Vatican Official Criticizes Transgender Rights at Bioethics Conference

A senior Vatican official criticized transgender rights at a recent U.S. bioethics conference that was attended by more than one hundred North American bishops. But despite the official’s and conference organizers’ claims to the contrary, Catholic understandings and implications of gender identity are not settled.

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Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, addressed the conference, “Healing Persons in a Wounded Culture,” organized by two organizations with LGBT-negative records, the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) and the Knights of Columbus (K of C).

Paglia, who is president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and formerly head of the Pontifical Council on the Family before it was merged into the new Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, said in his address that bishops should be “very clear-headed and resolute in confronting the contradictions of extreme individualism and moral relativity.”

“Transgenderism” and “the ideological take-over of gender questions,” Paglia said, are tied to “the acquisition of greater power and the satisfaction of our own desires.” About a range of issues, the archbishop warned against people who are “maddened with dream of omnipotence. . .and the ancient call of hubris leads man to believe himself a ‘creator’ as well as a destroyer.”

On gender identity specifically, Paglia quoted a segment of Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia which suggests people today understand identity as “the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time” and that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.” He said later:

“As we respond to what for too long we have called ‘challenges,’ we must remember that we are to [sic] being called to a conflict but rather to a rebuilding, a reconstruction of what it means to be human.  Our first task is not to identify enemies but rather to find companions on the journey, person with whom we can share our path.  In this optic—and I’m referring to only one subject that can open a new horizon on the relationship between the Church and the family—a call for a new alliance, human and civil, between men and women wold be an indispensable resource. The alliance between the sexes that, as a result of openness to community, can be created not only within marriage and the family, is a resource that the Church must seek out, encourage and support.  It is likewise the most effective response to ideologies of separation or indifference.  The alliance of masculine and feminine must again take hold of the tiller of history, of statecraft, of the economy.”

Gender identity topics covered at the conference included “learning how recently won rights for transgender individuals could affect Catholic entities, including hospitals, schools and parishes, on both ethical and legal grounds,” reported Michael O’Loughlin of America magazine. Despite the conference devoting “the first day of our Workshop to grappling with the issue of transgenderism,” there were no presentations given or remarks offered by trans person.

Paglia’s remarks and the general tenor the conference are consistent with NCBC’s understanding of gender identity. America cited a statement from the organization that described trans equality as “coercive and based on a destructive understanding of human identity” and rejected all forms of gender transition or even using names and pronouns which may be inconsistent with a person’s biological sex.

But gender identity is not settled in either Catholic teaching or pastoral practice, and many have criticized approaches like that of NCBC. O’Loughlin quoted Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, who criticized the conference for not considering “the most up to date scientific research research on transgender issues” or for hearing testimony from any trans individuals.  He continued:

“They should instead follow the example of Pope Francis who has revealed that he has had discussions with transgender Catholics.”

Theological experts who had not been invited to speak at the conference were interviewed by O’Loughlin.  They agreed that more reflection was needed beyond the simple answers offered at the NCBC.

Charles E. Bouchard, O.P., who directs ethics and theology for the Catholic Health Association, said while gender dysphoria was nearly settled as a legitimate medical condition, much is still unknown about gender identity and “we’re trying to be cautious before we make definitive ethical statements about it.”

Carol Bayley, vice president for ethics at the Dignity Health System, argued in 2016 that, in America’s words, “Catholic hospitals may be morally permitted to carry out some gender reassignment procedures. She urged Catholic hospitals to have an open mind and to educate staff about trans issues.” America magazine quoted Bayley:

“‘Because this condition is relatively rare, and also because it affects socially freighted aspects of our humanity—sex and gender—many in Catholic health care are unfamiliar with it. That should not prevent us from rendering compassionate care’. . .

“‘Furthermore, Catholic health care institutions should be cautious about developing practices that could violate their own policies of non-discrimination, particularly in light of the federal government’s recognition of transgender individuals as members of a protected class.'”

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Discerning a path for the church through which it can more inclusively and more lovingly respond to trans people and their loved ones is urgently needed work. Trans communities experience rates of violence, discrimination, and suicide far higher than the general population. Rejecting trans people from Catholic health providers, who care for 1 in 6 patients nationally, will create much suffering.

While NCBC, K of C, and similar Catholic right-wing groups want to stem the expansion of LGBT rights, and specifically protections for transgender persons, many Catholics, thankfully, are taking a more inclusive approach. A Jesuit priest in Canada recently spoke out for transgender equality legislation, Indian Catholics helped found a school for transgender youth, and theologians are exploring gender identity in positive ways.  Most recently, Fr. James Martin, SJ, spoke out in defense of transgender youth, in the midst of the U.S.’s latest “bathroom debate.”

Bishops in North America should not be swayed by right-wing groups who promote an ideological agenda not rooted in good science nor the personal experiences of trans people. Applying Pope Francis’ words quoted in the graphic above, Catholics have two paths which we can follow: the path of exclusion or the path of inclusion.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 27, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Two Jesuits Offer Contrasting Reactions to Repeal of Guidelines Protecting Transgender Youth

U.S. bishops, including Bishop George Murry, S.J., have applauded the Trump administration’s decision to rescind federal guidelines aimed at protecting transgender students. In contrast, Fr. James Martin, S.J. criticized those who oppose transgender rights. But which of these two paths taken by Jesuit priests will Catholics follow should LGBT rights become repealed.

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Archbishop Charles Chaput and President Donald Trump

In a joint letter, Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap.,were of Philadelphia and Bishop George Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, in their respective capacities as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and Committee on Catholic Education, said they were “grateful” that the Trump administration has revoked a “Dear Colleagues” letter with guidelines for protecting transgender students that was issued during the Obama administration.

Describing the Trump administration’s decision, The New York Times reported that “top civil rights officials from the Justice Department and the Education Department rejected the Obama administration’s position” which had expanded nondiscrimination protections based on sex to include trans youth in public schools. Those protections allowed trans students to use sex-segregated spaces, like bathrooms and locker rooms, consistent with their gender, and to have their name and pronouns respected at school.

When the “Dear Colleagues” letter was issued last May, Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha released a statement calling it “deeply disturbing.” Elsewhere, Catholic groups sued the Department of Health and Human Services last year to prevent implementation healthcare nondiscrimination protections similar to the education guidelines.

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-10-48-38-amBut Fr. James Martin, S.J., took a different approach than his Jesuit counterpart, Bishop Murry. In a series of tweets on February 22nd, when the policy change was announced, Martin indirectly criticized the decision by expressing his support for transgender youth. Martin said:

  • #Trans students endure so many indignities already. They should be able to use whatever bathrooms they choose. It’s doesn’t hurt anybody.
  • It saddens me that a #trans student cannot choose what bathrooms to use. A basic need. It’s an affront to their dignity as human beings.
  • And who is harmed by a #trans student using a bathroom? I’ve seen women using men’s rooms when the ladies’ rooms were full. Who is harmed?
  • As usual, the one who is made to suffer indignities is the one on the margins, the one seen as “other,” the one seen as “them.”
  • But for Jesus, there is no “other.” There is no “them.” There is only “us.” So we must be about openness, acceptance and inclusion. #trans

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-10-50-04-amFr. Martin, who received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award last October, also posted messages on Facebook that were similar to his tweets. Last May, when the Obama administration implemented the now-rescinded directive, Martin, in an interview, said respecting trans people was a “fairly simple thing to do.

It is worth noting that another Jesuit priest and theologian, Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ, recently defended a transgender rights bill in Canada.

massingale_2The action of Frs. Martin and Mongeau align with theologians exhortations that the church should provide pastoral care to trans people and promote their human wholeness, while not treating trans people with with pity. Fr. Bryan Massingale has written movingly about why the church cannot abandon transgender people. (Note: Fr. Massingale will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” this April. For more information, please visit www.symposium2017.org).

Supporting trans people is consistent with church teaching, and already practiced by many of the faithful, especially outside the U.S. Indeed, historically Catholic nations have led on expanding rights for trans and intersex people: Malta has enacted what is considered the gold standard of gender identity laws in Europe, and the Associated Press reported that Argentina has “the world’s most far-reaching laws” that allow children as young as 6 to have official documents which conform with their gender identity. In India, the bishops’ development agency launched an outreach program for trans people, and Catholics helped open the nation’s first school with supports for trans youth.

Speaking about hope in a recent weekly audience, Pope Francis said that the hope given to us by God “does not separate us from others, nor does it lead us to discredit or marginalize them.” With a U.S. federal government now led by politicians with long records of hostility toward LGBT rights, it is now more urgent than ever for Catholics to reject Bishop Murry’s path of exclusion and discrimination and instead choose Fr. Martin’s path of compassion and inclusion.

You can find more of Bondings 2.0’s coverage of gender identity issues in our “Transgender” category to the right or by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 25, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

NEWS NOTES: Peru, Britain, Poland, Virginia

News NotesHere are some items that might be of interest:

  1. In the heavily Catholic nation of Peru, a recent rise in progressive activism for LGBT equality was recently met with conservative groups organizing a “March for Heterosexual Pride,” according to an article on Towelroad.comSimilarly, in protest to a new sex education and gender equality curriculum, a new group called “Don’t Mess With My Children.”  The group opposes what they call “gender ideology,” a term favored by many Catholic conservative bishops and Pope Francis.

2. The British Medical Association’s new set of staff guidelines encourages employees not to use the term “expectant mothers,” but instead should refer to “pregnant people,” according to The Telegraph. The purpose of the terminology change is to not offend transgender and intersex men who can or have been pregnant.  Bishop Philip Egan, the Roman Catholic bishop of Portsmouth, England, predicted that the new terminology would cause “great confusion and harm.”

3. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said that he did not think the predominantly Catholic nation would accept a change in the Constitution to allow for same-sex marriage, according to TheNews.pl. Duda, a member of the ruling Law and Justice party, which promotes traditional Polish values, family and Catholic traditions, stated in an interview: “I do not think that the political majority today would agree to any amendment to the Constitution in this area, water down this clause and open interpretation that marriage could also include other genders.”  Poland is one of seven nations in the 28-member European Union which bans same-sex marriage, and one of six nations in the federation which does not allow civil unions.

4. The Senate of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the U.S.A., has approved a religious liberty bill that would prevent the government from punishing religious organizations which do not allow for same-sex marriage, according to The Christian Times.  The state’s House of Delegates also approved a similar bill.  Both bills appear to be in response to the executive order issued by Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Catholic, that prohibits state contracts from being given to organizations which do not have an anti-discrimination policy protecting sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Virginia Catholic Conference called the two bills “top priority” legislation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 19, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

 

Under Trump, Will Transgender Lives Matter for Catholic Hospitals?

With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) under siege by the new U.S. president, many people in the U.S. are worried about changes in their healthcare, especially LGBT communities for whom access to competent and affordable healthcare can sometimes be more problematic than for most people.

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Jionni Conforti

Of concern to Catholics is the unclear position that church leaders and church-affiliated providers will take towards LGBT people in this unfolding situation. A closer look into one transgender man’s experience with a Catholic hospital reveals just what is at stake in the coming months.

Bondings 2.0 reported last month about the lawsuit filed by Jionni Conforti against St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in New Jersey. You can read an initial report by clicking here. The suit alleges that the hospital refused to perform a hysterectomy which was a “medically necessary as part of [Conforti’s] gender transition.” Conforti’s lawyer, Omar Gonzalez-Pagan of Lambda Legal, told the progressive media outlet Rewire:

“‘For them to say, in writing, we’re not going to do this service, or provide the ability to have these facilities available for this service, because it has to do with your gender identity, and it has to do with the medical treatment for your gender dysphoria, really is discrimination at its core. . .And for them to use religion as an excuse for this discrimination, I think, is something that cannot be accepted.'”

Conforti said the alleged discrimination has been especially painful because St. Joseph’s was his “neighborhood hospital,” where family members have been treated and “where I feel comfortable.” For this reason, though he underwent the hysterectomy elsewhere, Conforti remains troubled:

“[He said,]’My main concern right now is that I still live in Totowa and I’ve lived here my entire life, so in the event of an emergency, the only place that an ambulance would take me is to St. Joseph’s. . .And, you know, I worry that, God forbid something happened, what would I do, how would I be treated? So it’s a constant fear.’

“In October 2016, that fear partly came true. Conforti was in a car accident in Wayne, New Jersey, and suffered minor injuries. The emergency service technicians recommended he get emergency care, but said they could only take him to the two St. Joseph’s locations nearby. If he wanted to go elsewhere, he would have to hire a private ambulance. Afraid to seek care from St. Joseph’s, Conforti instead asked his wife to drive him about 25 minutes away, to another hospital in Montclair, New Jersey.”

Sadly, Conforti’s circumstances are not unique. Many trans people cannot access competent and affordable healthcare, or may even avoid healthcare fearful of discrimination. Rewire cited data from the National Center for Transgender Equality that reveals “23 percent of trans people avoided going to the doctor because they feared discrimination; one-third of respondents had at least one negative experience with their provider, including having to educate the provider on trans people in order to receive appropriate care.”

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 helped to improve healthcare for trans communities, especiallly since Section 1557 established non-discrimination protections based on sex, a class that was interpreted by the Obama administration to include gender identity. It is unclear whether such protections would still hold if the ACA is repealed and replaced by an as yet uknown program devised by Republican legislators.  Even if the ACA is not repealed, it is uncertain whether the Trump administration will interpret the non-discrimination protections in the same way as the Obama administration did.

Even if the ACA and its non-discrimination protections remain in place, will religiously-affiliated providers be allowed to discriminate under existing or even expanded exemptions? St. Joseph’s cited the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” to justify its refusal to provide care for Conforti, guidelines which dictate care for “one in six hospital beds nationwide,” according to Rewire.

Just two weeks after Inauguration Day, efforts to repeal the ACA are well underway. There are more questions than answers about what comes next. But church leaders and Catholic providers do not have to wait and see what happens nationally. They can decide right now to provide high-quality, lifesaving care for LGBT patients.

Catholic hospitals and health systems can choose freely to adopt non-discrimination protections inclusive of gender and sexual minorities. They can train providers to be informed about the unique health needs of LGBT patients, and to provide additional services and programs that may be required. The complexities of law, ethics, and institutional bureaucracies are real, but there is wisdom, too, in Conforti’s statement:

“If there is a procedure that is medically necessary, there should be no question whether or not they will do it. . .No one should be rejected or denied care, especially just for being who you are.'”

Nothing in church teaching restricts more inclusive policies and practices from being enacted in church-affiliated healthcare. Indeed, the Catholic identity so often cited to deny care to patients like Jionni Conforti is the very mandate for why such actions must be now taken. With LGBT communities under attack, this is a moment in history for Catholic hospitals to state decisively that transgender lives, and the lives of all LGBT people matter immensely.

And if inspiration is needed, Catholics can look to St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City which, in 1973, adopted a non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation.

To get started on an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy at your Catholic parish, school, hospital, or social service agency, contact New Ways Ministry at info@newwaysministry.org or (301) 277-5674. You can also find more information on making this change here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 6, 2017

 

Jesuit Priest Speaks Out for Canadian Transgender Equality Bill

A Jesuit priest in Toronto, Canada, has emerged as an important voice in support of a national bill for transgender equality.

Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ

Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ, associate professor of systematic theology at Regis College, Toronto, has spoken out in favor of bill C-16 which would include gender identity and expressions as protected categories in Canada’s  Human Rights Act.  According to an article in America magazine, Fr. Mongeau stated:

“To the extent that it seeks to protect the quest of trans people to be themselves in a safe environment, Bill C-16 is something to be applauded by Christians.”

Mongeau has worked with Our Lady of Lourdes parish, situated in the gay neighborhood of Toronto.  The parish hosts a program called “All Inclusive Ministries,” which hosts a weekly Mass for the LGBT community, among other programs.

The Jesuit priest acknowledges that biological sex and gender may be more complex phenomena than simple physical characteristics.  He follows his brother Jesuit, Pope Francis, in describing church outreach to transgender people, saying:

“We must begin from the fact that the church, at this time, has no official teaching about gender identity or trans persons.”

“[Mongeau] underlines the need to, as Pope Francis suggests, accompany real people in real situations. For his part, though the Holy Father has been critical of ‘gender theory,’ he has been sensitive to preferred pronouns in the context of real encounter. That is reflected in his comments about a letter he received from a transgender man: ‘He who was a she, but is a he,’ the pope said.”

The question about pronoun usage reveals a more important question about our understanding of transgender people as human beings, Mongeau noted:

“The question of pronouns cannot be separated from the real lives of people. Asking these questions in the abstract is part of the problem we are facing because it makes it possible to evoke the image or idea that trans people somehow serve an agenda of attacking the moral fiber of society or serve an anti-Christian agenda. Trans people, in my experience, are trying to live healthy, productive and (sometimes) spiritually fruitful lives.”

In the America article, the need for equal civil protections for transgender people was expressed by Janice Towndrow, a Christian transgender woman from Toronto:

“I used to wish I had cancer because when you have cancer all the family rallies around you. But when you’re trans, you don’t have family, they kick you out.

‘It is very difficult,’ she says, even ‘comparable to biblical times,’ when lepers were shunned by the community. ‘You’re distanced; you’re pulled from your family; you’re cast out of the community. So you don’t see your children anymore. If you had a job, you probably don’t have it anymore.’ “

Janice Towndrow

And she noted how important it is for Christian churches to support transgender people and Bill c-16:

“Christian support for Bill C-16 would make a huge difference for transgender people looking to lead healthy spiritual lives, who are often alienated by communities of faith. As Ms. Towndrow explains, ‘I think somewhere along the line, everyone [in the transgender community] turns their back on the church because the church has turned its back on them.”

The bill passed Canada’s House of Commons in December, by a vote of 248-40, and is now being sent to the Senate.

While opponents of the bill continue to make their voices heard, we can thank God for courageous Catholic leaders like Fr. Mongeau and for communities like Our Lady of Lourdes parish for showing their public support for transgender equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 31, 2017

 

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

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

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Jionni Conforti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Catholics in India Help Found New School for Transgender Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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