.

Nixon seems genuinely interested, though, in making a place for transgender people in the church, and that aspiration is noble.  He offers the following analogy for gender transition which includes surgery:

“In some ways, I am seeing parallels to past Catholic debates over cremation.  Cremation was once rejected because it was considered a sign that the person did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.  Ultimately, the Church was able to separate the discrete act from the various worldviews that lead people to choose cremation.  Perhaps the Church will come to recognize that a decision to pursue gender reassignment surgery need not be motivated by an understanding of gender that is incompatible with our theological anthropology.”

Even with some of its problematic concepts, Nixon’s essay still helps to move the discussion on transgender issues forward in our Church.  He acknowledges that he knows only a few transgender people.  Listening to stories of more transgender people will expand his awareness. His heart and mind are already opened.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Caitlyn Jenner, The Archbishop, Fr. Barron, and Me

June 11, 2015

Philadelphia City Hall against a superimposed trans* flag

Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out via Vanity Fair and the ensuing national conversation has triggered some foolish responses from Catholic clergy.

Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 reported on San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s comment, for which he was widely criticized, that trans* identities undermine faith .  Now, Fr. Robert Barron has weighed in Jenner’s story on his widely-read blog.

Barron likened Jenner’s transition to a modern form of Gnosticism, a heresy which denigrates the material in favor of the spiritual and emphasizes escape from the body. Barron sets up transitioning as an act in which the body and soul are pitted against one another, in which the body is a “prison for the soul.” Of this, he writes

“This schema is, to a tee, gnostic —and just as repugnant to Biblical religion as it was nineteen hundred years ago…Until we realize that the lionization of Caitlyn Jenner amounts to an embracing of Gnosticism, we haven’t grasped the nettle of the issue.”

Discussing that post on his Facebook page, Barron analogized trans* people to pedophiles.  In a response to the first commenter about the Jenner post, Barron said:

“Friend, just as a thought experiment: would you tolerate someone who chose pedophilia as a lifestyle? If the answer is no, which it must be, then you can’t really believe your own argument that everyone has a right to choose any lifestyle that suits him or her.”

From such a comment it is clear that it is not Caitlyn Jenner and other trans* people who have not “grasped the nettle” of this matter, but rather Fr. Barron. In setting up gender transitions as he does, Barron’s own confusion is on display. The pedophilia reference is dismissed for its absurdity.

Comments by Fr. Barron, Archbishop Cordileone, and others in church leadership who refuse to respect trans* people reveal their profound ignorance about gender issues. Malice may influence some responses, but more often it seems like these Catholics are ill-equipped to discuss transgender issues because either time, opportunity, or will has kept them from properly educating themselves.

Last weekend, I joined nearly 5,000 people for the 14th Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference to help my own education. Though a secular event, God’s love flowed through the halls of the Pennsylvania Convention Center as people gathered to learn self-respect and respect for others. Hope marked the event. Through hundreds of workshops, countless conversations, and the fellowship of friends old and new, I learned an overwhelming amount. I learned most of all how very much there is for me to learn as a cisgender person and ally.

To foster more education, I am inviting Archbishop Cordileone, Fr. Barron, and other Catholic clergy to join me at the 2016 Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference.

This is an invitation to listen and encounter by humbling ourselves, rather than to pontificate. I believe that if skeptical Catholics spend time genuinely coming to know the experiences of trans* people, they could see  that the journey around gender identity is a saintly one. It is the search to be one’s truest self on which all humans embark.

In response to Fr. Barron, I would say that the decision to present and live as or transition to one’s authentic gender identity is the very opposite of Gnosticism. These are acts of integration, allowing some to be embodied in their reality in ways authentic to the person God is calling them forth to be. It is incarnational, not gnostic.

Attending the conference would also help skeptics come to know that trans* people are among those God loves most in our world, for they experience severe levels of violence and discrimination. This is especially true for those who are people of color. While affirming Caitlyn Jenner, many at the conference pointed out how atypical her life is and note the voluminous barriers that prevent many trans* people from living openly as their authentic self. Increasing the church’s practical solidarity with trans* communities would be a response to a sign of the times we cannot ignore.   Our response as a church should be one of education and justice.

On a positive note, it looks like only 23% of Catholics share Archbishop Cordileone’s and Fr. Barron;s disapproval. A recent poll shows 59% of Catholics already accept trans* people or do not consider their identities to be a moral issue, reports The New Civil Rights Movement. Hopefully, by this time next year, that second number will be increasingly higher, and the first one significantly lower,  as more and more Catholics come to understand trans* issues clearly.

To learn more about the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

San Francisco Archbishop on Caitlyn Jenner: Trans* Identities Undermine Faith

June 7, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner

San Francisco’s archbishop said trans* people threaten the Catholic faith, adding another controversy to what many see as a record which has harmed the church’s relationship with LGBT people.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone used his address at a New York gathering on traditionalist liturgy last week to comment indirectly on the Vanity Fair cover story about Caitlyn Jenner (formerly known as Bruce Jenner) and the national conversation now happening about gender identity. Cordileone criticized “gender ideology,” the ambiguous term used by some Catholic prelates for LGBT matters. The National Catholic Reporter quoted some of his comments:

“The clear biological fact is that a human being is born either male or female…Yet now we have the idea gaining acceptance that biological sex and one’s personal gender identity can be at variance with each other, with more and more gender identities being invented…

“When the culture can no longer apprehend those natural truths…then the very foundation of our teaching evaporates and nothing we have to offer will make sense.”

The archbishop suggested this development was “a reversion to the paganism of old,” bringing with it “postmodern variations on its themes, such as the practice of child sacrifice, the worship of feminine deities or the cult of priestesses.” Cordileone predicted more gender identities would be “invented” in the future:

“Cordileone said a friend recently pointed out to him that a major university advertised housing “‘for a grand total of 14 different gender identities.’

“I’m sure even more will be invented as time goes on,” he said, prompting laughter from the audience of about 200…’Those initials keep getting longer and longer,’ he added, referring to debates over whether the LGBT acronym — for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — should include other categories.”

What Archbishop Cordileone does not understand is that being born male or female is not a “clear biological fact” in many cases.  Cordileone, who heads an archdiocese with one of the world’s largest LGBT communities, needs to learn more about the people God has entrusted to his pastoral care.

Bay Area Catholics have organized against Archbishop Cordileone’s approach to LGBT issues for nearly six months now. They have even called for his resignation in a full-page newspaper ad signed by more than 100 of San Francisco’s most influential Catholics. San Francisco’s Catholics have criticized his recent comments on trans* people as well, reported the National Catholic Reporter:

  • Micaela Presti, alumna and parent at Marin Catholic High School: “The language the archbishop used at this conference was ill-considered, hurtful and lacking in knowledge and compassion.”
  • Jim McGarry, a retired religious studies teacher: “My first reaction is to say the name of a person, which is Gwen Araujo [a transgender teen murdered in 2002]…He’s adding to persecution of people like Gwen.”
  • Ted DeSaulnier, the former religion department chair at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco: “The transgendered [sic] youth who attend the high schools of San Francisco will have one more burden to overcome in the prejudice against them: Their very existence threatens the foundation of our Catholic faith.”
  • Fr. John Coleman, associate pastor of St. Ignatius Parish: “Whatever you think about transgender issues, I find it really hard to say it is ‘a threat to the faith.”

Dan Morris-Young, in a lengthy National Catholic Reporter piece, said “conflict has marked the tenure of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone since his arrival in San Francisco in 2012.” Morris-Young described a striking difference of opinion in the city:

“The Bay Area has become an epicenter for colliding visions of what being Catholic means, the role of conscience, church teaching on sex and sexuality, the core role of Catholic schools, the understanding of revealed truth, and how authority should be exercised.

“In short, Catholic identity.”

He quoted Catholics who have been deeply troubled by the archbishop’s actions and statements. Thomas Sheehan, a Stanford University professor, says Cordileone has an “arrogant, condescending attitude, almost bullying.”

Nick Andrade, a friend and adviser to the archbishop who is also a partnered gay man says, predicted a dire future if Cordileone’s continues to insist on using harmful language about homosexuality like “gravely evil” and “intrinsically disordered”:

“…some young man is going to kill himself, and that is not what you want at all. Therapists will tell you that that is exactly what can happen, that some kid is going to kill himself because he has been told he is gravely evil.”

Toinette Eugene, a founding member of the National Office for Black Catholics, says this affects all Catholics concerned with justice and equality:

“From the perspective of the ordinary person in the pew…I think that dealing and dialoguing more directly and pastorally with the constituencies who represent the cultural, social, racial and sexual diversities of the archdiocese is a critical priority.”

Even Cordileone’s priests are troubled, according to Fr. John Coleman, S.J. of St. Ignatius Parish. They are hurt by administrative decisions like the archbishop’s decision to use conservative priests from outside the archdiocese for key positions. and at times failing to care for priests who are ill or who pass away. These and other actions have led to all time lows in morale among the archdiocesan clergy, reported NCR, with Coleman adding:

“I have never known an archbishop of San Francisco with so much public opinion, elected officials, good Catholic businessmen, school teachers and students against him — as well as such lack of support from priests.”

Thankfully, these Catholics understand what genuine faith and the Gospel look like concretely. They are advocating for a church that is, in the words of Pope Francis, “home for all.” These Catholics understand that human diversity does not undermine faith, but enriches it and all who partake in the community. They understand that LGBT acceptance and justice are integral to Christ’s call for us, and they are pushing our church towards it. Religious Studies teacher Jim McGarry writes:

“Doctrinal development matters. Discrimination against homosexuals is wrong. Persecution of homosexuals is real…If church teaching is not part of the protection of a vulnerable population, it is part of the persecution. Civil rights for gays must be understood and incorporated into the Catholic tradition — theologically, just as opposition to slavery finally was promulgated. This inclusion of civil rights in moral teaching may or may not imply other developments of doctrine on this issue, but this first, true step must be fully taken — to the point of support for civil marriage as a human right — in a world where violence against gays, lesbians and transgender people is still the norm.”

“Mercy does not mean acquiescence or procrastination. We do not condemn our opponents but we do not wait for them. We pray that they will eventually come along. The long arc of Church history suggests that they will.”

Indeed, Archbishop Cordileone’s ill-spoken gender identity comments reveal the need for LGBT advocates to invite him along on the journey towards greater affirmation and inclusion. I hope to offer one such invite to the archbishop and his peers in a Bondings 2.0 post later this week.

As a starter, I suggest that he reads these powerfully insightful essays from Janet Mock and Laverne Cox regarding Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Influenced by Catholic Upbringing, Artist’s “Queer Icons” Offer Windows to God

May 30, 2015

Bruce & Tenzin. 2012, From the series Queer Icons, Photogravure w/ Chine-Colle, 11×14, image size 8×10. Gabriel Garcia Roman

For many Christians, icons are windows to God. They make the Ultimate accessible through divinely-inspired human artistry. Worldly subjects–almost exclusively holy people and their environments–draw readers outward and upward, beyond what is present, towards what is Holy.

Artist Gabriel Garcia Roman’s icons of queer and trans* people of color achieve similar ends for me, employing real people alive today to draw me into greater worship of God. His “Queer Icons” have another purpose too, which is to raise the profiles of these leaders so that young people can gain a sense of hope and security.

The “Queer Icons” closely mirror traditional iconography in their appearance, mixing a range of artistic influences, such as 15th century Dutch artist Jan Van Eycke and contemporary South African photographer Zanele Muholi. In a news article on The Huffington Post, Garcia Roman explained:

” ‘The subjects in “Queer Icons” are people of color, who maintain separate, individual identities within the queer community…These explorations of the edges of genders take place in the nuances of the contemporary urban world. A simple eye shape, an angle of a mouth, the tilt of the head — indicate a queering of conventional forms and roles … Much like traditional religious paintings conferred a sense of safety, calm and meditation into a home, the works in this series aspire to a similar sense of refuge, drawn from the inner grace of the subjects out onto a world that might not always be safe.’ “

Julissa. 2014, From the series Queer Icons, Photogravure w/ Chine-Colle and silkscreen, 11×14, image size 8×10. Gabriel Garcia Roman

The subjects are Garcia Roman’s friends and acquaintances, all united by a trait found in every icon: a halo. His art is strongly reflective of his Mexican Catholic upbringing. Garcia Roman was inundated with devotional imagery filled with halos, which “combined suffering and strength on the dark walls of his church.” An  NPR story further offered his thoughts on his background:

” ‘Because I grew up Catholic in a Mexican community in Chicago, my first introduction to art was religious art…I’ve always thought of the halo as something very powerful — it’s like a badge of nobility,” he says.

“And because Roman’s subjects are activists and artists who do good for the community, ‘I wanted to represent them as saints,” he says.”

Yet, Garcia Roman’s saints are not passive, as he told a reporter from Mic:

” ‘Saints are usually depicted as martyrs, noble and selfless individuals working for the betterment of the world, but also I wanted to portray them as fearless warriors. They are looking right at you and challenging you.’ “

Mesmerizing is an apt description of the “Queer Icons,” which you can find more of on Garcia Roman’s Tumblr and Instagram (@gbrlgrcrmn) accounts. Photographs, silkscreens, and the handwritten words of spoken word artists and writers combine on his canvases with ample color and intrigue to stir the viewer to contemplate what they are seeing.

You’re invited to spend time prayerfully “reading” the icons below to see what Garcia Roman’s artistry and the lives of those depicted say to you. Perhaps, like me, these icons will be a window for you to worship the God who made all people wonderfully in both the divine image and in a wide diversity we can always learn to respect, cherish, and delight in more and more.

Queer Icons Collage

Bakar. 2015, From the series Queer Icons, Photogravure w/ Chine-Colle and silkscreen, 11×14, image size 8×10. Gabriel Garcia Roman

Zachary. 2012, From the series Queer Icons, Photogravure w/ Chine-Colle, 11×14, image size 8×10. Gabriel Garcia Roman

Queer Icons 2 Collage

Left: Vivian. 2014, From the series Queer Icons, Photogravure w/ Chine-Colle, 11×14, image size 8×10. Gabriel Garcia Roman Center: Emanuel. 2015, From the series Queer Icons, Photogravure w/ Chine-Colle and silkscreen, 11×14, image size 8×10. Gabriel Garcia Roman / Poetry by Queer Icon Emanuel Xavier. Right: Erica. 2014, From the series Queer Icons, Photogravure w/ Chine-Colle, 11×14, image size 8×10. Gabriel Garcia Roman

Jahmal. 2014, From the series Queer Icons, Photogravure w/ Chine-Colle, 11×14, image size 8×10. Gabriel Garcia Roman

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

On Mother’s Day: A Synod of Moms to Advise the Pope

May 10, 2015

I never get tired of telling people that Catholic parents of LGBT people are among the most dedicated and consistently strong advocates for equality in the church.  As people who have strong attachments to both their children and their faith, parents serve as natural “bridges” between the LGBT community and the institutional church, a job that is extremely important in the work of reconciliation between these two groups.

By Mary Cassatt

Today is Mother’s Day, so it is appropriate to reflect on the role that mothers have played in the Catholic LGBT movement.  I was reminded of their influence this week when I read a story about a Canadian mother in Edmonton, Alberta, who has filed a complaint to the local Catholic school board there because her seven-year old transgender daughter was not allowed to use the girls’ restroom. quoted the mom’s concern:

“It’s not just for my daughter. It’s for every transgender child out there. These children have double the stressors in their life that a [cis]gender child would have. I’m trying to eliminate any type of roadblocks for them.” [Editor’s note:  “Cisgender” is the term used to describe people whose internal gender corresponds with their anatomical features.  “Cis-” is a Latin prefix meaning “on the same side as.” It’s another way of saying “non-transgender.”]

The mother’s response reminded me of an attitude that I have seen demonstrated by many mothers, including my own, my peers who are mothers, and the many moms of LGBT people I have met in my ministry.  Moms don’t see themselves as just mothers of their own children, but in some way, of all children they encounter.

How many of you have ever seen mothers in a park or playground supervising other children for the youngsters’ safety, sometimes children they do not even know?  How many times have you seen a mother cry real tears when they see news on television of a child who has been hurt or harmed in some way?  Mothers all seem to have an innate sense of responsibility and love for all children, not just those who are in their family.

And the same is true of mothers of Catholic LGBT people.  Long after these moms have raised their children into independent adults, they still take on the responsibility, exercised with love, for making the path easier for other LGBT people.  It’s not uncommon for such mothers to work to make their parishes and schools LGBT-friendly even when their own offspring have moved out of the neighborhood and perhaps belong to other parishes or attend other schools.

I have met hundreds of mothers of LGBT people in my 21 years with New Ways Ministry.  I cannot think of a single case where a mother did not tell me that when she first learned of her child’s identity, her first reaction was fear–fear that her child may be harmed physically, emotionally, spiritually by narrow-minded and prejudiced people. A mom’s natural instinct is to protect.

A traditional medieval theological axiom says that “Grace builds upon nature.”  I’ve seen that proven real time and again when I see a mother’s natural love for her LGBT child be extended to all LGBT children and other oppressed groups.

It is often said that God did not make a mistake in creating LGBT people.  Their natural attractions and senses of identity are, in fact, just that:  natural.  But for me, that naturalness is not the only sure sign of God’s love and positive intentions for LGBT people.

An equally important sign of God’s love is the natural love that mothers show for their LGBT children.  That’s the best sign of divine love for sexual and gender minorities which should be emulated by all members of our church, especially our leaders.  We would have a very, very different church if Pope Francis would call a synod of mothers to advise him on marriage and family life than by having a synod of bishops do so.

On this Mother’s Day, I pray that mothers will lead our Church on the issue of LGBT equality and inclusion.  I pray in particular to Mary, the mother whose natural love for her Child Jesus, surely taught him many of the practical and human realities that inspired His preaching.  And I pray in gratitude for all mothers–lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, transgender–whose love educates and forms their children to work for a better world for all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Rick Santorum Affirms Bruce Jenner’s Coming Out, Revealing the Value of Sharing Stories

May 3, 2015

Rick Santorum, left, and Bruce Jenner

In an atypical remark, Catholic politician Rick Santorum spoke positively about Bruce Jenner’s coming out as trans* last weekend though the former U.S. senator has not shifted in his notoriously strong anti-gay  attitudes. Is this a sign that conservative Catholics might welcome trans* people more readily than gay, lesbian, and bisexual people?

Santorum was speaking to reporters in South Carolina last weekend when Buzzfeed asked him about Jenner’s high-profile interview with Diane Sawyer which aired last weekend to generally positive reviews from transgender advocates. In response, the former Senator said:

” ‘If [Bruce] says he’s a woman, then he’s a woman…My responsibility as a human being is to love and accept everybody. Not to criticize people for who they are. I can criticize, and I do, for what people do, for their behavior. But as far as for who they are, you have to respect everybody, and these are obviously complex issues for businesses, for society, and I think we have to look at it in a way that is compassionate and respectful of everybody.”

Santorum added, problematically, that regarding restroom usage, it was an issue to be left to businesses and private groups without the need for government interference. Still, for a former presidential candidate who famously compared homosexuality to incest and bestiality, this is an unexpected and relatively positive response.

The question now is why Santorum’s compassion and respect is not transferable to gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. I suggest it is because Santorum, and those who think similarly, improperly understand sexuality as a non-constitutive part of one’s identity, while gender identity is more readily accessible for them. Santorum’s differentiation between who people are and how they act is false when it comes to sexuality, perpetually reducing gay people to any possible genital expressions of this sexuality. He should admit that, just as questions of gender are complex and people’s self-identification should be respected, so too are matters of sexuality. All people must be respected for who they are.

Can trans* people’s witness to authenticity be a conduit for conservative Catholics to come around more broadly on matters of gender and sexuality?

Santorum’s comments are an invitation to LGBT Catholics and allies to reinvest ourselves in educating others, as Bruce Jenner’s interview did before the American public. Ignorance and miseducation are often at the core of LGBT opposition, rather than any particular animus. Though we may not all be interviewed by Diane Sawyer, we can share our stories and share our present lives with those in our families, our parishes, and our communities.

Editor’s Note: Though Jenner publicly identifies as a woman, he has not asked to be referred to by another name or female/alternative pronouns. News articles on the interview have widely kept referring to him as Bruce with male pronouns and so Bondings 2.0 follows suit.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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