Diocesan Newspaper Shows Signs of Hope in Transgender Coverage

The Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Catholic Review newspaper prints articles largely re-stating the hierarchy’s positions. However, a recent article analyzed transgender issues from Catholic perspectives and, while still negative overall, included a trans-positive voice and showed other hopeful signs.

The article is the fifth in a series called “Playing God,” which examines bioethics in light of modern knowledge and focuses particularly on sex reassignment surgeries that many transgender people undergo. While focusing on an anti-transgender activist, it also highlights Hilary Howes, a transgender Catholic woman and advocate, who recently wrote about what Pope Francis could mean for gender issues in the Church.  The Review reports about Howes’ experience:

“Born male, she transitioned to living as a woman 18 years ago. Howes remembers wanting to be a girl as a child, and experimented with cross-dressing as an adult before becoming a transsexual…

“A few years ago, Howes described herself as having ‘male genitalia and a female brain.’ Now she thinks of gender as a spectrum, and her gender expression falling outside of standard ‘male’ and ‘female’ categories. Howes speculates that her situation may be a form of intersex, resulting from a natural genetic variance or hormonal imbalances when she was in the womb. She believes that identity shouldn’t be tied to anatomy.”

Hilary Howes
Hilary Howes

Citing anti-transgender voices, the article muddles through the philosophical and theological concepts involved with transgender identities and sex reassignment surgery. Of these, Howes responds:

“As a transsexual, Howes doesn’t see sex-reassignment surgery as a mutilation, but rather a medical correction of a physical malformation – a procedure that allows a person to become his or her ‘authentic self.’

“It’s an argument commonly made by transgender advocates: Transgenderism is a physical, not mental, condition, and it’s the body that’s in the wrong.”

Howes’ comments are not the article’s only signs of hope. It is notable that the diocesan newspaper used female pronouns for Howes, as other Catholic institutions have used one’s sex at birth instead of their gender identity when referring to transgender people. The Catholic Review also notes:

“The church has not spoken definitively on the matter’s morality. In 2003, Catholic News Service reported that the Vatican released a document to bishops on sex-reassignment surgery’s implications for canon law. According to CNS, the document included ‘an analysis of the moral licitness’ of sex reassignment surgery, concluding ‘that the procedure could be morally acceptable in certain extreme cases if a medical probability exists that it will “cure” the patient’s internal turmoil.’ “

That same document reportedly banned changing the sex on baptismal certificates and rejected transgender people from religious life if they have undergone sex reassignment surgery.

Want to learn more about the issues presented in this post? Hilary Howes will be a presenter at New Ways Ministry’s upcoming workshop, “Trans-forming Love,” on November 23rd. Catholics will dialogue and pray about a trans-positive Catholic approach. Visit New Ways Ministry’s website for more information and to register for the event.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Will Catholic Agencies in Maryland Avoid the New Marriage Equality Law?

A week after Maryland became one of the first states to enact marriage equality through a ballot initiative, some Catholic leaders in the state are starting to consider how the new law will affect the church’s social service agencies, such as adoption programs, which accept state funding.

An article in the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Catholic Review newspaper examines how several other states which have legalized marriage equality witnessed the withdrawal of Catholic involvement with state contracts, particularly in the area of adoption, rather than agree to live by the new law:

“Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C.; Boston; and San Francisco dropped adoption and foster care services after same-sex marriage’s legalization would have required them to place children with same-sex couples in order to continue government contracts for those services. In Washington, Catholic Charities also discontinued benefits for employee’s spouses.

“Catholic Charities in Illinois dioceses also stopped providing adoption and foster care services after the state began recognizing same-sex civil unions in 2011. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., withdrew from state-funded social services contracts altogether.”

The Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC) is expressing concern that Catholic institutions in the state will be faced with a choice about whether or not to accept state funds:

“ ‘According to the actual legislation, religious organizations that accept any sort of state or federal funds are excluded from religious liberty protections,’ the MCC said. ‘They are not exempt, and there are no protections for individuals. Marylanders should not be fooled into thinking we can redefine marriage and still protect religious liberty.’ ”

Surely, Catholic leaders do not have to withdraw ALL support for children in adoption and foster programs as a way of avoiding the new marriage equality law.  It is ironic that church leaders who so forcefully argue against marriage equality as a way of protecting children are now willing to put children at terrible risk because these same leaders refuse to find some creative way to find a workable solution.  The “all or nothing” approach damages not only children, but also Catholic leaders’ credibility who should be people in dialogue with the world around them, not avoiding it.  It would be a true scandal if children become the victims of this struggle.

The Catholic Review story included a quote from your humble blogger , calling for the bishops to make a humanitarian choice in this matter:

“Francis DeBernardo, a coordinator for same-sex marriage advocates Catholics for Marriage Equality for Maryland [and executive director of New Ways Ministry], said it would be ‘a shame’ if any Catholic services in Maryland such as adoption were withdrawn due to the law.

“ ‘I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt. I think it’s a question of equality and fairness,’ he said. ‘The hierarchy of Maryland is going to have to decide what is more important – the protection of children, or the defense of their definition of “civil marriage,” which the voters of Maryland have decided has a new definition, and whether or not they would like to continue to take (state) government funds, or fund their programs on their own. ‘ ”

If Catholic leaders are unwilling to work within the law of the land, they should not sacrifice the welfare of children to do so.  If they feel they cannot work within the law, they should find a way to fund their programs so as not to let the most vulnerable among us be harmed.

Better still would be if they could open their hearts and minds to the reality that lesbian and gay couples can parent as well as heterosexual couples.  All research points to this truth.  Instead of looking at this matter as an ideological struggle, Catholic leaders should view it, instead, as a learning opportunity to educate themselves better about the reality of lesbian and gay lives.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry