As LGBT Protections Overturned, Transgender Patient Claims Discrimination by Catholic Hospital

A transgender man has filed a discrimination lawsuit against a Catholic hospital just at the same time that a federal judge blocked new healthcare policies implemented by President Barack Obama to protect LGBT people.

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Jionni Conforti

In a lawsuit, Jionni Conforti claimed that St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey denied him a surgery which was “medically necessary as part of his gender transition,” reported ABC News.

A nurse initially told Conforti the surgery would be scheduled. Then Fr. Martin Rooney, the director of mission services at St. Joseph’s, intervened against it. He said in an email to Conforti’s doctor that a hysterectomy was not possible due to the institution’s religious identity. ABC News reported the especially troubling fact that the surgery had been denied “despite the fact that the hospital’s ‘patient bill of rights’ guarantees medical services without discrimination based on ‘gender identity or expression.'” Neither the hospital nor Fr. Rooney will comment on the incident and subsequent lawsuit.

Conforti, however, is clear about both the damage this alleged discrimination has caused and his reasons for suing, saying:

“‘I felt completely disrespected as a person. . .That’s not how any hospital should treat any person regardless of who they are. A hospital is a place where you should feel safe and taken care of. Instead I felt like I was rejected and humiliated.'”

The lawsuit, which beyond financial compensation hopes “to require the hospital perform any needed medical care for transgender patients,” helps to contribute to the important work of combating endemic problems related to trans people accessing healthcare. ABC News explained:

“While he had the procedure performed three months later at a different hospital, Conforti said he’s pursuing the lawsuit so that no one else has to go through what he did. . .[he] cites the problem of suicide in the transgender community.

” ‘Anything can trigger that. Something may seem small, but to a trans person, it’s not. . .This is a big thing that happened. I want it to change. I don’t want other trans people to have to go through and feel what I felt.'”

Conforti’s story has come to light just as policies initiated by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to protect LGBT patients have been blocked by a federal judge. This ruling by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor may mean more trans patients face discrimination by religiously-affiliated hospitals.

Religious groups had filed lawsuits against the federal government over the HHS regulations which, congruent with the Affordable Care Act, prohibit discrimination based on a number of protected classes, including gender identity. Buzzfeed News reported:

“O’Connor, the same judge who blocked federal government protections allowing students in public schools to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity last year, halted enforcement of the rule one day before it was supposed to go into effect, on January 1, 2017. . .

“One plaintiff in the lawsuit, a private hospital system called the Franciscan Alliance, said that, consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, ‘a person’s sex is ascertained biologically, and not by one’s beliefs, desires, or feelings.’

“The hospital group argued that treating or referring patients for transition-related care would constitute ‘impermissible material cooperation with evil.'”

The plaintiffs, which include Christian organizations and several states, claimed the regulation infringes upon their religious liberty as it does not include a religious exemption from providing healthcare required by transgender people, which the plaintiffs claimed violate their religious beliefs. Yet, according to new standards of care and the American Psychiatric Association’s new 2012 diagnosis of gender dysphoria, providing gender-affirming surgeries, hormone treatments, and counseling is increasingly understood to be valid and necessary medical care.

Catholic plaintiffs who are part of the several lawsuits against the HHS regulation have included the Catholic Benefits Association (CBA), the Diocese of Fargo, Catholic Charities North Dakota, the University of St. Mary, the Sisters of Mercy in North Dakota, and SMP Healthcare.

As I noted earlier this week, Catholic healthcare leaders’ opposition to non-discrimination protections are entirely out of step with Catholic teaching. Healthcare in church teaching is not only a good, it is a human right. Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris was groundbreaking in human rights advocacy for his affirmation of this truth.

St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City strongly affirmed this truth when it implemented a non-discrimination policy to protect lesbian and gay people  in 1973, becoming the first Catholic institution to do so. Such protections are good, but they are meaningless if, as with St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, they are merely words. Catholic healthcare systems should stop fighting legal protections and instead proactively implement policies by which they will abide that live out the first rule of medicine: do no harm.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 6, 2017

 

 

Catholics in India Help Found New School for Transgender Students

Catholic ministers in India recently formed a group to offer pastoral care for transgender people, reported ucanews.com, and they are already making an impact by helping to found a new school for trans students.

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Attendees, including Catholic religious, at the opening ceremony for Sahaj International School

Clergy, religious, and lay people in the Indian state of Kerala have joined together to establish “one of the few outreach programs for the transgender community by the institutional church in India.”

According to Fr. Paul Madassey, head of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council’s Pro-Life Support ministry, under which the transgender initiative is carried out, transgender people in the state are particularly vulnerable. Sex traffickers in northern India prey on trans people who are discriminated against and economically disadvantaged.

Fr. Madassey explained that the transgender initiative had been inspired by Pope Francis’ call to accompany the LGBT community and that “the whole church has a big role to play” in providing such pastoral support.

One project by the group has been helping found a new school inclusive of trans people called Sahaj International School. It opened last week with ten students seeking their high school certificate. Catch News explained further:

“Led by six [transgender people] from TransIndia Foundation with activist Vijayaraja Mallika at the helm, the school promises to provide residential facilities for a short period, free textbooks, gender neutral toilets, a meal for those in need, and tuition to pass Class X and XII. . .

“Mallika says that zir [a gender-neutral possessive pronoun] efforts are focused on introducing inclusive education. . .[Mallika said] ‘We are providing them a safe space for security and sustainable education.'”

The need for such a school is immense. Of the estimated 25,000 trans people in the state of Kerala, 57% did not complete a high school education, according to Mallika. There are also issues of social discrimination, family rejection, and derogatory language.

Mallika, who previously worked on transgender pastoral care with the Archdiocese of Bombay, said the church has been “very supportive” and that “[r]eligion plays an important role in social and behavioral change at the grass-roots level.” The church’s role in the school was instrumental, according to ucanews.com:

“In mid-December, Sisters of the Congregation of Mother Carmel offered their buildings to form an exclusive school for dropouts among transgender people, considered the first of its kind in the country.

“The nuns offered their venue after at least 50 building owners declined to let out their buildings, indicating the discrimination prevalent in the society, says Father Madassey.”

This work in Kerala comes quickly after Caritas India, the official development agency of the nation’s bishops, announced it would be initiating more transgender-inclusive policies and outreach programs. Though Caritas India’s approach is not perfect, the announcement of the program is a key moment for the global church.

The Catholic Church in India is widely respected for charitable efforts, despite Catholics being less than two percent of the nation’s population. The church has been a positive voice for LGBT communities, too, as when Bombay’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias twice spoke against the criminalization of gay people. In an exclusive interview with Bondings 2.0, Gracias said that the church embraces, wants, and needs LGBT people. Virginia Saldanha, an Indian lay woman who formerly led the Office of Laity for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, said the 2015 Synod on the Family needed to bring LGBT “in from the cold.

Earlier this week, I suggested that findings from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey were a helpful pastoral examination for all Catholics about our awareness of and advocacy for trans equality in the church. These efforts in India are helpful models, too, for how the church can and should be responding to the urgent pastoral needs of trans communities — and how we can become more receptive of the gifts and contributions which trans Catholics are making to our church’s mission.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 5, 2017

 

Transgender Survey Can Be a Pastoral Examination for Catholics

New findings from the U.S. Transgender Survey offer key insights which can help religious communities’ respond to trans people. In an essay for Sojourners magazine, Austen Hartke, who is a writer, speaker, and creator of the YouTube series “Transgender and Christian,” highlights seven such insights, and many of them are applicable to the Catholic Church.

Austen Hartke

The Survey, conducted in 2015 by the National Center for Transgender Equality, includes input from almost 28,000 people. While the survey covered topics other than religion, Hartke noted there were seven religion questions, and they all deserve some reflection by churches.  I hope to show how the issues raised can be applied to specifically Catholic settings.

First, 66 percent of those surveyed “said that they had been part of a faith community at some point in their life,” wrote Hartke. Yet just 19 percent had been part of a faith community in the last year. In Catholic circles, trans issues are often dealt with as an external matter such as legal and political questions. These Survey numbers should be a wake-up call for Catholics to recognize the existing presence and contributions of faithful trans Catholics in church communities.

Second, nearly 20 percent of those surveyed in a religious community “have left because they were actively rejected.”   Hartke commented:

“Many trans folks stay, despite poor treatment and even spiritual abuse, because, as for many of us, the church is their family. Still, it’s difficult to stay where you’re not wanted. Nearly one in five trans people decides it’s better to leave, and we lose their presence, their spiritual gifts, and their unique perspectives and experiences. Once again, people of color experience this rejection more frequently, and larger numbers of Native and black trans people report leaving their faith communities.”

Some church institutions and officials, sadly, have adopted a very hostile and exclusionary posture towards trans people and their civil rights. Catholic dioceses and insurance plans have opposed transgender rights. The recent lawsuit against healthcare non-discrimination protections or the resistance to President Barack Obama’s education policies to protect trans students are examples. A Catholic school in New Jersey rejected a trans student, and it is reported that the University of Notre Dame denied housing to a trans student. These troubling incidents are coupled with less public incidents in which church ministers fail, due to ignorance and/or ideology, to provide adequate and healthy pastoral care for transgender persons and their families.

Third, given the reality of rejection in faith communities, trans people’s intense fears about such rejection are easily understandable. 39 percent have left a religious community because of fear of rejection. Taken together with those who have been directly rejected, nearly 60 percent of those surveyed who have religious beliefs have subsequently severed ties to a faith community over the issue of being rejected. Hartke wrote:

“It’s hard to worship when you’re constantly watching your back. Trans people in churches that are non-affirming or that haven’t taken a stand on LGBTQ+ inclusion often have to pray with one eye open, wondering if and when they’ll be outed, and what consequences they’ll have to face for trying to understand the identity God gave them.”

In the Catholic Church, this rejection is reinforced by an ill-informed yet quite outspoken hierarchy. A leading Vatican official has said transgender rights are “demonic,” and bishops worldwide have echoed these sentiments in less abrasive terms. Pope Francis’ record on gender identity is mixed: he met with and spoke approvingly of a transgender man from Spain while at the same time repeatedly condemning “gender ideology” and “ideological colonization.”

But the Survey findings also provide sources of hope where religious communities have been more faithful to Jesus’ inclusive model by welcoming and affirming trans people. Of the 60 percent who have left a religious community because of rejection, Hartke wrote, “42 percent of the transgender folks who have been rejected by a faith community have found a new one that welcomes them as they are.”

In addition, churches which offer a vocal welcome to trans people are living up to their public commitment. 96 percent of trans people in faith communities “said that they had experienced some form of affirmation,” and Hartke continued, “this statistic shows us that Christians are more than capable of bringing the Good News to people in ways that they can actually experience as good news.”

Some Catholics are already working hard to foster greater inclusion for and affirmation of trans people. Fr. Bryan Massingale has written movingly about why the church cannot abandon transgender people. A Catholic high school in San Francisco said a teacher who transitioned would remain employed. Theologians have exhorted the church to provide pastoral care and support promoting the wholeness of trans people, while not treating them with pity. Caritas India, the official development agency of that nation’s bishops launched an outreach program to trans people. More and more resources for Catholic affirmation of trans people are being developed. And there are many more positive examples, which you can find in our “Transgender” category by clicking here.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey offers unprecedented information about trans experiences. It reveals, to quote Vatican II, the “joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties” of trans people.  Vatican II also advised that such human feelings are therefore the joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties of the People of God. Catholics can consider the Survey’s findings and what they reveal about religious communities as a kind of pastoral examination to begin the new year.

Where are you personally when it comes to knowledge about and acceptance of trans people? What has your parish or school done, or not done, to further inclusion? How can you make the coming year a time of growth around gender identity issues in your life and the life of the church?

To start, you can check out this resource page compiled by New Ways Ministry. We also welcome your thoughts and ideas in the “Comments” section below.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 3, 2016

Lawsuit Filed by Catholic Groups Against Federal Transgender Protections

Three Catholic organizations are suing the U.S. federal government over a regulation that went into effect yesterday which expands anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people further.

Headquarters of US Department of Health and Human ServicesA new Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) regulation interprets existing regulations banning discrimination based on sex as including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. The regulation stems from the Affordable Care Act, and is rooted in the non-discrimination protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, the HHS regulation “requires group health plans to cover these procedures and services” related to gender transitions and counseling for gender identity questions. The regulation applies to any group health plans, insurers, and hospitals who receive federal funding and does not include a religious exemption.

Three Catholic groups — the Catholic Benefits Association (CBA), the Diocese of Fargo, and Catholic Charities North Dakota — are now claiming the regulation violates religious liberty protections found elsewhere in federal law. The CBA offers insurance and employment benefits to church workers in Catholic dioceses, education, healthcare, and religious life.

Bishop John T. Folda of Fargo said that while the church does not discriminate based on a person’s “orientation,” Catholic values “will not permit us to pay for or facilitate actions that are contrary to our faith.” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who is not only the head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on religious liberty but is also chairperson of the CBA, said President Barack Obama’s administration sought to “impose radical new health care mandates . . .creating a moral problem for Catholic employers.”

Two other lawsuits in federal court are challenging the HHS regulation.  They were filed by the Becket Fund, a conservative Catholic legal/political organization. The suits include  Catholic plaintiffs such as the Franciscan Alliance, the Sisters of Mercy in North Dakota, the University of Mary, and SMP Health System. A half dozen states have joined the suits as well.

In a related case, the HHS regulation was invoked in a discrimination lawsuit by a transgender man against the Dignity Health system, which the man alleges denied him gender-confirming surgeries. That lawsuit is ongoing, reported Crux.

But transgender advocates have challenged these claims of religious liberty violations as misguided. Jillian Weiss, director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), said the regulation establishes parity in healthcare for trans people. Gay Star News reported:

“‘The only thing a doctor is obliged to do is treat all patients, including trans patients, with dignity and respect and to make treatment decisions free from bias,’ said Ezra Young, staff attorney for the TLDEF, in a statement.

“‘If a doctor has a sound, evidence-based, medical reason to delay transition care for a specific patient, that would be respected under the regulations.'”

Despite contrary claims, the regulation does not force health care providers to deliver services they do not deem medically necessary. It only ensures trans people have equal rights and equal treatment. Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, explained to PinkNews, “‘What the rule says is if you provide a particular service to anybody, you can’t refuse to provide it to anyone.'”

As with many discussions of LGBT legal rights in the United States, religious opponents of equality have set up a false contrast between LGBT communities and religious institutions. These matters are really about balancing the goods of human dignity, conscience, equal rights, and religious liberty, all of which are affirmed in Catholic teaching. At times, legal action is needed to uphold rights; more often, a collaborative approach could advance the common good by bringing together different interest groups and finding a beneficial solution for all involved.

The sadder reality about these present lawsuits is that church officials have buttressed their claims with ideas that do not exist in church teaching. There is no prohibition on gender transitions or mental health counseling for LGBT people, whereas non-discrimination protections and equality of persons are well-established doctrine. Despite the claims of some church leaders and right-wing organizations, Catholics in the United States are overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT rights.

It is worth noting, too, that Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris was among the first instances where healthcare was named as a human right. Outside the United States, where the nation’s bishops have in recent years waged an ideologically driven attack on the Affordable Care Act, the church has championed expanded access to healthcare. Malta, a very Catholic island nation, passed a transgender rights law which is considered the gold standard in Europe. Historically Catholic nations elsewhere have led the way on transgender and intersex legal rights.

Most tragic is that while U.S. church officials expend their time and resources fighting LGBT rights and claiming that religious liberty is under attack, they neglect almost wholesale the discrimination and violence LGBT people face and the very real threats to religious liberty present in our world today.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 2, 2016

 

Transgender Day of Remembrance: Beyond One Day

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Around the world, participants in the Transgender Day of Remembrance are attending vigils to commemorate all the transgender and gender-nonconforming people lost to anti-transgender violence in the past year. These vigils will include reading the 87 names of those know to have died this past year, along with the where, when and how they were killed. To find a vigil near you, click here.

As described in a previous Bondings 2.0 post, the Transgender Awareness Week (November 14th-20th) began with a National Catholic Reporter article by Catholic theologians who described our church’s moral imperative to, “promote wholeness for transgender people.” While today’s vigils bring the Transgender Awareness Week to an end, our work to end anti-transgender violence cannot end. These vigils serve to remind us of that moral imperative.

We can all take small incremental steps throughout the year to educate ourselves on the realities of transgender people. Below is a list of actions that New Ways Ministry suggests parishes, schools, and other Catholic communities take to raise awareness of and to support transgender people.  

Following this list is a list of  links to help you continue learning about transgender issues. Click the link to read the material or view the video.

New Ways Ministry’s Suggestions for Including Transgender People and Families in Your Catholic Parish, School, or Community

  1. Have a specific meeting to watch videos and read some of the resources listed below.
  2. If you have a book club, include some of the books on transgender experiences.
  3. Speak about needs, concerns, joys of transgender people in homilies, prayers, group sharing, talks, bulletins.
  4. Be visibly supportive of transgender people in work, prayer, and social environments.
  5. Develop a transgender-friendly resource library; subscribe to transgender-friendly periodicals.
  6. Recognize and/or participate in public transgender events.
  7. Invite support groups for transgender people to use church/community space.
  8. Hold an inclusive Mass celebrating all forms of diversity.
  9. Sponsor a retreat or day of recollection for transgender people and their families.
  10. Include transgender topics in adult religious education and youth ministry programs.
  11. Put an ad in the local LGBTQ paper inviting transgender people to your parish events and liturgies.
  12. Sponsor a panel inviting transgender people to speak about their faith.
  13. Form support groups for transgender people and for their parents, families, and friends
  14. Become involved and/or educate parish around pro/anti-transgender initiatives in legislation.
  15. Work with neighboring parishes to sponsor education days on transgender topics.
  16. Include transgender organizations in potential parish stewardship opportunities as both donors and recipients.
  17. Have your faith community host New Ways Ministry’s “TransForming Love” workshop, which introduces transgender issues from scientific, social, and religious perspectives. Email info@newwaysministry.org for more information.
  18. Provide an all-gender restroom.
  19. Respect a person’s pronoun preference.
  20. Email info@newwaysministry.org for more information on transgender issues.

Online Resources 

What Does the T in LGBT Really Mean?

The Genderbread Person

Trans Teens Tell Their Stories

Trans Identity and Mental Illness

Challenges and Prejudices Faced by the Trans Community

The Human Rights Campaign’s post on Addressing Anti-transgender Violence: Exploring Realities, Challenges, and Solutions For Policymakers and Community Advocates

Learn about six notable “Transgender Heroes.”

Becoming Who God Created Me To Be, by Jes Stevens—Queer Catholic (from Believe Out Loud’s 10 Transgender Christians Share Their Journey Stories)

How To Be A Trans* Ally

CatholicTrans blog

What Does the Bible Say About Gender Identity?

Videos

Transgender & Catholic

DignityUSA’s A message for Roman Catholic bishops from a Transgender Catholic

Is Your Youth Group Trans Friendly?

What Are God’s Pronouns?

How You Can Be an Ally to Trans People and Others

What Is the Gender Binary?

Gender is Complicated: Growing Up Intersex

Laverne Cox on Issues facing the Transgender Community

Jazz Jennings’ 10 Things You Need To Know About Transgender People

A few TED talks on Transgender stories

Beyond the Gender Binary | Dr. Margaret Nichols | TEDxJerseyCity

Books

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves

The Gender Book

 

For Students, Parents, and Schools:

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS A Guide for Trans and Gender Nonconforming Students

How to Be An Ally To Trans and Gender-Nonconforming Students

Connect with Transgender Student Rights (TSR), a community of youth dedicated to creating safe spaces for transgender and gender nonconforming students

Watch the Educators! Support Trans and GNC Students! webinar.

Watch the Gender Identity and Expression in the Classroom: The Experiences of Gender Nonconforming and Transgender Students in School webinar.

Bondings 2.0 Posts on Catholic Transgender Resources

A Catholic Introduction to Transgender Issues

How the Gender Binary Affects So Much of Catholic Thinking

DignityUSA Highlights Transgender Spirituality in Essay Series

Transgender Awareness Week: Promote Wholeness for All in Our Church

(For all previous Bondings 2.0 posts on transgender issues, go to “Transgender” in the “Categories” section of the right-hand column of this blog or click here.)

–Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, November 20, 2016

Transgender Awareness Week: Promote Wholeness for All in Our Church

This week, November 14th-20th is Transgender Awareness Week in the United States–a time to educate and raise consciousness of transgender issues in society.  Of course, we in the Catholic Church need similar education and consciousness-raising.

A new article in The National Catholic Reporter gives readers a new awareness of why, as the headline reads, “The church must promote wholeness for transgender people.” Three theologians, , set the context for their examination of the topic:

“A significant number of people who are part of the church or engage its ministries are struggling with their gender identity, striving to live authentically and find a place in their churches and communities. In local parishes, transgender individuals attend weekly services. They seek to have roles in the ministry of Word or Eucharist. Some work or volunteer in the social ministries of the church, while others receive aid from these services.

“The presence of transgender people within the church and its ministries raises important questions. As a church that seeks to respond to the signs of the times and reach out with openness to vulnerable and marginalized people, we need to think about how we are engaging transgender people and what kind of environment we want to create for those struggling with gender identity.”

They note that in the Gospels, Jesus is always reaching out to the marginalized and stigmatized, “restoring them to wholeness and bringing them back into the fullness of community life.”  The choose the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-42) as an example of Jesus’ inclusive ministry:

“Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman offers two important insights for the church. First, Jesus reaches out with openness to people on the fringes. Second, Jesus is not fixated on what separates one from community; rather, his focus is on the Samaritan woman’s overall good or well-being and his actions are directed toward helping her grow in faith, restore broken relationships, and participate more fully in community. . . .

“This story is but one example from the Gospels that suggests a church seeking to be Christ-like and to mediate God’s love of humanity must reach out first with openness and compassion, not judgment, to transgender people, who are trying to live authentically. Transgender people . . . make a courageous and difficult decision to transition, often knowing that it may lead to rejection, exclusion and hurt.”

They offer an example of what even the smallest of welcomes would look like on a parish level:

“In imitation of Jesus, the first impulse of the church must be to promote greater wholeness for transgender individuals by listening, caring, supporting and offering community. This means, at a minimum, offering very basic gestures of welcoming respect, such as using a person’s preferred pronoun and addressing a person with their preferred name, recognizing their intent to live as the person they believe God created them to be, and refraining from judgments that might exacerbate struggles with gender identity.”

And for those concerned with magisterial teaching, they offer this information:

“There is no definitive teaching on transgender issues. Even if there were, it could not support treating such individuals in ways that make them feel like outcasts who are beyond the purview of God’s love and the church’s welcome embrace.”

But the theologians, who all have backgrounds in bioethics, also go into the more serious and profound medical questions regarding transgender health and transition surgery.  They acknowledge the complexity of the issue, especially when it is examined in the light of natural law theory, the Church’s traditional basis for such moral questions.  But, they also offer a challenge to this way of thinking:

“If we evaluate transition-related therapies with the natural law approach employed in prominent matters of sexuality and bodily integrity, we run the risk of focusing excessively on the physical and, especially, functional dimensions of transgender persons and could neglect their overall good and need for wholeness and belonging. Additionally, these principles are most easily applied to surgeries, especially sex reassignment surgery, which only a minority of transgender people undertake. These principles are not readily applicable to less invasive forms of treatment, such as hormone therapy, which has proven to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of gender dysphoria.”

In place of natural law theory to settle the question of the question of the morality of transition therapies, they offer a Gospel-centered perspective, which looks at the whole person, not just the physical level:

“People who transition are seeking to overcome what they experience as an impediment to living, loving and interacting from an authentic place. They are aiming toward the kind of wholeness and integration in body, mind and spirit that Jesus also affirmed in his teaching and healing ministry.

“If we think about the human person holistically and if we strive in imitation of Christ to help people flourish as whole, embodied persons, we might feel compelled to think differently about transition-related therapies. Rather than fundamentally altering a transgender person’s God-given nature or destroying reproductive function, we might see such therapies as fundamentally aligning the person’s body with their sense of self and restoring the person to greater wholeness.”

In their conclusion, they bring out both the similarities that transgender and cisgender people share with one another, as well as the gifted challenge that transgender people offer the larger community:

“Like all people, transgender individuals come to the church and its ministries in need of acceptance, compassion, love and care. They are often seeking shelter and support on the all-too-often lonely and confusing journey on which they find themselves.

“Because the causes of gender dysphoria are not well understood and transgender persons may challenge our conception of sex and gender, our first inclination might be to judge, even condemn. However, the Gospel calls us to love and be of service to these vulnerable and often marginalized individuals who are striving to be true to who they believe they are and are called to be.”

How we treat those who are marginalized is often an important test of how we are living the Gospel. The theologians conclude:

“As a church and through its ministries, we are called to reach out to transgender persons with a love through which God’s healing and reconciling presence may be revealed. If we fail in this task, we fail the test of the Gospel.”

I’ve only excerpted the bare-bones highlights of this informative and enlightening article.  I strongly encourage Bondings 2.0 readers to spend some time to read the whole thing.  You can access it by clicking here.   It would be a good way to celebrate Transgender Awareness Week.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 16, 2016

How the Gender Binary Affects So Much of Catholic Thinking

So much of the discussion surrounding LGBT issues is in some ways part of a larger discussion in the Church about gender in general.  So it is instructive sometimes to take a step back and look at the larger questions about gender.

Natalie Imperatori-Lee

The topic of gender in the church was put into the spotlight earlier this week when Pope Francis stated that he understood that Pope John Paul II’s ban on women’s ordination was a final statement on the matter.  In response to that declaration, Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, New York, penned a blog post on America magazine’s website entitled “It’s Not a Complement: The Pitfalls of a Gendered Theology of the Church.”

Imperatori-Lee uses as her starting point the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, who heavily influenced Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Her aim is to look not just at gender roles for individual persons, but at how the concept of gender influences the structure of the Church as a whole. Key to this idea is Balthasar’s distinction between what he calls the “Petrine” and the “Marian” dimensions of the Church  (relating, respectively to St. Peter and Mary, the Blessed Mother):

“For Balthasar, the Petrine dimension centers on leadership and initiative, while the Marian dimension has more to do with receptivity and fruitfulness—and these distinctions are rooted in the biological distinctions of men and women. In fact, he takes the difference in sexual organs between men and women as the basis for many of the characteristics of his complementarian view of humanity, and by extension, of the church. Coupled with the spousal metaphor (the church as the ‘bride’ to Christ), this complementarity also casts the laity in the Marian role and the clergy and hierarchy in the Petrine office. This is potentially problematic, as it rests on the passivity and submission of the ‘Marian’ principle (the laity) to the Petrine (the clergy).”

One problem with this kind of thinking is that it puts the gender metaphor at the center of how the Church is imagined.  Imperatori-Lee states:

“Of course, our tradition is replete with gendered language for God, and with complementarian understandings of God and humanity. But this is not the only way in which the church has been imagined. Theologians, citing Scripture, have called the church a ‘Mystical Body,’ ‘the People of God’ and ‘the Sacrament of Salvation.’ “

A main reason that this kind of thinking is damaging, she points out, is that it is not based on good science.  Here is one area where Imperatori-Lee’s argument is especially helpful to LGBT concerns. She states:

“Science has revealed that a person’s sexual biology is far more intricate than the sex organs that are visible on a person’s body. Genes and hormones coursing through the bloodstream affect the development and expression of a person’s ‘biological’ sex. Some women and men have three chromosomes (XXY); others have female sex organs but, on balance, more male sex hormone than female sex hormone. All of this is to say that human biology is infinitely more complex than the ‘It’s a boy!’ or ‘It’s a girl!’ statements from new parents (or their doctors or midwives) might lead us to believe. Scientifically, even biologically, there are many factors that contribute to ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness.’ Any claim that there are only two kinds of humans, male and female, is simplistic. Similarly, even if ‘femaleness’ is biologically anchored, what counts as ‘feminine’ is culturally constructed and varies through time and place. For one community, femininity might mean being shy and retiring; for another, a person who is proudly beautiful and wears makeup and attention-getting clothing might be viewed as very feminine.”

Science is not the only area that contradicts Balthasar’s kind of thinking.  The writer also points out that sociological knowledge shows this type of thinking to be deficient:

Sociopolitically, rigid complementarity cheats both men and women of their full humanity. To assume that women make up for what men lack, or vice versa, reifies stereotypes of masculinity and femininity by dictating the relative strengths and weaknesses that people are to have if they are true to their genders. This ideology proceeds as if all men and all women were alike, instead of the variety of persons we meet daily. Our human experience contradicts the assertion that all men are aggressive or that all women are overly emotional. As the mother of two sons, I can attest that each human is different from the other in interests, abilities and talents and that my boys are more different than alike—and they came from the same gene pool and have the same upbringing! We can also affirm, from our experience with others, that not all men and women fit into this complementary mold, and that human relationships are infinitely more complex than ‘she makes up for what I lack.’ At the very least, human relationships are based in reciprocities that change over time.”

The issues that Imperatori-Lee raises about using the male-female binary metaphor to describe church structure and governance are also clearly at the heart of the way Catholicism looks at LGBT issues.  Instead of looking at individuals, who have unique gifts, identities, attractions, the Church tries to mold all individuals to fit into this male/female category, and then base a whole lot of ethical considerations based on that artificial construct.  It makes one wonder why that male/female category holds such importance?  Of course, one answer is that by maintaining it, the Church also maintains a system of male power.  But, I wonder if there are other reasons, too.

The reason I’m interested in finding answers to this dilemma is because, as Imperatori-Lee points out, the male/female image rules so much in our Church.  She concludes hear essay:

“Pope Francis may or may not have ruled out the possibility of seeing women priests in the Catholic Church on the plane from Sweden this week. But in reaffirming the Marian and Petrine construct of the church, he (intentionally or not) sent a message about the people of God that truncates our imaginations and limits our possibilities for full human flourishing. And that’s a bigger issue than who stands at the foot of the altar.”

If you have any ideas on this matter, please share them in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 11, 2016