By Anne Curley
As a cradle Catholic whose values were shaped by 12 years of Catholic education and 60-plus years of Mass attendance, I feel great gratitude for the countless caring sisters, priests and Catholic laypeople who have guided and inspired me through much of my life. I’ve been proud to be associated with the good done by Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations throughout the world.
So it’s with real sadness that I’ve joined the throng who have left the church.
The recently released policy of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on how to treat transgender individuals has made it impossible for me, in good conscience, to call myself a Catholic.
I didn’t come to this decision lightly. When friends would ask, “How can you be a Catholic despite (choose one or more) the clergy sex abuse scandal, the ban on women priests, the treatment of homosexuality as a disorder, the rules on birth control … I had three well-honed responses:
“A 2,000-year-old, global institution doesn’t change quickly,” “Show me a major human institution that isn’t a mixed bag of strengths and corruption,” and “It’s the good, grace-filled people that keep me hanging in there — not the policies.”
Still, I can’t say I relished the mental gymnastics required to justify why I continued to be a practicing Catholic.
The justifications ran out when I read “Catechesis and policy on questions concerning gender theory,” a stunningly harsh new directive from the archdiocese covering Catholic parishes, organizations and institutions.
In no uncertain terms, it spells out how all employees, volunteers and vendors at these institutions are to treat transgender individuals. Among other dictates, it includes, “Recognize only a person’s biological sex,” “No person may designate a ‘preferred pronoun’ in speech or in writing” and “All persons are to follow the dress code or uniform that accords with their biological sex.”
The document begins by saying, “’The truth will set you free.’ Christ’s words to his disciples call Christians in every age to embrace the truth of who we are as children of God, for only in embracing this truth can we be set free.”
I believe that truth is embedded in each of us — that God implanted a unique identity that is ours alone to experience, express and put to good use during our time on Earth. The fact that society is becoming more accepting of differences in our identities — race, sexual orientation and gender expression being prime examples — strikes me as part of God’s unfolding plan to enable each of us to achieve our full potential.
I am not an expert on it, but I think it’s safe to say the subject of gender identity is complex, nuanced and not a good candidate for rigid rules. What I know for sure is that my Catholic education taught me Jesus identified with those whom the rule-makers rejected. I learned that he reserved his harshest criticism for religious leaders who piled heavy burdens on others. Thanks to my Catholic formation, I know that to be Christian means to uplift the dignity of others, especially those who most need uplifting.
So how can I be a committed Christian and go along with a policy that, instead of emphasizing compassionate care, institutionalizes the oppression of people because of who they are?
What would Jesus do?
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