06/4/17

Rev. Fuller is not your average Roman Catholic priest

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by NANCY FORNASIERO

Rev. Fuller, pastor of a newly formed faith community in Pickering, has been revising, refining and rehearsing the homily for this weekend’s inaugural mass at St. Mary of Magdalene the First Apostle Catholic Faith Community.

Inspiration came from Scripture (Acts 2:17-18): “God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. … Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

The passage connects the theme of Pentecost – a feast day celebrated in all Christian churches this weekend – to gender equality and inclusivity, issues close to Rev. Fuller’s heart.

But Rev. Fuller is no ordinary Catholic priest prepping to preach to his flock; rather this is Rev. Roberta Fuller, an ordained Roman Catholic Woman Priest (RCWP). The petite septuagenarian and retired high-school teacher is regarded by some as a courageous spiritual leader and by others as a disrespectful dissident.

Ordained in 2011, Rev. Fuller maintains she has as legitimate a claim to the priesthood as any male Catholic priest. The Vatican disagrees and warns that sacraments performed by women priests are just “simulations.” Women priests are forbidden to serve in any official capacity and in 2007 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Pope Benedict XVI, decreed automatic excommunication against anyone “who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order.”

Neil MacCarthy, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Toronto, says that the parish’s home, Dunbarton-Fairport United Church, reflects the illegitimacy of Rev. Fuller’s congregation.

“The very fact that their services take place in a United Church should be a clear indication that what is happening is not, in any way, sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church.”

There are 12 women Catholic priests in Canada (and some 300 worldwide); many hold their masses in sympathetic United churches. Rev. Fuller launched a similar progressive community, Church of the Beatitudes, in the Toronto neighbourhood of Roncesvalles in 2014. The parish attracted a devoted, if modestly sized, flock varying in size from week to week, with 40 at most in attendance. Sometimes there were as few as half a dozen in the pews. She is hoping for more robust attendance in this new community. The Pickering services will be held the first and third Saturday of the month.

Rev. Fuller rejects the notion that her ordination and calling are illegitimate. “That’s simply not true,” she says. “Despite what some bishops lead the faithful to believe, we follow and honour Roman Catholic tradition and the liturgy of the church.

“We are ordained in apostolic succession just like any priest.”

The RCWP movement was born in 2002 when a Catholic bishop (known as Bishop X to protect his identity) broke with tradition and ordained seven women. Guided by his own conscience, he conducted the ceremony on a boat on the Danube River to avoid diocesan jurisdiction and interference. These original women priests are often referred to as “the Danube Seven.” Apostolic succession comes into play because Bishop X, who had been ordained by another bishop in good standing, is linked to a line of bishops that goes back to the time of the Apostles. Supporters argue this lineage now extends to the rebellious women on the Danube and all their successors.

Rev. Fuller, who isn’t too concerned about canon law and Vatican pronouncements, remains focused on her mission: “to foster loving, supportive communities where all are welcomed at the table.” On the invitation to the inaugural mass, she describes St. Mary Magdalene as a “radically reform, inclusive parish that celebrates all sacraments and serves the community while working for gender equity and social justice for every woman, man and child.”

Rev. Fuller believes that too many people – the LGBTQ community, and divorced and remarried Catholics – have been made to feel like second-class Catholics for too long.

Jeff Doucette, pastor at Dunbarton-Fairport United Church, says his own ministry is totally aligned to Rev. Fuller’s vision of inclusiveness. “When I heard Roberta needed a place, I immediately wanted to support her. I felt confident that our board would agree, and I was right. They voted unanimously to allow her to celebrate mass here.”

Rev. Doucette is a former Roman Catholic priest who left, in part, because of the chasm between his own beliefs around justice and those of the church. He met Rev. Fuller after he read about her original parish in Toronto and, impressed by what she was doing, decided to go meet her.

“It floors me that the Catholic Church is still so rigid about this,” he says. “We have amazing women leading our United Church congregations. And there are incredible Catholic women, with authentic callings, who can bring a whole side to the gospel that we as men can never bring. Leaving them out of the equation is like asking the church to breathe with one lung.”

It frustrates Rev. Fuller immensely that women are willing to serve and yet the church instead recruits male clergy from all over the world – many with limited English-language skills and a cultural disconnect with their parishioners. “When I was studying theology at St. Michael’s College [in the University of Toronto], I met so many capable qualified young women who could fill the priest shortage. But the door is shut to them.”

People often ask Rev. Fuller, a life-long feminist and human-rights activist, why she keeps struggling with an institution as patriarchal as the Roman Catholic Church, particularly when she could easily step into a leadership position in almost any other Christian denomination.

“I stay because I’m a Roman Catholic. I have the right to remain a Roman Catholic. I believe we all have the right to equality both in and outside of the church.”

Complete Article HERE!

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06/2/17

Church saw sharp rise in clergy sex abuse victims who came forward last year

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The number of victims who brought new claims of sexual abuse by clergy rose sharply last year, fueled in large part by a surge of allegations from Minnesota, according to a report released Thursday by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

That state temporarily lifted its statute of limitations in 2013 to allow alleged victims older than 24 to sue for past abuse, and the deadline to file such claims was in late May 2016, according to the report. The deadline is believed to have prompted a rush of last-minute filings.

The annual report from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which covers July 2015 to June 2016, said 911 victims came forward with allegations the church deemed credible, the vast majority of which were from adults who said they were abused when they were children.

That was up from 384 in the previous 12-month span, and it marked the highest total since 1,083 victims came forward in 2004, the first year the bishops conference published an annual report on the topic amid the fallout of the abuse crisis that was exposed in the early 2000s.

“I am grateful that allegations are being reported,” Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the conference’s Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, wrote in the report. “I am grateful that alleged victims are being treated with sensitivity and care. I am grateful that alleged offenders are offered treatment and supervision. But much work is still needed.

“May God bless our victims/survivors and our endeavors toward healing, justice, and peace,” he added.

The report did not break down the number of complaints in the most recent year that came from Minnesota but said they were a “substantial portion.”

The report also noted that the November 2015 release of the movie “Spotlight,’’ which recounted The Boston Globe’s investigation of the clergy-abuse crisis, “helped bring the issue back into the mind of the general public.’’

“As the movie illustrates, it was because of a few brave individuals who had the courage to come forward that the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church was brought to light,” the report says.

Victims who came forward during the most recent reporting year included 26 minors, the report said.

The report’s definition of “minors” included people under age 18 or anyone who “habitually lacks the use of reason.”

As of June 30, 2016, two of the 26 cases had been substantiated, while 11 had been deemed unsubstantiated by church officials. The rest remained under investigation, the report said.

The offenders in the substantiated cases were removed from ministry, as were 26 other priests or deacons accused of past abuse, officials said.

The report did not break down the location of the allegations but said its data was based on information from all 196 diocese and eparchies of the bishops conference, which includes the Archdiocese of Boston, and from 180 of the 232 religious institutes of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

The latest figures mean that between 1950 and June 2016, more than 18,500 people nationwide made clergy abuse allegations deemed credible by US Catholic officials, and more than 6,700 clerics have been accused of abuse, church records show.

Activists have questioned whether the church’s count of clergy sex abuse victims is lower than the actual total.

The abuse crisis has cost the church billions of dollars.

Between 1950 and June 2016, about $3.7 billion was spent on settlement-related costs, including $141 million during the most recent year, according to the church.

Complete Article HERE!

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06/2/17

The challenge of being both gay and Catholic

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When I entered the Catholic Church in 1998, I had never met another gay person who accepted and intended to live out the Catholic sexual ethic in which sex is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. I had never even heard of such a person. I didn’t care, since I was full of blithe 19-year-old overconfidence (“Seems like nobody’s done this before, but surely it will be a cinch for moi!”), but life without models and guidance proved lonely and confusing.

Since then the community of LGBT people seeking to live out the historical Christian sexual ethic has become far more vocal. There are a few small guidebooks: Wesley Hill’s “Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian,” Tim Otto’s “Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict Over Gay Relationships” and my book “Gay and Catholic,” which suggest ways for gay people to lead lives of love in traditional churches.

I would love more books to add to this tiny shelf, especially a book in which LGBT people seeking to live within church teaching are considered part of both the global church and the LGBT community. Gay people who accept celibacy out of obedience to our churches face challenges common to all Christian disciples. We also face the all-too-common LGBT experiences of violence, discrimination and isolation. And we have the unique experience of trying to serve and love in churches that often seem embarrassed by our existence and silent about our futures. I’d love a book about the gifts LGBT people can bring to our churches, and the compassionate and creative guidance we need from those churches.

A new book by the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, called “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity” is not the book I’ve longed for. It’s a slender book stitched together from a speech, Bible passages with questions for reflection, and a moving “Prayer When I Feel Rejected.”

Martin defines the church as “the institutional church — that is, the Vatican, the hierarchy, church officials, and the clergy.” He aims to persuade these priests and bishops to listen better to gay people and our families, and to persuade gay people to be more polite and thoughtful in our criticisms of mitered folk.

Martin was startled by many Catholic leaders’ response to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year. Hearing church leaders deplore violence but refuse to acknowledge that the people targeted were gay, Martin called for a bridge between the two groups.

Martin calls on church leaders “to proclaim God’s love for a people who are often made to feel, whether by their families, neighbors, or religious leaders, as though they were damaged goods, unworthy of ministry, and even subhuman.” And he calls on LGBT people to give the Catholic hierarchy “simple human respect … in keeping with our Christian call,” instead of mockery.

Martin never hints that gay people exist who seek to live in obedience to the Catholic Church. Fair enough — not every book has to be for everybody, and people in my situation are a tiny minority. But we may be able to offer insights into areas this book carefully avoids.

For example, why is this conversation so hard in the first place? “Building a Bridge” doesn’t raise the question of why LGBT people and the Catholic Church so often seem like two separate, hostile camps. The Catholic sexual ethic is this book’s embarrassing secret. It’s never mentioned, and so the difficulties the teaching itself poses for gay Catholics in our culture are never addressed.

I’m deeply sympathetic to the attempt to have a conversation about gay people and the church that never mentions sex or chastity; too often even the most “respectful” statements from the Catholic Church hierarchy have a strong flavor of “Jesus loves you, but here’s how you’ve got to behave.” But I’m not sure it’s wise to write as if all the church is asking is for gay people simply to be nicer.

The church is not just a bunch of dudes in special clothes. If we picked our religion based on whose leaders were most personally trustworthy, nobody would be Catholic. But the Catholic Church is the bride of Christ — our mother, as terrible as an army with banners (Song of Songs 6:10) — and she asks a much higher “bridge toll” of everyone than this book admits.

The church asks more of her leaders than mere respect and sensitivity (although God knows that would be a good start). She asks of them repentance and amends for the ways in which they’ve made so many churches hostile to gay members, treating us as problems to be fixed or silenced.

And the church asks gay people to do our best to forgive. She asks us to have the courage to live out forgotten forms of Christian love, including same-sex love: devoted friendship, celibate partnership, intentional community and more.

In a culture where everything from pop songs to health insurance urges us to structure our lives around romance and marriage, gay Christians have a chance — or a duty — to show that you can make a life of devotion, joy and mutual sacrifice within celibacy. And straight Christians have a chance not only to live the models we’ve shown them, following the paths we’ve blazed, but to support us when our callings to nonmarital love leave us economically or emotionally vulnerable.

Scripture shows us the covenant friendship of David and Jonathan, the devoted kinship of Ruth and Naomi. Jesus, the God who is love, loved more deeply than any human being. Jesus’ celibacy helped us see what it means to dedicate your life to God and the people of God.

Martin writes eloquently of the gifts LGBT Christians can bring our churches. But aside from a vague reference to “social justice issues,” he doesn’t suggest that our church can guide and teach us. Martin has written well on celibacy for priests and others who have taken religious vows, as in his 2002 New York Times op-ed, “Choosing Celibacy.” I wish in his new book he had explored celibate witness more deeply, or reflected on scriptural models by which gay people could understand our longings for same-sex love and intimacy. If we are all the church together, LGBT laypeople who seek to live in obedience to the church have a place as well as those who dissent.

After the Pulse shooting, Washington area houses of worship held an interfaith vigil. The participants were of every sexual orientation and many beliefs; celibate gay people stood alongside those in same-sex marriages to mourn and pray. Sometimes it can be harder to come together in ordinary times than in the wake of crisis. But our challenge is to be honest about our beliefs — even the ones we find most challenging — while welcoming and cherishing those who disagree.

Still, Martin offers LGBT Catholics who accept our church’s teachings something we need desperately, in his use of Psalm 139, exploring how God knows us completely and loves us unshakably. No matter what we do or where we go, God is there with us. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”: formed, from the very first moments of our lives, by God’s love.

Complete Article HERE!

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05/24/17

Bill Donohue, Catholic League Head Loser, Trashes Famed OC Catholic Sex-Abuse Survivor

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Joelle Casteix has been the volunteer Western Regional director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) since 2003.

By Gustavo Arellano

Bill Donohue, for those of you who aren’t mackerel snappers, is the Roger Ailes of the Catholic Church: a big, fat CHAVALA who depends on the elderly to fund his comfy lifestyle and be able to trash good people for a living. He’s the head of the Catholic League, which is as relevant to modern-day Catholics as the rhythm method yet still gets play in conservative media. We’ve featured Donohue’s whining before—like when he tried to accuse me of targeting only Catholic pedophiles instead of ALL pedophiles, or when he inadvertently defended Eleuterio Ramos, OC’s worst-ever pedophile priest, a guy who admitted to molesting “at least” 25 boys.

And now Donohue returns to Orange County with another whiny screed—although he doesn’t dare call out his target by name. In a May 18 press release titled “Victims’ Pros Lie about NY Archdiocese,” Donohue rails against the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which has only been one of the most important organizations in the United States fighting against pedo-priests and their enablers in the Catholic Church. Donohue has never liked them because they do a great job, and he’s now mad that “someone whom we have never heard of has surfaced demanding that the New York archdiocese publish the names of six miscreant priests, the implication being that there is a cover-up.

Casteix, from our 2008 profile

“This is a non-starter,” Dononhue continues. “The names of the offending priests have already been published by the archdiocese. It is scurrilous to imply otherwise. The only real story here is how far some will go to try to discredit the Catholic Church.”

What the hell is the lace-curtain Irish crying about? He provides no links, no context, no nada in his write-up (which you can go ahead and Google on your own). But the person he was targeting is someone well-known to OC Weekly readers, a heroine we should all emulate.

Say her name, Billy: Joelle Casteix.

She’s the Western regional director for SNAP, and someone who has long advocated for sex-abuse survivors because she herself is one: a music teacher at Mater Dei High abused her, and school and diocesan officials long stonewalled her about it. Casteix held a press conference last week talking about the pedophile protectors at the New York archdiocese, cretins of whom Donohue laughably says, “When it comes to clergy sexual abuse, the New York Archdiocese has one of the best records in the nation.”

Casteix and an attorney for the survivors streamed their press conference on

Facebook Live. None of the New York press present quoted Casteix in their stories, which means Donohue has no life because he watched a Facebook Live segment. But why didn’t Donohue have the stones to call out Casteix by name? Does anyone really buy Billy Blob’s shit that he “had never heard of” Casteix, who’s only been a national presence on the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal for about 15 years? How the hell can Donohue continue to get fatter with every passing year?

So many questions, but at least we have two answers: Casteix is a secular saint; Donohue is a PENDEJO. Hey, Billy: Learn from St. Joseph and get a real job.

Complete Article HERE!

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05/23/17

A Complex Conversation

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LGBT Catholics & the Francis Papacy

Jaeynes Childers and Maria Balata, members of the Chicago Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach, hold hands at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in 2016

By John Gehring

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been in Chicago and San Francisco talking to LGBT Catholics and hearing from theologians, Catholic school leaders, parents, and others about how the church can do a better job reaching out to and learning from gay Catholics. One of the most hopeful messages I heard came from a Catholic bishop appointed by Pope Francis.

“In a church that has not always valued or welcomed your presence, we need to hear your voices and take seriously your experiences,” Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, told several hundred participants at the New Ways Ministry gathering in Chicago last month, “LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”

New Ways Ministry, founded in 1977 by Fr. Robert Nugent and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, faced sanction in 1999 when Cardinal Ratzinger—then the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later Pope Benedict XVI—issued a directive that prohibited them from “any pastoral work involving homosexual persons.” The two continued their pastoral ministry anyway. Nugent died in 2014, but Gramick is still active with the organization. Given this history, Bishop Stowe’s presence at the conference is a sign of the times.

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has strongly defended the traditional church teaching against same-sex marriage. He also has been critical of what he calls the “ideological colonization” of some contemporary ways of understanding gender. Still, Francis has taken a dramatically different approach to speaking about gay and lesbian people than previous popes, who emphasized homosexuality as an “intrinsic moral evil,” as well as those American church leaders who have put opposition to LGBT rights at the top of their lobbying efforts. While most U.S. bishops still have not caught up to the pope, Cardinal Joe Tobin, appointed by Francis to lead the Newark archdiocese last November, recently welcomed a pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics to the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. “I am delighted that you and the LGBTQ brothers and sisters plan to visit our beautiful cathedral,” Tobin wrote in an e-mail to the group’s leader. “You will be very welcome.”

Francis’s fresh start is in line with his frequent acknowledgments that the church has too often excluded people by fixating on a narrow, moral legalism. “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” the pope said in a 2013 interview. “I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.” Less than a year later, when asked by reporters about gay priests at the Vatican, his quote become a viral papal soundbite that has reached near-iconic status: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord, who am I to judge?”
Bishops who can cite the fine print of the church’s teaching on sexuality should also be listening closely to the honest stories of Catholic parents

During a spiritual reflection at the New Ways Ministry conference, Bishop Stowe noted how Jesus often challenged what he called the “self-proclaimed Sabbath police,” and made a direct connection to that mindset with how LGBT Catholics are often treated. “Some of you have experienced the same kind of approach to the law that Jesus corrected so many times in the Gospel—an approach that sometimes devalues human beings,” he said.

The most painful stories I heard came from gay and lesbian Catholics who have been fired from Catholic schools or other Catholic institutions after public disclosures of their relationships. Since 2007, according to New Ways Ministry, at least fifty LGBT Catholics have been fired or forced to resign. Margie Winters, a long-time religious education director at Waldron Mercy Academy in Philadelphia, was fired in 2015 after a disgruntled parent outed her marriage to another woman. (See “Fighting a Firing in Philadelphia” for more details.) “I loved and still love that community because it’s a part of my heart,” Winters said at the Chicago conference. “It was like a death. This kind of firing is a trauma. The sense of exile has been hardest for me.”

Bishops who can cite the fine print of the church’s teaching on sexuality should also be listening more closely to the raw, honest stories of Catholic parents. “Ten years ago I was blissfully ignorant of all things LGBT until it came to my family,” said Ray Dever, a deacon in St. Petersburg, Florida. The father of five, who describes his family as “pretty darn Catholic”—four of his five children were in Catholic schools at the same time—is now a proud and public advocate for his transgender daughter Lexi. “The hard part is seeing one of your loved ones endure self-hatred,” he said. “When the word suicide comes into play, your life changes. We wanted to get her through her junior year alive. There are so many families who reject their LGBT kids and that’s tragic, especially when that is done in the name of faith. I’m no expert but what these families need to hear is God created these kids just the way they are and that God loves them.”

His daughter Lexi came to terms with her identity at Georgetown University, where she worked at the LGBTQ resource center on campus. “Transgender people just want to live an everyday life and be a normal person in a crowd,” she said. “I struggled with coming out. I was convinced I would be abandoned by family and friends because I saw that happening to others.” Trans youth have disproportionately high suicide rates, she noted, and the average life expectancy of a transgender woman is only thirty-one years.

One of the most impassioned and articulate Catholic voices for the full-inclusion of LGBT Catholics is Fordham University theologian Bryan Massingale, an African-American priest. While some have brushed aside Pope Francis’ oft-quoted statements as merely signaling a shift in tone on LGBT issues, Massingale sees a more substantive process unfolding in this papacy. “There is a change of tone, to be sure, but the tone masks a definite doctrinal shift and development now underway—a change that is cautious, tentative, tense, at times ambiguous and contradictory, and yet nonetheless real,” Massingale said during a plenary address at the New Ways Ministry gathering. “What is neuralgic for many church leaders lies not so much in being gay, but in being honest, forthright, and transparent about it,” he said. “The open closet,” as Massingale calls it, is a paradoxical dynamic of “private toleration and public condemnation,” a stance that he finds problematic. “Justice is inherently public,” he said. “Justice is the social face of love. To insist on private acceptance and compassion for LGBT persons without an effective commitment to defending LGBT human rights and creating a society of equal justice for all is not only contradictory, it is inherently incomprehensible and ultimately unsustainable.”

At the University of San Francisco, I met with more than two dozen Catholic teachers, school administrators, theologians, and women religious, along with the mayor’s point-person on transgender initiatives. The group came together for a conversation about how to support LGBT students and help Catholic institutions think about making a culture of inclusion central to Catholic identity. Michael Duffy, director of the McGrath Institute for Jesuit Catholic Education at the university, pulled together the meeting in part because of his experience at some Catholic workshops and conferences, where discussions about LGBT issues have often been unhelpful and narrowly defined.

Theresa Sparks, the San Francisco mayor’s advisor on transgender initiatives, told the group that she has had little engagement with Catholic institutions. “There is a vacuum there,” said Sparks, who raised all her children in Catholic schools and spent some time homeless after transitioning herself. One in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Last spring, an English teacher at Mercy High School in San Francisco came out as transgender. Gabriel Bodenheimer put his job at risk when he decided to transition from female to male—but the Sisters of Mercy, which owns and operates the school, supported him. “We feel because of our values, the choice was this, but that doesn’t mean it was easy,” Sister Laura Reicks, president of the 16-state region of the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community told the San Francisco Chronicle. Bodenheimer told the San Francisco gathering that his experience was “harrowing and also heartening.” But “a culture of fear and silence,” he said, is still the norm when it comes to transgender issues at Catholic schools.

One longtime Catholic school educator, who requested anonymity, told me that a “Breaking the Binary” conference at his school in March caused an uproar among a vocal contingent of parents. “Some parents were upset and felt a Catholic school should not be talking about gender identity,” he said. “We’ve never had a response like this to anything we’ve done before.” About fifty parents kept their children home from school. Students picked the theme of the conference, which was not solely focused on transgender issues but included discussions about women in the workplace and gender stereotypes. The transgender conversation was optional. A panel of experts spoke to the students: an attorney who specializes in representing transgender clients, two health care providers who work with the trans community, and a social worker. A student who transitioned after he graduated shared a video about his experience. The school is operated by an order of women religious.

“We really used the mission of our school and our Catholic identity to talk about transgender people not as a political issue but in terms of standing on the margins and going to the existential peripheries where people are sometimes suffering,” the educator said. “A Catholic school is a place where kids should learn to think critically so they can make the world a more just and humane place. We teach the church’s position on sexuality and we also have an obligation to help them wrestle with complex moral issues.”

Complete Article HERE!

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