Play Starring Transgender Jesus Draws Catholic Protests

November 24, 2015

Jo Clifford as Jesus in the play

Catholics in Northern Ireland protested a play performed this month which portrays Jesus as a transgender woman, but the playwright defended it as an attempt to make audiences “think again” about faith and gender.

The play, titled “The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven,” was most recently performed at Outburst Queer Arts Festival in Belfast just weeks after the nation’s legislature failed to advance marriage equality legislation.

Writer and actor Jo Clifford described it as a “very important, very intimate show,” explaining to BBC:

” ‘Obviously being a transgender woman myself it concerns me very greatly that religious people so often use Christianity as a weapon to attack us and justify the prejudices against us. . .

” ‘I wanted to see if we could move away from that and make people think again.’ “

Audience members are quite moved, said Clifford, including Christians. The writer has repeatedly reinterpreted biblical stories to generate new ideas, suggesting the overall message of this play is clear:

” ‘I think it’s very important to get across the message that Jesus of the gospels would not condone or want to promote prejudice and discrimination against anybody and to try to convey a message of compassion and love and understanding of everybody. . .No matter what their belief, no matter what their gender, orientation or sexuality.’

Not all welcome that message as a small Catholic group protested in Belfast, as has at previous performances. Former Glasglow Archbishop Mario Conti once said that it is hard to imagine “a more provocative and offensive abuse of Christian beliefs” than this play.

Clifford, however, said protesters have generally not seen the play and that it seeks neither to offend nor blaspheme because she is a Christian herself. Her point is rather to reflect on Jesus’ ministry through this “work of devotion”:

” ‘I simply want to assert very strongly, as strongly as I can that Jesus of the gospels would not in anyway wish to attack or denigrate people like myself.’ “

Clifford made a similar point in another interview, available on YouTube:

“He was talking to the victims of persecution, to the victims of prejudice and he would speak to them in a very accepting way, as one human being to another.”

In this, Clifford is correct. The Gospels reveal a Jesus who elevated people’s dignity and specifically sought out those who had been marginalized.

Catholic tradition has long embraced the arts as a means for spiritual nourishment and divine revelation, opening up the human person to themselves, to others, and to God. While I have not viewed Clifford’s play, her interviews suggest she is someone committed to creating art with devotional ends. The protesters would have benefited more by attending a show and seeing what came up in their inner life, instead of casting stones from afar.

For more information on The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, visit the play’s website here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Cloistered Argentine Carmelite Nun Reaches Out to Trans Women

November 21, 2015

Regular long-time readers of Bondings 2.0  may remember our posts about Sister “Monica,” a U.S. nun who pioneered ministry to transgender people.  We’ve covered her involvement in this groundbreaking work a few times (here and here, for example), and you can read about her ministry and why she chooses to remain anonymous, using only the pseudonym Sister “Monica” when she appears in the media.

Sister Monica, third from right, with her group of trans women in Argentina.

In another part of the world, another Sister Mónica has emerged who is doing similar outreach work with the transgender community.  This Sister Mónica (which is her real name) lives in the Neuquén province of Argentina and is a member of the Discaled Carmelite Order, a contemplative community.  Her ministry has even attracted the attention and support of Pope Francis.

Her story first appeared in OhLaLá, an Argentinian web magazine for women.  Thanks to “Rebel Girl,” the blogging name of a contributor to Iglesia Descalza, a site for progressive Catholic reflection, we have an English translation of the article featuring Sister Mónica Astorga Cremona.

The story recounts how Sister Mónica’s pastoral life has always been with those on the margins of society, and that an encounter with a young transgender woman focused her attention on the needs of this community.  The nun described the story:

” ‘I feel that God wants me to accompany the wounded and that’s why I take responsibility. They often tell me I stand with them; it’s that I feel that from that place I can understand them. Because when we look at them from the other side, it’s impossible. I get in deep,’ the sister adds.

“And because of this kind of attitude, it’s not surprising that in December 2005, when Romina, a trans woman, approached Lourdes parish, the bishop decided this was a job for her.

“Romina went at that time to the church because she wanted to donate a tenth of her wages. ‘When the priest asked her where it came from, she told him from prostitution, and she explained that that was the only work she could get. At that point, the priest called me and told me about the case.’ “

Sister Monica Astorga Cremona

Sister Monica describes the poignancy of many of the simple hopes that some transgender women face, as well as the crushing obstacles to living with dignity:

” ‘The first time I came to see the group of trans women, I asked them to tell me their dreams. One of them, Kathy, told me that hers was to have a clean bed on which to die,’ says Mónica. At that time the nun contacted a priest, told him about the case and got an abandoned house which eventually became the refuge of the girls, as Mónica calls them.

“As she got to know this group of women, she learned how they lived — that they couldn’t hold any job except prostitution because they weren’t accepted in any position, that they often didn’t finish their studies because they were discriminated against in school, and that hospitals threw them out when they were about to die, so that in most cases they died alone and abandoned.”

As with many pastoral ministers who stand in solidarity with the marginalized, Sister Mónica has had her detractors, though she also seems to have the ability to turn those detractors into friends sometimes:

“Mónica admits that within the Church itself there are conflicting opinions as to her work with these people, but says she has the support of Pope Francis and that in her community small advances have already been achieved.

” ‘Once, when Romina had just come to the church, a lady came to find me and told me,”There’s a transvestite.” I replied that she was a trans woman, and then she asked me what she was doing in the church, to which I replied, “What are you doing here?.” At first, she continued questioning me about Romina’s presence, until I asked her what would happen if that were your child,’ she says.

” ‘After a couple of days, she came back and apologized to me, and at the following Mass she went looking for Romina to give her the sign of peace,’ she adds.”

As for the papal support she has received, the nun explains that she has been in email correspondence with Francis:

“. . . [S]he affirms that Pope Francis knows of the work she is carrying out with this group of women and that he supports her. In an email he wrote her: ‘In Jesus’ time, the lepers were rejected like that. They [the trans women] are the lepers of these times. Don’t leave this work on the frontier that is yours.’ “

The nun sees the possibility of a society that is free of oppression of transgender oppression, noting that such oppression is what causes these women to live lives of poverty and addiction:

“The girls make a huge effort against the stream. We have to help them and integrate them. They are capable and intelligent people, but they are abused. We ourselves are the ones who lead them to the streets. If society would open the door to them and give them a chance, we could help them get out of this. . . .

“. . . I think who is that person to judge like that and bury another live.”

The witness of Sister Mónica should challenge all of us to take one more step along the journey of advocating and standing in solidarity with trans people.  It is people like her who are building God’s reign of justice and peace in the world and in our Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

New Ways Ministry Welcomes Pope Francis to Philly with Catholic Gender Identity Workshop

September 27, 2015

Just as Pope Francis began his schedule in Philadelphia, Catholics gathered in a church hall in downtown to explore ideas and personal experiences about gender identity. The New Ways Ministry-sponsored workshop, titled “Transforming Love,” featured four speakers sharing their stories of being trans*, of being intersex, of being an LGBTQI person’s family member–and doing all of this as Catholics.

Julie Chovanes

After an opening communal prayer service, Julie Chovanes, a transexual Catholic woman from Philadelphia, began the morning’s presentations. Steve Ahlquist of reported:

“Chovanes was raised in the Byzantine Catholic tradition. . .Coming out and transitioning has been a challenge, but she feels she has ‘been accepted in the city, I feel that Philadelphia is the best city in the world for [trans persons].”

“I don’t consider myself a man or a girl. . .I am a trans. My brain and my soul are a woman’s, but my body is a man’s. . .My life is a testament to God’s glory.’ “

Later in the workshop, having claimed “I am very proud of who I am,” Chovanes highlighted her privileged experience compared to many other trans persons. She is a successful lawyer whose marriage and family remained intact while she transitioned. Chovanes lifted up trans people of color who suffer most in the U.S. due to economic hardships and physical and emotional violence.

delfin bautista, who identifies as trans* and specifically two-spirit or genderqueer, spoke next. [delfin does not use male or female singular personal pronouns for self-reference.  Instead delfin prefers the non-gendered plural “they, them, their” pronoun set for self-identification.  Also, delfin’s name is correctly spelled with lower-case initial letters.]   delfin began listing their many personal identities that “sometimes clash and sometimes coexist.” These include being Catholic and being the LGBT Center director at Ohio University.

delfin bautista

bautista detailed their Latino/a Catholic upbringing as they came to know themselves more authentically in an ongoing journey to know “what means to be both/and rather than either/or.” RIFuture quoted bautista:

“Being different is not an option. . .I wore dresses and played princess. I prayed every night to wake up in a new body, but was greeted with silence.’

” ‘When I came out I came out as gay because that’s all I knew, but even then I knew it didn’t fit me. . .My mom wanted to help me and sent me to therapy to be cured. I don’t hate my mother, she was trying to help me.’ “

bautista gently explained the concept of transitioning, saying it was not a matter of changing one’s identity but rather of affirming one’s identity and sharing it with others. The journey is a communal one, involving a person’s partner, friends, and family members.

Responding to participants’ questions, the speakers zeroed in on trans* oppression by the lesbian and gay communities. Chovanes alluded to the historic Stonewall riots in 1969, reminding those at the worksthop that it was trans* people who kicked off the LGBT movement.

bautista said, “We’ve been coming out. We’ve been here for centuries.” They added that sexism and misogyny still silence trans feminine voices even within LGBT circles, bautista’s expanded this critique to the Black Lives Matter movement which has prioritized black men who are killed even though trans women of color face the highest rates of violence.

Both turned to Scripture to further their points, Chovanes highlighting the Apostle Philip’s merciful treatment of the Ethiopian eunuch (see Acts of the Apostles 8) who is as he is not because of sin but “for the greater glory of God” and noting that from Genesis to Galatians, gender is presented as a spectrum.

Vilma Santamaria

The workshop’s second panel featured two speakers from El Salvador. Nicole Santamaria is an intersex Catholic woman and activist, now residing in the U.S.  She was joined by Vilma Santamaria, her mother and a teacher involved with feminist advocacy.

Assigned male at birth, Nicole identified as a girl by the age of three and thought of running away as early as age five. When she finally came out to her mother, Vilma responded, “I love you, whoever you are. I will always have you in my heart.” Vilma had known her daughter was different from a young age. Less understanding was Nicole’s father at whose hands she suffered greatly in adolescence, which she described for

” ‘[I was told,] don’t talk like that, don’t move your hands like that! Oh my God, don’t breathe like that! . . .My father mentally and physically tortured me. He’d heat up coins and burn my nipples.”

Nicole Santamaria

Her father’s damage destroyed her natural breasts and early medical help was equally problematic, but eventually through reconstructive surgery Nicole is now able to present as she identifies. Though she is “passing” [meaning: being visibly recognized as a woman], a term she said she only recently learned in the U.S., Nicole refuses to remain silent and rest in that privilege. As she stated:

“God gave me the opportunity to survive. I’m going to continue to speak out for those who didn’t.”

Citing that faith for the “strength to continue,” she told

“I came here to the World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis, to speak for the voices that were silenced by those who will torture them, by those who will kill them. And the voices that were silenced already by people who feel they have permission and they have the obligation to murder us, to exterminate us, to persecute us, because their religion told them that it is okay to kill a person that is different. When every religious leader spoke out against sexual diversity, or even against abortion, a transgender woman is killed. Every time those kind of things are heard, that means death. Whenever this is reported in the media, you can read the comments from the people, and the comments are, They deserve it, they are abominations, God doesn’t love them, it is okay.”

Violence against LGBTQI people in El Salvador is extensive and often involves sexual violence and torture as well as physical assault. Nicole is currently seeking asylum in the U.S. because, as she told her mother, “I left my country because I won’t let you recognize my body in pieces.”  She left El Salvador after several physical attacks and more than several authentic death threats.

The speakers’ words showed the power and grace present at the workshop yesterday morning.  Their words were filled in by many smaller interpersonal conversations by participants who shared their faith, their identities, and their hopes as well as pains. You can get a glimpse of the atmosphere in this video from Religion News Service.

It is worth noting, finally, that this workshop almost did not happen after Archbishop Charles Chaput ejected it and other LGBT-related events coinciding with last week’s World Meeting of Families from a local Catholic parish. Thankfully, a Arch Street United Methodist Church, a nearby congregation at opened its doors and its arms to the New Ways Ministry program, as well as to Equally Blessed’s World Meeting of Families pilgrims, thus allowing LGBT and Ally Catholics to witness to the power of faith, hope, and love, in their lives, relationships, and families.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Equally Blessed pilgrimage, the World Meeting of Families, and/or Pope Francis visit to the U.S., you can click here

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Transgender Catholic Initially Rejected as Godparent Now Welcomed–And Other Positive Developments

August 9, 2015

Alex Salinas

A trans* man in Spain will now be allowed to be his nephew’s godparent, reversing the bishop’s earlier decision to reject the man based on his gender identity. This change is good news and teaches an important lesson about how leaders can listen and learn, as the church journeys forward towards greater transgender inclusion. [Editor’s note:  “Trans*” is an increasingly preferred term to describe people whose gender identities fall outside of traditional categories of male or female.]

Bishop Rafael Zornoza of Cadiz and Ceuta changed his mind about Alex Salinas’ request, reported PinkNews.  Zornoza received intense criticism including a petition that collected more than 35,000 signatures. Salinas, who described the initlal rejection as a “kick in the stomach,” told reporters:

“I am very happy because of what this means for me, but above all, because what is good for me is good for other transsexuals who are Catholic and want to be part of the Church.”

Salinas is among a growing number of openly trans* and gender diverse Catholics, and his appeal of Bishop Zornoza’s act comes from someone who loves the church. In the petition, Salinas said, “This is not the church I know and for this I want to give you [Zornoza] the opportunity to rectify your error.”

Salinas is on point because discrimination and exclusion are not marks of the Church of Christ, even if sometimes human-made institutions fail.

In this instance, Bishop Zornoza chose to listen to Catholics’ loving voices rather then defend a poor decision. Listening may, indeed, be the key first step for ecclesial inclusion of trans* people to grow.

Catholic leaders could also listen to blogger Anna Magdalena of The Catholic Transgender who writes about gender as a gift we must cherish more fully. She questions why socially-conditioned gender norms are so present in Catholic discussions, writing:

“True gender comes from within, as an inner charism, a God-given impulse toward relationship with others. Too often gender-nonconforming individuals are told ‘You need to embrace your God-given maleness/femaleness.’ The language of ‘the gift’ is being used, but it’s being misused. A gift is not something that is shoved down people’s throats. Gifts enliven, not deaden.

“Gifts are planted within to be shared without. When a gender-nonconforming person tries to share what they experience as their inner gift, how often are they shut down? How often is their gift seen as a curse, or ‘not the right gift,’ ‘not their true gift’? . . .

“Maybe this simple attitude [of accepting everything God offers] is all we need to understand gender non-conforming individuals, whether intersex, transgender, or genderqueer. God has offered us these people, these individuals, this myriad of flavors and expressions. If God is offering, I’m accepting.”

Another, more conservative voice is Melinda Selmys who writes at Theologues about experiencing gender dysphoria, though she does not identify as transgender. Selmys points out that too often Christians consider trans* people to be a threat to “traditional marriage and biblical sexuality,” which confines their response:

“Trans people constitute a very small minority of the human population, so it’s easy for a discourse to develop that is concerned solely with political or philosophical considerations. I’m not going to claim that those aspects of the question aren’t important. . .Problems arise, however, when the tradition is discussed without reference to the real human beings involved. . . 

“I’m hoping to help Christians develop a more compassionate attitude towards transpeople. We do need to ask the theological questions, certainly, but these questions cannot take precedence over the immediate suffering of human beings.”

Listening to the Catholic parents of trans* children can also greatly inform the church’s response, as it has with pastoral care for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. An article in Buzzfeed reported advice from many parents, including Deacon Ray Dever who said:

“. . . [S]ome religious leaders have a ‘tendency to exclude people who should be included in the tent. I think they can go back to the gospel, and the conclusion is to love your children first and foremost.’ “

Dever wrote a blog post for Bondings 2.0 in December 2014 describing his experience as the father of a transgender daughter.

Another Buzzfeed piece shares the story of Liam Lowery, a trans* man, and his mother, Michele. Their story is similar to many Catholic families with LGBT members who may initially struggle to accept the member’s sexual orientation or gender identity, but come around over time. Michele said her initial hesitation to accept Liam’s news was motivate by “the misguided belief that people who identified as transgender would be forced into narrow and dangerous lives.” You can read their full story here, which includes Michele’s participation in Liam’s wedding to Marisa–and the unique ceremonial garb they wore for the occasion.

Finally, as we have reported previously, Fr. Keith Barltrop who heads LGBTQI outreach for Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster (London), has said the church should “fully support” someone who decides to transition after careful discernment, adding there was nothing doctrinal about gender identity and that this was a pastoral issue.

Wherever we are on this common ecclesial journey to greater inclusion of and justice for trans* people within the Catholic Church, more listening is always necessary and fruitful.

Listening helps us to build up a church that is “home for all” in Pope Francis’ words. We are enabled to jettison the false marks of discrimination and inclusion for a more full embrace of the church’s true marks: that we are one Body of Christ, holy because the Spirit is alive among us, catholic where all are welcome, and apostolic in that service and love rule supreme.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Transgender Godparent-To-Be Calls Diocesan Rejection a “Kick in the Stomach”

July 30, 2015

Alex Salinas

A transgender Catholic is not allowed to be a godparent, says a Spanish bishop, who further denied any discrimination in the case.

Alex Salinas, 21-year old trans man who describes himself as a “firm believer,” sought to be his nephew’s godfather. The parish priest involved with the baptism accepted him initially, but reversed the welcome after the diocese became involved in the decision. No other parish in the area would perform the baptism.

Bishop Rafael Zornoza of Cadiz and Ceuta personally endorsed Salinas’ rejection and, according to Pink News insisted:

“that the parish priest was ‘kind and understanding’ in conveying to Mr Salinas that he ‘cannot serve as a baptismal sponsor because of canonical requirements that a sponsor live in accordance with the faith.’ “

According to  The Local, the priest told Salinas he could “spiritually encourage and help the child in living the faith” and offered him a role as “spiritual godparent” instead. Salinas was outed because church documents proving he is baptized and confirmed identify him as female, of which Salinas said, “in the church’s eyes, I was still a woman, even though my documents of identification have changed.”

Even while Salinas describes this rejection as a “kick in the stomach,” Bishop Zornoza and the diocese deny any discrimination because such acts happen “frequently.” The diocese said Salinas does not fulfill the requirements according to the Code of Canon Law, which mandate godparents be:

“…be Catholic, be confirmed, have received the holy sacrament of the Eucharist and, at the same time, live a life congruent with faith and the mission they are assuming.”

It is Salinas’ gender identity that is, apparently, incongruous with being a good godparent for he fulfills the rest with vigor according to the Huffington Post. But a closer look at Canon Law, alongside church teaching, reveals the diocese’s reasoning is faulty.

First, the requirements for a godparent, referred to as “sponsor” are set out in Canon 874 §1 which stipulates among other items the item about living “life of faith in keeping with the function.” Salinas fulfills all of the requirements, including leading a “life of faith in keeping with the function.” Indeed, children growing up in the church today could benefit greatly from LGBT Catholics who teach all about living as one’s authentic self, the path to holiness, and witness what it means to remain faithful to Christ and to the People of God in a church plagued by internal injustices.

Second, trans and gender diverse identities are not a doctrinal matter, a point recently reiterated by England’s top Catholic official for LGBTQI outreach, Msgr. Keith Barltrop. Indeed, he added the church should be “fully supportive” of those who decide, after careful discernment, to transition. The pastoral response to Alex Salinas was anything but supportive or welcoming, stemming from a harmful medley of clerical ignorance and prejudice.  At the very least, the pastoral leadership in this case should give the benefit of any of their doubt to the parents of the child.

Thankfully, Salinas plans to appeal to the discriminatory decision to both church and civil authorities for the injustice committed against him. “Oversight Against LGBTfobia,” a Spanish advocacy group, admitted that even if it is not legally discriminated, the exclusion of transgender people from the church’s sacramental life is “ethically reprehensible.”

Church officials in Rome should pay attention to this case. Pope Francis personally welcomed a trans man and his fiancee to the Vatican, following their rejection at the Spanish church where they were longtime parishioners. A repeat effort, perhaps including a baptism at St. Peter’s Basilica, would be a clear sign that Catholic ministers must welcome trans and gender diverse persons into the full life of the church.

The incident should also be a wake-up call for church ministers worldwide to get educated on gender identity topics and not misuse Canon Law or church teachings to harm a very marginalized community.

For those attending the World Meeting of Families, or anyone who wants to come to Philadelphia at the end of September, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s half-day workshop on gender diverse families entitled TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at St. John the Evangelist Parish Center, 1212 Ludlow Street, Phialdelphia.  For more information, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

A Divided Response to Transgender Persons at Georgetown’s Campus

July 20, 2015

Alexa Rodriguez

One step forward, one step back. This is the two-step experienced by the trans community at Georgetown University’s campus as its affiliated hospital faces a discrimination complaint at the same time that the Washington, DC, school recently instituted a policy to let transitioning students change their names.

Alexa Rodriguez, a trans woman, filed a complaint under D.C.’s gender identity-inclusive Human Rights Act against MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, which allegedly denied her breast implant surgery in May. The Washington Blade reported:

“[Rodriguez] said the refusal came on May 8, five months after one of the hospital’s highly regarded breast surgeons, Dr. Troy Pittman, examined her and cleared her for the surgery contingent upon approval for coverage of the procedure by her health insurance provider. . .

“Much to her dismay, Rodriguez said a hospital employee who schedules Dr. Pittman’s appointments told her by phone on May 8 that the hospital was no longer taking transgender women for treatment or surgery.”

Rodriguez said a female trans friend was also denied services that week, after the friend had been asked by a scheduler whether she was biological woman or not. Ruby Corado, who heads the LGBT community center “Casa Ruby,” in DC, reported at least two other trans women denied breast surgery at the hospital. Both Rodriguez and Corado know trans women who received breast implants at the hospital as recently as January.

MedStar Georgetown University Hospital spokesperson Marianne Worley denied any discrimination, but added the hospital does not provide comprehensive gender transition services and prefers not to do them in a “one off manner.” Rodriguez is receiving integrated care at the renowned Whitman-Walker Health, which frequently refers patients to Georgetown for treatment, according to communications director Shawn Jain. Rodriguez was one of those referred. The relationship between Whitman-Walker and Georgetown is in question because the hospital’s statement will “present some very real and tangible access to care issues,” according to Jain.

Worley’s follow up statement noted the hospital’s Catholic identity and its adherence to the bishops’ healthcare directives. This is significant, as The Blade reports:

“One source familiar with the hospital who spoke on condition of not being identified said some members of the medical staff at the hospital reported hearing that transgender-related surgery was discontinued earlier this year after complaints were lodged by conservative Catholic officials affiliated with Georgetown University.”

Legally, Georgetown University Hospital’s position seems precarious, even if claiming religious exemptions, if it offers similar services to cisgender patients because it is accountable to public accommodations laws in D.C.:

“Brian Markovitz, a civil rights attorney who has represented clients in cases before the D.C. Office of Human Rights. . .said the fact that Whitman-Walker handled the gender transition-related aspects of Rodriguez’s medical treatment, which Georgetown says it may not have the expertise to do, could undermine a claim by Georgetown that it was legally justified in refusing to perform the surgery.

“” ‘They could be running afoul of the Human Rights Act because they are providing implants for cancer patients and other people, and because they’re doing that and they’re not going to do it for this individual they’re running the risk of liability,’ Markovitz said.”

Markovitz said this could snowball into a First Amendment case if the hospital claims religious liberty exemptions, already a heated issue for D.C. in recent months.

Georgetown students celebrate on National Coming Out Day

Meanwhile, across campus, the LGBTQ Resource Center announced on Facebook that name changes are now accessible to students. In the statement, the Center reports:

“In partnership with the Office of the University Registrar, we are glad to announce that all students may now request a chosen name under their My Access profile, which is different from the legal name, if they wish to do so. They do not need any permissions, or fulfill any other requirements to avail of this. They may also request to have their “middle name” removed if it has gender identifying markers.”

This newly selected name will be used on all non-legal documents, including, importantly, class rosters. The Center thanked senior administrators as well as students “whose courage in being visible makes all the difference.” Georgetown University was the first Catholic college to welcome openly trans students two years ago.

Georgetown University has been at the forefront of Catholic education’s increasing welcome of LGBTQ community members, as the name change implementation suggests. If the University’s affiliated hospital has discriminated against trans women, specifically over concerns about Catholic identity, they should not only look to the law but to the words of Catholic leaders like England’s Monsignor Keith Barltrop who clearly called for the church to support individual’s choices to transition, as Bondings 2.0  reported last week.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Tending to Christ’s Blood: The U.S. Church’s Post-Marriage Equality Agenda

July 5, 2015

Chapel of the Reliquary, Basilica of the Holy Blood, Bruges, Belgium

I’m traveling in Europe for a few weeks this summer.  A few days ago, I visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium, where a small vial is said to contain Christ’s blood.  For centuries, pilgrims have traveled here for prayer and veneration. Legend says Joseph of Arimathea preserved the blood in rock crystal while washing Jesus’ body, and it remained liquid until 1325. Whether the legend is true or not, passing by this vial caused me to pray deeply. The following is a reflection based on my prayer at that altar of Christ’s blood.

Since I’ve been abroad as Americans celebrate nationwide marriage equality, I’ve been learning what I can mostly from headlines (and my daily Bondings 2.0 update!). Without negating the importance of the Supreme Court decision, another reality came to mind in prayer — the tremendous amount of LGBT blood–which is Christ’s blood–is still being poured out in our world today.

In 2015, a record number of trans* women are being murdered, the latest being Mercedes Williamson of Alabama. Many LGBT youth still abuse substances, inflict self-harm, and commit suicide because they are unable to find affirming voices and loving families in which to come out and live authentically. Church workers are losing their jobs at unprecedented rates because of LGBT issues. Internationally, more than 75 countries still criminalize homosexuality and eight allow a death sentence. Just last week Turkish Pride marchers were attacked by police, merely the latest incident where wearing a rainbow attracts violence. I could go on.

Relic of the Holy Blood

What is the Catholic response to all of this injustice, particularly now that civil marriage is settled in the U.S.? The truest answer is complex and nuanced, but here’s one attempt: to end the shedding of Christ’s blood, poured out from LGBT communities.

For more than a decade, America’s bishops focused an inordinate amount of time, money, and energy on opposing civil marriage equality. Opposing LGBT justice is, sadly, the hallmark of the bishops’ collective voice. For far too long the U.S. bishops simply echoed negative messages which came from Rome. I have seen several writers and a Catholic publication or two note how hard it is to accept the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, and how they are struggling to follow the bishops’ articulation of God’s revelation about sexuality, and their message to respect LGBT people at the same time. But now the matter is settled. It is time to move on.

In moving on, there is far more room for Catholics divided over issues of sexuality and gender to find common ground, to reach out and build bridges. Certainly, sacramental marriage and the recognition of same-gender relationships in ecclesial settings still remains important and divisive. If you’re following the Synod proceedings focused on family life, this is eminently clear, and the news is not all bad.

Still, no one should oppose loving youths who, while journeying to find their truest selves, often suffer deep pain and face rejection. No one should support criminalizing homosexuality, even if they consider same-sex acts morally wrong, and certainly the church has a clear voice against the death penalty. No one should think discriminating against a person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is consistent with Christ’s inclusive witness. And no one, anywhere, should justify the murder or rape of a trans* person as consistent with God’s will or the church’s teaching. No one.

Opposing these injustices is not only acceptable for Catholics, it is a mandate of the Gospel to do so.  Moreover, opposing these injustices is necessary to rectify our church’s long history of endorsing and fomenting violence against marginalized communities. I am not the first to call for a more inclusive LGBT agenda; many voices have done so for decades. What I am proposing is a shift for American Catholics. Let’s move on from marriage and come together around matters of justice ,wherever we fall on what constitutes marriage.

I am proposing that with a loud, confident voice, the Church, as one Body, condemns anti-LGBT atrocities. We must actively resist them at parish, diocesan, national, and global levels, conscious of the intersectional concerns like race and class playing out in our communities and in our churches.

The Catholic response to Obergefell v. Hodges can be a simple one: celebrate if you’d like (I certainly am and will!), but regardless start walking the path of reconciliation so those God loves most will know the church’s tender love and saving care in new and newer ways. In this way, we can tend to Christ by ending the shedding of His blood in the lives and sufferings of our LGBT siblings.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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