New Jersey Catholic High School Rejects Transgender Student

Mason Catrambone with his parents, Frank and Annmarie

A Catholic high school in New Jersey has rejected a transgender student, and school officials are making shaky claims that Catholic identity was the reason behind their decision

Camden Catholic High School accepted Mason Catrambone last spring. Trouble arose when his parents informed administrators in August that their son was transitioning. In two meetings held, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

“The family say they told school officials at two August meetings that Mason would be willing to use the restroom in the nurse’s office, and change into gym clothes there as well.

“They did insist that Mason — who is not yet undergoing any treatment or surgical procedures — be able to wear a boy’s uniform.”

According to a joint statement from Principal Heather Crisci and the Diocese of Camden, those requests could not be met because of the school’s Catholic identity. Fr. Joseph Capella, director of Catholic identity at the school, cited natural law to defend the decision, saying “we believe we are not the creators, and at no point in our lives can we move toward being that.” Capella later said that because of the high school’s religious affiliation, “some will choose another learning environment.”

Mason, who came out as transgender this past May, said school officials “can’t look past what I’m going through, and see me as a human being. . .I’m not a transgender. . .entity. I’m not some diabolical plan to impose my transgender evilness on them.”

Mason explained how he sees the situation:

“I didn’t lose Camden Catholic. Camden Catholic lost me.”

Mason’s parents, Frank Catrambone, Sr. and Annmarie Kita, who learned about Mason’s gender issues four months ago, stand by their son. They taught Mason that “you stand up for yourself, and speak for yourself,” as he is doing now.  When they learned the news from their child, Annmarie said she was “in complete disbelief,” but the family discussed it and the parents educated themselves. Frank said despite there being a “mourning period,” the high rate of transgender youth suicides because of family rejection motivated them to respond positively:

“I heard that, and there was not a choice to make. The only thing to do was to love and support Mason.”

They are disappointed Mason will not begin at Camden Catholic this fall. A 1971 alum, Frank said he had been “very, very excited that my kid was going to have the same opportunity” there. Annmarie said the school “could have tried hard to find a way” for Mason to attend.

For now, Mason is attending an online cyber high school and raising awareness about his rejection. He told NBC Philadelphia that he wants his story shared, and says, “I felt like I was rejected even though I knew the students of Camden Catholic would accept me as one of their peers.” A petition supporting Mason has received more than 1,300 signatures so far.

Camden Catholic and the Diocese of Camden are attempting to describe the rejection of Mason as a choice the family made.  The decision, however, was the school’s to make. School officials failed to prioritize a student’s well-being, to educate themselves about gender identity issues and thereby provide appropriate supports for a transgender student. Fr. Capella’s claims about natural law theory rejecting transgender identities is debatable, and it is certainly not official church teaching.

The school officials’ decision is having repercussions in the wider Church community. Walter Browne, who attends Mass weekly with his family though is not Catholic, wrote a letter to the editor of the Inquirer which said, in part:

“Just last week, I was listening to the Gospel in which Jesus was sitting with the ‘outcasts,’ much to the consternation of the Pharisees. Now we have that same Church, at Camden Catholic, turning away a teenager who wants the benefits of the love and logic of Jesus. Just who have become the Pharisees now? Why reject anyone – gay, straight, divorced, transgendered [sic]? We all need the healing power of community and love. Open the doors to everyone.”

As more transgender youth come out, more and more Catholic schools have had to face the issue. The Diocese of Little Rock amended its 2016-2017 education policies to threaten LGBT students with expulsion if their gender identity or sexual orientation even “have the potential of causing scandal.” Earlier this year, a Catholic high school in Rhode Island attempted to ban transgender students, but reversed the decision after tremendous alumni outcry. And some Catholic bishops have vocally opposed President Barack Obama’s efforts to keep transgender youth safe and supported in public schools.

Catholic educators who oppose transgender students should educate themselves. If they do, they will find that there is no defined Catholic teaching on transgender identities or diverse gender expressions. They will find that some church leaders, like the United Kingdom’s Monsignor Keith Barltrop who heads LGBTQI outreach for the Archdiocese of Westminster, have actually called for the church to support trans people who transition. They will find that these issues are not settled. They will realize that their responsibility is to respond with the compassion and care that Jesus himself offered, always attentive to the well-being of the person in front of them.

The school year has only just begun. It would not be too late for Camden Catholic officials to learn something, apologize to Mason and his family, and welcome him with open arms.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article:  “Petition backs transgender 14-year-old rejected from Camden Catholic”



Reading Between the Lines of Massachusetts’ Bishops Statement on Transgender Rights

When Massachusetts passed a law in July allowing transgender people access to locker rooms and restrooms that align with their gender identity, the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC) responded with a statement that was very non-confrontational. Indeed, it might even have seemed like the Conference welcomed the law’s passage.  In part, the statement read:

“We urge respect in this discussion for all those whose rights require protection. In our parishes, schools and other institutions, the Church will respect the civil law while upholding the principles of our faith and our religious freedom.”

A quick reading of these two sentences might tell someone that the MCC supports the new law and that they plan to implement it in Catholic Church institutions across the state.  But the particular phrasing of the statement might indicate that the MCC is keeping its options open.  For example, although they “urge respect in this discussion,” they are vague about who this respect is for, saying only that is “all those whose rights require protection.”  I might assume that this means transgender people, but the MCC may mean it applies to churches who feel their religious liberty is at stake.

Similarly, the statement says that they will “respect the civil law.”  I did a double-take on this one.  At first, I thought that they intended to mean “obey” or “follow” the civil law.  The rest of the sentence qualifies the respect they will give the law, implying they will do so only as they are “upholding the principles of our faith and our religious freedom.”

So, what do they mean?  Is the MCC supporting transgender rights or are they defending the Catholic Church against a perceived attack on its religious freedom?

The rest of the MCC statement does not give any further insight into the intention of these church leaders. In fact, the statement defies taking a solid position at almost every turn.  For example, they say of the new law:

“. . . [I]ts implementation will require both careful oversight and respect for all individuals using such public accommodations.”

Does this mean that they support transgender persons’ rights to use the bathroom which aligns with their gender identity or does it mean that individuals who do not want transgender people in their public restrooms will be allowed to eject them?

Additionally, the MCC statement offers the following advice:

“The complex challenge of crafting legislative protections for some in our community while meeting the needs of the wider population will require sensitive application of the legislation just passed.”

Again, using a vague term like “sensitive application” means we don’t know where the Massachusetts bishops stand on this law.  I’m sure that every law enforcement official believes they are applying laws sensitively, but that doesn’t mean they are always doing so.

Perhaps most revealing of the MCC’s position on transgender issues comes from a statement they made alluding to Pope Francis’ negative approach to gender identity questions.  They state that the pope

“. . . acknowledges the pluralism within and among cultures regarding sexuality and marriage, but he also warns against an absolute separation of the physical and cultural understanding of sexuality and gender.”

This statement clearly shows that the MCC does not support the idea of gender transition.  Yet, it doesn’t say where the MCC will stand on the rights of transgender people in society.  (You can read the statement in its entirety by clicking here.)

A recent op-ed essay in The Cape Cod Times notes that the vague and ambiguous wording of the MCC statement will only lead to further problems down the road.   John J. Donovan, the author, who has taught college-level theology, says the bishops’ response is “very vague at best, and very troublesome at worst.”  He explains his position:

“Because the Massachusetts bishops’ statement is so poorly written it would seem that one of those little church/state clashes is inevitable. Those clashes produce neither sanctity nor good law. The state law is well-crafted, written by lawyers. It would seem the onus is on the bishops to write a better response.”

I think he is right. Since the MCC would not take a definitive position on the law, it seems like they may be positioning themselves to defend a church institution who would deny restroom or locker room access to a transgender person.  Donovan offers good advice for the bishops’ future statements on such issues:

“Before a better response is attempted, perhaps more theologizing should take place. The theologizing should cover in as much depth as possible not only the concept of gender identification but also the entire scope of sexuality in all its beauty and mystery.”

When bishops write so vaguely and ambiguously, they easily open themselves up to writing like politicians do.  Our church deserves better from its leaders.  We need bishops who will speak boldly and courageously to protect the human and civil rights of all, especially those, like transgender people, who continue to be marginalized across our nation and around the world.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



God’s Transgender Quality and Our Call to Take Risks

At the beginning of this month, The New York Times ran an op-ed with the provocative title, “Is God Transgender?”  Written by Rabbi Mark Sameth, the essay examined language from the Hebrew Scriptures, noting that God is sometimes referred to as a man, sometimes as a woman, and sometimes as both.  Other people in the Biblical stories also display characteristics of the two genders. Here’s an excerpt from Sameth’s essay:

“. . . [T]he Hebrew Bible, when read in its original language, offers a highly elastic view of gender. And I do mean highly elastic:  In Genesis 3:12, Eve is referred to as ‘he.’ In Genesis 9:21, after the flood, Noah repairs to ‘her’ tent. Genesis 24:16 refers to Rebecca as a ‘young man.’ And Genesis 1:27 refers to Adam as ‘them.’. . .

“In Esther 2:7, Mordecai is pictured as nursing his niece Esther. In a similar way, in Isaiah 49:23, the future kings of Israel are prophesied to be ‘nursing kings.’ . . .

“The four Hebrew letter name of God, which scholars refer to as the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, was probably not pronounced ‘Jehovah’ or ‘Yahweh,’ as some have guessed. The Israelite priests would have read the letters in reverse as Hu/Hi — in other words, the hidden name of God was Hebrew for ‘He/She.’

Sameth, whose cousin Paula Grossman was one of the first people in the U.S. to undergo sex-reassignment surgery (in the 1970s), comes to several conclusions, all of which support transgender equality, but the one I thought was most important was:

“Counter to everything we grew up believing, the God of Israel — the God of the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions to which fully half the
people on the planet today belong — was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual gendered deity.”

This wonderful essay, which you can read in its entirety by clicking here, recently became the subject of a National Catholic Reporter commentary.  After reading Sameth’s essay, writer Mariam Williams speculated why she had never heard of a dual gender god before, especially when the evidence seems to be so clearly embedded in several key texts.  Commenting on Sameth’s involvement with a transgender family member, Williams writes:

“I wonder how many people before him had read the same verses and drawn the same conclusions, but — because they didn’t have a cousin Paula they knew and loved and rooted for, or because it was the 1950s or 1890s and not the 21st century — they dismissed their discovery. They would have disrupted the status quo, and they would have been alone in their thinking.

‘How often do theologians and practicing ministers read Scripture in its original language and keep the knowledge to themselves out of fear of what they find?”

Williams, far from being paranoid, acknowledges that human frailty may play a part in why scholars don’t make such challenging discoveries public:

“. . . [I]t could be dangerous for the individual posing the argument, because disrupting the status quo is always dangerous, perhaps especially when you are personally invested in it. Furthermore, bringing counter-arguments into one’s belief system is scary. It means sitting in places where you’re uncomfortable, where doubt, the very enemy of faith, can fester.”

I think Williams is partially correct in this conclusion.  Yes, it is uncomfortable to be in a place where uncertainty reigns, where the status quo is challenged. But, isn’t that the place where all of us are every day of our lives?  Though things in our life are generally familiar, we never know what each day will bring, and we are often called to make decisions and choices based on how we assimilate dangerous, new knowledge into our more comfortable, secure values.  Whether we are aware of this or not, we do it every day.

Sometimes those experiences loom larger in our consciousness because they require a greater risk in our choices.  Sometimes we need to wrestle with our consciences in order to arrive at a decision.  But the more we act in this courageous way, the easier it becomes for the future–though, admittedly, it never becomes totally easy!

So, my main disagreement with Williams’ remark is that she places doubt as the enemy of faith.  Doubt is not an enemy of faith.  It’s a step on the way to faith.  The enemy of faith is fear–fear of taking the risk of the leap of faith.  Such fear sometimes reveals itself as a calcified certainty which prevents us from making a decision because we assume this decision is already made–usually by some other authority.

In the Catholic LGBT world, I have met many people whose courage and risk continue to inspire me.  These aren’t reckless people. They are faith-filled people.  I believe that it is through these many acts of individual courage, risk, and faith, that our church, as an institution, will eventually be able to make its own such acts.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Priest: Church Cannot Abandon Transgender Catholics

Fr. Bryan Massingale

The church must not abandon transgender Catholics. This is Fr. Bryan Massingale’s message in his new column published by U.S. Catholic, and it is a poignant message in view of Pope Francis’ recent remarks about gender identity.

Massingale. a professor of theology at Fordham University, New York, begins his essay by referencing a transgender panel discussion in which he participated earlier this year. Hosted by the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the largest annual gathering of Catholics in North America, that panel featured to young trans Catholics sharing their stories. Massingale commented on it:

“I was struck by their heartfelt conviction that accepting their true gender identities led them to a deeper and more authentic relationship with God. Hearing their stories of pain and triumph was one of the most privileged moments I have had in 33 years of being a priest.”

But Massingale notes that he questioned his own participation in the event, especially when friends and family asked him about the risks that identifying with LGBT people can have in the church. He explained:

“Space does not allow me to give my full response. But one reason why I chose to be present is because I have a lot to learn. To be blunt, I was at the panel precisely because of my ignorance and discomfort. Transgender issues were never addressed in either my moral theology courses in the seminary or in my graduate studies in Christian ethics. I—and most priests—have not been trained to specifically minister to transgender members of our parishes or to the concerns of their families.

“My personal ignorance is also shared by the church as a whole. There is much that we do not understand about what is technically called ‘gender dysphoria,’ or the lack of congruence between one’s physical body and gender identity. This ignorance leads to fear, and fear is at the root of the controversies in today’s so-called ‘bathroom wars.’ And there lies a major challenge that transgender people endure and that the faith community has to own: the human tendency to be uncomfortable and fearful in the face of what we don’t understand. It’s easier to ridicule and attack individuals we don’t understand than to summon the patience and humility to listen and to learn.”

The church cannot abandon trans Catholics because, Massingale explains, “Jesus would be present to, among, and with transgender persons.” His table ministry with society’s outcasts teaches Christians that we will be judged on “our compassion for the despised and disdained.” Lack of understanding of or comfort with people does not mitigate the obligation the church has to include them and minister to them.  Massingale also cited the compassionate side of Pope Francis:

“During Pope Francis’ visit last fall, he repeated on at least five occasions: ‘Jesus never abandons us.’ This is the deepest reason why I chose to be with Anna and Mateo, who spoke so eloquently for so many of our transgender fellow Catholics. Jesus does not abandon us. If we claim to be his followers, we cannot abandon them.”

You can read Fr. Massingale’s full essay by clicking here.

Fr. Massingale has himself not abandoned LGBT Catholics. While at Marquette University, he celebrated monthly Masses for members of the LGBTQ communities on campus because, he says, it is important they “have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them.” He challenged Pax Christi USA members at their 2013 annual conference to increase the organization’s defense of LGBT rights, as both a human rights concern and a necessary part of attracting younger Catholics. Massingale also joined other Catholic theologians and officials in condemning proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda.

Fr. Massingale will continue his call for inclusion and justice in the church when he will be a keynote speaker for New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” Early registration has now opened if you are interested in attending, and you can find more information by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Global Catholics ‘Lament’ Gender Identity Remarks by Pope Francis

Pope Francis addressing Poland’s bishops

Pushback has continued against transgender-negative remarks made by Pope Francis during his meeting two weeks ago with Poland’s bishops.

Francis expressed concern about schools teaching children they could choose their gender, the result of alleged ideological colonization, the pope suggested. You can read his initial remarks here, and a first round of reactions to them here.  New Ways Ministry’s response can be read here. For an insightful alternative view on the pope’s remarks, click here.

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) said it “laments the recent words of Pope Francis” and “regrets the lack of empathy” within them. GNRC’s statement continued:

“[Especially when] he mentioned Benedict XVI´s verdict that ‘we are living in an age of sin against God the Creator’, in reference to a conversation they previously had on gender issues. Such a statement, related to transgender and intersex people, does not express God’s love for those people, Catholic or not, who are usually and constantly questioned by the society, the Church and their families, for being whom they are. It might even be seen as reinforcing the condemnation and bullying of [transgender and intersex] people, even though the Pope surely did not intend it to be so.”

GNRC said it prayed for greater understanding from the church, offering its help in facilitating that process as all “walk the same path for a more truthful merger between our faith and our sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”

Journalist Mary Elizabeth Williams, noting the conflicted relationship some progressive Catholics have with this pope, wrote at Salon:

“Ever since becoming pope three years ago, Francis has had a confusing relationship with the LGBT community. . .So what does one do with a leader who’s better than others in the past, but still not nearly good enough?”

Catholic feminist Celia Wexler described Francis as “the pope of two minds” for The Huffington Post, writing:

“Time and time again, Pope Francis reveals the clash of two sides of the same man: the Pope of love and tolerance versus the Pope who closes the door on the possibility of change, and sees the world through the eyes of a 79-year-old celibate cleric. . .The Pope’s discomfort with changing attitudes, and emerging science, about gender identity keeps his instinct for generosity and kindness in check. Having Benedict reinforce that streak in his successor is very disillusioning.”

Pamela Valentine, the mother of a transgender son, wrote a letter to the pontiff on her blog, Affirmed Mom. Saying she would give Francis the benefit of the doubt, Valentine interpreted the pope’s words as if they were a mistake. She wrote:

“Last week, you announced that school children were being allowed to choose gender. I prefer to think you meant forced. And you are correct.

“All people in our modern society are forced to choose gender, to pick a team, from birth on. . .And so you took a stand. You said, enough. Stop forcing our children to choose, stop dressing them up as exaggerations of some idealized version of what men and women should look like. Stop thrusting them into roles that they don’t understand, don’t want, or don’t fit. Because Adam didn’t wear pants in the Garden of Eden and Eve didn’t wear a dress and make up. You know what they wore? Absolutely nothing and that’s exactly how God wanted it.

“I know that many will leap to defend your accusations that I let my child choose. Only I know that you’re smart enough to know that nobody gets to choose their gender. . .For you to make any other claim about your gender means that you do not understand it, and I would certainly hope the leader of a major religion would not speak on matters he didn’t understand.”

Valentine concluded by noting that her trans son expresses an interest in becoming Catholic, knowing love from Jesus and being affirmed by his family. She challenged Pope Francis “to expose a gross oversimplification of gender in our world. . .to change the world and make it better for future generations.”

Finally, Eliel Cruz, the executive director of Faith in America, told Edge Media Network:

“It is incredibly naïve Pope Francis believes the image of God is anything close to binary. . .In believing that God is only represented in male or female, Pope Francis is effectively eliminating the diversity and complexity of the image of God. Francis also ignores the reality of intersex individuals in his complementary lens. Pope Francis is denying the full image of God when he denies the transgender community.”

For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of gender identity issues in the Catholic church, visit the “Transgender” category on the right-hand column of this page or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



Putting Pope Francis’ “Ideology of Gender” Comments in Context

Cristina Traina
Cristina Traina

Today’s post is by guest blogger Cristina Traina, Professor of Religious Studies, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.  Professor Traina is also a member of New Ways Ministry’s Advisory Board.


At World Youth Day in Krakow last month, Pope Francis again condemned “the ideology of gender.” The outcry from LGBTQ advocates that resulted was both predictable and understandable.  Francis once again upheld gender essentialism against the more complex experiences of LGBTQ people.  Once again he seemed paternalistically to prefer a “simple faith” over sophisticated theological reflection on gender.  And once again he seemed simply to repeat the maxims of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

And yet it would be too bad to overlook an important difference in Francis’s position, a difference we need to understand if we hope to have thoughtful discussions on LGBTQ issues with people of his persuasion. Specifically, we can listen more closely to Francis’s claim that rich countries are unjustly shoving the idea of gender choice down the throats of poor ones. We hear Francis as if he were talking primarily about gender, but for him the real problems are northern cultural imperialism and the still-potent effects of colonialism.

The story behind the slogan “the ideology of gender”—a slogan that almost always appears in the context of coercion of poor countries—concerns a loan for the construction of schools for the poor. Its approval, Francis notes, was contingent on a minister of education accepting and using a textbook that the funders prescribed in which “gender theory was taught.”  In Francis’ words:

Pope Francis

“This is ideological colonization. They introduce an idea to the people that has nothing to do with the people. With groups of people yes, but not with the people. And they colonize the people with an idea which changes, or means to change, a mentality or a structure….certain loans in exchange for certain conditions….Why do I say ‘ideological colonization’? Because they take, they actually take the need of a people to seize an opportunity to enter and grow strong — through the children.”

It’s clear from the context that the situation was coercive:  if you want to borrow our money to serve children in desperate need of education, you will use the book that we approve, whether or not it makes sense to your students in their historical and cultural setting or addresses their most pressing educational deficits.

From Francis’s perspective, northern countries who still benefit from colonialism should not be placing endless conditions on almost all forms of grant-in-aid, and even interest-bearing loans, that they make to the global south, as if southern countries should “earn” northern support.  Rather, as a matter of justice northern nations should be freely sharing wealth, academic expertise, and other advantages they wrongly gained from colonialism with their neighbors whom they wrongly impoverished by it.  That some conditions the north places on aid seem intended to undermine what he perceives as southern nations’ last outposts of strength, their family networks, is the last straw.

I’m not arguing that Francis does not have a traditional Argentinian cultural view of gender as binary.  He does.  I’m not arguing that he’s demonstrated a subtle understanding of LGBTQ experiences of gender.  He hasn’t.  And I’m not arguing that all Latin American family traditions are always empowering.  They aren’t.  But what Francis is saying, we need to hear:  if almost nothing the global north has forced on the global south has benefited it, if almost everything the global north does is poisoned by self-interest, and if almost everything it has imposed has destroyed southern cultural systems, why should he trust the global north on gender?

We can work, write, and pray for Francis’s conversion on this issue.  But in the meantime, here is an opportunity for creative response to his legitimate frustration with the global north.  We can recognize that bad delivery systems compromise good content.  For example, despite coercive, ultimately unsuccessful northern methods of “conversion” that Bartolomé de Las Casas condemned nearly 500 years ago when the dominant approach evangelization method of European explorers was, in his words, to “annoy, persecute, afflict, and arouse” Native Americans. Some northerners managed to follow his advice of employing “the power of gentleness, service, kindness, and the words of the gospel to encourage them to put on the gentle yoke of Christ.”  He argued for this, and more, for Native American peoples European courts.  He didn’t always win.  But thanks in part to his critique of coercion, Christianity stuck.

Likewise, we northerners believe that the Spirit of freedom and truth is truly stirring among LGBTQ people today.  Yet, our governments and multinational institutions are justly accused of repeating the sin of coercion.  What if, despite our marginalization, we recognized our comparative privilege and power? What if we used that power to lobby not just for loans, but for reparations, for the global south?  What if, in addition to continuing our important efforts at gentle, kind, compassionate service to LGBTQ people worldwide, we used that power to convince our perhaps well-meaning but coercive governments to be less heavy-handed?  That might preach.  Like Bartolomé de Las Casas, we will lose some cases.  But our message too will eventually stick.

–Cristina Traina

Related posts

Bondings 2.0: “Pope’s Lament About Children and Gender Identity Reveals Serious Blind Spot

Bondings 2.0: Pope Francis’ Remarks on Gender in Schools Deemed Ambiguous, Out of Touch

Pope’s Lament About Children and Gender Identity Reveals Serious Blind Spot

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director.

Pope Francis’ shocked lament about schools teaching children they can choose their gender says more about the pope’s knowledge of LGBT issues than it does about the reality of gender identity.

Pope Francis at a World Youth Day event

His statement that “Today, in schools they are teaching this to children – to children! – that everyone can choose their gender” reveals a serious blind spot about educational systems and transgender people.  The pope made this comment in a private conversation with Polish bishops during his recent meeting with them during World Youth Day events in Poland. The Vatican just made these remarks public yesterday.

Nobody chooses a gender identity. They discover it. Transgender people come to know themselves in a process is similar to the way that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people discover their sexual orientation.  It is not a choice, but a given. In fact, heterosexual and cisgender people go through the same process.  It’s just that in their cases, the wider culture and society approves and supports their discoveries, and so these self-revelations seem unremarkable.

Pope Francis claimed that this education about gender was happening because influential donors and nations were promoting such education, though the pontiff neglected to identify who he thinks these parties are.  Because he did not identify them, it becomes very suspicious that the pope or the Vatican have any hard evidence to back the claim.

No reputable educational material would talk about gender identity in terms of choice because no reputable scientific source would subscribe to such a claim.

Moreover, most reputable scientific experts say that allowing children to transition in youth is both a physically and psychologically healthy thing for them to do in most cases.  This idea, though, is worlds away from encouraging children to choose their gender. Accepting gender transition in youth is done for children who have consistently and persistently been aware that their true gender did not match their biological sex.  These decisions are not whims, as Pope Francis’ comment implies, but true discernments by child, parents, and medical professionals.  It would be great to add “pastoral counselors” to that list of people, if the Church would just encourage such involvement, as a British monsignor suggested last year.

Labeling this supposed educational material as “ideological colonization,” as Francis has done in the past and which he reiterated at his meeting with the Polish bishops, has the earmarks of fear-mongering, something that is below the higher standard that Pope Francis has established for the way church officials should lead.

Equally troubling were the pope’s endorsement of remarks shared with him by the retired Pope Benedict XVI.  Francis told the bishops “God created man and woman, God created the world this way, this way, this way, and we are doing the opposite. . . .We must think about what Pope Benedict said — ‘It’s the epoch of sin against God the Creator.’ ”

How can such discovering and affirming one’s gender identity be a sin against God the Creator when what is really occurring is that the person in question is actually affirming and fully living the identity which God created?

The pontiff’s remarks are further evidence that church officials need desperately to educate themselves about the lives and experiences of LGBT people.  Church leaders need to update their understandings of gender identity and sexual orientation.  The best way they can do this is for the Vatican to establish a commission to look into these topics with an open and objective approach.  The commission should include scientific and theological experts, but also LGBT people themselves so that they can share their stories of joy, struggle, and faith with church leaders.  The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics has already called for such a commission, and New Ways Ministry endorses this idea.  Pope Francis recently took the bold step of establishing a commission to examine the possibility of ordaining women as deacons. He can do the same for LGBT issues, too.

Pope Francis has remarked on ideological colonization or gender identity issues before.   His strongest negative remarks about gender identity came in his encyclical on creation, Laudato Si, and his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.   While this latest remark was not his first ill-informed comment, let’s hope it will be his last.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

USA Today: Pope: It’s ‘terrible’ kids taught they can choose gender”