Play Starring Transgender Jesus Draws Catholic Protests

November 24, 2015

Jo Clifford as Jesus in the play

Catholics in Northern Ireland protested a play performed this month which portrays Jesus as a transgender woman, but the playwright defended it as an attempt to make audiences “think again” about faith and gender.

The play, titled “The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven,” was most recently performed at Outburst Queer Arts Festival in Belfast just weeks after the nation’s legislature failed to advance marriage equality legislation.

Writer and actor Jo Clifford described it as a “very important, very intimate show,” explaining to BBC:

” ‘Obviously being a transgender woman myself it concerns me very greatly that religious people so often use Christianity as a weapon to attack us and justify the prejudices against us. . .

” ‘I wanted to see if we could move away from that and make people think again.’ “

Audience members are quite moved, said Clifford, including Christians. The writer has repeatedly reinterpreted biblical stories to generate new ideas, suggesting the overall message of this play is clear:

” ‘I think it’s very important to get across the message that Jesus of the gospels would not condone or want to promote prejudice and discrimination against anybody and to try to convey a message of compassion and love and understanding of everybody. . .No matter what their belief, no matter what their gender, orientation or sexuality.’

Not all welcome that message as a small Catholic group protested in Belfast, as has at previous performances. Former Glasglow Archbishop Mario Conti once said that it is hard to imagine “a more provocative and offensive abuse of Christian beliefs” than this play.

Clifford, however, said protesters have generally not seen the play and that it seeks neither to offend nor blaspheme because she is a Christian herself. Her point is rather to reflect on Jesus’ ministry through this “work of devotion”:

” ‘I simply want to assert very strongly, as strongly as I can that Jesus of the gospels would not in anyway wish to attack or denigrate people like myself.’ “

Clifford made a similar point in another interview, available on YouTube:

“He was talking to the victims of persecution, to the victims of prejudice and he would speak to them in a very accepting way, as one human being to another.”

In this, Clifford is correct. The Gospels reveal a Jesus who elevated people’s dignity and specifically sought out those who had been marginalized.

Catholic tradition has long embraced the arts as a means for spiritual nourishment and divine revelation, opening up the human person to themselves, to others, and to God. While I have not viewed Clifford’s play, her interviews suggest she is someone committed to creating art with devotional ends. The protesters would have benefited more by attending a show and seeing what came up in their inner life, instead of casting stones from afar.

For more information on The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, visit the play’s website here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Cloistered Argentine Carmelite Nun Reaches Out to Trans Women

November 21, 2015

Regular long-time readers of Bondings 2.0  may remember our posts about Sister “Monica,” a U.S. nun who pioneered ministry to transgender people.  We’ve covered her involvement in this groundbreaking work a few times (here and here, for example), and you can read about her ministry and why she chooses to remain anonymous, using only the pseudonym Sister “Monica” when she appears in the media.

Sister Monica, third from right, with her group of trans women in Argentina.

In another part of the world, another Sister Mónica has emerged who is doing similar outreach work with the transgender community.  This Sister Mónica (which is her real name) lives in the Neuquén province of Argentina and is a member of the Discaled Carmelite Order, a contemplative community.  Her ministry has even attracted the attention and support of Pope Francis.

Her story first appeared in OhLaLá, an Argentinian web magazine for women.  Thanks to “Rebel Girl,” the blogging name of a contributor to Iglesia Descalza, a site for progressive Catholic reflection, we have an English translation of the article featuring Sister Mónica Astorga Cremona.

The story recounts how Sister Mónica’s pastoral life has always been with those on the margins of society, and that an encounter with a young transgender woman focused her attention on the needs of this community.  The nun described the story:

” ‘I feel that God wants me to accompany the wounded and that’s why I take responsibility. They often tell me I stand with them; it’s that I feel that from that place I can understand them. Because when we look at them from the other side, it’s impossible. I get in deep,’ the sister adds.

“And because of this kind of attitude, it’s not surprising that in December 2005, when Romina, a trans woman, approached Lourdes parish, the bishop decided this was a job for her.

“Romina went at that time to the church because she wanted to donate a tenth of her wages. ‘When the priest asked her where it came from, she told him from prostitution, and she explained that that was the only work she could get. At that point, the priest called me and told me about the case.’ “

Sister Monica Astorga Cremona

Sister Monica describes the poignancy of many of the simple hopes that some transgender women face, as well as the crushing obstacles to living with dignity:

” ‘The first time I came to see the group of trans women, I asked them to tell me their dreams. One of them, Kathy, told me that hers was to have a clean bed on which to die,’ says Mónica. At that time the nun contacted a priest, told him about the case and got an abandoned house which eventually became the refuge of the girls, as Mónica calls them.

“As she got to know this group of women, she learned how they lived — that they couldn’t hold any job except prostitution because they weren’t accepted in any position, that they often didn’t finish their studies because they were discriminated against in school, and that hospitals threw them out when they were about to die, so that in most cases they died alone and abandoned.”

As with many pastoral ministers who stand in solidarity with the marginalized, Sister Mónica has had her detractors, though she also seems to have the ability to turn those detractors into friends sometimes:

“Mónica admits that within the Church itself there are conflicting opinions as to her work with these people, but says she has the support of Pope Francis and that in her community small advances have already been achieved.

” ‘Once, when Romina had just come to the church, a lady came to find me and told me,”There’s a transvestite.” I replied that she was a trans woman, and then she asked me what she was doing in the church, to which I replied, “What are you doing here?.” At first, she continued questioning me about Romina’s presence, until I asked her what would happen if that were your child,’ she says.

” ‘After a couple of days, she came back and apologized to me, and at the following Mass she went looking for Romina to give her the sign of peace,’ she adds.”

As for the papal support she has received, the nun explains that she has been in email correspondence with Francis:

“. . . [S]he affirms that Pope Francis knows of the work she is carrying out with this group of women and that he supports her. In an email he wrote her: ‘In Jesus’ time, the lepers were rejected like that. They [the trans women] are the lepers of these times. Don’t leave this work on the frontier that is yours.’ “

The nun sees the possibility of a society that is free of oppression of transgender oppression, noting that such oppression is what causes these women to live lives of poverty and addiction:

“The girls make a huge effort against the stream. We have to help them and integrate them. They are capable and intelligent people, but they are abused. We ourselves are the ones who lead them to the streets. If society would open the door to them and give them a chance, we could help them get out of this. . . .

“. . . I think who is that person to judge like that and bury another live.”

The witness of Sister Mónica should challenge all of us to take one more step along the journey of advocating and standing in solidarity with trans people.  It is people like her who are building God’s reign of justice and peace in the world and in our Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Transgender Education Policies Face Catholic Opposition in Canada, U.S.

November 4, 2015

Edmonton Catholic School Board meeting in September

Policies designed to protect transgender students are facing Catholic opposition in regions of Canada and the U.S. Though some school leaders have failed to prioritize students’ well-being, important progress is being made nevertheless.

Below, Bondings 2.0 offers stories revealing Catholics’ differing responses when it comes to transgender youth inclusion in schools.

Edmonton’s Catholic Schools

The Edmonton Catholic School Board in Alberta, Canada, passed a first reading of a policy which would allow students to self-identify their genders and therefore use corresponding bathrooms and/or participate on athletic teams according to their self-identification.

Consideration of such a change emerged after a 7-year-old girl sought to use the girls’ bathroom at her Catholic primary school but was forced to use a gender-neutral one instead. A September meeting regarding the proposed policy erupted into shouting and tears, and no vote was called as a result.

The Edmonton Catholic School Board’s ongoing failure to prioritize students’ interests or even maintain decorum has cast doubt on its abilities in the eyes of many, including the province’s Education Minister David Eggen. [Because Catholic schools in Canada are funded by local provinces, their governing boards are answerable to provincial officials.]

Eggen expressed his lack of confidence in the Catholic school leaders to Metro News. He hired facilitator David Cummings to, in the minister’s words, help members to “collectively and individually to improve their governance skills.” The minister also reminded all involved that he had power to dissolve the Board, which would be “a step that I must take seriously and I hope Edmonton Catholic takes seriously.”

Beyond the Board’s general dysfunction, critics have highlighted remarks by Trustee Larry Kowalczyk as especially harmful. The sole vote against the drafted policy, Kowalczyk has also claimed that trans people have a “mental disorder” and erroneously argued that transitioning contradicts church teaching, reported the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Kowalczyk further called LGBT advocates “God-hating activists,” according to the Edmonton Sunwhich quoted Minister Eggen’s response:

” ‘We all saw some of the individual comments that still spoke to a lack of education around transgender issues and equality in general and certainly we know, and Mr. Cummings saw it in living colour, just how quickly things break down into animosity with this specific board. . .It’s very important that people respect each others opinions but also don’t overstep and start to just simply misrepresent both science and the letter of the law.’ “

Directly contradicting Kowalczyk’s assertion that the Board should be loyal to Archbishop Richard Smith rather than the provincial government, Eggen said there was “a misrepresentation between who carries the law here in the province of Alberta.”

LGBT advocates and parents are also concerned that the Edmonton Catholic School Board will not be able to protect students sufficiently. Transgender parent Marni Panas told CBC:

” ‘I don’t think there are people that are on this board that are even capable, practically not even willing, to create safe environments for these students. . .Clearly the minister has to step in and take some responsibility for this.

” ‘Every day that we’re waiting without a policy, a child is getting hurt, a child is hurting. . .This doesn’t really help that child feel any better.’ “

Kris Wells, a faculty member with the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies, questioned whether the proposed policy around which such controversy has erupted is even progress. Telling CBC it receives a “C” grade at most, he continued:
 ” ‘It really meets a minimal standard, it’s not inspiring, it’s not comprehensive. . .It’s really a disappointment and a letdown for a board that actually promised to do the work.”
Wells cited the policy’s failure to grant students a right to gay-straight alliances, a lack of protections for LGBTQ staff, and no accountability measures for the Board. Noting the significant discrimination and harm trans youth face, Wells wrote in the Edmonton Journal that each day the proposed policy is delayed, LGBTQ students are at risk. He said, in part:
 “Clearly, many school boards across Alberta have actively resisted and failed in their duties to protect LGBTQ students and teachers from irreparable harm. . .Every day we are without provincial policies and guidelines is another day LGBTQ students and teachers remain at risk. I hope it will not take a tragedy for our government to end all forms of discrimination in our schools. This is no longer a matter of opinion, but an expectation of law, and a moral imperative of our new government.”
Wells also claimed the district’s superintendent, Joan Carr, threatened his job by writing to Wells’ then-supervisor about “relentless” tweets and “disparaging comments.” This email was an effort, in Well’s view, “to silence me and have me dismissed from my job.”  Wells had initially offered suggestions as the policy was drafted, but was barred formally though he continued commenting publicly as an academic according to Metro News.
A second reading of the policy is scheduled for November 24 after a public review period, at which time this policy will hopefully be approved. For a Q & A about relevant Edmonton school policies, check out a primer from the Edmonton Journal by clicking here.
Saskatchewan Catholic Schools
Unlike Edmonton where Catholic leadership is resisting inclusive policies, church schools in Saskatchewan are advancing supports for LGBT students. Progress, particularly when it comes to gay-straight alliances and transgender protections, even comes with the bishop’s blessing and expands existing efforts. These efforts include teacher trainings and non-binding directives about gay and lesbian students from the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association.

Though local politics have stalled passage of laws similar to those in Ontario and Alberta which mandate gay-straight alliances if requested by students or parents, Brett Salkeld of the Archdiocese of Regina admitted to The Star Phoenix:

” ‘We know it’s coming. We know we’re going to get requests in our schools. Our people have been working on this well in advance. . .We don’t want to be at the centre of a public controversy.’ “

Bishop Don Bolen of Saskatoon said church leaders sought to respond to students’ needs by offering guidelines that will detail how to handle student requests for LGBT groups and answer questions gender identity. He explained further:

” ‘Life is messy. Neither the church’s teaching or GSAs in isolation are going to avoid that messiness of life.’ “

Education Minister Don Morgan is pleased with church leaders’ attitudes, suggesting that legislation is unnecessary as long as all schools comply with existing policies to ensure LGBT students are supported.


Further south in Nebraska, the state’s Catholic Conference, in conjunction with other conservative groups, has asked the Nebraska School Activities Association to draft a policy on transgender students in athletics. The desired policy, reported Crux, would deny students’ gender identity and mandate participation according to assigned sex at birth. A policy may emerge as early as this month.

Progress is Needed

Returning to the Edmonton debate, Dr. Lorne Warneke of the University of Alberta advocated powerfully about the need to protect transgender students everywhere. As a psychiatrist specializing in gender, she wrote in the Edmonton Journal about the damaging impact that stigmatizing gender identities can have:

“Not allowing a child to express their true gender identity dampens a child’s spirit. This leads to internalized shame and guilt for being who they are, and to poor self-esteem and a negative self-concept. By adolescence, if forced to lead a life of a lie, this can lead to drug/alcohol abuse, isolation, school dropout, self-injury and suicide attempts. This is unforgivable, particularly if it happens in the context of religious dogma.”

Alternatively, supporting a student in expressing their authentic gender identity leads to better happiness, self-confidence, and school performance and more broadly promotes diversity which, Warneke said, strengthens society. Albertans should “be proud” that their province is generally supportive of LGBT communities, but the psychiatrist continued:

“Everyone has the right to their own religious beliefs of course, but such beliefs should not be imposed on others against their will. . .In in the same vein, Edmonton’s Catholic board is publicly funded to provide education to students, not to act as a church. . .It is sad that organizations where greater understanding and acceptance should be expected instead take the stance of being stigmatizing and rejecting.”


In September, when the Edmonton debate began, I commented on the situation, noting that Catholic leaders must discern and enact policies which meet every student’s needs, welcome all into safe spaces where education can occur, and cherish each young person as a child of God.  The same is true in these current debates.

Making harsh statements, challenging governmental authority, and spreading transphobic misinformation do the opposite. It should not take government intervention for church leaders to act with basic dignity and respect towards any student. Their response should come from being Christians, rooted in the Gospel, called to seek the common good of all people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

New Ways Ministry Welcomes Pope Francis to Philly with Catholic Gender Identity Workshop

September 27, 2015

Just as Pope Francis began his schedule in Philadelphia, Catholics gathered in a church hall in downtown to explore ideas and personal experiences about gender identity. The New Ways Ministry-sponsored workshop, titled “Transforming Love,” featured four speakers sharing their stories of being trans*, of being intersex, of being an LGBTQI person’s family member–and doing all of this as Catholics.

Julie Chovanes

After an opening communal prayer service, Julie Chovanes, a transexual Catholic woman from Philadelphia, began the morning’s presentations. Steve Ahlquist of reported:

“Chovanes was raised in the Byzantine Catholic tradition. . .Coming out and transitioning has been a challenge, but she feels she has ‘been accepted in the city, I feel that Philadelphia is the best city in the world for [trans persons].”

“I don’t consider myself a man or a girl. . .I am a trans. My brain and my soul are a woman’s, but my body is a man’s. . .My life is a testament to God’s glory.’ “

Later in the workshop, having claimed “I am very proud of who I am,” Chovanes highlighted her privileged experience compared to many other trans persons. She is a successful lawyer whose marriage and family remained intact while she transitioned. Chovanes lifted up trans people of color who suffer most in the U.S. due to economic hardships and physical and emotional violence.

delfin bautista, who identifies as trans* and specifically two-spirit or genderqueer, spoke next. [delfin does not use male or female singular personal pronouns for self-reference.  Instead delfin prefers the non-gendered plural “they, them, their” pronoun set for self-identification.  Also, delfin’s name is correctly spelled with lower-case initial letters.]   delfin began listing their many personal identities that “sometimes clash and sometimes coexist.” These include being Catholic and being the LGBT Center director at Ohio University.

delfin bautista

bautista detailed their Latino/a Catholic upbringing as they came to know themselves more authentically in an ongoing journey to know “what means to be both/and rather than either/or.” RIFuture quoted bautista:

“Being different is not an option. . .I wore dresses and played princess. I prayed every night to wake up in a new body, but was greeted with silence.’

” ‘When I came out I came out as gay because that’s all I knew, but even then I knew it didn’t fit me. . .My mom wanted to help me and sent me to therapy to be cured. I don’t hate my mother, she was trying to help me.’ “

bautista gently explained the concept of transitioning, saying it was not a matter of changing one’s identity but rather of affirming one’s identity and sharing it with others. The journey is a communal one, involving a person’s partner, friends, and family members.

Responding to participants’ questions, the speakers zeroed in on trans* oppression by the lesbian and gay communities. Chovanes alluded to the historic Stonewall riots in 1969, reminding those at the worksthop that it was trans* people who kicked off the LGBT movement.

bautista said, “We’ve been coming out. We’ve been here for centuries.” They added that sexism and misogyny still silence trans feminine voices even within LGBT circles, bautista’s expanded this critique to the Black Lives Matter movement which has prioritized black men who are killed even though trans women of color face the highest rates of violence.

Both turned to Scripture to further their points, Chovanes highlighting the Apostle Philip’s merciful treatment of the Ethiopian eunuch (see Acts of the Apostles 8) who is as he is not because of sin but “for the greater glory of God” and noting that from Genesis to Galatians, gender is presented as a spectrum.

Vilma Santamaria

The workshop’s second panel featured two speakers from El Salvador. Nicole Santamaria is an intersex Catholic woman and activist, now residing in the U.S.  She was joined by Vilma Santamaria, her mother and a teacher involved with feminist advocacy.

Assigned male at birth, Nicole identified as a girl by the age of three and thought of running away as early as age five. When she finally came out to her mother, Vilma responded, “I love you, whoever you are. I will always have you in my heart.” Vilma had known her daughter was different from a young age. Less understanding was Nicole’s father at whose hands she suffered greatly in adolescence, which she described for

” ‘[I was told,] don’t talk like that, don’t move your hands like that! Oh my God, don’t breathe like that! . . .My father mentally and physically tortured me. He’d heat up coins and burn my nipples.”

Nicole Santamaria

Her father’s damage destroyed her natural breasts and early medical help was equally problematic, but eventually through reconstructive surgery Nicole is now able to present as she identifies. Though she is “passing” [meaning: being visibly recognized as a woman], a term she said she only recently learned in the U.S., Nicole refuses to remain silent and rest in that privilege. As she stated:

“God gave me the opportunity to survive. I’m going to continue to speak out for those who didn’t.”

Citing that faith for the “strength to continue,” she told

“I came here to the World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis, to speak for the voices that were silenced by those who will torture them, by those who will kill them. And the voices that were silenced already by people who feel they have permission and they have the obligation to murder us, to exterminate us, to persecute us, because their religion told them that it is okay to kill a person that is different. When every religious leader spoke out against sexual diversity, or even against abortion, a transgender woman is killed. Every time those kind of things are heard, that means death. Whenever this is reported in the media, you can read the comments from the people, and the comments are, They deserve it, they are abominations, God doesn’t love them, it is okay.”

Violence against LGBTQI people in El Salvador is extensive and often involves sexual violence and torture as well as physical assault. Nicole is currently seeking asylum in the U.S. because, as she told her mother, “I left my country because I won’t let you recognize my body in pieces.”  She left El Salvador after several physical attacks and more than several authentic death threats.

The speakers’ words showed the power and grace present at the workshop yesterday morning.  Their words were filled in by many smaller interpersonal conversations by participants who shared their faith, their identities, and their hopes as well as pains. You can get a glimpse of the atmosphere in this video from Religion News Service.

It is worth noting, finally, that this workshop almost did not happen after Archbishop Charles Chaput ejected it and other LGBT-related events coinciding with last week’s World Meeting of Families from a local Catholic parish. Thankfully, a Arch Street United Methodist Church, a nearby congregation at opened its doors and its arms to the New Ways Ministry program, as well as to Equally Blessed’s World Meeting of Families pilgrims, thus allowing LGBT and Ally Catholics to witness to the power of faith, hope, and love, in their lives, relationships, and families.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Equally Blessed pilgrimage, the World Meeting of Families, and/or Pope Francis visit to the U.S., you can click here

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Transgender Policy in Jeopardy After Delayed Vote By Catholic School Board

September 19, 2015

Catholic school leaders in Canada failed to approve a policy which would allow students to self-identify their gender, frustrating hopes of positive change and earning stern criticism from the Education Minister. The Edmonton Journal reported:

“Edmonton Catholic Schools trustees moved during the Tuesday night meeting to delay voting on the motion about the transgender policy until its next meeting in October, after several raised questions about its purpose and development.

“The majority of the board’s first meeting of the year was devoted to arguing over the policy, which could give students access to the washrooms, change rooms and sports teams that match their gender identities.”

That meeting devolved into a “shouting match” and then a delayed vote, which the policy’s sponsor, Patricia Grell, has called “very unfortunate.” She expressed concern for the well being of a female elementary student whose inability to use a bathroom consistent with her identity prompted the draft policy.

Three trustees worked with parents, trans advocates, and mental health professionals to craft the proposal. While Edmonton’s Catholic schools promise to provide an “inclusive, welcoming, caring, respectful, safe, and Catholic environment that promotes the well-being of all,” those involved say this new policy is quite necessary.  Because Canada’s Catholic schools are funded by the government, political officials become involved in decisions made by local governing school boards.

Its necessity is also endorsed by a high ranking government official. Education Minister David Eggen chastised the board for its failure to pass a transgender inclusive policy, and threatened action against them:

“What is a sensitive, important issue in regards to human rights broke and dissolved into acrimony, and I don’t expect that I will see that again. If it does so, there will be consequences. . .This has to be dealt with as soon as possible.”

This acrimony arose from the trustees who opposed to the policy, including Larry Kowalczyk who mistakenly said that Catholic teaching treats transgender identities as mental illness.  Kowalczyk previously voted against child protection efforts in April. The behavior of these trustees prompts doubts about their leadership, like those of Marni Panas, a transgender Catholic and mother of children in Edmonton Catholic schools, who told the Edmonton Sun:

“You expect a certain level of professionalism and decorum from your elected officials, and what I saw that night, I’d never seen anything like that. . .I think that shocked everybody, including myself. I question this trustee’s ability to provide a safe place for students.”

Pressure is mounting on the board to take action in the best interests of transgender students and, in the meantime, it seems school communities will continue growing in their acceptance. Former Education Minister Thomas A. Lukaszuk wrote of these themes for the Edmonton Sun:

“I don’t doubt that the Board may have the best intentions, but appears to be lacking in resolve to conclude this matter. . .In the mean time, our little girl, like many others, can’t innocently focus on her studies and recess play, as she knows that tomorrow may be the day when someone questions her identity or forces her go to a segregated washroom.

“Sadly, it’s likely to be an adult, as other kids love her for who she is.”

While adults opposed to LGBT inclusion cause “shouting match”-style government proceedings, younger children and young adults in the Catholic Church have thankfully become more accepting and affirming of LGBT people with each passing day. The board’s meeting in October will likely vote on the policy and even if it rejects the drafted policy, it seems the Ministry of Education’s intervention is a real possibility to ensure equal education. But it would be better for Catholic leaders to willingly enact policies which welcome all, meet every student’s needs, and cherish each young person as a child of God.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Did the Vatican Really Ban Transgender Godparents?

September 13, 2015

Alex Salinas with his nephew and godson-to-be

The ruling by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith against a trans* man in Spain becoming a godparent quickly became news that the Vatican had barred transgender godparents. Is that really what is happening? If not, what is to be made of this ruling going forward?

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, recently called the decision “another Vatican mistake” in a piece for The Advocate. She wrote:

“The Vatican’s declaration that Alex and other transgender people are unfit to be godparents is exclusionary and hurtful. It says to the Roman Catholic Church’s transgender members, to the people who love and care for them, and to the entire church that trans folk are ‘less than,’ and not fully welcome in our midst. It is a blanket statement that anyone who does not fit neatly into binary gender categories is morally suspect, inherently unworthy to serve as a guide to an ethical, faith-based life.”

Duddy-Burke noted that this ruling contradicts Pope Francis’ warm welcome of a trans* Catholic earlier this year and reveals church officials as “demonstrating a tragically limited, one-dimensional view of transgender people,” at odds with wider movements in the church towards acceptance and affirmation. She calls for church leaders to imitate Francis’ efforts by listening to trans* people and getting to know their stories and journeys before making harmful decisions.

Anna Magdalena of The Catholic Transgender limited the implications of the CDF ruling in her analysis, noting this was solely a “pastoral and canonical decision, not a doctrinal one” and is exclusively concerned with “transsexual persons as opposed to transgender persons in general.” I would add to her analysis that, in my reading of the CDF ruling in Spanish, it may be further limited to specifically the case of Alex Salinas.

Magdalena contrasts the CDF’s ruling with previous pastoral and/or canonical statements, not all of which are public or even acknowledged, and she concluded:

“It’s hard to see this ruling as anything but an all-doors-closed approach to transsexual people. It’s likewise hard to see this as sensible or pastorally sustainable. For a Church whose very name means ‘universal,’ it’s as ludicrous to shut transsexuals out of vocational life as it is to forbid hirsute women from going to Mass.

“Luckily, I think there’s room for the Church to grow in her canonical rulings. However, if such growth is going to happen, the Church needs to examine transsexuality not as a secular social agenda, but as a factual phenomenon that is concretely experienced by individuals in the Church.”

In a reflection worth reading in full, Magdalena explores the intricacies at play in the CDF’s thinking, particularly the Church’s choice “to medicalize and pathologize transsexuality,” which, if it were appropriate to do so, would then then require the Church to be informed by science. She concluded:

“From what we know, a transsexual will always remain transsexual regardless of reparative interventions. If such remains the case – which is likely – then the Church needs to reach a little deeper into its pastoral toolbox. . .There are no easy answers here, but that’s okay. . .I’m incredibly hopeful that as the Church encounters more and more transsexuals in the facticity of their lives, she will eventually find a place for them in the Body of Christ.”

There is, indeed, a lot for Catholics at all levels to learn about trans* issues so we can each expand our pastoral toolbox and grow in love of all God’s people.

One opportunity for learning more is at TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectivesa daylong workshop sponsored by New Ways Ministry during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia later this month. It takes place on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at Arch Street United Methodist Church, 55 North Broad Street, Philadelphia. Despite Archbishop Charles Chaput’s expulsion of this event, (along with other LGBT events) from a Catholic parish, Catholics who are transgender and intersex, and their families will share their stories at this workshop.

To answer the question in the title of this post, it is unclear, and somewhat unlikely, that the CDF has banned trans* godparents altogether.  Alex Salinas’ case remains a deeply wounding tragedy and, as Duddy-Burke pointed out, truly a mistake by the Vatican. The headlines which reported the CDF statement were reactionary, failing to consider the intricacies (and absurdities) of the Roman Curia. While I do not blame journalists for misreporting, Catholics must be careful. We cannot attribute to church teaching or canon law more than exists in the specific ruling. In matters where sanctions or punishments are involved, we must follow the letter of the law closely and narrowly.

Alex Salinas cannot be a godparent, and his nephew will not be baptized in the Catholic Church. These are serious loses for our church and must be mourned. Our best response is education to prevent further mistakes and to call out church leaders who make them. Educating ourselves more and more about marginalized communities is not merely good, it is an action flowing directly from the Gospel call to love our neighbor.

If you can make it to the workshop in Philadelphia, great! You can find out more information by clicking here. If not, consider a small step to learn more about trans* Catholics’ experiences. Perhaps read more from The Catholic Transgender or explore Bondings 2.0‘s coverage of trans Catholic issues by clicking the “Transgender” category in the column to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Vatican Intervention Causes Bishop to (Again) Reject Trans* Man as Godparent

September 3, 2015

Alex Salinas

The Vatican has intervened to prevent a transgender man in Spain from being a godparent, causing the local bishop to again reverse his decision in the case, just as plans for the baptism were moving forward.

Initially rejected for being transgender, a decision which Alex Salinas said felt like a “kick in the stomach,” the young Spanish trans* won an appeal to Bishop Rafael Zornoza of the Diocese of Cadiz and Ceuta. The bishop approved Salinas’ request to be his nephew’s godparent in August. Bondings 2.0 highlighted the bishop’s decisions as one of several positive trans* Catholic developments at the time.

Zornoza is now saying “no” again. Salinas confirmed the second rejection to RTVE, saying the bishop called him on the very day they were going to the parish to confirm the baptism date and time. The bishop told Salinas, without providing any reason, that he could not be the godparent .

The reason is apparent now that Bishop Zornoza has admitted that he consulted the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).  The Vatican office said “publicly and definitely” in a statement that transsexual Catholics are ineligible. The following is part of the CDF’s response, as cited by the bishop and translated into English:

“About this particular matter [i.e., a transsexual person being a godparnet], I communicate to you the impossibility that it is admitted. The same transexual behavior reveals, in a public manner, an attitude opposed to the moral demand of resolving the problem of one’s own sexual identity according to the truth of one’s own sex. Therefore, the result is evident that this person does not possess the requisite of leading a life conformed to the faith and to the position of godfather (CIC, can 874 §1,3), therefore is not able to be admitted to the position of godmother nor godfather. One should not see this as discrimination, but only the recognition of an objective absence of the requisites that by their nature are necessary to assume the ecclesial responsibility of being a godparent.”

According to Zornoza, the CDF consultation was necessary because of “confusion” by the faithful about his own words and the media attention surrounding Salinas’ case.

The bishop also cited Popes Francis and Benedict XVI to justify his rejection, claiming Francis believes “this behavior is contrary to human nature” because of several sentences in the pope’s recent encyclical on care for creation, Laudato Si. Zornoza explained:

“Acceptance of one’s body as a gift of God is necessary to receive and accept the world as a gift of the Father and our common home, while a logic of domination over the body itself becomes a sometimes subtle logic of dominion over creation. Learning to receive the body itself, to care for and respect its meanings is essential for a true human ecology. Also assessing the body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary to recognize an encounter with the different. This makes it possible to joyfully accept the specific gift of the other , the work of God the Creator, and enrich one another. Therefore, it is not a healthy attitude that seeks to ‘cancel the sexual difference that no longer knows confront the same’ ( Laudato Si, n.155) .”

I quoted these explanations from the CDF and Zornoza at length because the incoherence of these statements and their underlying logic becomes readily apparent to trans* people and their allies. Those who live openly as their understood gender identities are not living in opposition to resolving their sexual identity nor are they failing to accept their bodies as gifts from God.

Instead the trans* Catholics I know are people who have come to accept their bodies as gifts from God in the deepest way. They have, frequently through intense struggle and suffering, learned to receive their bodies, to care for them, to respect them, and to develop a healthy human ecology in their relationships. The dark reality is that religious condemnation, like the CDF’s or Zornoza’s, is what can create disintegration of one’s identity and dissociation with one’s body. This is true for trans* and cisgender people alike.

The CDF can claim that not including trans* Catholics as godparents is not discrimination, but that doesn’t make it that statement true.  Their statement is marked by an exclusion that is at odds with Jesus’ welcome to all. Bishop Zornoza’s claim that the church welcomes all and accompanies all with mercy ring hollow in light of his latest decision.

This incident also reveals a church in deep tension in the church during this era of Pope Francis who has repeatedly reached out to trans* Catholics. But what is still most painful in this incident is the personal dimension: the harm done to Alex Salinas and his family.

A faithful trans* Catholic, Salinas has experienced the violence of exclusion, and he says, understandably, that he is “disgusted” and “feels cheated by the parish priest, the bishop of Rome” because he was rejected, then approved, and now rejected again. Salinas’ family now says they will not baptize his nephew in the Catholic Church but will raise the child elsewhere in the Christian faith. Is the CDF’s restrictive version of Canon Law worth these costs? One more reversal from Zornoza seems the only right way to proceed.

For more updates on trans Catholic issues, check out our “Transgender” category in the column to the right.

For those attending the World Meeting of Families, or anyone who wants to come to Philadelphia at the end of September, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s half-day workshop on gender diverse families entitled TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at Arch Street United Methodist Church, 55 North Broad Street, Philadelphia.  For more information, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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