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


To Whom Was the Pope Referring in Encylical’s Remarks About Body & Gender?

June 20, 2015

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Sii,” has made headlines around the world, and it will surely be the topic of frequent discussion in weeks and months ahead.  I’ve already commented on how some of the principles that Pope Francis puts forth in this encyclical could just as easily be applied to LGBT issues, and would greatly enhance the Catholic Church’s approach to issues of sexual orientation, lesbian and gay relationships, and gender identity.  But it is another section of the encyclical which is gathering the attention of LGBT advocates.

Paragraph 155 of the document is being perceived as part of Pope Francis’ continued attack on “gender theory.” As Pope Francis uses it, gender theory seems best defined as a concept used to refer to any and all progressive ideas about gender. (I am not trying to be facetious by this definition; the problem is that neither Pope Francis nor any Catholic prelate who has used this term has ever explained what it means or to what it might refer. )

The section in question reads:

Pope Francis

“Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “ecology of man,” based on the fact that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will,” It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek ‘to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.’ “

On America’s blog, Elizabeth Pyne, a Fordham University Ph.D. candidate in theology, analyzes this section in terms of its context within the encyclical, and its relationship to the pope’s other recent comments on gender complementarity.  Pyne does not see this section of the encyclical as a strong condemnation, and instead, she characterizes it something expected, but perhaps unusual for what is not said:

“A general, natural law-based statement in favor of gender essentialism is unsurprising. Nevertheless, interpretation must attend to specific silences, or in this instance, relative quiet on sexuality against the resounding demand for economic and ecological justice, cultivated at both personal and political levels.”

In effect, she seems to be saying that this section is not as important as the pope’s other recommendations in the encyclical.  Pyne concludes, too, with a hope that Pope Francis would expand his vision on gender:

“. . . [L]et’s take the pope’s keen insistence on the interconnections not only within ecosystems, but also among scientific, economic, political and cultural approaches to their functioning. Then there is Francis’ beautifully mystical spirituality of nature. He reminds us that humans, like all creatures, are of dust, “our very bodies made up of [earth’s] elements” (LS 2; Gen 2:17). These are precisely the bodies in which “each creature bears in itself a specifically Trinitarian structure” (No. 239) and in which a human person “enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures” (No. 240). Yet this complex interpretive dynamic falls by the wayside around certain aspects of embodied life; what might result from a more consistent interdisciplinary treatment of gender and sexuality as elements of the manifold diversity of creaturely life? ” (emphasis, mine).

Other headlines and stories did not see this papal digression on sexuality and gender as neutrally as Pyne did.  Buzzfeed’s story on paragraph 155 is headlined: “Pope Appears To Condemn Gender Reassignment.”  Passport Magazine entitled their story: “‘The People’s Pope’ Disses the Transgender Community.”

My own take on this section is best characterized by a sub-heading used on a Washington Post article excerpting 10 important quotations from the encyclical.  For the sub-section featuring paragraph 155, they used the headline: “Gender differences matter.” I think that Pope Francis here is referring not to transitioning from one gender to another, but that he is expressing his objection to the blurring of genders or eliminating the idea of gender.

Pointing this out does not mean I agree with him, but that I am trying to figure out exactly what he is saying.

Still, if the pope is making indirect references to transgender people in these remarks about “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity,” then I think he should educate himself about the nature of the transgender experience.  Transgender people do, in fact, value their femininity and masculinity, often so much so that they take courageous steps to live fully as the gender that they know they are.  Transgender people know that gender is much more than a physical reality of their bodies, but is, more often, an interior sense of self.  For many transgender people, it is only when they learn to respect what they have learned is their true gender identity that they are able to fully have “an encounter with someone who is different.”

When I re-read paragraph 115, I realize that I think the key difference as to how to interpret this section is whether the reader thinks there is a strong connection between these three sentences:

“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.”

I suppose that I do not see a strong connection between the last sentence on masculinity/femininity and the first two sentences about power over our bodies.   Actually, when I read the first two sentences, my interpretation is that the pope is referring to birth control and abortion.

I suppose, too, that my interpretation is influenced by my thought that masculinity and femininity are more psychological or internal dimensions than they are physical or external dimensions. Yesterday’s Bondings 2.0 blog post on J. Peter Nixon’s views of transgender issues explains this idea more deeply.

Regardless of what his reference point is,  the fact that this pope included this reference to gender in an encyclical on the environment reflects poorly on his knowledge and awareness of this important topic concerning human self-understanding and relationships.

Moreover, as I’ve said before,  Pope Francis needs to start writing more clearly and directly, and less elliptically, so that people can be more confident about knowing where he actually stands.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Related article:

Advocate.com: “Is the Pope’s Environmental Encyclical Anti-transgender?”

 


How Do Transgender People Experience the Divine Will for Themselves?

June 19, 2015

Now that all of the media hype about Caitlyn Jenner’s gender transition has quieted down, it’s good to take a look at some of the more serious questions that Catholics may have concerning such an event.

Caitlyn Jenner

One of the more interesting things that I have read on the subject is a dotCommonweal blog post by J. Peter Nixon earlier this month.  Nixon begins his examination with an important question that often gets unasked in Catholic discussions about transgender issues:  Is a person’s true, God-given gender the one that a person’s body reflects or the one that a person’s mind experiences?

Too often, people err on the side of the former, as Nixon points out:

“. . . .the argument is that a person’s chromosomal/physical gender represents an expression of divine will and that living contrary to that chromosomal/physical inheritance is contrary to God’s will.”

Nixon pokes an important hole in that argument:

“There are many aspects of our lives as human beings that are expressions of our genetic inheritance.  Not all of these are positive and some (e.g. a genetic predisposition to juvenile diabetes) are potentially lethal.  I’m not aware of the Church ever holding that it would be illegitimate to treat such a condition simply because we were born with it.”

Nixon dismisses religious conservatives’ criticism of transgender people, noting that they actually seem to fear excessive expressive individualism and rejection of the idea that gender is inherent in the natural fabric of things.  Nixon states:

“. . . [T]he actual experience of the small number of transgender people I have known appears to cut against the idea that gender is primarily a social construct.  They spent most of their early years working extraordinarily hard to conform to their genetic/physical gender identity without success.  Once they made the decision to transition, they worked equally hard to conform to their new gender identity and incurred large expenses to obtain reassignment surgery.  It was not a decision motivated by ideology.”

While Nixon makes some good points, and ultimately his intent is to affirm the experience of transgender people, there are a few points in his essay which raise an eyebrow or two. For example, when he discusses whether or not gender questions can be labeled disease, he stated:

“. . . [T]he disease we are treating is the breakdown in the communications pathway between the genetic inheritance and its expression in the centers of the brain that produce (at least partially) the psychological experience of gender.”

Nixon makes this point to say that there is perhaps a medical reason why transgender people exist, but his answer seems to indicate: 1) that this idea is a definite cause, which it is not; and 2) that if a person is transgender, then that is a problematic situation that needs to be corrected.

Nixon ultimately answers that correcting “communication” between brain and body is not inherently preferable to gender transition (both seem to involve correction of physical features, either the brain or the outward appearance), his analysis fails to take into account the experiences of transgender people, many of whom see their unique gender situation as a gift, with many blessings, not as a “disease.”  Just like with LGB people, the biggest problems that transgender people face is not with their own experience of gender, but with the discrimination they experience from other people’s rejection of the possibility that someone does not fit neatly into the male/female binary structure.

Nixon seems genuinely interested, though, in making a place for transgender people in the church, and that aspiration is noble.  He offers the following analogy for gender transition which includes surgery:

“In some ways, I am seeing parallels to past Catholic debates over cremation.  Cremation was once rejected because it was considered a sign that the person did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.  Ultimately, the Church was able to separate the discrete act from the various worldviews that lead people to choose cremation.  Perhaps the Church will come to recognize that a decision to pursue gender reassignment surgery need not be motivated by an understanding of gender that is incompatible with our theological anthropology.”

Even with some of its problematic concepts, Nixon’s essay still helps to move the discussion on transgender issues forward in our Church.  He acknowledges that he knows only a few transgender people.  Listening to stories of more transgender people will expand his awareness. His heart and mind are already opened.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Caitlyn Jenner, The Archbishop, Fr. Barron, and Me

June 11, 2015

Philadelphia City Hall against a superimposed trans* flag

Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out via Vanity Fair and the ensuing national conversation has triggered some foolish responses from Catholic clergy.

Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 reported on San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s comment, for which he was widely criticized, that trans* identities undermine faith .  Now, Fr. Robert Barron has weighed in Jenner’s story on his widely-read blog.

Barron likened Jenner’s transition to a modern form of Gnosticism, a heresy which denigrates the material in favor of the spiritual and emphasizes escape from the body. Barron sets up transitioning as an act in which the body and soul are pitted against one another, in which the body is a “prison for the soul.” Of this, he writes

“This schema is, to a tee, gnostic —and just as repugnant to Biblical religion as it was nineteen hundred years ago…Until we realize that the lionization of Caitlyn Jenner amounts to an embracing of Gnosticism, we haven’t grasped the nettle of the issue.”

Discussing that post on his Facebook page, Barron analogized trans* people to pedophiles.  In a response to the first commenter about the Jenner post, Barron said:

“Friend, just as a thought experiment: would you tolerate someone who chose pedophilia as a lifestyle? If the answer is no, which it must be, then you can’t really believe your own argument that everyone has a right to choose any lifestyle that suits him or her.”

From such a comment it is clear that it is not Caitlyn Jenner and other trans* people who have not “grasped the nettle” of this matter, but rather Fr. Barron. In setting up gender transitions as he does, Barron’s own confusion is on display. The pedophilia reference is dismissed for its absurdity.

Comments by Fr. Barron, Archbishop Cordileone, and others in church leadership who refuse to respect trans* people reveal their profound ignorance about gender issues. Malice may influence some responses, but more often it seems like these Catholics are ill-equipped to discuss transgender issues because either time, opportunity, or will has kept them from properly educating themselves.

Last weekend, I joined nearly 5,000 people for the 14th Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference to help my own education. Though a secular event, God’s love flowed through the halls of the Pennsylvania Convention Center as people gathered to learn self-respect and respect for others. Hope marked the event. Through hundreds of workshops, countless conversations, and the fellowship of friends old and new, I learned an overwhelming amount. I learned most of all how very much there is for me to learn as a cisgender person and ally.

To foster more education, I am inviting Archbishop Cordileone, Fr. Barron, and other Catholic clergy to join me at the 2016 Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference.

This is an invitation to listen and encounter by humbling ourselves, rather than to pontificate. I believe that if skeptical Catholics spend time genuinely coming to know the experiences of trans* people, they could see  that the journey around gender identity is a saintly one. It is the search to be one’s truest self on which all humans embark.

In response to Fr. Barron, I would say that the decision to present and live as or transition to one’s authentic gender identity is the very opposite of Gnosticism. These are acts of integration, allowing some to be embodied in their reality in ways authentic to the person God is calling them forth to be. It is incarnational, not gnostic.

Attending the conference would also help skeptics come to know that trans* people are among those God loves most in our world, for they experience severe levels of violence and discrimination. This is especially true for those who are people of color. While affirming Caitlyn Jenner, many at the conference pointed out how atypical her life is and note the voluminous barriers that prevent many trans* people from living openly as their authentic self. Increasing the church’s practical solidarity with trans* communities would be a response to a sign of the times we cannot ignore.   Our response as a church should be one of education and justice.

On a positive note, it looks like only 23% of Catholics share Archbishop Cordileone’s and Fr. Barron;s disapproval. A recent poll shows 59% of Catholics already accept trans* people or do not consider their identities to be a moral issue, reports The New Civil Rights Movement. Hopefully, by this time next year, that second number will be increasingly higher, and the first one significantly lower,  as more and more Catholics come to understand trans* issues clearly.

To learn more about the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


What Are We to Make of Pope Francis’ Inclusive Prison Visit?

March 24, 2015

Pope Francis preaches at a Naples mass on the day he visited a prison in that city.

Pope Francis joined 90 prison inmates for lunch during his visit to Naples last Saturday, including 10 from the ward which houses those who are gay, transgender, or have HIV/AIDS. They were among the 1,900 inmates who participated in the lottery for a chance to eat with the pope.

The pope did not address LGBT issues specifically in his talk to the prisoners, but stuck to general themes about God’s love for those incarcerated.  In his talk, he stated:

“Sometimes it happens that you feel disappointed, discouraged, abandoned by all: but God does not forget his children, he never abandons them! He is always at our side, especially in trying times; he is a father ‘rich in mercy’ who always turns his peaceful and benevolent gaze on us, always waits for us with open arms. This is a certainty that instills consolation and hope, especially in moments of difficulty and sadness. Even if we have done wrong in life, the Lord does not tire of showing us the path of return and encounter with him. The love of Jesus for each one of us is a source of consolation and hope. It’s a fundamental certainty for us: nothing can ever separate us from the love of God! Not even the bars of a prison.”

The inclusion of the prisoners who are trans, gay, and HIV+ was not a special outreach by Pope Francis, but it is significant that their identities did not prevent the pope from meeting with them.  A Washington Blade article quoted New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo about the importance of this papal gesture:

“This is another example that Pope Francis does not consider sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status as something that should prevent him from engaging them in dialogue and conversation. Under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, these same personal characteristics were causes for the popes to shun and ignore people, much to the discredit of the church.”

The Washington Blade story also cited Andrea Miluzzo, director of LGBT News Italia, who said that there was an additional positive LGBT angle to the pope’s visit to Naples:

“Members of the local affiliate of Arcigay, an Italian LGBT advocacy group, were among those who were allowed to stand along the streets of Scampia, a poor Neapolitan neighborhood overrun with crime, earlier in the day as Francis passed through in his open-air car known as the pope-mobile.”

Pope Francis’ willingness to include trans, gay, and HIV+ prisoners in his luncheon and to allow an LGBT advocacy group on the parade route, but not mentioning either of them in his talks, shows the complicated approach he is taking to LGBT issues, and perhaps to other issues, too.  In an editorialThe National Catholic Reporter analyzed what they see as the pope’s strategy:

“Francis perplexes Europeans and North Americans who have split the analysis along a liberal-conservative axis, writes [Austen] Ivereigh, ‘because he uses a lens and a language that come from outside those categories.’

“Francis wades into slums, embraces those who otherwise might inspire revulsion, refuses to draw boundaries so rigidly as to exclude anyone, welcomes all questions and robust debate, and leads with the God of mercy.

“He preaches ‘the art of encounter,’ which requires moving beyond the safety of the church building and walking with the people. It is an approach schooled in the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the norm is broken lives, messy, stressed and needy.

“It is in those circumstances, he preaches, in the irrational embrace of the prodigal, that grace abounds. In a recent visit to a parish in Rome, he instructed its leaders to avoid telling people where they were wrong, but to ‘get closer’ to the people, walking with them and respecting their needs.”

The power in Pope Francis’ symbolic gestures lies in the hope that other church leaders will soon imitate him, thus opening up greater possibility for encounter and discussion on LGBT and other important issues, too.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


The Misconceptions Behind Pope’s Comment on Gender and Nuclear Arms

March 2, 2015

Pope Francis

As New Ways Ministry’s pilgrims to Italy were flying across the Atlantic a few weeks ago, a story broke about Pope Francis and gender theory which, due to our being on the road (or, more accurately, in the air), did not quite get our attention.  The substance of the story was that the pope, in an interview published in a a new Italian book, likened gender theory to nuclear arms.  In The National Catholic ReporterJoshua McElwee reported:

“Gender theory is a broad term for an academic school of thought that considers how people learn to identify themselves sexually and how they may become typed into certain roles based on societal expectations.

“Asked in the book about how important it is for Christians to recover a sense of safeguarding of creation and sustainable growth, the pope first speaks of the duty of all people to respect and care for the environment.

But he then says that every historical period has ‘Herods’ that ‘destroy, that plot designs of death, that disfigure the face of man and woman, destroying creation.’

” ‘Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings,’ he continues. ‘Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.’

” ‘With this attitude, man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator,’ the pope says. ‘The true custody of creation does not have anything to do with the ideologies that consider man like an accident, like a problem to eliminate.’ “

Lisa Fullam.Photo.5

Lisa Fullam

Part of the reason that this story slipped our attention was that there was very little commentary in the Catholic press about this interview.  One great exception has been Professor Lisa Fullam, of the Jesuit School of Theology, California, who examined the pope’s misconceptions about gender in a a blog post she wrote for DotCommonweal

Fullam’s post is a great introduction to the contemporary understanding of gender from both scientific and social scientific perspectives.  She begins by offering comparative definitions of some key words, which are sometimes wrongly used interchangeably:  sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, transgender, and queer.

She then examines some of Pope Francis’ (and Benedict’s and John Paul II’s, too) misconceptions about these terms.  For instance, she notes the lack of historicity in their definitions of masculine and feminine:

“That the definition of what counts as appropriate to women varies between and within cultures and across time is not accounted for in this view. Oddly, John Paul cites fierce transvestite warrior Joan of Arc (who was killed as a relapsed heretic for wearing men’s clothing, and can certainly, if anachronistically, be thought of as queer,) as a model of the feminine genius, thus calling into question the descriptive (and certainly the normative) value of many, if not most, of the ‘feminine’ traits he inferred.”

Fullam examines the social construction of gender, and also helps to dispel some myths which have formed the basis of some of our culture’s most foundational ideas about gender:

“Isn’t human nature fundamentally a duality of male and female? This can only be upheld by ignoring the existence of millions of human beings whose sex and/or gender identity do not fit the ‘rule’ of male AND masculine (according to which illusory single set of standards for masculinity?) or female AND feminine, (according to other illusory standards of such.) The spectrum of gender can be seen every time a woman relishes some more ‘masculine’ endeavor–like, say leading a French army against the British, like Joan of Arc. It can also be seen when men embrace more ‘feminine’ aspects of their character, yet remain ‘masculine’ in their gender identity. Anyone paying attention to the numerous ways people describe and express their masculinty and feminity would have to recognize that to assert a strict duality would be a facile caricature of humankind. I can only hope that Francis’ meeting with a trans man late last month will lead him to change his mind and heart. “

She concludes with a call for Christians to be more open-minded about gender:

Recognizing the degree to which social conventions define and delimit gender expression, I’d suggest that we leave a lot of room for people to speak to what it means to them to be men or women, or other, and not to force a lovely array of human be-ing into a false duality which fails to adequately reflect biology, much less the richer experience of human life in its totality. That has to do with gender roles, but also gender identity. And aren’t Christians especially called to uphold the human dignity of all children of God, male and female, masculine and feminine, transgender and cisgender alike? That attitude doesn’t ‘destroy’ nature, as Pope Francis fears, but rather recognizes the beautiful panoply of humankind that God has created.”

I’ve only given a brief taste of Fullam’s arguments.  If you are at all interested in the topic of gender, I recommend that you read her post in its entirety by clicking here.    If you like Fullam’s work, you may want to read an article that she wrote last year on “Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation.” 

Pope Francis’ comments on gender reveal that, while he has shown a refreshing openness to LGBT issues, he–and most likely, many others in the Catholic hierarchy–need a better education on the questions of gender which the rest of the world has been engaged in for decades now.  Perhaps such an education would not only help his approach to LGBT issues, but, equally important, on issues concerning women, for which he has a famous and dangerous blind spot.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


How Can the Church Improve Its Welcome to Trans* People?

February 20, 2015

Jennifer Mertens

As the church’s acceptance of gay and lesbian people improves, more Catholics are wondering about a similar welcome by the church for the trans* community. This pastoral question is critical, given the high rate of self-harm and suicide among transgender youth, a reality highlighted by suicide of teenager Leelah Alcorn at the beginning of this year.

Moved by Alcorn’s final words of her suicide note to “Fix society. Please,” National Catholic Reporter columnist Jennifer Mertens takes up this matter of whether or not the Catholic Church can welcome trans* people. She writes:

“In particular, Leelah’s story poses significant pastoral, theological and moral challenges for the Christian community. The suicide note from Leelah, who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household, recounts an experience of Christianity in which gender variance was communicated as being ‘selfish and wrong.’ This stance exacerbated a social isolation and despair from which she concluded: ‘The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living.’ “

These challenges include “a linguistic framework suddenly experienced as inadequate” when it comes to gendered language and pronouns, as well as faith’s role in how family and friends respond to a transgender loved one. Gender identity is a new concept for many people and, for some, difficult to understand. Mertens is clear, however, that the pastoral needs demand Catholics become invested in learning about this new reality:

“Catholics must engage these questions with a courageous and receptive heart. Such engagement demands a commitment to dialogue, one that springs from God’s own dialogue with humanity as modeled in the Incarnation…

“As the Catholic church builds a relationship of dialogue with transgender people, it is important to remember that perfect love rests in God alone. As we seek to imitate this love in our dialogue with one another, may we humbly begin with asking: ‘Teach me, friend, how to love you.’ “

Mertens suggests “reaching out, listening, and seeking to understand transgender people.” Scientific evidence from the medical community and the lived experiences of families are also sources of information and increased understanding for the church.

Mertens concludes by urging Catholics to engage in practical and public solidarity with trans* people,especially youth, who suffer higher rates of discrimination and violence. She writes:

“A constructive first step can be taken insofar as the church stands in public solidarity with the suffering of transgender people. This solidarity embodies an authentic Gospel witness that reaches out to the marginalized members of our human community. An initial openness to affirming this solidarity has been signaled by the local archdiocese in Leelah’s city [of Cincinnati].”

The Archdiocese released a statement on Alcorn’s death that prayed for all, while remaining neutral about the teen’s gender identity. Mertens also reports that Dan Andriacco, an archdiocesan spokesperson, said the Catholic Schools Office would review “transgender” for inclusion in its discrimination and bullying policies.

Cincinnati’s response is atypical, and it is worth noting this is the same archdiocese which implemented enhanced morality clauses in teaching contracts last year, barring church workers from publicly supporting LGBT rights. Pope Francis is ambiguous too, warmly welcoming a transgender man from Spain to the Vatican recently, but also harshly critiquing the amorphous concept of ‘gender theory’, which may or may not include gender identity.

What is clear is that society’s intolerance of the trans* community causes a tremendous amount of suffering and violence, and Catholics must find new ways to welcome them into the church with, as Mertens writes, “a courageous and receptive heart.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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