Catholic and LGBT Advocates Give Mixed Reactions to Pope Francis’ Remarks

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 5, 2016

Pope Francis’ latest comments on LGBT issues, in which he both called for more competent and case-by-case pastoral care for transgender people and said there was a “world war to destroy marriage,” have provoked strong reactions. Below, Bondings 2.0 features reactions from Catholics and LGBT advocates. You can read a report on the papal remarks by clicking here, and you can find New Ways Ministry’s response by clicking here.

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Aoife Assumpta Hart

Aoife Assumpta Hart, a transsexual Catholic woman who is herself critical of “gender theory,” had been worried the Vatican would condemn trans identities and bar people from the Sacraments. But in view of the pope’s remarks, Hart wrote on her blog, Aoifeschatology:

“[My] canonical fate had not been foreclosed, and my Church was developing a more nuanced approach, one of encounter rather than dismissal… I could remain in the church I truly love and consider my life’s greatest treasure — being Catholic. Pope Francis offered to walk with me, not against me…” And in the Pope’s most recent comments — I read several moments of affirmation that enriches my belief that, with time, and patience and cooperation (from trans and non-trans faithful)… there still remains the Christian compromise of a merciful, rational, common ground for trans inclusion.”

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Fr. James Martin

Fr. James Martin, SJ said in a Facebook Live conversation (see video below) on the America Magazine page:

“It seems like in his public pronouncements he’s still trying to come to understand it. One wonders who is speaking to him about this. I mean is he speaking to a lot of parents of transgender or gay children, or is he just hearing things anecdotally… It’s a struggle for him. I don’t think, though, that it’s a doctrinal struggle because I think that the main thing that he is recommending and encouraging priests and pastoral workers and everyone who works with the church to do is this accompaniment.”

Fr. Martin also cautioned against interpreting the pope’s remarks through only a Western lens where LGBT acceptance is increasingly common, commenting:

“Imagine reading this [in the Global South] and even parts of Europe where a bishop or a priest may be antipathetic to LGBT people, imagine reading this, this is quite a challenge… I think these are very big steps forward as far as I know.”

Finally, Fr. Martin saw Pope Francis’ remarks as validating LGBT ministries already being undertaken by Catholics:

“For people who are working with LGBT people, first to sort of take this as a kind of encouragement for your work against people who are saying that’s not an appropriate ministry or that’s not a real ministry or that’s not something you should be doing. And to continue this culture of encounter and accompaniment…I think [Pope Francis] has been very encouraging to people who do LGBT outreach.”

 

[Note: New Ways Ministry is awarding Fr. Martin its Bridge Building Award for his efforts to promote understanding and reconciliation in the church. If you are interested in attending or honoring Fr. Martin, more details are available here.]

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Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA said in a statement:

“Our Church leaders need to abandon the biological determinism that they have adopted, and accept that God’s imagination and love are greater than ours. We need our Shepherds to provide appropriate support, care, and guidance, rather than condemnation. We agree with Pope Francis that marriage is a ‘beautiful thing.’ LGBTQ people and allies join Church leaders in affirming marriage.”

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Rev. Rodney McKenzie, Jr.

Rev. Rodney McKenzie, Jr. of the National LGBTQ Task Force called on Pope Francis to educate himself further, as reported by The Washington Blade:

“[M]illions of people are deeply hurt by what Pope Francis has said about transgender and gender non-conforming people, which reveals a profound lack of knowledge and empathy… We urge the pontiff to educate himself about the realities of transgender people’s lives and to welcome and affirm transgender and gender non-conforming people rather than reject and dehumanize them.”

In a statement from the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics,  Ruby Almeida, Co-Chair, said:

Ruby Almeida

“Pope Francis has softened his words when talking about sexual orientation and gender identity diversity. Nevertheless, in what he says, the Pope does reveals a level of  prejudice and a level of misunderstanding of the life experiences of LGBTI persons. GNRC would be most happy to start a dialogue with the Pope to enable  him to get a more holistic understanding of our community’s spiritual and pastoral needs.”

Kevin Clarke of America Magazine questioned how much further the pope could go on LGBT issues, saying:

Kevin Clarke

“It seems like the pope wants to have it all. There’s a point where you can only talk about outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people as a pastoral requirement, a dictate of pastoral life, and then fully embracing LGBT people in the manner their hoping for. And I don’t know how much further along he can go on this path without getting into doctrinal issues and, frankly, disappointing people.”

Pope Francis’ treatment of LGBT issues remains muddled, and so it is not surprising that Catholic and LGBT advocates have responded both positively and negatively.

What do you think? Are these latest comments from the pope positive steps for LGBT Catholics or is any good overshadowed by the pope’s criticisms? You can leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

New Ways Ministry Both Praises and Criticizes Pope Francis’ Latest LGBT Comments

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, responding to Pope Francis’ October 2nd, 2016, remarks on LGBT topics.

Pope Francis’ latest plane interview on the pastoral accompaniment of LGBT people shows his profound sensitivity to the need for judging moral situations on a case-by-case basis. At the same time, his comments also reveal that he needs to abandon his reliance upon so-called “gender theory” and “ideological colonization,” ideas which do not fit reality.

Pope Francis makes a point during the October 2nd plane interview.

The pope’s call for more sensitive pastoral care is a bold step forward for the Catholic Church, but his comments about gender and education show his misunderstanding of what LGBT advocates actually propose.

On the first point, Francis’ model of pastoral ministry to people faced with a question of sexual morality or gender identity is not to ignore, condemn, or provide pat answers, as past church leaders have suggested. When helping people discern an answer to a vexing moral question, Pope Francis said ministers should “Welcome it, accompany it, study it, discerning and integrating.” And he is on target when he says that “This is what Jesus would do today.”

This model is one that should be adopted by bishops, priests, and pastoral ministers around the globe. It is a model that New Ways Ministry and many Catholic advocates for LGBT people have been proposing for decades, so it is refreshing to see that such ideas are now being shared at the highest levels of church authority. This model of ministry values the Church’s teachings on the primacy of conscience, and that recognizes all people as uniquely and wonderfully created by God.

On the second point about gender theory and ideological colonization, the pope’s remarks reveal that he thinks children are being encouraged to choose their genders in a frivolous way. That simply is not the case. Education around gender identity typically supports people whose life journeys show they have discovered, not chosen, a gender identity which is integrally consistent and permanent.

Similarly, his comments about marriage earlier in his trip indicate that he does not see that the real problems harming marriage are social, economic, religious, and personal ones. Throwing about terms such as “gender theory” and “ideological colonization” is a red herring. It deflects from examining the deeper causes of marital strife and deterioration.

Of transgender identities, the pope noted that “It is a moral problem. It is a problem. A human problem.” He is correct only in the sense that pressures to deny one’s true, interior gender identity cause great personal problems for individuals. The true moral solution is to allow such persons the freedom to choose whatever avenues they determine will be the ones that will integrate themselves psychologically, relationally, and spiritually, as God would want.

Pope Francis Says Accompanying LGBT People is “What Jesus Would Do Today”

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 3, 2016

Pope Francis twice opined on LGBT issues during his Apostolic Journey to Georgia and Azerbaijan over the weekend.

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Pope Francis during in-flight press conference

Interviewed during the return flight to Rome on Sunday, Pope Francis was asked about his repeated criticisms of gender theory and what his pastoral response to gender dysphoric persons might be.

Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter asked the pope what he would say to “someone who has struggled with their sexuality for years and feels that there is truly a problem of biology, that his aspect doesn’t correspond to what he or she feels is their sexual identity?”

In his response, Pope Francis called for the church to accompany people as they discern moral decisions in their own circumstances. The pope said that even as pope he had “accompanied people with homosexual tendencies,” adding:

“I have accompanied people with homosexual tendencies, I have also met homosexual persons, accompanied them, brought them closer to the Lord, as an apostle, and I have never abandoned them. People must be accompanied as Jesus accompanies them, when a person who has this condition arrives before Jesus, Jesus surely doesn’t tell them ‘go away because you are homosexual.'”

Pope Francis also shared his perspective on a meeting he had last year with Diego Neria Lejárraga, a transgender man from Spain who had written to the pope. According to the National Catholic Reporter:

“‘[Neria] is a young woman who suffered much because she felt like a young man,’ the pope explained. ‘She felt like a young man, but she was physically a young woman.’

“The woman, Francis said, had undergone gender reassignment surgery and had then married a woman. ‘He wrote me a letter saying that, for him, it would be a consolation to come [see me] with his wife,’ the pope said, clarifying: ‘He that was her but is he.'”

The pope explained how Neria Lejárraga was mistreated by a younger priest, who would yell that the transgender man would be going to Hell, while an older priest invited him to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and of Eucharist. Francis commented:

“Life is life and things must be taken as they come. Sin is sin. And tendencies or hormonal imbalances have many problems and we must be careful not to say that everything is the same. Let’s go party. No, that no, but in every case I accept it, I accompany it, I study it, I discern it and I integrate it. This is what Jesus would do today!”

Francis added that the press should not report “the Pope sanctifies transgenders.” He added, “It’s moral problem. It’s a human problem and it must be resolved always. . .with the mercy of God, with the truth. . .always with an open heart.”

The pope also criticized again the ambiguous concepts of gender theory and ideological colonization, saying:

“What I said is that wickedness which today is done in the indoctrination of gender theory. . .a French father told me that he was speaking with his children at the table, he and his wife were Catholics, ‘rosewater Catholics,’ but Catholics! And he asked his 10-year-old son: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’- ‘a girl.’ The father realized that at school they were teaching him gender theory, and this is against the natural things. One thing is that a person has this tendency, this condition and even changes their sex, but it’s another thing to teach this in line in schools in order to change the mentality. This is what I call ideological colonization.”

This criticism followed similar remarks earlier in the weekend trip, in which he said gender theory was “a great enemy to marriage today.” Francis continued in remarks to clergy, religious, and pastoral workers in Georgia:

“Today there is a world war to destroy marriage. Today there are ideological colonisations which destroy, not with weapons, but with ideas.  Therefore, there is a need to defend ourselves from ideological colonisations.”

Bondings 2.0 will provide updates this week, including reactions from Catholics, as they occur. Worth remembering as the remarks of the pope and his responders are interpreted and received are words from the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to summarize this most recent Apostolic Journey: “Don’t turn differences into sources of conflict, but of mutual enrichment.”

Transgender Catholic Legislator Appeals to Peers for LGBT Protections

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Geraldine Roman

The first transgender person elected to the Philippines’ House of Representative, who is a Catholic, has powerfully asked her peers to pass LGBT non-discrimination protections.

Geraldine Roman addressed the House last Monday for over an hour about the “Anti-Discrimination Bill on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” Roman filed the Bill in June, but there has been little progress towards passing it for the highly Catholic nation. She appealed to legislators in a personal way, reported Inquirer.nettelling them:

” ‘I cannot turn my back at a group of people, who have long suffered discrimination, and have long been denied adequate legal protection. How can I turn a blind eye to the suffering that I myself have experienced at some point in my life?’

” ‘We are your brothers; we are your sisters; your sons and your daughters, and nieces and nephews. We are your family. We are your friends; your schoolmates; your colleagues at work. . .We are human beings.’

” ‘We love our families. We love our country. We are proud Filipinos, who just happen to be LGBT. The question is: do we, as members of the LGBT community, share the same rights as all other citizens? Does the State grant us equal protection under our laws?’ “

The Bill, if passed, would establish non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in employment, education, and healthcare, and it would train law enforcement on LGBT issues. Sanctions would be imposed for violations which, in addition to jail time and fines, could include human rights education or community service.

Her speech also identified specific problems facing LGBT people in the Philippines. She noted that there have been only 164 hate crimes reported in the last twenty years, due largely to issues with the police. Human Rights Watch reported:

“[LGBT-specific police] initiatives are essential given that LGBT rights advocacy groups have warned that hate crimes against LGBT are on the rise and that the Philippines has recorded the highest number of murders of transgender individuals in Southeast Asia since 2008.

“[Healthcare access] is crucial because the Philippines now has the world’s fastest growing HIV epidemic driven by new HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSMs). Her support of the bill in such a public and heartfelt manner will hopefully motivate lawmakers to take meaningful action to protect the rights of LGBT people by supporting its passage.”

Roman said she was “one voice among many” urging passage of the Bill because LGBT people “simply ask for equality. With inclusiveness and diversity, our nation has so much to gain.” Despite some positive reviews, her speech and the bill for which she advocates have faced resistance. CNN Philippines reported:

“She was glowing. She would glow even as she fought back tears later on, a few minutes upon delivering her first privilege speech before the session hall. She would glow as she parried questions from her eight or so interpellators, including Rep. Rolando Andaya, Jr. of the first district of Camarines Sur, who would repeatedly address her as ‘Congressman.’ “

Elected with 62% of the vote in her district, Roman has not only made history but is now working to advance LGBT rights. She relies upon her Catholic faith in this work, saying previously that the church had been “a source of consolation” and that “If Jesus Christ was alive today, he would not approve of discrimination. I firmly believe that.

You can watch an interview with Roman, who speaks about her own journey and her LGBT legislative aims, by clicking here or viewing it below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Pope Francis’ Negative Rhetoric Begins to Be Echoed Around the Globe

By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, September 21, 2016

On Bondings 2.0, we often report on the way that Pope Francis’ positive approach to LGBT issues is affecting the way that bishops around the world have been speaking about such topics.  An article on Crux, however, tells an opposite story: that Pope Francis’ negative comments about “gender theory” and “ideological colonization” are encouraging bishops around the globe to speak similarly when marriage equality or transgender rights are discussed.

Reporter Inés San Martin looked at examples of bishops’ statements coming from Colombia, Mexico, and Spain to make the case that the pope’s ideas about gender are taking root in episcopal discourse.

Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez

In Colombia, Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez of Bogota and Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, the papal envoy to that nation, have recently protested the revision of school textbooks which will include discussions of  gender identity, sexual orientation, and LGBT parenting.  Salazar’s rhetoric closely echoes statements by Pope Francis:

“ ‘We reject the implementation of gender ideology in the Colombian education, because it’s a destructive ideology, [it] destroys the human being, taking away its fundamental principle of the complementary relationship between man and woman,’ Salazar said.

“The cardinal also said that the Church respects people with a different sexual orientation, and that as an institution it’s looking for constant opportunities for dialogue.

“ ‘Individual rights can’t go against the rights of the community,’ Salazar said. ‘What we need to accomplish is a deep respect of everyone without the imposition of ideologies.’ “

(As an aside, I would be very interested in knowing what opportunities for dialogue the cardinal seeks.  It would seem that discussing the new textbook revisions with LGBT people and with the people who are supporting the changes would be an ideal opportunity for dialogue.  It makes one wonder why he has not done so.)

The efforts of the churchmen were successful.  According to the news article:

‘The cardinal, together with the papal envoy in the country, Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, met with president Santos and Parody the day after the rally. Soon after their meeting, the president said in a press conference that the country had no intention of promoting gender ideology, and promised the textbooks would be re-written.’

Cardinal José Francisco Robles

In Mexico, where marriage equality is currently an issue of national debate, Cardinal José Francisco Robles of Guadalajara, who is also president of the nation’s bishops’ conference, has also used Pope Francis’ concept of “gender ideology” to bolster opposition to the proposed federal law.  Robles stated:

“The future of humanity is played in marriage and the natural family is formed by a heterosexual couple.

“The proliferation of the mentality of gender ideology moves with a flag of acceptance, promoting the values of diversity and non-discrimination, but it denies the natural reciprocity between a man and a woman.”

Bishop Demetrio Fernandez

The example from Spain concerns remarks made by  Bishop Demetrio Fernandez in opposition to a proposed law which would criminalize hate speech against LGBT people.  Fernandez called the proposed law “an attack on religious freedom and freedom of conscience.”  In a later interview, he strongly echoed what are probably the harshest language Pope Francis has used to discuss an LGBT topic.  In an interview, the pontiff compared gender theory to nuclear arms. Fernandez statement echoing this metaphor is:

“[G]ender ideology is an atomic bomb that wants to destroy Catholic doctrine, the image of God in man, and the image of God the Creator.”

It is definitely disturbing that bishops are echoing the pope’s negative language on these topics.  More disturbing, though, is the fact that the pope’s and these bishops’ words reveal an immense lack of information on gender and transgender people.  For instance, the Crux article quotes Pope Francis as saying “gender theory is an error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion,”  and that this view of gender is one reason why “the family is under attack.”

If the pope and bishops would listen to LGBT people’s experience, they could understand that what they claim is “theory” and “ideology” is actually a very human and holy phenomenon.  They would also realize that LGBT advocates are not attacking anything, but just trying to help people live whole and full lives. Far from attacking the family, the experience of families with LGBT members shows that acceptance of these realities can promote family harmony, unity, and strength.  LGBT people are not enemies of the church, but faithful members who can help it grow.  Since LGBT people’s experiences are lived realities, it seems that the only people promoting “theory” and “ideology” in these discussions are the those who insist that gender binaries are set in stone.

 

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Related posts:

Bondings 2.0: Putting Pope Francis’ “Ideology of Gender” Comments in Context

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

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

 

New Jersey Catholic High School Rejects Transgender Student

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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 Change.org 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:

Philly.com:  “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