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.

d9ebc-2-photoforabpbrogliowelcomeltr
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

NEWS NOTES: Parish Supports Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” Charity; Other News

Here are some items that may be of interest:

News Notes1) The Gay Fellowship of Blessed Sacrament Church in New York City recently hosted a dance party, “Moving with the Spirit.” Proceeds from the event benefited the Born This Way Foundation, Lady Gaga’s charity for youth empowerment named after her LGBT-related song “Born This Way,” and the Ali Forney Center in New York City that helps shelter LGBT youth experiencing homelessness.

2) Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, criticized Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s latest discriminatory action that seeks to deny Communion to LGBT people, allies, and others in the church. Duddy-Burke said of the video in which he defends his decision, “What we seek is not for others to be subject to banishment and exclusion, as we too often have been.” She added, “Banning people from the sacramental table and. . .from the rituals that provide comfort and consolation at the time of death, are egregious violations of . . . pastoral responsibility.”

3) The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement critical of the nation’s Bill C-16 law passed in June which adds gender identity and gender expression as protected classes in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. The bishops’ response was moderate, opening with a statement that transgender people deserve “compassion, respect, and love” because they are made in God’s image.

4) A right-wing Catholic organization in Chile clashed with police after bringing two buses with anti-LGBT messages on their sides into Santiago. LGBT groups were present to counter-protest, bringing their own “diversity bus,” after which the 300 or so people gathered began to fight. Police had to intervene with tear gas and water cannons to get the crowd to disperse.

5) An author in England claimed a Catholic school cancelled an educational event with her because she is a transgender woman. Juno Dawson was scheduled to speak about her latest book, Margot and Me, at Brownedge St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Preston. Buzzfeed reported that the school “had previously been widely commended for its work on LGBT issues.” The school said the cancellation occurred because of the book’s content, though it was not specified what the offending content was.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 30, 2017

 

Pope Francis Offers Support for Nun’s Ministry with Transgender Women

Pope Francis has written a supportive note to a Catholic sister who works with transgender women.

calidad-de-vida-2083464w620
Sr. Monica Astorga, right, and Romina

Sr. Monica Astorga ministers to transgender women in Argentina, particularly those women who are in sex work or have substance abuse issues. Crux reported on her most recent interaction with Pope Francis, whom she has known for many years:

“Astorga wrote an email to Francis last Thursday, to update him on the new developments in the ministry she does in the southern Argentine province of Neuquen. It didn’t take long for her to hear back from the pope: She told Crux his answer came in the next day, on Friday.

“Astorga had written to the pope to inform him that the city had given her a plot of public land, where she planned to build 15 one-room homes for the transgender women she works with.

“‘I have you and the convent close to my heart, as well as the people with whom you work, you can tell them that,’ Francis wrote in his message.”

Pope Francis had visited Astorga in 2009 when he was then-archbishop of Buenos Aires. At the time affirmed her work, telling the sister in a note, “don’t leave the frontier work you were given” because transgender women were the “lepers of today.” In that 2009 note, Crux reported, the future pope notably used female pronouns for the trans women.

Church leaders, including the local ordinary, Bishop Virginio Bressanelli, have supported Astorga’s ministry, even when the local community has rejected and even harassed some of the women Astorga helps.

The ministry began over a decade ago when Astorga first encountered a trans woman, Romina. Bondings 2.0 covered her work in 2015, which you can read about here. The nun described the experience of meeting Romina:

“I listened to her for two hours without being able to say a word. . .I invited her to search for others who wanted to leave prostitution, and she came back five days later with four more. I invited them to pray, and then asked them to tell me their dreams. . .I felt stabbed when Katy told me, “I want a clean bed where I can die.”‘”

The ministry has cared for 90 transgender women in various ways, including housing, addiction recovery, and employment help. Astorga also keeps growing the ministry:

“[S]he’s received a house where some of the transgender women live on a temporary basis, and she’s now working on building a home for the elderly managed by transgender women, because they ‘have a special sensibility but also the strength needed.’. . .her ministry is now growing beyond those who look for her in the convent. She’s been added to several Facebook groups around the world by transgender women in similar situations.”

Sr. Astorga’s faith and Carmelite community have helped her branch out into this ministry, but she also notes the role that trans women’s faith has had on her, saying:

“They’ve always told me that ‘without believing in God, we wouldn’t survive. Each night, before going out on the street, we light a candle and ask God to take care of us.’ “

Trans women, especially those involved in sex work, are extremely vulnerable in Argentina, as in many places around the globe, where there are high rates of abuse and violence against them. But Astorga presses onward, and offers these wise words that should  inform the global church’s respond to trans people:

“I always say that to accompany one of them, we have to listen to them from the heart.”

Pope Francis’ note to Sr. Astorga is a positive mark for the pontiff’s mixed record on transgender issues. Last fall, the pope responded to a reporter’s question about how he would care pastorally for a person who is gender dysphoric. Francis answered by saying he had “accompanied people with homosexual tendencies,” even since being elected pope. He also spoke about meeting a transgender man, Diego Neria Lejárraga, in 2015. In his response, the pope used the man’s correct pronouns, and said at one point, “He that was her but is he.”

In that same interview, however, Francis’ joked that the press should not report “the Pope blesses transgenders.” He criticized as well, as he has done repeatedly, undefined concepts of “gender theory” and “ideological colonization.” The pope told a strange anecdote of a father who found out his child was being told in school that gender could be chosen.

When Pope Francis follows the path of Sr. Astorga, listening from the heart to trans voices, his response is always pastoral. The pope’s trans-negative moments seem to come when he stops listening from the heart and, despite his own critiques of such thinking, speaks about ideological theories that are entirely separated from lived realities.

It is good that Pope Francis wrote to Astorga and affirmed her ministry; it would be great if he learned from her witness, too.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 26, 2017

 

 

 

Catholic Parents’ Story Reveals the Love, Struggles of Having Transgender Child

Time and again, it is the love of Catholic parents for their LGBT children that continues to define healthy relationships, both in families and with the Catholic Church. The story of Teresa and Bill (pseudonyms), and their transgender daughter, Grace, is no different.

web-trans
Bill and Teresa

In Australia’s Catholic Leader newspaper, Grace, 50, told the story of how she came out as a trans person to her parents nearly two decades ago. Then presenting as a male, Grace had come home to give her parents an article, “Boys Will Be Girls,” and then she told them, “I’ve decided I want to live as a woman.” The report continued:

“Bill stood up from the couch, looked his son in the eye, and wrapped his arms tightly around him.”. . .

“‘I see this as a blessing because, to me, that particular day, when that news came, I just know that I did not have to think about it (giving his son a hug). . .I knew it was love in me that made me do it.’

“‘It said to me that even though I may not always show it, I actually do love my children unconditionally as any parent should – that there wasn’t anything they could say or do – I might disagree with them, which I still do – but it doesn’t stop you loving them.'”

A previous blessing helped  informed that moment. Bill had taken a bioethics course six months before, and it had dealt with transgender healthcare issues from various perspectives. Bill said he still thought gender-confirming surgeries were “going a bit far,” but he affirmed the reality gender dysphoria, the controversial mental health diagnosis sometimes given to trans people.

Grace transitioned a year and a half after coming out to them, and informed them that she chose her new name because, in Bill’s words, “she was looking for the grace to become a woman.”

What most troubled Bill and Teresa was the church’s response to their daughter. She could not find “any sympathy or understanding within the Church,” and left. Teresa said she doubts Grace will ever return. The Catholic Leader continued:

“Teresa said she struggled to reconcile the Church’s position on gender dysphoria with her own Catholic faith, though it has not made her less faithful.

“‘I get very upset about their ignorance, that they don’t seem to listen to all the new psychology information that has come out about gender dysphoria, and most still seem to see that people who want to change their gender are mentally unstable,’ she said.

“‘I really wanted to do something about it and shake them and say, “Listen to them – don’t you understand that your position is so antiquated?”‘”

Bill also challenged the church’s response, saying “people with no knowledge of embryology” are making scientific claims they should be more cautious about. Gender identity, he said, is different than sex characteristics. Bill and Teresa rejected the idea that gender is a choice. Bill said:

“‘I even heard the Pope say it’s not a matter of choice; I also say it’s not a matter of choice – it’s just a fact. . .For a transgender person, it’s not saying “I choose to be this”, or “I choose to be that”, but “I am, I am a woman but I have been given an XY chromosome”– but that is semantics.'”

Though supportive of Grace, it is important to note Teresa and Bill are still struggling with aspects of trans equality. They have fears that children are transitioning too early, and hesitations about widespread use of gender-confirming surgeries.

This story of Teresa, Bill, and Grace, notably published in the Archdiocese of Brisbane’s diocesan newspaper, reveals the tensions with which many Catholic parents often grapple. Fitting together the realities of their LGBT children and the church’s weak response is not easy. On the other side of this grappling, parents often become some of the most committed advocates for equality in the church.

Whether Teresa and Bill can be considered fully-affirming advocates or people still grappling with trans issues is not clear in the story, but what is clear is that they are refusing to settle with failed pastoral care and simplistic answers.

Editor’s Note:  Fortunate Families, a ministry of Catholic parents with LGBT children, is seeking a new part-time executive director. If you or someone you know might be interested in the position, you can find more information here or by contacting Michael Duffy at michaelduffy.duffy@gmail.com

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 25, 2017

Case of Fired Transgender Teacher Comes to Unsatisfactory Decision

For nine years, Jan Buterman has been seeking justice in Canadian courts, after he was fired as a substitute teacher in a Catholic school district because he chose to transition from male to female.  A recent court decision seems to indicate that justice will not be served.

The transgender man was fired in 2009 from  the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District, Edmonton, Alberta.   Since that time there has been negotiations with the district’s administration, and several motions in court, but according to CBC-Radio Canada, a recent decision by a judge seems to have brought a close to the case, though no decision on the substance of the situation was reached.

Jan Buterman

The news outlet reported that the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that Buterman had given up the right to bring his case to the provincial human rights commission because supposedly a few years ago he reached a financial settlement with the school district.  Buterman contends, however, that he did not accept the settlement.  The news report gave a synopsis of events:

“In October 2008, Buterman was removed from the board’s roster of substitute teachers after he notified them he was a transgender person in the process of transitioning from female to male.

” ‘Since you have made a personal choice to change your gender, which is contrary to Catholic teachings, we have had no choice but to remove you from the substitute teaching list,’ the board wrote at the time.

“A year later, Buterman filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

“The next day, the board offered him $78,000 if he’d agree to withdraw his complaint. The board asked him to promise not to make any further complaints to the human rights commission and agree to keep the deal confidential.

“Buterman rejected the offer.

“In Sept. 2010, the board made a different offer to Buterman. That offer was also rejected, but Buterman’s lawyer replied in writing that his client was willing to accept the original offer.

“The same day, the board confirmed the original offer still stood, and the two parties went back and forth about making minor changes to the wording.

“In January 2011, Buterman’s lawyer returned the money and the unsigned settlement documents, noting it had taken longer than expected to consider and discuss the issues with his client. By April 2011, Buterman was without a lawyer, so the board sent the draft documents directly to him.

“Buterman never responded directly to the board. Instead he told the media he had rejected the board’s settlement offer due to the confidentiality clause.

“More than three years passed. Then the school board applied to the human rights commission to determine if it still had jurisdiction to hear Buterman’s complaint. The board argued the parties had entered into a settlement agreement.

“After a three-day hearing on that point, the commission determined it had no remaining jurisdiction over the complaint because a deal had been reached and Buterman ‘had relinquished his human rights complaint in favour of a settlement.’ “

Buterman is disappointed in the decision, especially since none of the substantive issues of the case were discussed, and the court’s ruling hinged on procedural topics.  Buterman stated:

“It is surprising, I think, to many that this has been kind of all on procedural side issues. But those side issues are more than enough to derail the ability to actually interrogate the question of whether or not someone has the right to be fired for being trans.”

He and his lawyers have not decided what their next move is.

Buterman’s case highlights the fact that true justice in cases like his won’t come from law courts but from church officials acting justly.  At the very least, they can act in an informed manner. For instance, there is no church doctrine prohibiting gender surgery, as they claimed when they fired Buterman.

The Sisters of Mercy were able to retain a transitioned transgender teacher (and a full-time one, not a substitute) last year at one of their schools in San Francisco.  Justice was served in that case.  Other church leaders should follow their example.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 6, 2017

 

 

The Many–And Wrong–Definitions of ‘Gender Ideology’

Earlier this month, the bishops of Panama met with Pope Francis, and the conversation turned to the Vatican buzzword of “gender ideology.”   It is difficult to define exactly what is meant by that term which only church leaders seem to use.  It has never been clearly defined.  In a Crux news story about the meeting, Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín  initially defined gender ideology as:

“. . . [A]ttempts by Western governments and NGOs to impose a permissive sexual morality on poor countries as a condition of development assistance.”

Just two paragraphs later, she changed the definition to:

“. . . [T]he idea that sexual orientation and identity are self-determined rather than given in nature, and it’s seen as a cornerstone of a secular Western vision.”

Cardinal José Luis Lacunza

Cardinal José Luis Lacunza, bishop of David, Panama who publicly discussed “gender ideology” with the press after he met with the pope, seemed to put forward yet a different definition that deals with sex education in schools.  According to Crux:

“Lacunza too brought up the issue of gender theory, saying that in Panama, teaching a liberal, Western form of sexual education in schools is considered a human right, but ‘from our perspective of faith, this has nothing to do with human rights.

” ‘The human rights homosexual people must have are in respect to their dignity, their choices, and that they are not discriminated against,’ Lacunza said. ‘But to go from there to pushing so that society should accept those choices as something good, desirable, digestible, and that it is taught to little children, we are not willing to go there.’ “

One of the main problems of keeping the term “gender ideology” so undefined is that it allows users of the term to let it fit it to whatever idea they want to criticize.  So, while sometimes it is used to describe new ideas of gender roles, it is also used to denigrate gender transition and transgender people, as well as to oppose legal rights for lesbian and gay people.

No educational curriculum that I have read about forces people to make choices about their gender or their sexual orientation.  No one really chooses such things.  Rather, people discover these identities within themselves, just as they, in the normal process of adult development, discover other parts of their psychological and emotional make-up.

So, while the cardinal talks about accepting “choices as something good, desirable, digestible,” in fact he is not talking about the real lives of LGBT people, but about a myth and stereotype about them.

Archbishop José Ulloa Mendieta

Another prelate who met with the pope, Archbishop José Ulloa Mendieta of Panama City, defined gender theory in yet another way, and characterized it as “diabolical.”   The National Catholic Reporter quoted him:

“Ulloa said that gender theory, which argues that male and female characteristics are largely malleable social constructs, is ‘diabolical’ in that ‘it wants to break a bit with the reality of the family.’ “

Again, this is simply incorrect.  For example, transgender people do not say that their gender identity is malleable or socially constructed, but rather that their stable, interior identity does not match their physical body.

Diabolical? Nothing can be further than the truth.  Growth in self-knowledge is not diabolical, but, indeed, it is divinely inspired as people develop an awareness and acceptance of the way God has blessed them to experience the world and to love other people.

Using the term “gender ideology” is a rhetorical strategy.  First of all, using the term makes it sound like it is an alternative to something natural and de facto.  But, for LGBT people, isn’t the promotion of  heterosexual and cisgender norms a form of ideology?

Secondly, it is a strategy to make a set of ideas sound sinister.  Whoever thinks anything that is an “ideology” is good?  Furthermore, the term makes it sound like there is a master plan lurking behind the “ideology,”  when, in fact, what is behind most of our discussions about gender and sexuality are people who are struggling to live honest and authentic lives.

Pope Francis himself has used the term “gender ideology” as a reference to supposed programs about gender with which he disagrees.  Unfortunately, he, and many other church officials, are often misinformed about the reality of new ways of living out one’s gender.  Church leaders need so much education on gender and sexuality so that they will not use such meaningless and incorrect terms to describe the most intimate facets of people’s lives.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 25,  2017

QUOTE TO NOTE: Trans Catholic ‘Clings to Faith’ As Church Guidance is Absent

Earlier this spring, Commonweal magazine featured a pair of articles on gender identity, titled “The Church and Transgender Identity: Some Cautions, Some Possibilities.” You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of theologian David Cloutier’s piece here and theologian Luke Timothy Johnson’s piece here.

istock-499902638_0In response, a transgender person, who remained anonymous, wrote a powerful letter to the editor about their experiences with the church. “Anonymous” explained:

“I was a transgender child raised in a very religious Catholic family. . .the price of living ‘in the closet’ has been high: hundreds of hours of psychotherapy and spiritual direction, a lifetime of eating disorders and psychological suffering, and very little experience of deep, fulfilling friendships. When interacting with people, I am guarded, not myself. I feel as if I’m putting on an act, to spare other people from having to ‘freak out,’ as the people in my pre-school did.”

Still, the letter’s author has no clear answers about what the church or society should do with transgender children. The author only knows that their identity was “inborn” and nothing could change it. The letter concluded:

“Over the years I have longed for better guidance from the church. Nowhere does the vast literature of Catholic spirituality ask how a transgender person can lead a Christian life. All I can do is cling to the faith that, if the Creator made the kind of universe in which transgender people are possible, then the God ‘who wills everyone to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth’ must have a plan even for me. I just wish I knew what it is.”

Letters like this one clearly indicate how much the church must improves its pastoral care for trans Catholics and their families. To read the full letter from  “Anonymous” in Commonweal, click here.

To read the latest updates on transgender Catholic issues, see Bondings 2.0’s “Transgender” category in the right-hand column or click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 28, 2017