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.

 

 

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.”

Bishops in Colombia Kill Anti-Bullying Education Program

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President Juan Manuel Santos

A proposed anti-bullying program in Colombia will not go ahead as planned, following a meeting between the country’s president and Catholic bishops.

Colombia’s Ministry of Education, in conjunction with two United Nations agencies, had prepared a document, titled “Discrimination-Free School Environments,” to handle sexual and gender diversity training for educators. But, after meeting with three Catholic bishops, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the document would not be implemented, reported The Catholic Herald.

In reply to the president’s announcement, the Colombian Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement that it “received with satisfaction the announcement of the National Government and the Department of Education that they will not promote or implement gender ideology in the country.” The bishops did note that all human beings should be respected regardless of identities, including their “sexual orientation.”

The meeting between the president and the bishops was held one day after thousands of Colombians demonstrated against the document, which had been released on the website of the United Nations Children’s Fund. The bishops’ statement said these protests were “an exercise by the parents of their right to be assisted in educating their children in accordance with their convictions and values.” But the church-encouraged protests were, in part, inspired by pornographic images released to the public that were falsely attributed to the document. There are claims the images were released by the Office of the Inspector General, Alejando Ordonez, who is a traditionalist Catholic, though he denied them.

Colombia Reports explained the anti-bullying document was merely aimed at giving teachers “the tools to teach children about sexual diversity and show how this can reduce bullying,” an idea first proposed after a gay Colombian teenager, Sergio Urrego, died by suicide two years ago. The document was part of larger efforts to update sexual education programs and protect LGBT people, led by Education Minister Gina Parody, who is herself a gay woman.

Church leaders, however, remain powerfully connected to the Colombian government and opposed to nearly any acceptance of sexual and gender minorities. The bishops’ voices joined other LGBT-negative critics in the country who condemn, without any specificity, “gender ideology” and make claims of “colonization” against those people seeking to expand LGBT rights.

LGBT rights have, however, expanded slowly in Colombia. For instance, in June, citizens were granted the right to change legal documents to match their gender identity. Earlier in the year, the Constitutional Court legalized marriage equality.

Despite this most recent bad news in Colombia, early August has been a positive time for LGBT rights in Latin America. As of this month, transgender people in Bolivia and Ecuador are now able to have their government records match their gender identity, reported Americas QuarterlyBelize’s Supreme Court overturned an anti-homosexuality law, ending the last criminalization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in Latin America, according to Out Magazine.

As LGBT acceptance expands, bishops in Colombia and elsewhere should not partner with anti-LGBT movements to suppress human rights. Avoiding this strategy is most important when it comes to anti-bullying initiatives targeting youth. Yesterday’s post on Bondings 2.0 about teenager Daniel Fitzpatrick’s suicide, as well as the memory of Sergio Urrego in Colombia, are sufficient evidence of the harm caused when schools are not safe places for all students. Given these high stakes, pastoral leadership demands more from bishops than empty slogans.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Catholic Priest: Church Cannot Abandon Transgender Catholics

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Fr. Bryan Massingale

The church must not abandon transgender Catholics. This is Fr. Bryan Massingale’s message in his new column published by U.S. Catholic, and it is a poignant message in view of Pope Francis’ recent remarks about gender identity.

Massingale. a professor of theology at Fordham University, New York, begins his essay by referencing a transgender panel discussion in which he participated earlier this year. Hosted by the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the largest annual gathering of Catholics in North America, that panel featured to young trans Catholics sharing their stories. Massingale commented on it:

“I was struck by their heartfelt conviction that accepting their true gender identities led them to a deeper and more authentic relationship with God. Hearing their stories of pain and triumph was one of the most privileged moments I have had in 33 years of being a priest.”

But Massingale notes that he questioned his own participation in the event, especially when friends and family asked him about the risks that identifying with LGBT people can have in the church. He explained:

“Space does not allow me to give my full response. But one reason why I chose to be present is because I have a lot to learn. To be blunt, I was at the panel precisely because of my ignorance and discomfort. Transgender issues were never addressed in either my moral theology courses in the seminary or in my graduate studies in Christian ethics. I—and most priests—have not been trained to specifically minister to transgender members of our parishes or to the concerns of their families.

“My personal ignorance is also shared by the church as a whole. There is much that we do not understand about what is technically called ‘gender dysphoria,’ or the lack of congruence between one’s physical body and gender identity. This ignorance leads to fear, and fear is at the root of the controversies in today’s so-called ‘bathroom wars.’ And there lies a major challenge that transgender people endure and that the faith community has to own: the human tendency to be uncomfortable and fearful in the face of what we don’t understand. It’s easier to ridicule and attack individuals we don’t understand than to summon the patience and humility to listen and to learn.”

The church cannot abandon trans Catholics because, Massingale explains, “Jesus would be present to, among, and with transgender persons.” His table ministry with society’s outcasts teaches Christians that we will be judged on “our compassion for the despised and disdained.” Lack of understanding of or comfort with people does not mitigate the obligation the church has to include them and minister to them.  Massingale also cited the compassionate side of Pope Francis:

“During Pope Francis’ visit last fall, he repeated on at least five occasions: ‘Jesus never abandons us.’ This is the deepest reason why I chose to be with Anna and Mateo, who spoke so eloquently for so many of our transgender fellow Catholics. Jesus does not abandon us. If we claim to be his followers, we cannot abandon them.”

You can read Fr. Massingale’s full essay by clicking here.

Fr. Massingale has himself not abandoned LGBT Catholics. While at Marquette University, he celebrated monthly Masses for members of the LGBTQ communities on campus because, he says, it is important they “have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them.” He challenged Pax Christi USA members at their 2013 annual conference to increase the organization’s defense of LGBT rights, as both a human rights concern and a necessary part of attracting younger Catholics. Massingale also joined other Catholic theologians and officials in condemning proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda.

Fr. Massingale will continue his call for inclusion and justice in the church when he will be a keynote speaker for New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” Early registration has now opened if you are interested in attending, and you can find more information by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Global Catholics ‘Lament’ Gender Identity Remarks by Pope Francis

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Pope Francis addressing Poland’s bishops

Pushback has continued against transgender-negative remarks made by Pope Francis during his meeting two weeks ago with Poland’s bishops.

Francis expressed concern about schools teaching children they could choose their gender, the result of alleged ideological colonization, the pope suggested. You can read his initial remarks here, and a first round of reactions to them here.  New Ways Ministry’s response can be read here. For an insightful alternative view on the pope’s remarks, click here.

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) said it “laments the recent words of Pope Francis” and “regrets the lack of empathy” within them. GNRC’s statement continued:

“[Especially when] he mentioned Benedict XVI´s verdict that ‘we are living in an age of sin against God the Creator’, in reference to a conversation they previously had on gender issues. Such a statement, related to transgender and intersex people, does not express God’s love for those people, Catholic or not, who are usually and constantly questioned by the society, the Church and their families, for being whom they are. It might even be seen as reinforcing the condemnation and bullying of [transgender and intersex] people, even though the Pope surely did not intend it to be so.”

GNRC said it prayed for greater understanding from the church, offering its help in facilitating that process as all “walk the same path for a more truthful merger between our faith and our sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”

Journalist Mary Elizabeth Williams, noting the conflicted relationship some progressive Catholics have with this pope, wrote at Salon:

“Ever since becoming pope three years ago, Francis has had a confusing relationship with the LGBT community. . .So what does one do with a leader who’s better than others in the past, but still not nearly good enough?”

Catholic feminist Celia Wexler described Francis as “the pope of two minds” for The Huffington Post, writing:

“Time and time again, Pope Francis reveals the clash of two sides of the same man: the Pope of love and tolerance versus the Pope who closes the door on the possibility of change, and sees the world through the eyes of a 79-year-old celibate cleric. . .The Pope’s discomfort with changing attitudes, and emerging science, about gender identity keeps his instinct for generosity and kindness in check. Having Benedict reinforce that streak in his successor is very disillusioning.”

Pamela Valentine, the mother of a transgender son, wrote a letter to the pontiff on her blog, Affirmed Mom. Saying she would give Francis the benefit of the doubt, Valentine interpreted the pope’s words as if they were a mistake. She wrote:

“Last week, you announced that school children were being allowed to choose gender. I prefer to think you meant forced. And you are correct.

“All people in our modern society are forced to choose gender, to pick a team, from birth on. . .And so you took a stand. You said, enough. Stop forcing our children to choose, stop dressing them up as exaggerations of some idealized version of what men and women should look like. Stop thrusting them into roles that they don’t understand, don’t want, or don’t fit. Because Adam didn’t wear pants in the Garden of Eden and Eve didn’t wear a dress and make up. You know what they wore? Absolutely nothing and that’s exactly how God wanted it.

“I know that many will leap to defend your accusations that I let my child choose. Only I know that you’re smart enough to know that nobody gets to choose their gender. . .For you to make any other claim about your gender means that you do not understand it, and I would certainly hope the leader of a major religion would not speak on matters he didn’t understand.”

Valentine concluded by noting that her trans son expresses an interest in becoming Catholic, knowing love from Jesus and being affirmed by his family. She challenged Pope Francis “to expose a gross oversimplification of gender in our world. . .to change the world and make it better for future generations.”

Finally, Eliel Cruz, the executive director of Faith in America, told Edge Media Network:

“It is incredibly naïve Pope Francis believes the image of God is anything close to binary. . .In believing that God is only represented in male or female, Pope Francis is effectively eliminating the diversity and complexity of the image of God. Francis also ignores the reality of intersex individuals in his complementary lens. Pope Francis is denying the full image of God when he denies the transgender community.”

For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of gender identity issues in the Catholic church, visit the “Transgender” category on the right-hand column of this page or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Church “a Source of Consolation,” Says Philippines’ First Transgender Politician

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Geraldine Roman

Geraldine Roman, the Philippines’ first elected transgender representative to that nation’s congress, spoke revealingly about her Catholic faith in a recent interview with CNN.

Asked how her identity as a trans woman has affected her work as a Filipino congresswoman, Roman answered in the interview:

“What really hurt me the most was when they judged my relationship with God, because my entire life, I have tried my best to maintain a relationship with God and to be a good person. And for people who do not know me, who do not know my heart, to judge me, especially in public, it was painful.”

Roman said that she did not mind the questions and even criticism she faced for her gender identity and decision to undergo gender-confirming surgery. By doing her work and doing it well, Roman hopes to convince critics that “we’re just ordinary people and we deserve respect.”

Roman noted that she “[had] not heard any kind of condemnation from the Church,” whose bishops retain influence in the Philippines and frequently weigh in on political affairs. Indeed, the congresswoman cited the church as a “source of consolation” as she came to know and embrace herself:

“One is born a transgender person, so he or she has no choice. And when you have no choice about something, I don’t know why there should be moral judgment attached to that condition. Even before undergoing my sex realignment surgery, I’ve been a practicing Catholic, so just to be sure, I had to consult the Jesuits at Ateneo de Manila University, where I was educated. And they told me this: ‘Geraldine, the body is just a shell. If you think by modifying the outside, you can become a more loving, more generous, and happier person, go ahead, because what is important is the heart, and God looks at the heart and not what you have in between your legs.’

“So for me, the Church I belong to has not treated me with rejection. In fact it has been a source of consolation for me, even during my growing years, when the internal struggle was very intense and I would often get depressed. The incidence of depression among transgender people is very high, until they have that definitive moment when finally, their body is aligned with their psyche, with their mind, with their heart. So the Church was a source of consolation for me.”

In a separate interview with PhilStar, she cited two other incidents of church ministers offering support. At her 10th high school reunion in 1994, the current principal introduced Roman to teachers as “the first alumna” of their all-male high school.  In addition,  Jesuits at Fordham University prayed for and ministered to her when Roman underwent gender-confirming surgery in New York.

Roman shared, too, about being raised in a “very Catholic” family which frequently discussed the meaning of their lives and God’s will for them. She credited her parents, both politicians themselves, with heavily influencing her involvement in politics. Her father taught her that every person has dignity as a child of God with “a special purpose in life.”

Roman concluded the interview with the hope she would not merely be “the transgender politician,” but Geraldine Roman the good legislator who helped people. Still, she remains committed to legislation that helps LGBT people because she understands firsthand the discrimination and difficulties such communities face. She identified civil unions as a goal, saying that while it is not marriage it is a starting point to ensure same-gender couples can access equal rights.

Roman’s words reveal how seamlessly one’s Catholic faith and desire to serve others pair with LGBT advocacy for the benefit of all, a revolutionary message for a very Catholic nation.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Complicating Catholic Understandings of Sex and Gender

SR-Church-Easter-candle-01 (2)Respecting LGBTQI people should be a “fairly simple thing to do,” as Jesuit Fr. James Martin remarked in an interview earlier this week. But understanding the diversity of gender identities can be complex even for committed allies, given how broad and nuanced transgender and intersex issues are. And sometime the consequences of not understanding and respecting can be deeply damaging.

Christians, including Catholics, have spearheaded anti-LGBT efforts like North Carolina’s HB2 law, ignoring the concrete reality that non-discrimination protections definitively improve LGBT people’s well-being. These opponents opt instead for faulty religious arguments to justify their opposition, arguments which theologian Katie Grimes took on at Women in TheologyShe posed a difficult challenge to anti-transgender Christians, asking:

“[W]hat in your life has lead you to believe that love, which God epitomizes perfectly, means wanting anything but happiness, in every sense of the word, for other people?”

Christian opposition to transgender identities is often rooted in literal readings of Genesis. They interpret creation story texts to mean God creates people only in the male/female binary. To such thought, Grimes responded:

“They twist the word of God in the shape of their own preconceptions.  They do not think to ask, ‘how do we know what makes a male a male and a female a female?’  They instead assume that God defines masculinity and femininity in the same way they do.”

Against arguments rooted in biological determinism, Grimes criticized how some Christians “deify the bodies . . we receive at birth.” She wrote:

“Besides turning natural law into a cliché (so babies with cleft palettes or heart defects ought not undergo corrective surgery?), this theory ends up unwittingly celebrating the very queerness it seeks to contain.  If we take this view seriously, then we would have to also say that God naturally creates many human beings (about 1 in 2000) whose bodies do not fulfill our socially constructed definitions of man and woman.”

Ultimately, Grimes concluded that anti-transgender Christians “sell God short” because they “assume that God’s imagination and creativity is no bigger than their own.”

Catholic opponents specifically, including some U.S. bishops, have cited supposed church teaching  in their objections to transgender equality. They claim there is clear and defined church teaching on gender identity that simply needs to be promoted. Melinda Selmys questioned the validity of this claim at her blog Catholic Authenticity, writing:

“Whenever I hear this, I suspect that the person making the comment has had little to no experience actually dealing with the transgender, queer or intersex communities. It’s basically a position that you can arrive at only if you’re taking the problems home, painting them out of their context and looking at them in a theological laboratory where everything is very simple and clear-cut.”

Selmys then listed eight scenarios drawn from her experiences as a Catholic which reveal the many complexities of gender identity, asking after each one what the reader would do. For instance, an intersex person assigned male at birth identifies as a woman upon reaching adolescence and feels called to religious life as a nun. Is this person accepted? Or a woman religious who cares for survivors of human trafficking knows she must minister to the trans survivors according to their gender identity if she is to be successful. How does the sister proceed? Or parents consult a canon lawyer about their intersex child. The canonist recommends corrective surgery while intersex adults criticize such surgeries as painful and violating. What do the parents do? Each of Selmys’ scenarios contains many intricacies that defy simple answers.

Failing to engage gender identity issues in their fullness has negative pastoral, as well as political, consequences. For instance, a Catholic priest in New York said being transgender is the same as considering oneself a chicken because “something has gone wrong in my feelings. . .I need help.” Fr. Andrew Carrozza’s op-ed continued in this vein, attacking transgender people in the name of faith. The priest’s approach is unfortunately similar to other Christian opponents who have refused to listen to transgender people’s experiences, and relied upon the same faulty religious thought critiqued by Grimes and Selmys.

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly criticized Carrozza in Commonweal, and her comments are broadly applicable to Catholic opponents of any form of LGBT equality. While affirming a place for the church in conversations about sexuality and gender, Wilson O’Reilly wrote:

“Carrozza is making the gentlest version of the church’s basic claim that we have nothing left to learn about human sexuality. This claim is simply not plausible to a growing number of people, especially young people, and volunteering it with placid confidence in the face of something as complicated as gender identity and public accommodations for transgender people is not doing anything for the church’s credibility.”

She added that ” ‘naive’ [is] the kindest word that comes to mind” for pastoral ministers like Fr. Carrozza who believe “gentle ridicule” is an appropriate response.

The writer H.L. Mencken once said, “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  Catholics must resist the temptation to reduce transgender and intersex issues, even if such distillation is well-intentioned. And it is worth asking, too, whether the questions raised about gender identities are themselves even complex enough. We have to ask and keep asking the right questions–and answer and keep answering in dynamic ways to avoid simple and wrong answers.

As Katie Grimes made clear, this debate matters beyond correcting the wrongness of simple answers. Simple answers employed in the name of the church are actively harmful in justifying prejudice, discrimination, and, at times, even violence against LGBT people. We must commit ourselves to complicating constantly our understandings of gender and of sexuality to ensure we are always reading the signs of the times in new ways, with new eyes and open hearts.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry