Stranger in your own land: How Polish LGBT+ people are battling discrimination

While Poland remains more socially conservative than many countries in Western Europe, attitudes to LGBT+ issues are changing. We speak to activists standing strong in the face of oppression.

by Will St Leger

In the lead up to the Polish elections in October this year, LGBT+ people became a central cultural issue in the country’s election campaigns. Law and Justice (PiS) – Poland’s Christian democratic and right-wing populist party – demonised the community to win votes in what is still considered a Catholic country. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s ruling party, used the populist playbook to identify perceived threats to society. According to Mr Kaczynski, those threats come from LGBT+ people and from Europe, where families can have “two mummies or two daddies”.

The Catholic Church’s anti-gay rhetoric has become the ruling party’s dominant theme. Recently the archbishop of Krakow, Marek Jedraszewski, described Poland as under siege from a “rainbow plague” of gay rights activists. In the past, the archbishop identified the “LGBT lobby” and “gender ideology” as the new threat to national freedom.

In Poland, same-sex unions are not legal. Gay couples can’t take out loans, settle taxes together, or inherit. There are no laws protecting LGBT+ people from hate crime. Life for Polish LGBT+ folk feels increasingly dangerous, especially in rural areas. Back in July, participants at a Pride parade in Bialystok in the east of the country were attacked by a violent mob, leaving many people injured. Scenes of these attacks sent shock waves across social media. In the same month, a right wing newspaper, Gazeta Polska issued “LGBT-free zone” stickers to readers which drew widespread criticism from Polish opposition parties and diplomats.

It’s midday, I’m in central Warsaw and I’m visiting the offices of Lambda, Poland’s longest running LGBT+ organisation. I’ve arranged a meeting with Krzysztof Kliszczyński, a seasoned Polish LGBT+ activist, and Sławomir Kirdzik, a 22 year-old student at Warsaw University and an intern with Lambda. I begin by asking Krzysztof about the recent elections and how anti-LGBT+ rhetoric is impacting life for the community.

Krzysztof begins, “One year ago LGBT+  people were not the topic of national political discussion, then in February this year, within days of the mayor of Warsaw signing a pledge to protect LGBT+  rights in the capital, the ruling party launched its attack on the LGBT+ community.”

Sławomir adds, “I come from Gdansk, so coming to Warsaw was not a huge change in the way I express myself. I have been attacked on the street and I know of many people who have been attacked leaving a gay club nearby.

“When I’m on the street I don’t have a problem expressing myself, because it’s more important that other young people see that there are people just like them.”

Sławomir points to his bag, which has a rainbow flag patch sewn on it, “When I carry this bag, I hear people behind me on the street calling me a ‘faggot’ nearly everyday, however there are lots of supportive people trying to help me.”

Krzysztof expands on the history of youth movements in Poland; “30 years ago, young people led the political wave against communist rule, my generation led the second wave of establishing LGBT+  groups like Lambda and greater rights for LGBT+ people, now we are seeing a newer generation of 15 and 16 year-olds that have witnessed the progress of LGBT+ rights throughout Europe who aspire and campaign for those rights too.”

Despite the violence and political rhetoric, Poland has seen an increase in the number of Pride marches and attendees. Two years ago there were seven Pride/equality marches, last year there were 70. Public opinion is shifting too – a recent survey showed 57 % support same-sex civil partnerships – the positive responses were mainly from younger people, especially women living in cities. Younger men in rural areas tend to have the most negative views of same-sex relationships and LGBT+ rights.

That evening, Krzysztof and Sławomir invite me to come back to the office as an LGBT+ youth group hold one of their weekly meetings. About 20 young people are sitting in a circle chatting among themselves. I’m introduced to a trans man called Hugo, I’m interested to learn about the legal and cultural status of trans people in Poland and find it’s not quite what I expect.

Legal gender recognition has been known to Polish courts since the late 1960’s. Changing a person’s gender marker is done through a court process known as the “assessment suit”, in which an individual has to literally file a lawsuit against their parents and both parents must agree.

A person going through gender recognition in Poland is subjected to physical examination, along with psychological and psychiatric evaluations. After those are fulfilled, the diagnostician decides whether to prescribe hormones. While it is possible to receive hormonal treatment without the diagnosis, this practice might be problematic for further court procedures.

To gain legal recognition as a woman one has to undergo several months of hormonal therapy. Recognition of masculinity requires undergoing chest surgery as well. In this case, one could say that Poland is strictly divided into west Poland, where trans men are not forced to undergo any surgeries, and east Poland, where mastectomy is often required before the court process can begin. Mastectomy is labeled as a condition for receiving the relevant documents needed for the lawsuit (against your parents). Some good news came in 2016, when a court in Warsaw issued a decision that allowed a Polish citizen, who transitioned legally in Germany, to change her personal data (gender marker, and first and last name) without obtaining a transsexual diagnosis and going through a civil court case in Poland.

I asked Hugo about his real life experience of being trans in Poland. He said, “It took my mother time to adjust but recently she has started using he/him pronouns when addressing me and that made a big difference.”

The Catholic Church’s grip on the country also seems to be softening. Poland is now experiencing the same scrutiny about historical sexual abuse within the clergy as the Catholic Church in Ireland did in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. This year, an independent Polish documentary directed by Tomasz Sekielski called Tell No One unearthed cases of child sexual abuse. The film addresses the issue of responsibility of the Episcopal Conference of Poland for hiding paedophile priests from the law. It was posted on YouTube in May, 2019, and received over a million views in the first five hours – a new record for Polish YouTube. Seven months later it’s had over 23 million views. Following the film, the National Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that they had established a team of prosecutors, whose task it is to analyse the cases presented in the documentary.

From the outside, Poland may seem an outwardly conservative country out of step with progressive Europe regarding LGBT+ rights, however, looking closer, I see a country that is not dissimilar to Ireland in the late ‘80s. The government are deflecting their economic failures by creating misdirection and stirring up hatred against LGBT+ people and immigrants. As the cracks appear in their cover up of clerical abuse of children, the Catholic Church are under scrutiny and using the age-old tactic of blaming LGBT+ people for their own sins. The next few years will be crucial for LGBT+ people. If broader society can continue to mobilise behind the community, Poland could to shift from a theocratic state into a more modern and pluralist society.

Complete Article HERE!

Sing a new song unto the Lord:

the transgender, nonbinary Rev. Kori Pacyniak

The Rev. Kori Pacyniak, pastor of San Diego’s Mary Magdalene Catholic Community.

The Rev. Kori Pacyniak is believed to be the first transgender, nonbinary priest in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement

By Peter Rowe

The conversation began in typical fashion, with a question many grandparents ask: “When you grow up,” Kori Pacyniak’s grandmother wondered, “what would you like to be?”

At that point, the chat took an atypical turn.

“I want to be a priest,” said Kori, then an 8-year-old girl from a devout Polish Catholic family.

Grandmother: “Only boys can be priests.”

Kori: “OK, I want to grow up to be a boy.”

Now 37, Kori Pacyniak no longer wants to be male — or female. Pacyniak now identifies as nonbinary, someone who is not strictly feminine or masculine. (And someone who has abandoned gender-specific pronouns like “he” or “she” in favor of the more inclusive, if sometimes confusing, “they.”)

While Pacyniak left behind standard gender roles, the youthful fascination with the priesthood never faded. On Feb. 1, Pacyniak was ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement.

The Rev. Kori Pacyniak is now pastor of San Diego’s Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community, a Serra Mesa church that preaches “A New Way to be Catholic.” For this parish, Pacyniak also represents a new way, as they are believed to be the first transgender, nonbinary priest.

Founded in 2005 by Jane Via and Rod Stephens, Mary Magdalene celebrates the Mass with a liturgy that, aside from some tweaks in the wording, would be familiar to most Roman Catholics. The church is not recognized by the San Diego diocese, however, and the Vatican has excommunicated several of the women ordained in what has become a global movement.

Mary Magdalene now has about 120 registered parishioners; 60 to 70 regularly attend 5 p.m. Sunday Mass at the church’s temporary home, Gethsemane Lutheran Church. Most in the congregation were raised as Catholics, yet were disillusioned by the church’s refusal to ordain women. Even among these believers, though, there was some initial hesitation about a nonbinary cleric.

“For some congregants,” said Esther LaPorta, president of Mary Magdalene’s board, “I think at first it might have been something to get used to.”

Among those who have had to adjust: Via, the 73-year-old pastor emeritus.

“I’m struggling to refer to Kori as ‘they,’” Via said. “When there is a single person and we know that is just one person, well, I’ve never used the word ‘they’ for a single person. I know Kori gets frustrated with me at times.”

Usually, though, the priest responds to this confusion with a charitable laugh.

“This is hard?” Pacyniak said. “Learning to spell my last name as a child was hard. Welcome to my world!”

A restless search

Kori Pacyniak grew up in Edison Park, a neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side. The tightly-knit Polish community shared a common language, customs and beliefs. Friends, neighbors and family, Kori’s comrades in the Polish Scout troop and Polish folkdancing troupe — all were Catholic.

Like many children, Kori daydreamed about careers. Some days, the goal was to become a Navy SEAL. On other days, a professional soccer goalie. Or a Catholic nun. Always, though, there was the hope that the impossible dream Kori had shared with a grandmother would, somehow, become possible.

“As they went through college and started studying theology, this really became a topic of conversation,” said Basia Pacyniak, 67, Kori’s mother. “It was very much what Kori wanted to do.”

Majoring in religious studies and Portuguese — “no employable skills,” Kori cracked — the undergraduate came out as bisexual. Pacyniak was still searching, though, still examining gender identity and career paths. Although president of Smith’s Newman Association, an off-campus Catholic organization, Pacyniak was frustrated by the church’s positions on women and sexuality.

Pacyniak, center, is applauded by Bishop Jane Via, left, and Bishop Suzanne Avison Thiel, right, during the ordination ceremony.

“Other people wanted to become president,” Pacyniak said. “I wanted to overthrow the Vatican.”

This restlessness continued post-graduation. After an administrative job in Los Angeles, Pacyniak enrolled in Harvard Divinity School’s master’s degree program. The new grad student came out as transgender and started to identify as male. This venture into masculinity was brief and unsatisfactory.

“I realized that box was just as restrictive as female,” Pacyniak said. “Neither male nor female identification works for me.”

For a time, Pacyniak considered converting to a church that, while similar in some ways to Catholicism, ordains women and welcomes LGBTQ clergy. Again, though, something didn’t seem quite right.

“I thought that might be my church home,” Pacyniak said of the Episcopal Church. “But am I too Catholic to be Episcopalian?”

Yet Catholicism posed barriers to Pacyniak. For one thing, Rome only recognizes two genders, male and female. And…

“Right now,” said Kevin Eckery a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, “ordination is only open to natural born males.”

Pacyniak completed studies at Harvard, and later enrolled at Boston University’s School of Theology. There, Pacyniak studied how to minister to LGBTQ military service members in the years following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

But in 2016, a friend forwarded a job listing. Mary Magdalene needed a pastor. Candidates didn’t have to be ordained, if he, she or they were willing to work toward ordination.

In January 2017, Pacyniak began serving as Mary Magdalene’s pastor.
Queer theology

The Rev. Caedmon Grace is a minister at the Metropolitan Church of San Diego, a church that grew out of the LGBTQ community. Even here, there are ongoing discussions about the language of worship.

Consider John 3:16. A familiar New Testament verse, it’s often translated as “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…”

“Our practice in the MCC is to use inclusive language,” said Grace. “So that has become ‘For God so loved the world that God sent the begotten one.’ We’re not identifying God as male or female.”

This may not be the translation heard in most Christian churches, yet the emerging field of “queer theology” questions many of the assumptions of traditional religious prayer and practice.

“We have to get out of the hetero-nomative lens we use for understanding everything,” said Pacyniak, who is completing a doctorate in University of California Riverside’s queer and trans theology program. “We have to make trans and queer folks see themselves as part of the liturgy.”

Even at Mary Magdalene, a church that prides itself on its inclusive nature, this requires some work. When Pacyniak arrived, the liturgy included a line, “We believe that all women and men are created in God’s image.”

“This is great,” Pacyniak told Via after Mass. “But for people who don’t identify as women or men, that doesn’t work.”

The line was rewritten: “We believe that all people of all genders are created in God’s image.”

Creating a “spiritual support community” for trans and nonbinary people is a key goal of Mary Magdalene’s newly ordained priest. So is reaching out to the congregation’s men and women.

“Let’s make the tent as big and as open as we can,” Pacyniak said. “It’s an ongoing opportunity. Don’t get too comfortable; have conversations with people on the margins.”

All in good time

Through this past January, Via assisted Pacyniak on the altar during Mass. The new pastor studied, learning theology, liturgy and administrative duties, before being ordained as deacon in June 2019 and then, on Feb. 1, as a priest. More than 100 attended the ordination, so the ceremony was moved from Mary Magdalene’s small space to the soaring Gothic sanctuary of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.

The pews held Pacyniak’s parents, Basia and Bernard; brother, sister-in-law, two nephews and several cousins; friends from high school, Smith, Harvard and Boston U.; plus dozens of congregants from Mary Magdalene.

“Kori is very open and kind,” said Carol Kramer, who has attended Mary Magdalene for a decade. “I think they’ll be a really good pastor.”

Many religious traditions teach that we’re all created as complex, multi-faceted, beloved children of God. Pacyniak is a pastor and a student of queer theology, yes, but so much more: a baseball fan — with shifting allegiances, from Cubs to Red Sox to Padres — a regular Comic-Con attendee and, this priest insists, a Catholic. This brand of Catholicism may not be recognized by the Vatican, but that doesn’t bother Pacyniak’s parents, who remain practicing Roman Catholics.

“We are very proud of Kori,” said Basia Pacyniak. “The movement and the community is very welcoming, very open, and we are very supportive of that community. I feel that it is not in conflict with the Catholicism that we practice.”

The Pacyniaks foresee a day when their church will include women priests. Give it time, counseled Bernard Pacyniak, 66.

Lots of time.

“I imagine,” he said, “in 100 years this will all be part of one organization.”

Complete Article HERE!

Priest fears Irish Catholic Church ‘largely irrelevant’ to most people

Institution likened to an old car that has gone off the road and ‘sunk into a bog and is stuck’

By Patsy McGarry

The Irish Catholic Church has been likened by a priest to an old car that has gone off the road and “sunk into the bog and is stuck”.

“The engine is still running, but the wheels are spinning and going nowhere,” said Fr Roy Donovan of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), who said it was like the U2 lyric about being “stuck in a moment you can’t get out of”.

Fr Donovan, who is parish priest in Cahersonlish, Co Limerick, said “the Catholic Church in its present state is in crisis and doesn’t seem to have any future”.

“There is also something very wrong with priesthood. It is not only young people who have become disassociated from the church as an institution but people across all the generations. The church is not on the radar of most people – it is largely irrelevant.”

He was speaking in Dublin on Monday night at a We are Church Ireland event entitled ‘What Does it Mean to be Catholic Today?’

Fr Donovan asked why the church in Ireland had not carried out research in an attempt to establish why “so many Catholics have become disconnected” with the institution.

“ (Archbishop) Diarmuid Martin remarks that, ‘the low standing of women in the Catholic Church is the most significant reason for the feeling of alienation towards it in Ireland today’, ” Fr Donovan said.

‘Christendom is over’

“Pope Francis perceptively remarked ‘we are not living in an era of change but a change of era’. Christendom is over, he stated recently. There are huge losses accompanying a change of era.”

Meanwhile “a lot of priests are saying ‘sure it will see me out’ and continue to work out of the old model. There is not enough appetite for change which would require major reversals. We never implemented the Vat 2 (Second Vatican Council) idea of empowering the people.”

Fr Donovan said he did not understand “how a church that attracted some of the best brains in the country as priests could have allowed us to end up where we are today!? What is left of us are tired and haven’t got the energy to change and move on.”

He recalled how “Pope Francis in his Christmas message said ‘the world has changed and so must the church’” but he feared the church was not up “ to the massive changes required”.

“Our systems/ structures/ parishes are no longer fit for purpose. We have too many dioceses, parishes, too many churches – more than we need. We have too many celebrations of masses on Sundays with small gatherings,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

German Bishops Rethink Catholic Teachings Amid Talk of ‘Schism’

Conservatives, particularly in the U.S., greet the prospect with alarm

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich (far left) during an audience with Pope Francis (right) at the Vatican last year

By Francis X. Rocca

Germany’s Catholic bishops will meet in Frankfurt on Thursday to launch their most ambitious effort yet in their role as the church’s liberal vanguard: a two-year series of talks rethinking church teaching and practice on topics including homosexuality, priestly celibacy, and the ordination of women.

Conservatives in Germany and abroad are greeting the prospect with alarm, and nowhere more so than in the U.S., whose episcopate has emerged as the western world’s foremost resistance to progressive trends under Pope Francis.

The tension between the groups epitomizes significant divisions in the church, which some warn could lead to a permanent split.

Earlier in January, a group of conservative Catholics from various countries, including Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former Vatican envoy to the U.S. who has become one of the pope’s harshest critics, gathered in Munich to warn that the German initiative would result in “the constitution of a church separate from Rome.”

The event starting this week originated as a response to the scandal over sex abuse of minors by Catholic priests. A 2018 report on the crisis in Germany called for a more positive attitude to homosexuality and more attention to the challenge of celibacy. Catholic women’s groups later prevailed on the gathering to also address the question of gender equity in the church’s leadership.

The decline of the Catholic Church in Germany has accelerated amid the scandals and growing secularization. According to the church’s latest statistics, 216,078 people left the church in 2018—a leap of 29% from the previous year. A poll published in January by the Forsa Institute showed that only 14% of Germans trusted the Catholic Church, down from 18% the previous year. Trust in Pope Francis fell to 29% from 34%.

However, the church in Germany is prospering as never before in material terms, receiving a record €6.6 billion ($7.3 billion) through a state-collected tax in 2018. German bishops are among the biggest financial supporters of the Vatican and of Catholic institutions in the developing world.

German bishops have enjoyed rising influence under Pope Francis, reflected in his policies of greater leniency on divorce and more autonomy for local church authorities on matters such as liturgy—moves long advocated by German theologians.

The leaders of the German synod, which will include representatives of Catholic laypeople, say they are offering it as a model for the church at large.

Ludwig Ring-Eifel, head of the German bishops’ news agency, estimates that around two thirds of the bishops—the threshold for passing a resolution—support the ordination of married men and women deacons and half are in favor of blessings for same-sex unions.

American conservatives say that for a branch of the church even to consider such moves poses a threat to unity.

“The German bishops continue move toward #schism from the universal Church,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver said on Twitter in September.

A minority of German bishops share such fears—and look to the U.S. for support. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, leader of the German conservatives, traveled last summer to the U.S., where he visited various church institutions and met with some of his most prominent American counterparts.

“Everywhere, I encountered concern about the current developments in Germany,” the cardinal later told his diocesan newspaper. “In many meetings, the worry was tangible that the ’synodal path’ is leading us on a German special path, that in the worst case we could even put communion with the universal church at risk and become a German national church.”

Pope Francis himself has cautioned the Germans not to stray too far.

“Every time an ecclesial community has tried to get out of its problems alone, relying solely on its own strengths, methods and intelligence, it has ended up multiplying and nurturing the evils it wanted to overcome,” the pope said in an open letter to German Catholics in June.

But after meeting with the pope and Vatican officials in September, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, chairman of the German bishops conference, said: “There are no stop signs from Rome.”

In fact, when Pope Francis has publicly entertained the possibility of a split in the church, it has been in regards to the U.S., not Germany.

“There is always the option for schism,” the pope said in September, in response to a reporter’s question about conservative American opposition to his agenda. “I pray that schisms do not happen, but I am not afraid of them.”

That lack of fear could be because only the pope can decide whether or not a state of schism even exists, said Adam DeVille, a professor of theology at Indiana’s University of Saint Francis.

“If things get too far out of hand one way or another, I can see him acting in extreme but selective cases,” to stop any separatist moves, Mr. DeVille said.

“All it would take would be the sudden forced ‘retirement’ of a couple especially outspoken or perceived troublemakers, in Germany or anywhere else, for the others to shut up, and fall docilely in line,” he added.

Complete Article HERE!