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

Let’s Have a World Meeting of ALL Families

August 28, 2015

Today’s post is written by a guest blogger: Deacon Ray Dever of St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida.

In recent months, a steady stream of documents, talks, and other communications from the Catholic Church have been issued on the topic of the family–all in anticipation of and preparation for the World Meeting of Families that will take place in Philadelphia in September and the subsequent Synod of Bishops on the family to be held in Rome in October.  Pope Francis, the Pontifical Council on the Family, and various associated organizations and individuals in the Church have been engaged in an ongoing catechesis and wide-ranging discussion on the family.

Like many of us, I’ve done my best to keep up with and to reflect on these almost daily pronouncements.  And as I do so, it’s been difficult to not become disheartened by what seem to be recurring themes that focus on a narrow ideal of the Catholic family, and that ignore or devalue the reality of the diverse, faithful families that comprise the Body of Christ today.  And the ongoing discussions and debates about what will and will not be on the meeting agendas, and who will and will not be allowed to participate in the meetings, unfortunately seem out of touch with the lived reality of families today.

As any Catholic clergy or lay minister can tell you, the families that one encounters every day in pastoral ministry in the Church are enormously diverse.  The idea that there is some kind of ideal Christian family that comprises the majority of our congregations is quite simply a fiction.  And with my own situation as ordained Catholic clergy, married with a transgender daughter and with two other daughters who are strong LGBTQ allies, I would definitely count my own family among that diversity.  So as I add my thoughts to these ongoing reflections on the topic of Catholic family, my perspective is both pastoral and deeply personal.

I wonder what people envision when they hear Pope Francis speak about heroic families, as he did in his general audience of June 10, 2015.  In that address, Pope Francis lauded the heroism of parents who work during the day to support their families and then continue the work of selflessly caring for their families at night, dealing with sick children and all the other exhausting, daily challenges of family life.  It’s easy for most of us to identify with that scenario, as that is the reality of life in any loving, faithful family.

But who exactly does the Church think these heroic families praised by the Pope are?  Are they only ideal families headed by a Catholic man and a Catholic woman, whose first and only marriage took place in the Catholic Church?  The answer to that question is self-evident to anyone who is part of the faithful families that comprise our congregations.  Of course not!  Of course there are a wide variety of heroic families in the pews every Sunday, heroic in every sense of the Pope’s words – faithful families headed by the divorced, the remarried, unmarried couples, couples of different faiths, and single parents.  And yes, even families like mine with LGBTQ children, and families headed by same-sex couples.

parent of transThese families certainly aren’t perfect, but it would be useful to remind ourselves that none of the families in the pews are perfect (including the families of deacons).  But we should also be mindful of our foundational belief that the members of those families are all created in the image and likeness of God, and that all have an inherent value and dignity as a result.  Jesus didn’t spend his time on earth only ministering to perfect Jewish families – he ministered emphatically to everyone.  All faithful families deserve a seat at the table if the Church is going to be serious about addressing the reality of family life in the Church today.

Pope Francis has made quite clear his vision of Church as a field hospital, healing the wounds of all the faithful.  And he has challenged those who minister in the Church to be like shepherds who smell like their sheep, shepherds whose hands are dirty from dealing with the reality of the messy lives of the faithful.  I don’t see how the Church can follow this vision and get to know, evangelize, and minister to the families that comprise its flock, if most of them are left outside the closed doors of the meeting rooms in Philadelphia and Rome.

As I reflect on all this from the context of my own extended family, I can’t help but think of my own father, who passed away in 1965 when I was still in high school.  He was a hard-nosed, fun-loving, athletic Irish-American, who was fiercely loyal to his family, the Catholic Church, and his country.  He served on an attack transport in the Navy in World War II, in both the Mediterranean and the Pacific, participating in some of the bloodiest island invasions in the war.

I sometimes wonder what he would think of all the changes in society and the Church that have occurred since the 1960s.  As foreign as many aspects of life today might have been to him if he could see them, there is one thing that I know for certain.  If anyone were to suggest to him that my family had some second-class status in the Church, or was even unwelcome in the Church, because we have a transgender daughter whom we love and support, or if anyone had anything negative to say about his transgender granddaughter, he would have been in their face in a heartbeat.

I know that kind of passion runs deep in the committed, loving families that are doing their best, week in and week out, to follow the faith, and if the Church chooses to exclude or demean them, it does so at its own peril.  I pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire the Church to open the doors and to truly have a world meeting of all families.

–Deacon Ray Dever, St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida

Previous Bondings 2.0 blog post by Deacon Ray Deaver:

December 28, 2014:  “LGBTQ Children in Catholic Families: A Deacon’s View of Holy Family Sunday

Transgender Catholic Initially Rejected as Godparent Now Welcomed–And Other Positive Developments

August 9, 2015

Alex Salinas

A trans* man in Spain will now be allowed to be his nephew’s godparent, reversing the bishop’s earlier decision to reject the man based on his gender identity. This change is good news and teaches an important lesson about how leaders can listen and learn, as the church journeys forward towards greater transgender inclusion. [Editor’s note:  “Trans*” is an increasingly preferred term to describe people whose gender identities fall outside of traditional categories of male or female.]

Bishop Rafael Zornoza of Cadiz and Ceuta changed his mind about Alex Salinas’ request, reported PinkNews.  Zornoza received intense criticism including a petition that collected more than 35,000 signatures. Salinas, who described the initlal rejection as a “kick in the stomach,” told reporters:

“I am very happy because of what this means for me, but above all, because what is good for me is good for other transsexuals who are Catholic and want to be part of the Church.”

Salinas is among a growing number of openly trans* and gender diverse Catholics, and his appeal of Bishop Zornoza’s act comes from someone who loves the church. In the petition, Salinas said, “This is not the church I know and for this I want to give you [Zornoza] the opportunity to rectify your error.”

Salinas is on point because discrimination and exclusion are not marks of the Church of Christ, even if sometimes human-made institutions fail.

In this instance, Bishop Zornoza chose to listen to Catholics’ loving voices rather then defend a poor decision. Listening may, indeed, be the key first step for ecclesial inclusion of trans* people to grow.

Catholic leaders could also listen to blogger Anna Magdalena of The Catholic Transgender who writes about gender as a gift we must cherish more fully. She questions why socially-conditioned gender norms are so present in Catholic discussions, writing:

“True gender comes from within, as an inner charism, a God-given impulse toward relationship with others. Too often gender-nonconforming individuals are told ‘You need to embrace your God-given maleness/femaleness.’ The language of ‘the gift’ is being used, but it’s being misused. A gift is not something that is shoved down people’s throats. Gifts enliven, not deaden.

“Gifts are planted within to be shared without. When a gender-nonconforming person tries to share what they experience as their inner gift, how often are they shut down? How often is their gift seen as a curse, or ‘not the right gift,’ ‘not their true gift’? . . .

“Maybe this simple attitude [of accepting everything God offers] is all we need to understand gender non-conforming individuals, whether intersex, transgender, or genderqueer. God has offered us these people, these individuals, this myriad of flavors and expressions. If God is offering, I’m accepting.”

Another, more conservative voice is Melinda Selmys who writes at Theologues about experiencing gender dysphoria, though she does not identify as transgender. Selmys points out that too often Christians consider trans* people to be a threat to “traditional marriage and biblical sexuality,” which confines their response:

“Trans people constitute a very small minority of the human population, so it’s easy for a discourse to develop that is concerned solely with political or philosophical considerations. I’m not going to claim that those aspects of the question aren’t important. . .Problems arise, however, when the tradition is discussed without reference to the real human beings involved. . . 

“I’m hoping to help Christians develop a more compassionate attitude towards transpeople. We do need to ask the theological questions, certainly, but these questions cannot take precedence over the immediate suffering of human beings.”

Listening to the Catholic parents of trans* children can also greatly inform the church’s response, as it has with pastoral care for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. An article in Buzzfeed reported advice from many parents, including Deacon Ray Dever who said:

“. . . [S]ome religious leaders have a ‘tendency to exclude people who should be included in the tent. I think they can go back to the gospel, and the conclusion is to love your children first and foremost.’ “

Dever wrote a blog post for Bondings 2.0 in December 2014 describing his experience as the father of a transgender daughter.

Another Buzzfeed piece shares the story of Liam Lowery, a trans* man, and his mother, Michele. Their story is similar to many Catholic families with LGBT members who may initially struggle to accept the member’s sexual orientation or gender identity, but come around over time. Michele said her initial hesitation to accept Liam’s news was motivate by “the misguided belief that people who identified as transgender would be forced into narrow and dangerous lives.” You can read their full story here, which includes Michele’s participation in Liam’s wedding to Marisa–and the unique ceremonial garb they wore for the occasion.

Finally, as we have reported previously, Fr. Keith Barltrop who heads LGBTQI outreach for Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster (London), has said the church should “fully support” someone who decides to transition after careful discernment, adding there was nothing doctrinal about gender identity and that this was a pastoral issue.

Wherever we are on this common ecclesial journey to greater inclusion of and justice for trans* people within the Catholic Church, more listening is always necessary and fruitful.

Listening helps us to build up a church that is “home for all” in Pope Francis’ words. We are enabled to jettison the false marks of discrimination and inclusion for a more full embrace of the church’s true marks: that we are one Body of Christ, holy because the Spirit is alive among us, catholic where all are welcome, and apostolic in that service and love rule supreme.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Transgender Godparent-To-Be Calls Diocesan Rejection a “Kick in the Stomach”

July 30, 2015

Alex Salinas

A transgender Catholic is not allowed to be a godparent, says a Spanish bishop, who further denied any discrimination in the case.

Alex Salinas, 21-year old trans man who describes himself as a “firm believer,” sought to be his nephew’s godfather. The parish priest involved with the baptism accepted him initially, but reversed the welcome after the diocese became involved in the decision. No other parish in the area would perform the baptism.

Bishop Rafael Zornoza of Cadiz and Ceuta personally endorsed Salinas’ rejection and, according to Pink News insisted:

“that the parish priest was ‘kind and understanding’ in conveying to Mr Salinas that he ‘cannot serve as a baptismal sponsor because of canonical requirements that a sponsor live in accordance with the faith.’ “

According to  The Local, the priest told Salinas he could “spiritually encourage and help the child in living the faith” and offered him a role as “spiritual godparent” instead. Salinas was outed because church documents proving he is baptized and confirmed identify him as female, of which Salinas said, “in the church’s eyes, I was still a woman, even though my documents of identification have changed.”

Even while Salinas describes this rejection as a “kick in the stomach,” Bishop Zornoza and the diocese deny any discrimination because such acts happen “frequently.” The diocese said Salinas does not fulfill the requirements according to the Code of Canon Law, which mandate godparents be:

“…be Catholic, be confirmed, have received the holy sacrament of the Eucharist and, at the same time, live a life congruent with faith and the mission they are assuming.”

It is Salinas’ gender identity that is, apparently, incongruous with being a good godparent for he fulfills the rest with vigor according to the Huffington Post. But a closer look at Canon Law, alongside church teaching, reveals the diocese’s reasoning is faulty.

First, the requirements for a godparent, referred to as “sponsor” are set out in Canon 874 §1 which stipulates among other items the item about living “life of faith in keeping with the function.” Salinas fulfills all of the requirements, including leading a “life of faith in keeping with the function.” Indeed, children growing up in the church today could benefit greatly from LGBT Catholics who teach all about living as one’s authentic self, the path to holiness, and witness what it means to remain faithful to Christ and to the People of God in a church plagued by internal injustices.

Second, trans and gender diverse identities are not a doctrinal matter, a point recently reiterated by England’s top Catholic official for LGBTQI outreach, Msgr. Keith Barltrop. Indeed, he added the church should be “fully supportive” of those who decide, after careful discernment, to transition. The pastoral response to Alex Salinas was anything but supportive or welcoming, stemming from a harmful medley of clerical ignorance and prejudice.  At the very least, the pastoral leadership in this case should give the benefit of any of their doubt to the parents of the child.

Thankfully, Salinas plans to appeal to the discriminatory decision to both church and civil authorities for the injustice committed against him. “Oversight Against LGBTfobia,” a Spanish advocacy group, admitted that even if it is not legally discriminated, the exclusion of transgender people from the church’s sacramental life is “ethically reprehensible.”

Church officials in Rome should pay attention to this case. Pope Francis personally welcomed a trans man and his fiancee to the Vatican, following their rejection at the Spanish church where they were longtime parishioners. A repeat effort, perhaps including a baptism at St. Peter’s Basilica, would be a clear sign that Catholic ministers must welcome trans and gender diverse persons into the full life of the church.

The incident should also be a wake-up call for church ministers worldwide to get educated on gender identity topics and not misuse Canon Law or church teachings to harm a very marginalized community.

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 St. John the Evangelist Parish Center, 1212 Ludlow Street, Phialdelphia.  For more information, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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