Vatican ‘Panicked’ About LGBT Issues, Says Former Church Official

In a new interview, a former Vatican official has shed light on how church offices in Rome function and the alarmist posture which church officials have reportedly taken against gender and sexuality issues. Today and tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will highlight some key points from a much longer interview with the former official that you can read here.

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Krzysztof Charamsa with his partner, Eduard

For many years, Krzysztof Charamsa was a priest involved in the inner workings of the Vatican. He worked for both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as second secretary of the International Theological Commission, as well as teaching at Rome’s Gregorian University. But in 2015, he came out publicly as a partnered gay man in advance of the Synod on the Family. He was immediately removed from his Vatican posts and from the priesthood. To read more about his story, click here.

Charamsa shared information and insights about his time at the Vatican with the online journal Religion and GenderHe spoke about church officials’ ideas about “gender ideology,” their lack of contemporary knowledge, the role of Pope Francis, what he thinks LGBT Catholics should currently be doing, and more.

Panic Over ‘Gender Ideology’

After the United Nations conferences on gender in the 1990s,  the Vatican responded to those meetings “with panic and disorder,” Charamsa said. Since panicking shuts down conversation, the Vatican’s posture became defensive, making the so-called “gender ideology” an enemy (which, Charamsa said, is the Church’s own constructed enemy because an enemy is needed when the Church is “unable to form its own identity”). He explained:

“Sexual minorities are reduced to the ‘other’, not ‘one of us’, and then to ‘something’. In this stereotypical vision, sexual minorities such as gays, lesbians, transgender people, intersex people are reduced to the masculine category of ‘gays’, only gays. The Church fails to see real people, communities or movements. It identifies something without real knowledge of it; without awareness of the human and sexual identity and life of these people, who must remain invisible. They are viewed as an object upon which hate and fear can be projected, and which can be destroyed.”

This “panic game” results in Vatican officials who are unclear of what to do, and so there are “attacks in every occasion” that use the same “propagandistic and apocalyptic slogans.” This panic comes out even in Pope Francis’ statements and writings, in which Vatican officials have a heavy hand preparing.

Twenty Years of Refusing Knowledge

The Vatican’s panic has led to more than two decades of church officials refusing to engage modern gender and sexuality studies. Charamsa described this situation of “irrational negation” on the part of Vatican officials in the following way:

“The level [of engagement] at the Vatican is poor, and closed, and fundamentalist. There is very little intellectual force to dialogue, to reflect. . .There is, I want to insist, no serious reflection about gender studies, feminism, or social movements of sexual minorities in the Vatican. There is no theological, philosophical or sociological reflection in the Church, and this is dramatic. . .

“The [CDF] consultors are theologians – and not the best theologians – who absolutely are not experts of gender studies. . .Much confusion and ignorance, a persistent usage of ‘they’: we don’t know who they are, but this is the concept of a ‘public enemy’, which must be instilled in the Catholic mentality.”

Studies of gender and sexuality topics elsewhere in the Church are suspicious in the CDF, and are “effectively forbidden” outside of officially sanctioned institutes that are “more propagandistic than serious disciplinary research.” What comes from these institutes and from Vatican theological work is a misguided approach to homosexuality used to prop up church teaching.

The Politics of Language about Homosexuality

Charamsa explained that the first tactic with homosexuality is simply silence because if it is not spoken about, it cannot exist, and even if it does exist, it is invisible.

But when homosexuality must be spoken about by church officials, the panic and lack of understanding in these two decades has transformed the concrete situations of real people into abstractions that are separated from realities. Charamsa described this dynamic as “the social sin of this time in my Church”:

“With false language and false pre-concepts we destroy reality; we hide it. . .Humanity now also knows that sexual orientation – or as the Church falsely puts it: ‘sexual tendency’ – is equally essential for understanding human nature. Facing this modern discovery, with our false ecclesial terminology we seek to hide this reality, to eliminate it, to dominate it.”

Church leaders use the language of “tendencies” and “attractions,” rather than the scientific language of sexual orientation agreed upon in contemporary discourse. They eliminate orientation without explaining why, according to Charamsa, who continued:

“TThe answer is: because it wants to maintain the false ancient vision of homosexuality, because only this erroneous vision can justify the actual doctrine of homosexuality. If homosexuality is a pathology, homosexual acts can be considered sins, yet if it is a healthy sexual orientation, the entire Catholic vision of homosexuality must change. . .We have all these problems in the Church, because the ecclesial authorities are not able to reflect on and to live our human sexual orientation at a personal and communitarian level.”

The way Vatican officials and even Popes John Paul II and Francis use this false language around homosexuality creates, Charamsa stated, “a prison, and a very hypocritical one” for not only LGBT people but the Church.

Attacking LGBT People to Preserve Power

The ultimate aim of the Vatican’s documents and silencing is what Charamsa terms the “psychological extermination” of lesbian and gay people from social spaces, including through criminalization laws. While defending Christians in parts of the world where they are genuinely threatened is important, the use of religious liberty in recent years has been to discriminate against LGBT people. Charamsa said:

“But my gay friends are martyrs too, in another way. And I’m not speaking about lesbians, about trans, who suffer much more. They are martyrs of Christian ideology defended by the Church. . .For me, all the propaganda and non-intellectual constructions, which support the heteronormativity of the Church, are an expression of hatred towards the persecuted object.  . .

“The official ‘genius’ of woman and the official ‘respect’ for gays is in fact the biggest expression of disappointment, of inferiority, of hate. So you continuously hear: ‘Look. Gays are pathological people who cannot, are not able, to love another person. We are not against them. But they are naturally disordered and cannot have a sexual relation… And we are not against the marriage of gay men. They can get married. To women.’ The mentality of the Church does not have the consciousness that these sentences are inhuman: this is not respect; this is humiliation. These sentences do not only ignore reality, they are also against human dignity.”

Where does this desire to persecute come from? Charamsa answered that it is “not an intellectual problem, it’s a problem of government.” The preservation of “masculine, patriarchal power” that LGBT people and cisgender women represent is threatening.

Last month Charamsa was a keynote speaker at DignityUSA’s conference in Boston. Even though the picture he paints is bleak, Charamsa remains hopeful that LGBT Catholics can claim their dignity and even that some of the church’s theology today could be redeemed. Check back to Bondings 2.0 tomorrow for part two.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 20, 2017

Bishop Endorses Ban on Transgender Soldiers, Silent on Other Discrimination

Responding to President Donald Trump’s apparent ban on transgender soldiers in the military, the archbishop for the Military Services, USA released a statement endorsing the ban. Meanwhile, there’s been silence from U.S. bishops on another Trump administration act that could advance discrimination against LGBT people.

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Archbishop Timothy Broglio

Archbishop Timothy Broglio opened his statement on the transgender ban with an affirmation that the church cares for all people “regardless of personal choices or conditions, because Christ offers salvation to all people.”

While Broglio supported Trump’s trans ban, he believed that the president missed the real issue about gender identity. Broglio said that trans soldiers are not problematic because of military readiness or cost, as the president claimed, but because of a deeper reason. Broglio said the ban fails “to address the essence of the issue – the dignity of the human person.”Broglio explained:

“[G]ender ideology undermines basic Christian anthropology by defining the person as a disembodied mind and the body as a mere instrument. . .Sexual orientation and gender identity issues reflect a rapidly increasing and incorrect societal attitude that individual behaviors in life should pursue immediate and personal choices rather than eternal truth.  In extending the maternal care of the Church to the faithful of this Archdiocese, it is opportune to reaffirm that personal choices in life, whether regarding the protection of the unborn, the sanctity of marriage and the family, or the acceptance of a person’s God-created biology, should be made not solely for a penultimate reality on this earth but in anticipation of the ultimate reality of sharing in the very life of God in heaven.”

Other Catholics endorsed the president’s ban, even while it is still unclear whether his tweet constituents an actual order and how such an order would be implemented. Theologian Chad Pecknold of The Catholic University of America described the ban as the “right decision” because trans people being respected “doesn’t mean that they are fit for combat in the defense of a nation.”

The Trump administration took another anti-LGBT action on the same day as the announcement of the ban, which was also the 69th anniversary of when the military was racially desegregated.

The Justice Department announced that it would no longer interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination for certain protected classes, to be inclusive of sexual orientation. This decision reverses actions taken by President Obama’s Justice Department, which had also interpreted the law as protecting workers based on gender identity. So far, Catholic bishops in the U.S. have been silent about this discriminatory regression.

These two responses undercut church leaders’ claims that LGBT people should be shown “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” Broglio and Pecknold speak in terms that treat trans people as objects and as problems with which the church must deal rather than understanding trans people as members of Christ’s body and gifts to the world. Their words seem to indicate they have not personally encountered a trans person and listened to such a person’s story. Their theology derives from anti-trans ideology rather than being grounded in lived realities and scientific knowledge. They certainly do not seem truly concerned with the human dignity of trans people, despite Broglio’s statement that he is.

Church leaders should vocally oppose federal actions that would allow more employment discrimination against LGBT people. While there are more complicated issues when it comes to church workers, church teaching clearly rejects the firing of an employee based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression. That same church teaching says “every sign of unjust discrimination should be avoided.” The bishops’ collective silence on this issue when they have so quickly spoken out to oppose LGBT issues, such as marriage or transgender equality, is sadly telling.

In other similar situations, Church leaders have responded differently than Broglio. Pope Francis himself, whose record on gender identity is admittedly mixed, readily affirmed one nun’s ministry with transgender women in Argentina. Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich said recently that “people should be called the way they want to be called.” Most of all, U.S. bishops could listen to their German peer and papal adviser, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich. He recently said the church should be more concerned with discrimination against LGBT people than marriage equality. His statement included these words:

“[It is worth recalling] that the Church has not exactly been a trailblazer as far as the rights of homosexuals are concerned. We must express our regret that we did nothing to oppose homosexuals from being prosecuted. “

Shifting positions to be truly concerned with the dignity of transgender people and discrimination against members of LGBT communities would not be difficult for the U.S. bishops if they have the will to do so. The sad reality is that even four years into Pope Francis’ leadership, that will too often remains absent.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 1, 2017

Sr. Simone Campbell: Vatican Concerned with ‘Male Power,’ Not Real People

Speaking yesterday at a Vatican event for International Women’s Day, Sr. Simone Campbell of NETWORK sharply criticized the Catholic hierarchy for being more concerned with retaining power than the realities of people’s lives.

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Sister Simone Campbell

Campbell addressed the Voices of Faith gathering, during which Catholic women from around the world share their stories under the banner of “All Voices Count.”

In her address, the sister behind “Nuns on the Bus” and who heads a national Catholic social justice lobbying group, referenced the resignation of clergy abuse survivor Marie Collins from Pope Francis’ commission addressing the church’s sexual abuse crisis. Campbell commented, according to Crux:

“‘The institution and the structure is frightened of change. . .These men worry more about the form and the institution than about real people. . . [Collins was blocked] by men. Isn’t this the real problem within the church?’

“‘The effort to keep the church from stopping this sort of thing is shocking. . .It is about male power and male image, not people’s stories. The real trouble is they have defined their power as spiritual leadership and they don’t have a clue about spiritual life.’

“‘Most of the guys who run this place haven’t dealt with an ordinary human being who’s been abused, an ordinary woman or a boy who has been abused. . .If you don’t deal with the people you don’t have your heart broken open. The bureaucracy is so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.'”

Pointing out  the absence of any senior Curial officials at the women’s gathering, Campbell said she was unsure “if it’s a slap in the face or evidence of how much power they think we have.” That Campbell was invited at all is noteworthy, given NETWORK, the lobbying and education organization she leads, was one of the identified factors in the Vatican’s 2012 doctrinal investigation of U.S. women religious.

Though not directed at LGBT equality, Campbell’s words are easily applicable to matters of gender identity and sexuality in the church. The lives and voices of LGBT people have also been discredited and silenced by the Magisterium, whose present articulation of the Tradition is deeply tainted by patriarchy and homophobia.

Campbell provided a strong explanation for the hierarchical disconnect: the failure and/or inability of many clergy to have healthy relationships with those who are not like themselves. In her words, they are “so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.” Even in more forward-leaning gatherings formally sanctioned by the Vatican, like this Voices of Faith event yesterday or the Synod on the Family process, openly LGBT people have not been invited to share their stories.

But perhaps church leaders are right to be afraid of listening to the stories of people they marginalize, for these experiences possess a radical transformative power. The person who is “Other” makes a claim on the listener, compelling them to act for the good of that person to whom they have listened. Indeed, Maltese Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo has admitted it was meetings with the Catholic parents of LGBT children which helped shift his thinking on LGBT topics, and prompted him to make a speech at the Synod on the Family calling for greater LGBT inclusion.

Scripture’s most repeated exhortation to us is to “be not afraid!” I congratulate Sr. Simone for having the courage and wisdom to speak such prophetic truth within the Vatican itself. I pray her words will resound in church leaders’ minds and hearts, so they choose to listen and to be moved by people marginalized for their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

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

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 9, 2017

 

For International Women’s Day, Sr. Jeannine Gramick on the Difficult Details of Church Reform

Today is International Women’s Day. Catholics believe that people are equal in dignity, and that no one should be discriminated against or harmed. These are principles on which all in the Church can agree. But how these principles are lived out concretely is a trickier issue, as the movements for equality in the church for women and LGBT communities have made clear.

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Sister Jeannine Gramick

New Ways Ministry’s Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, explored this challenge in a recent essay for The National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report.  She reported on her experiences at an international church reform gathering last fall in Chicago. Sr. Jeannine linked the two movements, saying lessons from efforts to ensure women’s equality can readily inform efforts for LGBT equality.

The gathering in Chicago included priests’ groups and lay organizations from about a dozen nations. She explained that the representatives have had difficulty agreeing on liturgical worship that would be consistent with the values expressed and comfortable for all attendees, The issue of women’s liturgical leadership became a sticking point. Gramick commented:

“Did [the debate about liturgy] have any implications for my particular ministry for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people? The group had easily adopted a resolution ‘to stand against violence in all its forms — physical, emotional, spiritual and temporal — toward LGBT people’ and to ‘encourage the Church’s leaders and individual members to make the same commitment.’ There were some minimal questions about this resolution but not the angst felt in discussing women’s liturgical participation.

“Was equality for women a thornier issue than equality for LGBT people? No, not really. The LGBT resolution was expressed in general terms of equality, without specific actions. The group had also called for, and agreed upon, progress on full equality for women in the church; but the proposal about women, like the one about LGBT people, was broad and did not include particular examples of equality.”

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Participants at the Chicago church reform gathering in fall 2016

Gramick acknowledged “people of good will can agree on general principles, but it is in specific applications that the rubber meets the road,” thus the challenges at the gathering of church reformers. She continued:

“At the next international conference of priests and reform organizations in 2018, when we discuss concrete actions that affirm the dignity and rights of LGBT people, I need to be prepared for similar resistance, hesitations, and concerns when these human rights and civil liberties are spelled out. . .

“I need to be patient because movement on issues requires time. Just as some who had opposed the proposition in Limerick had moved in their thinking about women’s liturgical role a year and a half later, there will be more movements in the future. I am pondering the words of Ecclesiastes 3:11: ‘God has made everything appropriate to its time.'”

It goes without saying that transforming doctrine and ecclesial practices about gender and sexuality is work that is almost immediately problematized. An event at the Vatican today for International Women’s Day illustrates this difficulty.  The Voices of Faith gathering, an annual meeting of Catholic women from across the globe, will find participants sharing their stories around the general theme of uplifting women’s dignity and human rights. But the question of women’s ordination will not be discussed, and, in previous years, speakers have explicitly rejected ordination equality. And there are no openly lesbian, queer, or trans women speaking, despite the urgent need for such voices to be heard in our church.

Equality for women and for LGBT people in the church is, to a certain extent, a unified cause. Bondings 2.0’s Editor Francis DeBernardo, explored this point in a post this past January. The participants from each movement can learn from one another, and support one another, too. Gramick concluded her piece on such lessons with these words:

“I am convinced that, as a church, we agree on the big picture. Each one of us may have specific ideas about the details in the painting: the colors to be used, the shape of objects, or the size of the canvas, but on the whole work of art we see eye-to-eye. As members of the church, we are united in our faith and belief in Christ and in our desire to follow the greatest commandment: to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.”

Let us then reflect this International Women’s Day on the ways we, as Catholic advocates for LGBT people, can be informed by and contribute to the movement for women’s equality in the church.

What do you think? Is Sr. Jeannine’s assessment correct? What lessons have you learned from other social justice movements that help LGBT equality? How can LGBT and ally communities contribute to women’s equality in the church? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the ‘Comments’ section below. 

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 7, 2017

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.

 

Boy Scouts Announce Inclusive Policy, While One Catholic Troop Was Already Doing So

The Boy Scouts of America have announced a new policy welcoming transgender members, a policy about which Catholic leaders have largely been quiet and which one parish appears to have already been practicing.

gettyimages-478981082-960x640The Scouts announced the new policy this week, reported The New York TimesThe policy says that determining a person’s gender by assigned sex at birth on one’s birth certificate “is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state.” It continued:

“The Boy Scouts of America is committed to identifying program options that will help us truly serve the whole family, and this is an area that we will continue to thoughtfully evaluate to bring the benefits of Scouting to the greatest number of youth possible – all while remaining true to our core values, outlined in the Scout Oath and Law.”

So far, the only response from Catholic leaders has come from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which said in a statement that it was “deeply saddened and disturbed” and that the policy would allow “girls struggling with gender dysphoria into their troops.” The Scouts, the statement concluded, “are becoming increasingly incompatible with our Catholic values.” So far, neither the National Catholic Committee on Scouting nor the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has commented.

This response is not St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson’s first time attacking scouting. Last year, the archbishop encouraged Catholics to disaffiliate from the Girl Scouts based, in part, on their inclusion of LGBT members. Carlson’s responses seem to come without an effort to educate and to understand the experiences of transgender youth. He might try listening to the story of Joe Maldonado, the eight-year-old youth rejected by a regional scout council, though the local troop, housed in a Catholic parish, welcomed him.

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Joe Maldonado

Joe Maldonado was a Cub Scout for just a month before an official, Eric Chamberlin, informed his mother that, because Joe was assigned female at birth, he could no longer participate. NorthJersey.com reported:

“Kristie Maldonado said she was stunned because. . .his transgender status had not been a secret. But some parents complained, an official from the Northern New Jersey Council of Boy Scouts told her — even though her son had been living as a boy for more than a year and was accepted as a boy at school, she said.”

The official called Maldonado to say “only boys are allowed” in the Scouts and that some parents had complained, according to the New York Daily News. But Maldonado told the official that “my child is a boy – that’s his identity,” but the official “seemed like he didn’t want to hear it. He seemed very arrogant and cocky. It seemed like it was a joke to him.” And the call surprised Maldonado, who said Joe has not faced problems being accepted in other spaces, including at school and on a boys basketball team. About the ejection, Joe told NorthJersey.com:

“‘It made me mad. . .I had a sad face, but I wasn’t crying. I’m way more angry than sad. My identity is a boy. If I was them, I would let every person in the world go in. It’s right to do. . .How dare they judge me?. . .I don’t have to explain it. It’s the way I’m born.'”

Though Pack 87 is hosted by Immaculate Conception Church in Seacaucus, the church was thankfully not involved in the decision to expel Joe:

“A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark said it had nothing to do with the Boy Scouts’ decision, and the pastor of the church just recently learned of it. He declined further comment.”

Maldonado’s expulsion is thought to have informed the Boy Scouts somewhat surprising decision to welcome transgender youth. Under the new policy, this painful incident may hopefully be the last. Catholic leaders would be wise to continue refraining from comment, avoiding the damage their harsh language did when the Boy Scouts announced a policy on sexual orientation last year. Even better, Catholic parishes which host scouting troops should welcome transgender youth with open arms and clear support.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 1, 2017

Caritas India Announces Initiative for Transgender Outreach

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 14, 2016

A Catholic humanitarian agency in India has launched a program aimed specifically at providing services that are more inclusive of and effective for transgender people, indicating both a step forward, as well as  how far the Church still has to go.

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Trans woman in India dancing during human rights demonstration

Caritas India, the official in concern and human development organization of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), announced its new policy last Monday.

Executive Director Fr. Frederick D’Souza said this program begins “a new school of thought,” reported Vatican Radio. He explained further:

” ‘Caritas is open to work with transgender people. I am even open to recruiting them. . .People who are suffering for no fault of their own because of sexual confusion in their body require our attention and support.’ “

Deputy Director Fr. Paul Moonjely said Caritas India had already reached out to trans communities, but had “largely failed to recognize them and show data on how many of them we have supported” and more work was needed “towards sensitization on the issue even within the Caritas network.”

But Caritas India’s noteworthy step forward is not without problems, and the need for even more sensitization is visible. Fr. D’Souza said the initiative would be limited to “biological transgenders,” by which he meant trans people who had not undergone gender-confirming surgery. He explained:

” ‘We don’t want to confuse the two. We have an opinion on those who undergo sex change, we are not in favour of that. We believe that the natural gender one is born with is what he/she is supposed to cherish and contribute to creation.’ “

Trans communities in India remain quite marginalized. The 2011 census reported there were about a half million trans people in the country, though that number is likely low due to underreporting. Indian societies have long recognized trans people, known traditionally as hijras, and it was only under British colonialism that legal restrictions were imposed. A ‘third gender’ option was recognized after a Supreme Court ruling in 2014.

Caritas India and the church at large are widely respected for charitable efforts, despite Catholics being less than two percent of the nation’s population. It is hoped that this new program will not only make Caritas India’s efforts more inclusive and effective, but will propel other organizations to adopt similar programs and combat anti-trans prejudices in the wider society. The spirit of inclusion for all LGBT communities might be passed on to other Catholic organizations like the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Mother Teresa. Last year, the community threatened to cease adoptions if mandated to accept lesbian and gay parents.

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. He also told Bondings 2.0 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.

Pope Francis’ recent comments on trans people were complicated, and they are still the subject of debate. What came across clearly in his words, though, was the pope’s insistence, grounded in church teaching, that people of all genders people be accompanied pastorally and supported in their lives. This effort by Caritas India is hampered, like Francis, by not fully understanding gender identity and expression issues at a sufficient level. But the new program plants a seed from which loving accompaniment that is increasingly competent and informed by modern science can grow.