Transgender Woman’s Ministry Continued Long After She Left Priesthood

If you have not heard of Nancy Ledins, who passed away in July at age 84, her story is very much worth reading if you are concerned with Catholic LGBT issues.

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Nancy Ledins leading worship

Ledins, then presenting as a man, was an ordained Roman Catholic priest for ten years. A member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, she left the priesthood in 1969 to get married to a former woman religious. Eventually the couple divorced around the time that Ledins transitioned in 1979.

In news accounts and profiles of Ledins after her transition, the perennial question of whether she was still a Catholic priest arose. Reporter John Dart of the Los Angeles Times explored this question in 1980. He wrote at the time, as reported by the Charlotte Observer this year:

“‘[Ledins] might be the first woman priest in Roman Catholic history in a technical sense. . .since she never sought to be returned officially to lay status, has never been summarily notified of such by the church and, by the usual understanding of church law, is still a priest – though not a legally functioning one.'”

The National Catholic Reporter’s (NCR) coverage agreed with this assessment, saying the first woman priest came about not through a bishop but through a surgeon. Incidentally, Ledins’ had her gender-confirming surgery on Holy Thursday when the church celebrates the institution of the priesthood.

Church officials never formally responded to Ledin’s situation, and Ledins has never challenged that silence. She told NCR that though technically ordained, “there is probably a canon somewhere that spells my demise as a priest” if she tried to celebrate the sacraments. Still, on the 55th anniversary of her ordination, Ledins prayed:

“‘Lord Father, my special thanks for the gift of ordination and ministry over the years. . .And thank you for letting me be here. Amen and amen. Alleluia.'”

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1980 Los Angeles Times piece on Ledins

Beyond any canonical questions, the spiritual testimony Ledins offered about her journey is what is most impactful. She knew in childhood that she wanted to be like her sister, saying, “I didn’t know what to call it, but I felt it.” The stress led to depression for many years. The Observer reported that after Ledins’ transition, she “was shot at, had her car bombed and was sent dead animals in the mail.”

Nonetheless, she powerfully affirmed the decision to transition. In a 1978 letter to her parents, Ledins wrote:

“‘For the first time in my life, I am running into and not from. What a healthy feeling!. . .I am now very very glad to be alive. . .My bucket of tears (and there were many) are over. The sunshine is real.'”

Years later, Ledins finally returned to pastoral ministry leadership, serving at a North Carolina church that is affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ. Half of the congregation’s members are LGBT people. Ledins’ passing in July led many people to share the pastoral experiences they had with her. Rev. Marsha Tegard said of Ledins:

“‘She was just so welcoming and just kind of embraced me as someone just starting out on my journey. . .She told me, “It’s OK to be you. God loves you. You have a place in the Kingdom.”. . .I believe Nancy blazed the trail for people like me.'”

Another member of the congregation, Maddison Wood, said hope was found “in the lines of Nancy’s face” because “she had lived – not just survived, but lived – to old age.”

Regardless of Nancy Ledins’ canonical status in the Roman Catholic church, she was a Christian minister leading people to God until her death. Judging from her fellow congregants’ accounts, it was precisely Ledins’ courage and authenticity that made her such an impactful minister. The comment she made about her transition is a true Resurrection message: “I am now very very glad to be alive. . .The sunshine is real.”

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 12, 2017

 

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Bishop Calls Being Gay a “Gift from God,” Seeks to Save LGBT Lives

Homosexuality is a “gift from God” according to one bishop in Brazil, who said his intentions in preaching on the topic were about saving the lives of LGBT people who may be at risk.

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Bishop Antônio Carlos Cruz Santos

Bishop Antônio Carlos Cruz Santos of Caicó made the positive remarks in a July homily, telling Mass-goers:

“‘If [being gay] is not a choice, if it is not a disease, in the perspective of faith it can only be a gift. . .The gospel par excellence is the gospel of inclusion. . .The gospel is a narrow door, yes, it is a demanding love, but it is a door that is always open.'”

Cruz added that perhaps “our prejudices do not get the gift of God” in LGBT people. Prejudice, he said, puts “concept before experience” and creates a negative impact.

As a black bishop, he related the situation with homosexuality today to a time when black people were enslaved due to white people’s prejudices, adding:

“‘Just as we were able to leap, in the wisdom of the Gospel, and overcome slavery, is it not the time for us to leap, from a perspective of faith, and overcome prejudices against our brothers who experience same-sex attraction?'”

Cruz also preached that people discover their sexual orientation rather than choose it. People of all sexual orientations have a choice about how to express that sexuality either “in a dignified, ethical way, or in a promiscuous one,” he added.

Crux reported that Cruz was prompted to make these statements after hearing a radio segment on the high rates of suicide in transgender communities. Moved by their suffering, Cruz considered the many LGBT people “who feel misunderstood and unloved by us, who are Church, by their families, by their society and even by themselves.”

Facing criticism, Cruz clarified his intentions in a statement the following week, saying his concerns were pastoral and not doctrinal. He wanted to “save lives, contributing so that we can overcome the prejudices that kill and enter into the dynamic of God’s mercy that respects, rescues and saves people.” Cruz’ statement continued:

“As Pope Francis told us many times, people already know by heart the doctrine of the Church about abortion, divorce and homosexual acts. . .He asks us not to be obsessed with sin, increasing the wounds of these people, and insists that the doors of the church are open to welcome, instruct, discern, love in order to bring salvation to all without exception.”

It is an often repeated but never tired truth that having one’s heart really broken open is key for committing oneself to solidarity with people forced to the margins. From the radio story, through his own reflections, and using contemporary knowledge about sexuality, Cruz was enabled to offer words of compassion and hope. His homily and statement were wonderful first steps, and I hope he will keep that commitment growing by not only preaching but acting to save lives and affirm people’s dignity wherever LGBT communities are under attack.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 10, 2017

Sharing of Stories Is Key to DignityUSA Conference

This past weekend, I was privileged to be with the DignityUSA community at their conference in Boston. The theme, “A Place at the Table,” lent itself to the power of shared stories, many of which were expressed in the formal sessions and the more informal hallway conversations.

e3202eb004In one session, transgender members of Dignity and one mother of a trans child shared stories of being faithful Catholics. Skylar Kelley, a panelist who uses they/them pronouns, explained what it means to identify as non-binary. They also shared how being assigned female at birth remains a part of their history that should not be erased. In light of the fact that some church leaders have been publicly speaking against trans lives, each panelist’s reflection on “Why stay in the church?” was a powerful testimony of faith.

In another session, Krzysztof Charamsa, a former priest and theologian who worked at at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and who came out as a gay man right before the 2015 Synod on the Family began, spoke personally and theologically.  He shared his coming out story as he addressed the institutional church’s treatment of homosexuality. He told those gathered, “When you want your community to change, you must change.” More pointedly, he echoed Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium saying, “We need to confront ideas with Christ, Christ who lived in this world.” Charamsa said clearly that this work is done well when LGBTQI Catholics who remain the church offer their witness.

Stories were central during a Saturday morning plenary which featured Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter, Louis Mitchell of TransFaith who is a Congregationalist minister, and Walter Robinson of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team which broke open the clergy sexual abuse in the early 2000’s.

Mitchell spoke to the cost of noticing another person’s story, and the vulnerability required to share one’s story. He made a special appeal for attendees to take seriously the stories of transgender women of color who are “not victims, sex toys, HIV statistics, or some bad RuPaul joke,” but human beings with the fullness of dignity.

Speaking about self-care, Manson discussed how the work of seeking justice in the church can be lonely and even lead to despair at times. But, she added:

“What pushes me forward more often than not is that people are suffering, and they’re suffering at the hands of this institution. And they’re suffering in the Global South. . .It is the church that isn’t speaking when our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are being imprisoned for who they are.”

Another story shared was the history of Always Our Children, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata. founders of Fortunate Families, led a conversation about how the document came to be and its effect on the church. It is document, they said, that shattered the silence around homosexuality in the church, opened up new possibilities based on the lived experiences of lesbian and gay people, and helped empower parents and pastoral ministers.

These highlighted instances are just a few examples of the many stories shared over the weekend. What kept coming to mind as I listened to speakers and Dignity members was how I wished church leaders could be there, sitting in the back rows, simply listening.

What they would hear are real stories, the grounding realities of LGBT Catholics and their families.  While some of these stories were about the trials of being marginalized by church and by society, others were also about how and why faithful Catholics live out their faith in community. All of these are stories that our church very much needs to hear.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 9, 2017

NEWS NOTES: Church Official Calls Non-Discrimination Laws a “Sword” Against Equality Opponents; Other News Updates

Here are some items that may be of interest:

News Notes1. Non-discrimination laws aimed at protecting LGBT people are “used as a sword by LGBT activists to go after those who disagree with their ideological beliefs on human sexuality,” according to the Nebraska Catholic Conference’s Executive Director, Tom Venzor. Writing in the Southern Nebraska Register, Venzor criticized state bill LB173 that would have made sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes.

2. Dignity/Chicago recently celebrated its 45th anniversary, reported the Windy City Times. Members gathered for Mass and a celebration where DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke spoke, and the group honored Lambda Legal. Ramon Rodriguez, Dignity/Chicago’s board president, told attendees, “Our work is far from done. . .we are only as good as how we tackle the current and future needs of our community.”

3. High school student Riley Collins created a radio essay on “My Catholic mom and her two queer sons,” which addressed the tensions in his family between his Filipino mother’s grappling with having two gays sons and the sons’ distanced relationship from the Catholic Church.

4. A film about a Venezuelan transgender activist and legislator was reportedly barred from two church-affiliated colleges: the Catholic University Andrés Bello and the Catholic University Santa Rosa. Producers of the film “Tamara” claimed the schools told them they could not host a screening because it was “transsexual propaganda.” The colleges denied these allegations, reported ArtsFreedom.

5. A Roman Catholic farmer in Michigan alleged that he was barred from a farmers’ market because he does not support marriage equality. Steve Tennes of Country Mill Farms is now suing the city of East Lansing, which operates the market. The city’s mayor, Mark Meadows, said the ban is because Tennes refused to host a same-gender wedding at his facility, and the city does not contract with vendors who discriminate.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 25, 2017

Praying for Orlando, One Year Later

“Then they sat down upon the ground with [Job] seven days and seven nights, but none of them spoke a word to him; for they saw how great was his suffering.”     –Job 2:13

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“Intercessory Prayers” by Ruth Palmer

In moments when hatred and pain coalesce, and violence erupts, like last year’s massacre of LGBT people at Pulse Nightclub, Orlando, year, the shock and grief do not easily leave us. This lingering pain is felt profoundly by those who lost a loved one and by survivors who escaped. Even as we mark the one year anniversary of this tragedy, few words encapsulate well all that is still felt by these mourners, by LGBT communities, and by a shaken society.

The mass shooting in Orlando was not unique, given the regularity of mass shootings in the United States, but it was especially shocking. It reminded us that anti-LGBT violence is not a history lesson. Queerphobia and transphobia still underpin horrific acts. Church leaders silent after Orlando remain silent about such violence despite Catholics’ cries for justice.

Today, in remembering the 49 people killed and 53 people wounded, perhaps it is best we just sit together in community, like Job’s friends, silent before inexplicable suffering and offering prayers of lamentation. I offer this prayer today:

God who is ever with us,

We are hurting today, hurting deeply. Afraid and in mourning, we come to you in prayer because words fail us and justice seems distant. We place ourselves in your embrace, and we trust you because you never abandon those whom you love.

You are God, the Creator. In radiant diversity, you made each one of us like you. Each person is created to be exactly who you made them to be, made so we can share in your divine life by reflecting the glorious array of sexual and gender identities which shine forth from you. May we cherish human dignity, especially the dignity of those who are marginalized and of those people who have caused grave harm.

You are God, the Christ. In Jesus, you dwelt among us. And you were present at Pulse as raw violence shattered lives, just as you have been present when so many LGBT people are crucified because they lived and loved openly. It is only the center of your Cross, in your Sacred Heart, which can hold the world’s suffering when we feel weak before it. Be with us now.

You are God, the Consoler. Pour forth your grace which is our sustenance. Plant within us holy anger at the injustices which compound LGBT people’s suffering: racism, migration justice, ableism, Islamophobia, sexism, economic inequality, and more. Help us cultivate this holy anger with prudence and perseverance such that, through reconciliation, we may help bring about the fruits of justice.

You are God. We are only able to spread love because we know your profound love for us, and even as we hurt, we desire for others to know your presence. God, be with us anew today.

Amen.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 12, 2017

Displacement, Solidarity, Home: Reflections from the Symposium

Today’s post is from Alfred Pang, a doctoral candidate in Theology and Education at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, who offers a reflection based on his experiences at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium this past April.

solidarity20hands201000x560“What has been your experience growing up as an LGBT person?” This question was posed to participants at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium during the “Youth, Young Adult Ministry and LGBT Questions focus session led by Dr. Michael Maher. The purpose of his question was to draw out generational differences in perception around being an LGBT person in the U.S.

Being Singaporean Chinese, I was naturally confounded by such a question premised on a cultural and political history which I did not share growing up. The following thoughts fleeted through my mind: What should I share? Where do I find my place at this conversation table? How will my voice be received?

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Alfred Pang

I was also wrestling with a deeper question: When and where did my personal history as a Catholic gay man begin? On the one hand, in coming out more publicly in Boston, I experienced a rebirth of myself. On the other hand, within this space of liberal American Catholicism that has been instrumental in helping me integrate my faith and sexuality, I found myself confronted by a felt-sense of displacement both ethnically and nationally.

Remaining with the weight of my intersectional identities, I finally spoke, “I come from Singapore, and my earliest image of a gay man while I was growing up had been a Caucasian white man. I grew up in a culture of silence around my sexuality as a way to preserve family harmony, which is a value for me. I do not identify fully with the particular history of sexual minorities in the U.S.,  but I also find myself not knowing a lot about the collective experience of LGBT persons in my country, Singapore.”

It was this sense of being an international/cultural ‘other’ that led me to my next symposium focus session, this one led by Dr. Elsie Miranda on “Hispanic Catholic Culture and LGBT Issues.” Dr. Miranda made a point which resonated immediately with me: coming out to our gender and sexual identities is a privilege. I understand this to mean that the conditions allowing for the public visibility of LGBT people are not possible for all in all cultural contexts. This is due to the complexity of gender and sexuality intersecting with race, culture, class, religion, and nationality , all of which can oppress and privilege at the same time.

This complexity was attested to in Dr. Frank Mugisha’s keynote address on the final day of the symposium. Carrying a gentle presence, Dr. Mugisha, a Ugandan gay Catholic and an LGBT rights advocate, spoke firmly and plainly against the anti-gay laws in his country. He criticized, too, the complicity of some African Catholic bishops in criminalizing homosexuality.  Mugisha had highlighted the cultural differences of gay people in the U.S. and Uganda when he wrote in a The New York Times  op-ed essay“The right to marry whom we love is far from our minds. Across Africa, the ‘gay rights’ we are fighting for are more stark — the right to life itself.”

Dr. Mugisha has consistently criticized the extreme religious rhetoric around sexuality American Evangelical Christians export to Africa. Mugisha noted that homophobia, not homosexuality, is the Western import in Africa, and that this fear is realized in violent preaching against same-gender relations.

Dr. Mugisha’s testimony illustrated the intricacy of intersectionality in the struggle for LGBT rights as human rights. Yet, our ability to transform situations for justice is not hampered by these complexities. Listening to Dr. Mugisha reminded me of what education theorist Paulo Freire once wrote: “We are transformative beings and not beings for accommodation.”[1]

Dr. Mugisha’s story connected me back to the situation in Singapore, where sex between consenting adult men is still criminalized under Section 377A of the Penal Code. Although this law is not strictly enforced, it stands as a sign of conditional tolerance for LGBT persons. The threat of imprisonment is real, which in turn feeds their invisibility as a community. Listening to the daunting and risky work of Dr. Mugisha has made me recognize the privilege of being ‘out’ here publicly and freely in Boston. Such privilege is not owed to me, but built on the backs of people who, across time and place, have put their lives on the line to speak the truth of our sexual lives as integral to the one humanity created in God’s loving image and likeness.

Where does this leave me as a gay Catholic Singaporean living in the U.S.? Standing in the borderland of the local and global, I wrestle to find a sense of home. Yet, perhaps this sense of homelessness is part of witnessing to global solidarity.  As Richard Giannone writes in his memoir Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire, “Home – come to think of it – is never stationary. Home gathers together breathing spaces and temporary havens on the horizon for me to tiptoe toward or lunge beyond to the peaceful Zion of the heart.”[2]

“What has been your experience growing up as an LGBT person?” This question lingers on, and the witness of Dr. Mugisha has helped me make sense of the displacement with which I wrestled throughout the symposium. I hear in this question now the challenge of standing in global solidarity with my LGBT siblings-in-Christ. It seems to me that in my felt-sense of dislocation both ethnically and nationally, I am also invited to remain at the periphery of the local and global, at the cross-cultural borderland of intersectional identities.

Ultimately, I have been challenged to let go of the “border controls” around my heart that make it difficult for me to be at home with myself and others in the world.

The symposium, whose title included the phrase “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss” reminded me that this kiss happens when I embrace God’s unconditional love, widening the geography of my heart, stretching its contours to keep receiving and walking with my LGBT siblings-in-Christ as a pilgrim church. Justice and mercy shall meet in our global advocacy for LGBT rights, in the perseverance to seek that most fundamentally human right to life. Where justice and mercy shall meet is in the hope that recognizes the fierce grasp of God’s love that never lets us go, a sheltering presence in which we find a home.

Alfred Pang, June 10, 2017

[1] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Heart, trans. Donaldo Macedo and Alexandre Olivera (New York: Continuum, 1998), 36.

[2] Richard Giannone, Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 168.

Lesbian Catholic Reviews Fr. James Martin’s New Book on LGBT Issues

As Jesuit Father James Martin launches his new book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” he explained in a Washington Post essay why he wrote the book in the first place. Also published in the Post a few days later was lesbian Catholic writer Eve Tushnet’s review of the book.

y450-293Martin began his essay by noting that, after 49 people were killed at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando last year, there was near silence from the United States’ 250 or so bishops about the victims’ LGBT identities. Martin said this silence was “revelatory,” continuing:

“The fact that only a few Catholic bishops acknowledged the LGBT community or even used the word gay at such a time showed that the LGBT community is still invisible in many quarters of the church. Even in tragedy its members are invisible.”

Martin lamented the “great divide” he witnesses in the church between LGBT Catholics and institutions, suggesting his ministry has included ways to heal the divide. He continued:

“But after the shooting in Orlando, my desire to do so intensified. . .So when New Ways Ministry, a group that ministers to and advocates for LGBT Catholics, asked just a few weeks after the Orlando tragedy if I would accept its ‘Bridge Building Award’ and give a talk at the time of the award ceremony, I agreed. The name of the award, as it turned out, inspired me to sketch out an idea for a ‘two-way bridge’ that might help bring together the institutional church and the LGBT community.

“My aim is to urge the church to treat the LGBT community with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (a phrase from the Catechism of the Catholic Church) and encourage the LGBT community to reciprocate, reflecting those virtues in its own relationship with the institutional church.”

To read about Fr. Martin receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award last October, where he spoke first about this latest LGBT venture, click here. You can also watch Fr. Martin’s video explanation of why he wrote Building a Bridge below or by clicking here.

But Eve Tushnet, in her review for the Post, says Martin’s work “is not the book I’ve longed for” on Catholic LGBT issues. Her main criticism is that Building a Bridge never addresses sexual ethics, and a corollary critique that there is no mention of lesbian and gay Christians who are celibate. Tushnet wrote:

“For example, why is this conversation so hard in the first place? ‘Building a Bridge’ doesn’t raise the question of why LGBT people and the Catholic Church so often seem like two separate, hostile camps. The Catholic sexual ethic is this book’s embarrassing secret. It’s never mentioned, and so the difficulties the teaching itself poses for gay Catholics in our culture are never addressed.

“I’m deeply sympathetic to the attempt to have a conversation about gay people and the church that never mentions sex or chastity; too often even the most “respectful” statements from the Catholic Church hierarchy have a strong flavor of “Jesus loves you, but here’s how you’ve got to behave.” But I’m not sure it’s wise to write as if all the church is asking is for gay people simply to be nicer.”

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Eve Tushnet

While Tushnet may have wanted a book that dealt with sexual ethics and celibacy, that is not the intended scope of Martin’s book. His focus is on the process of dialogue, not theological questions. The relationship needs to improve to even begin to address the thornier questions.

Tushnet does rightly point out that more should be asked of church leaders than just respect and sensitivity. They should offer as well, “repentance and amends for the ways in which they’ve made so many churches hostile to gay members, treating us as problems to be fixed or silenced.”

Having stated these criticisms, Tushnet also acknowledged the value Building a Bridge has for the church. The priest’s “Prayer for When I Feel Rejected,” based on Psalm 139, is very moving for her, and she believes it can help LGBT Christians know God’s love for them more deeply. Tushnet concluded her review:

“If Martin’s book, with its biblical reflections on God’s loving creation of us and Jesus’ unconditional welcome, can help LGBT people and our families experience and trust God’s tenderness, he will have laid the foundation stone for social change and spiritual renewal.”

For more information about Building a Bridge, or if you would like to order a copy, visit Fr. Martin’s website by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 6, 2017