Jesuit Priest Speaks Out for Canadian Transgender Equality Bill

A Jesuit priest in Toronto, Canada, has emerged as an important voice in support of a national bill for transgender equality.

Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ

Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ, associate professor of systematic theology at Regis College, Toronto, has spoken out in favor of bill C-16 which would include gender identity and expressions as protected categories in Canada’s  Human Rights Act.  According to an article in America magazine, Fr. Mongeau stated:

“To the extent that it seeks to protect the quest of trans people to be themselves in a safe environment, Bill C-16 is something to be applauded by Christians.”

Mongeau has worked with Our Lady of Lourdes parish, situated in the gay neighborhood of Toronto.  The parish hosts a program called “All Inclusive Ministries,” which hosts a weekly Mass for the LGBT community, among other programs.

The Jesuit priest acknowledges that biological sex and gender may be more complex phenomena than simple physical characteristics.  He follows his brother Jesuit, Pope Francis, in describing church outreach to transgender people, saying:

“We must begin from the fact that the church, at this time, has no official teaching about gender identity or trans persons.”

“[Mongeau] underlines the need to, as Pope Francis suggests, accompany real people in real situations. For his part, though the Holy Father has been critical of ‘gender theory,’ he has been sensitive to preferred pronouns in the context of real encounter. That is reflected in his comments about a letter he received from a transgender man: ‘He who was a she, but is a he,’ the pope said.”

The question about pronoun usage reveals a more important question about our understanding of transgender people as human beings, Mongeau noted:

“The question of pronouns cannot be separated from the real lives of people. Asking these questions in the abstract is part of the problem we are facing because it makes it possible to evoke the image or idea that trans people somehow serve an agenda of attacking the moral fiber of society or serve an anti-Christian agenda. Trans people, in my experience, are trying to live healthy, productive and (sometimes) spiritually fruitful lives.”

In the America article, the need for equal civil protections for transgender people was expressed by Janice Towndrow, a Christian transgender woman from Toronto:

“I used to wish I had cancer because when you have cancer all the family rallies around you. But when you’re trans, you don’t have family, they kick you out.

‘It is very difficult,’ she says, even ‘comparable to biblical times,’ when lepers were shunned by the community. ‘You’re distanced; you’re pulled from your family; you’re cast out of the community. So you don’t see your children anymore. If you had a job, you probably don’t have it anymore.’ “

Janice Towndrow

And she noted how important it is for Christian churches to support transgender people and Bill c-16:

“Christian support for Bill C-16 would make a huge difference for transgender people looking to lead healthy spiritual lives, who are often alienated by communities of faith. As Ms. Towndrow explains, ‘I think somewhere along the line, everyone [in the transgender community] turns their back on the church because the church has turned its back on them.”

The bill passed Canada’s House of Commons in December, by a vote of 248-40, and is now being sent to the Senate.

While opponents of the bill continue to make their voices heard, we can thank God for courageous Catholic leaders like Fr. Mongeau and for communities like Our Lady of Lourdes parish for showing their public support for transgender equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 31, 2017



March in Local Pride Parades to Support LGBT & Ally Church Employees

June is Pride month across the U.S. and in many areas of the globe. Parades, festivals, and other programs fill this month’s calendar, as people, gay and straight, take a moment or two to celebrate and affirm LGBT people.  Many parishes have taken part in these events (see “Related posts” at the end of this essay for links), as a witness to Catholic support for the human dignity and equality of LGBT people.  And some have done so in the face of ecclesial pressure not to participate.

This year, the inspiring story of Catholic participation comes from Ontario, Canada, where an educators’ union, the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association (OECTA), has decided to march in Toronto’s World Pride parade.  As we have already reported, the group seeks to show support for LGBT students, teachers, and others, even while they have been criticized for their plans.

Their example brings to mind what is probably the top story these days in the United States concerning Catholic LGBT issues:  the unjust firings of LGBT people and allies from Catholic schools and parishes and the adoption of restrictive employment contracts which forbid any public support of same-gender couples.

Many Catholics have felt helpless in the face of these repressive measures, and they have longed for a way to show their support for these fired workers.   U.S. Catholics should follow their Canadian brothers and sisters and take to the streets by marching in their local Pride celebrations in support of Catholic LGBT and ally employees.

We’ve seen petitions, letter-writing campaigns, and protests, and these have been wonderful ways of creating awareness.  Marching in Pride parades provides one more possible way to keep this issue alive in people’s minds.  Such displays of support would likely garner media attention, which would put the message of non-discrimination in front of the Catholic leaders in a local area.  Even if your area has not witnessed repressive employment actions yet, it is important to make your views known to the public and to church leaders so that all will know that not all Catholics are okay with these decisions.  In situations like this, prevention is truly the best intervention.

James Ryan

Take heart from the example of these Canadian teachers.  The criticism of their decision continues, according to The National Post, but they have stayed firm. OECTA’s President, James Ryan, met with Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins and St. Catharines’ Bishop Gerard Paul Bergie, both of whom expressed displeasure at the teachers’ union’s plans.  A petition by some parents has been circulated to get the teachers to withdraw.  Yet, the teachers are still resolute in their decision to march.

The teachers’ attitude was summed up nicely in The National Post article:

“The fact the union still plans to participate in the parade despite criticisms ‘says to me that these people have the courage of their convictions and that they are true supporters and allies of the diversity in our city, including sexual diversity,’ said Kevin Beaulieu, executive director of Pride Toronto, which is organizing the World Pride parade. ‘It’s a wonderful message of acceptance and love and welcome.’ ”

Exactly.  The teachers’ message is a message of acceptance and love and welcome which is entirely consistent with Catholic principles.  And if U.S. Catholics marched in support of fired church employees, they can express that same very Catholic message.

Bishop Fred Colli of the Diocese of Thunder Bay told the newspaper that he thought that the parade marchers would “cause confustion” among Catholics.  This seems unlikely.  What most people find confusing is the fact that Catholic leaders seem to have an obstinate refusal to showing any support for the human dignity and equality of LGBT people.

Similar to Bishop Colli, Cardinal Collins expressed dismay that the teachers would be marching in a parade where there have sometimes been been displays of nudity and distribution of condoms.  The newspaper quoted him:

Cardinal Thomas Collins

“ ‘I find it very troubling and strange that [the union] would choose this particular event as a way of expressing that, when it seems to be going completely against what we believe in many ways,’ said the cardinal. ‘That’s the point at which I would say, “Really? What are you thinking’” ‘ “

His remark seems to echo those in the Gospel who challenged Jesus’ authenticity because he associated with tax collectors and prostitutes.  The Church should never restrain itself from showing love and acceptance just because some of those to whom they are extending a hand do not conform to all values we may hold.

And as for “going completely against what we believe in many ways,” I think the cardinal is forgetting some of the other ways that Catholics believe concerning LGBT people:  that they should be affirmed and respected.

I’m not the only one who thinks the OECTA is right in their decision to march.  Catholic school boards in Ontario were asked to issue statements of reprimand to the union, and to apply heavy penalties if they continued to march.   So far, the response has been less than enthusiastic to penalize them:

“One such motion failed at Halton’s Catholic school board May 20 because it could not get a seconder. Another, simply asking the union to withdraw, was passed at York Region’s Catholic school board April 29. Waterloo’s Catholic board passed a motion May 26 stating it respects the union’s right to make its own decision on how to show support for the gay community.”

I hope that this outstanding example of Catholic support for LGBT people that the teachers are demonstrating will be emulated by many Catholics in the U.S. who want to show support for fired church employees.   Just think of the message it would send to LGBT youth, as well.  What a witness of faith it would be if Catholics showed up in numbers to support our LGBT siblings!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

(For all posts concerning firings, click on “Employment Issues” under “Categories” in the right hand column of this page.)

June 16, 2013: “Catholic Parish Marches in Portland Pride Parade Despite Archbishop’s Prohibition”

June 22, 2013: “Catholic Communities Featured Prominently in Two Pride Parades”

July 14, 2013: “Catholic Pastor Explains Why He Marched in Pride Parade”

October 25, 2013: “How to Establish LGBT Employment Non-Discrimination Policies in Catholic Institutions”

March 24, 2014: “Catholic League’s Publicity Stunt Helps No One, Harms Many”  (see photo of parish marching in New York Pride Parade)

April 5. 2014: “How Can Ordinary Catholics Respond to the Firing of LGBT Church Employees?”

May 24, 2014: “Brazilian Bishops Endorse Legal Equality, Promise to Accompany LGBT Community”  (see section on Sao Paulo Pride March)

June 6, 2014: “Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues”





Catholic Activists Helped Bring Marriage Equality Case to the Supreme Court

Thea Spyer and Edie Windsor
Thea Spyer and Edie Windsor

Yesterday, Bondings 2.o highlighted the role that Catholics played at the prayer service and public demonstration as the Supreme Court heard two cases involving marriage equality this week.   Today, Jamie Manson, award-winning columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, highlights an important behind-the-scenes story about Catholic involvement in one of those cases–the challenge to the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).   The plaintiff in that case is Edie Windsor, who was  married to Thea Spyer,  Toronto, Canada, in 2007.  Their marriage was recognized since 2008 by New York State, where they lived.  Yet, when Spyer passed away, Windsor received  a$363,053 estate tax bill  from the federal government which would not have been sent if the married couple were heterosexual.

What Manson highlights is the work that three Catholic gay activists, who are members of Dignity/New York, did to bring this case to the Supreme Court.  The first is Brendan Fay, who arranged for Windsor and Spyer’s wedding in Toronto.  Manson explains:

Brendan Fay
Brendan Fay

” ‘Edie called for help. It was urgent,’ Fay says. Windsor’s partner of almost four decades, Thea Spyer, had been battling multiple sclerosis since 1975, and doctors had given her only months to live. Fay reached out to Canadian Judge Harvey Brownstone of the Ontario Court of Justice, who gladly performed the ceremony.

“Fay was part of a small contingent of friends that shepherded Edie and Thea, who was confined to a motorized wheelchair, to a Toronto hotel, where they were married May 22, 2007.

” ‘There was hardly a dry eye as they exchanged words, “With this ring I thee wed … in sickness and in health, till death do us part,'” Fay remembers.”

When Fay learned of Windsor’s estate tax problem, he sought aid from two friends:

Vincent Maniscalco and Edward DeBonis
Vincent Maniscalco and Edward DeBonis

“After Mass one evening, he enlisted the help of fellow Dignity members Edward DeBonis and Vincent Maniscalco, who have been married since 2002. (Theirs was the first Catholic same-sex wedding announced in The New York Times.) DeBonis, an attorney, immediately thought of [Roberta] Kaplan [the attorney who argued Windsor’s case at the Supreme Court yesterday], whom they had watched argue the 2004 marriage suit filed by 13 couples before the New York State Court of Appeals.”Robbie was compelling,” DeBonis recalls, “and she and her partner, Rachel Lavine, have been passionate about the marriage equality issue for many years.”

And Windsor attributes all her celebrity status to Fay:

” ‘Everything that has happened to make me so famous at this moment is caused by Brendan Fay,’ Windsor told the crowd a few weeks ago at a benefit concert for the St. Pat’s For All parade, an event Fay spearheaded in 2000. ‘When I first saw the brief that said Edie Windsor vs. the United States of America, I said, “No, no, blame him, not me!” she laughed.’ “

Bondings 2.o already noted the role Catholics have played in the prayer service and demonstration at the Supreme Court, as well as the fact that six of the nine justices on the Court are Catholic.  Manson’s story highlights yet another important role that Catholics have played in this story.  Fay, DeBonis, and Maniscalco are to be lauded for living their faith so boldly and generously.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Parishioners Protest Courage at Toronto Newman Center

University of TorontoThe establishment of a Courage program at the Newman Center near the University of Toronto has created something of a firestorm in the parish community, and has even prompted the university to issue an official statement distancing the campus from the program.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper reports that the establishment of the Courage program

” . . . has caused a rift at the Newman Centre, which at least a dozen parishioners have stopped attending because they oppose the program and its principles, while the U of T has urged the centre’s leaders to discontinue it.”

Courage is an international of network of chapters which promote chastity, and some times have encouraged reparative therapy. It was founded in 1980 by Father John Harvey, OSFS.

The program’s content is seen as potentially psychologically harmful by some, including

“. . . one outraged Newman parishioner who has helped lead opposition to the program, and who requested anonymity over fears of discipline from his employer, decried ‘the harm and the damage it does, primarily to vulnerable younger people who are struggling with their sexual identity.’ ”

Although the Newman Center is independent of the University of Toronto, the campus administration has become involved in the situation:

“. . . four parishioners launched a formal complaint with the U of T – one of several the school received and solicited in recent months, a spokesman said. The university said in a statement that its vice-president of human resources and equity, Angela Hildyard, labelled the Courage program ‘inconsistent with the university’s values’ and has urged the Newman Centre to cease offering or promoting it, and to make clear in all its publications that U of T does not endorse it.

“The Newman Centre’s website now states, ‘This program is not offered by or connected to the University of Toronto.’ ”

New Ways Ministry has critiqued the Courage program because it treats a homosexual orientation as a psychological defect.  Though we have reported the establishment of such programs in various U.S. dioceses, this is the first report we have heard of where parishioners have protested the group operating within their community.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Transgender Beauty Contestant Visits Canadian Catholic School

Jenna Talackova

Contestants in the Miss Universe Canada pageant recently visited St. John Vianney Catholic school in Toronto, Canada.  Included among the contestants was Jenna Talackova, the first transgendered contestant.  The Globe and Mail newspaper hosts a news video clip of the visit on its website, which can be viewed by clicking here.

Vince Moretti, principal of the school commented on the visit:

“We are a Catholic, all-inclusive school, so we do respect everyone. So that’s not really an issue for us. We are a welcoming community and we are a Catholic community.  We welcome everyone.”

Among Talackova’s statements in the interview:

“We were born crying.  Does that mean we’re going to be a crybaby all of our lives?  No. You develop your inner self, your inner soul.  To embrace your individuality is what I want to give to this world.”

Congratulations and best wishes to Jenna, as she goes on to the competition!  Congratulations to St. John Vianney school for being a witness to Gospel inclusiveness and welcome!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Majority Favors Gay-Straight Alliances in Ontario’s Catholic Schools

While Ontario’s debate about establishing student clubs with the name “gay-straight alliances”  in  state-funded Catholic schools continues, a new poll shows that a majority of citizens there favor such organizations.   Meanwhile, one Catholic school in the province is a shining example of LGBT acceptance for the rest of the church educational system.

According to an article in Toronto’s The Star newspaper,

“Ontarians favour the right of students to form gay-straight alliance clubs in Catholic schools by a margin of almost two to one, a new poll suggests.

“Fifty-one per cent agreed that students in publicly funded Catholic schools should be allowed to form clubs under that sometimes contentious name with 28 per cent opposed and 21 per cent undecided.

“ ‘Now that people are more familiar with them, there’s more support for them,’ Forum president Lorne Bozinoff told the Star on Tuesday.”

As previous reports of this issue have shown,

“While Catholic teachers have generally been supportive of the alliances, trustees and many parents have opposed them as not being in accordance with church teachings.”

St. Mary’s High School in Kitchener, Ontario, however, has had no problem with establishing a gay-straight alliance there, and, in fact, it is a thriving part of student life.   The school’s vice-prinicipal, no doubt, had a major impact in this area, according to a story:

“For Joan Grundy, vice-principal at St. Mary’s High School in Kitchener, standing up for youth who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender is her job.

“ ‘It’s a no-brainer to me as a Catholic educator to do this work … Catholic teaching calls you to live out the gospel with integrity,’’ Grundy said.

“ ‘Jesus modeled a life of love, understanding and compassion. It’s not just tolerating people, but celebrating them,’ she said.

“Even as controversy recently erupted over the suggestion of creating gay-straight alliances in local Catholic schools, St. Mary’s was way ahead of everyone else. “

Indeed, the school’s support group, called PRISM — Pride and Respect for Individuals of a Sexual Minority, sponsored programs for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia last week, highlighting ‘coming out’ stories from various personnel. Another story carried some of the personal tales.  For example, one parent told how his daughter’s journey changed his attitude:

“Wayne Ernst said he was always the first person to make the homophobic joke and didn’t care if he hurt people’s feelings.

“ ‘I was a bit of bigot. I was the Archie Bunker,’ said Ernst, who’s been on his own personal journey since his daughter came out as a lesbian. Now, the two have a close parental bond.

“ ‘I told her you will always be my daughter, nothing less,’ he said in an interview.”

Catholic officials should be flocking to St. Mary’s to see what they could learn from the teachers, students, and parents there.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry