Episcopal Church Approves Ordaining Transgender People

The Episcopal Church on Monday overwhelmingly voted to allow the ordination of transgender people.

At its triennial General Convention in Indianapolis, the church House of Deputies approved a change to the “nondiscrimination canons” to include “gender identity and expression.” The move makes it illegal to bar from the priesthood people who were born into one gender and live as another or who do not identify themselves as male or female.

The church, which has 1.9 million members in the U.S., currently has rules against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disability and age for Episcopalians who want to become priests.

There are transgender priests in some Episcopal dioceses and transgender people have been discouraged from becoming priests in some areas. Transgender advocates have campaigned for an official denominational policy.

The vote by the House of Deputies — which includes lay people and clergy — followed Saturday’s approval of the non-discrimination clause by the church House of Bishops. Both groups have to approve new legislation.

“We are filled with joy for this clear affirmation that the Episcopal Church welcomes and values the ministerial gifts of transgender people, lay and ordained. We are also delighted by the strong support and broad understanding of trans issues shown by deputies representing a wide range of regions and generations in this church. As the church steps boldly into new frontiers in various facets of its light, we are proud to be part of this spirit-filled movement,” members of TransEpiscopal, a organization of transgender Episcopalians, said in a statement.

The House of Deputies passed similar legislation at the previous General Convention in Anaheim, Calif., in 2009. When presented with the legislation that year, however, the House of Bishops voted instead to bar discrimination against “all” people instead of specific groups.

The church on Monday also voted to make it illegal to discriminate against transgender people in non-clergy positions in the church.

“It is not just a good day for transgender Episcopalians and their friends, families and allies. It is a good day for all of us who are part of a church willing to the risk to continue to draw the circle wider as we work to live out our call to make God’s inclusive love known to the whole human family,” the Rev. Susan Russell, a deputy from the Diocese of Los Angeles and an activist who supported the legislation, said in a statement.

The House of Bishops on Monday also approved a provisional standard liturgy for priests to use in the blessing of same-sex relationships. Bishops approved the liturgy 111 to 41 with three abstentions. The House of Deputies is expected to vote on the matter before the church’s meeting ends on Thursday.

If the same-sex liturgy is approved, it would be used during a trial that would begin in December and be revisited at the church’s next national meeting in three years. Some Episcopal bishops currently allow same-sex blessings in their dioceses, but many have said they will not allow them unless the church has an official liturgy. If approved, the new liturgy would not be mandatory. Bishops who do not approve of same-sex relationships could bar its use in their dioceses. The liturgy does not represent a religious marriage, though some clergy in states that allow civil marriage do secular marriages in their churches.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S.-based wing of the Anglican Communion, an 85 million-member global denomination. In addition to its U.S.-based members, it has 173,000 members in other countries and territories, including the British Virgin Islands, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Taiwan and Venezuela.

Liberal trends in the church regarding the ordination of gay priests and bishops have increasingly strained its relations with its more conservative counterparts in the United Kingdom and Africa. The election in 2003 of its first gay bishop, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, caused several dioceses to defect and align themselves with more conservative Anglican churches in Africa.

The vote on transgender clergy and the possible passing of same-sex liturgical blessings could further strain relations between Episcopalians and the Anglican Communion.

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Monk suspected in killings at Dutch psychiatric hospital in 1950s

Thirty-seven boys who died in the early 1950s in a Dutch psychiatric hospital run by the Catholic Church were probably killed by a monk in charge of their care, prosecutors said on Thursday.

It was the latest in a string of scandals to hit the church in the Netherlands, where an independent commission found last year up to 20,000 minors were sexually abused in Catholic orphanages, boarding schools and seminaries between 1945 and 1981.

In a report released on Thursday, prosecutors said the boys who died between 1952 and 1954 in St. Joseph’s psychiatric hospital in the southeastern town of Heel had likely been given morphine overdoses by Brother Andreas.

Prosecutors said Brother Andreas had died and there were no known living suspects. If he had been alive there was enough proof to launch a criminal investigation.

The deaths happened so long ago that prosecutors said exhuming bodies of the victims for toxicology tests would likely not have helped pin down a cause of death.

The Catholic Church has been under fire for years in Europe and North America for sexual offenses committed against children over the past century and attempts to cover up the crimes.

The Dutch inquiry was launched after the commission found an unusually high number of deaths at the hospital during the period. It said Guus Vestraelen, the institution’s doctor, had almost certainly covered up for Brother Andreas by misreporting the causes of death. He too has since died.

“On the basis of the facts established … Brother Andreas would be a suspect if he were still alive,” prosecutors wrote, noting that any offences committed in the 1950s might have lapsed under Dutch law.

They said the Diocese of Roermond, in which the hospital was located, had learned of the deaths by 1958, but had not informed authorities.

“The bishopric finds it inexplicable that it didn’t report these events at the time,” the Diocese said on Thursday in a statement on what it called the “disturbing” findings. It expressed regret that an internal investigation carried out in the 1950s had failed to establish the facts.

Prosecutors said their investigation found that Brother Andreas was not qualified to care for disabled boys and that the large number of deaths sharply declined after he was transferred to another institution.

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Judge denies Philadelphia priest’s bid for house arrest

Monsignor William Lynn, the first senior U.S. Roman Catholic Church official to be convicted of covering up child sex abuse, was sent back to prison on Thursday after a judge rejected his bid for house arrest.

Family members sobbed in the court gallery after Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina denied Lynn’s request to be released to the home of a distant relative in Philadelphia.

The judge did, however, grant his request to move up his sentencing to July 24 from August 13. Lynn, 61, faces up to seven years in prison.

The former secretary of the clergy for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, who was in effect personnel manager for 800 priests, was convicted in June of child endangerment for covering up sex abuse allegations, often by transferring priests to unsuspecting parishes.

Defense lawyers said the judge, in refusing to release Lynn from jail to wear an ankle bracelet monitor, was treating him unfairly because he is a church official.

“He’s upset that he seems to be taking the weight of the church on his shoulders,” said defense lawyer Jeff Lindy after the ruling on Thursday.

Lynn, 61, is the highest-ranking church official convicted of covering up sex crimes by priests. He worked for late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the longtime archbishop of Philadelphia, which is the nation’s sixth largest archdiocese with 1.5 million members.

Lynn was charged in the wake of a Philadelphia grand jury report issued in January 2011. In addition to Lynn, three priests, and an ex-diocese school teacher were charged with sex crimes against children, One of the priests, Reverend James Brennan, was tried along with Lynn and faced charges of attempted rape and child endangerment. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the counts against Brennan.

A third priest who was scheduled to go on trial with Lynn and Brennan pleaded guilty at the last minute to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy and is now in jail.

Another priest and the teacher are awaiting trial.

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Jury awards Catholic school sex-abuse victim $8M

SEATTLE — A King County jury has awarded $8 million to a victim of sexual abuse at a Seattle Catholic school. The sum is believed to be the largest ever against the Catholic Church in Washington state.

The jury found the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic order of priests, guilty of ignoring the plaintiff’s complaints of sexual abuse at St. Benedict School in Wallingford. The plaintiff testified in court that he was abused on a weekly basis between 1961 and 1964 by a former teacher and principal, Daniel Adamson.

“This wasn’t minor abuse. This was three years of the worst crimes you can imagine on a child,” said the plaintiff, Stephen O’Connor. “What sexual abuse and sodomy and rape of a 12-year-old child is minimal?”

O’Connor, who grew up in Seattle but now splits his time between Western Washington and Spokane, said he hid the memories of sexual abuse for nearly 50 years but that a 2008 reunion at St. Benedict – to mark the school’s 100th anniversary – triggered an onslaught of feelings.

“I went to the boys’ bathroom, to the stall where it began. I went to the small projection room closet, where some of the worst crimes were,” O’Connor said. “I had to sit down in my house and tell my wife of 43 years who I’ve known since I was 7-years old (about what happened). I had to tell my four children.”

O’Connor says he was especially upset that he noticed Adamson’s photos had disappeared from the school walls – as if someone knew what had happened but tried to hide it.

“It was a trigger point. He went there, expecting to see this longtime teacher and principal – see his picture, see evidence, see evidence of him, and he saw that there was nothing, no evidence of him there,” said O’Connor’s attorney, Darrell Cochran. “What it triggered for him was that somebody knew he was a sexual abuser and they had removed everything about that guy.”

Adamson died in the 1970s. O’Connor testified in court, along with two other former students, that Adamson had an elaborate train set in his basement that he used to lure kids into his home and then abuse them.

O’Connor later dropped out of school to escape the abuse, he said. He joined the Marines and did two tours of duty in Vietnam, before becoming a police officer.

“As a United States Marine in combat, I wasn’t the only one. As a police officer on the worst 911 calls, I knew that Skagit County was coming or state patrol was coming,” he said, “but as a 12 year old 7th grader at St. Benedict’s I had no one. And none of those victims did. I was 12-years old, and everybody thought it was okay.”

The jury’s award of $8 million will be reduced to $6.4 million because the jury found the Seattle Archdiocese – which owned the school at the time – and the Dominican Sisters, another religious order who staffed the school, partially responsible.

The Seattle Archdiocese settled their part of the lawsuit last year for $500,000.

“We settled with them, and that’s in the past,” said Greg Magnoni, a spokesman for the archdiocese. “In every case of sexual abuse that’s occurred in a Catholic institution we deeply regret any harm or pain to the victims or the family.”

Calls to the Seattle attorney representing the Oblates and to the Oblate national office were not returned.

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