Sex-related blunders, the never ending story at the Catholic Church

— Pope Francis’s homophobic slur helped distract the attention from other sex-related blunders affecting the Catholic Church all over Latin America.

By Rodolfo Soriano-Núñez

As with Pope Francis’s homophobic slur, Argentine archbishop Mestre’s sudden resignation reveals the many contradictions affecting the Catholic Church.

On top of the Roman and Argentine sex-related blunders, new details about clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church emerged in Ecuador and Bolivia in the first week of June.

News of Pope Francis’s using a homophobic slur during a meeting with Italian bishops, back on May 20th, stressed the contradictions in Roman Catholic doctrine and practice about sexuality.

Oddly enough, it also played well to hide another blunder made by two of the closest allies of the Pontiff both in Rome and back in Argentina, while hiding from view other attempts of the Church’s hierarchy in Argentina at making themselves relevant in the public sphere.

A few hours before the Italian newspaper La Repubblica’s social media accounts turned the internet into a burning prairie of sorts, news about the sudden resignation of archbishop Gabriel Antonio Mestre, shocked those of us who follow what happens in the Latin American Catholic leadership with news about his resignation.

At first, it was hard to understand what could force the resignation of a recent appointee to the Archdiocese of La Plata, the third or fourth most relevant see of the Catholic Church in the Pope’s country of origin.

Hard, but not unheard, as Los Ángeles Press proved a year ago when we published a full data base with the names of 110 early or unexpected resignations of bishops, a proxy of sorts for the depth of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the countries where those resignations happen. Here you can download an updated version of the Data Base with the most recent resignations.

Although few noticed Mestre’s resignation outside of Argentina in the mess that Catholic Internet was on the last week of May, his case confirms, for the 111th time, how unwilling is the Church to provide information as to why its leaders resign their office. It also proves how unwilling are the global Catholic leaders to address the crisis of confidence undermining the foundations of Catholicism.

As it happened with the Pope’s slur, Mestre’s sudden resignation stresses how opacity makes harder to take the Church’s words at face value; it deepens the crisis of confidence in an institution already facing the deepest crisis of trust in its history.

It is not as if Mestre was only one more bishop forced out of office in his prime due to bad choices or poor decision making. He was close to both Pope Francis and to the current chair of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith who was his predecessor at the archdiocese of La Plata, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández.

Perverse dynamics

Although it is clear that he had not been named a sexual predator, when looking at the silence, and the remains of his much-hyped appointment, it was clear that behind his sudden disappearance from the Catholic firmament is the reenactment of the perverse dynamics fueling the clergy sexual abuse crisis at a global scale.

 
Front page and page 14 of La Nación, a leading Argentine newspaper’s edition of Sunday May 26th, 2024.

What is worse. The toxic combination of the news about Mestre’s exit and the Pope’s slur scandal emerging in Rome the very same day made impossible to pay attention to the Argentine bishops’ attempt at confronting the deep political and economic crisis at their country.

On Saturday May 25th, less than 36 hours before the news of both Mestre’s resignation and the scandal regarding Pope Francis’s slur emerged, the current archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge García Cuerva, used his chance as the leading figure of the Te Deum at the cathedral in his country’s capital to stress the many contradictions of the current Argentine government.

 
Javier Milei and the archbishop Jorge García Cuerva at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Buenos Aires, Argentina. May 2024.

Him and the rest of Argentine bishops had been preparing for their performance in the rituals around the so-called Fiesta de Mayo (May 25th), a precursor of their Independence from Spain. García Cuerva and his fellow bishops aimed at using the Te Deum and other associated public activities to make the Church’s position clear on the current crisis.

On top of García Cuerva’s message on May 25th’s Te Deum, the chair of the Argentine Conference of Catholic Bishops, Óscar Vicente Ojea, the bishop of San Isidro, also issued a message.

Ojea addressed one of Argentina’s hot topics, the destiny, uncertain for many reasons, of tons of foodstuffs that were supposed to be delivered by the government but, somehow, in a fashion that would only happen in Latin America, ended up “lost” in the shelves of governmental entities, unable or unwilling to deliver them.

 
Clarín, a leading Argentine newspaper, from May 28th, 2024.

The political situation in Argentina was so bad that on Monday May 27th, when Mestre resigned and news about the Pontifical slur emerged in Rome, the Nation’s Chief of Cabinet, Nicolás Posse, resigned his office after weeks of rumors about the bad relation he already had with Javier Milei.

On the afternoon of Tuesday June 4th. Cáritas Argentina, the equivalent of Catholic Charities USA, used the same cathedral where archbishop García Cuerva called for a restoration of political sanity to organize a massive meal (see, in Spanish here, here and here), as to send a clear, undeniable message about the depth of the crisis there and the non-partisan nature of the Church’s involvement.

Mothers of the Fatherland

The communal meal was the first of a series of activities linking the current crisis in Argentina with Cáritas Argentina yearly campaign seeking donations to fund the so-called “communal pots”, offering meals to families in need all over Argentina.

The bishops were even promoting the figures of the females running those “communal pots”, most of them lay persons, with families of their own, calling them in Argentine Catholic media and social media “Mothers of the Fatherland” (Madres de la Patria).

The activities around the so-called Mothers of the Fatherland will continue up until June 19th, with a mass at the municipality of La Matanza, as can the picture posted immediately after this paragraph shows.

 
The ad promoting a mass for the “Mothers of the Fatherland”, the women behing the communal pots in Argentina.

La Matanza is a stronghold of Peronismo. The former minister of Finance, Sergio Massa, the Peronista presidential candidate won 61.2 percent of the more than 781 thousand votes casted there in the ballotage of November 2023.

Even the top Catholic think-tank in the country, the Observatorio de la Deuda Social Argentina, a non-for-profit, originally launched by Jorge Mario Bergoglio during his tenure as archbishop of Buenos Aires and chancellor of the Universidad Católica Argentina back in the aughts, published new data about the extent of the current crisis in that country.

The report can be read in the box immediately below or can be downloaded here.

Had the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Argentina been able to keep itself together, without any of the two scandals, the one at La Plata or the one in Rome, they would have come out with an advantage in giving some sense of order, of direction, in their country.

The multiple fiasco that has been Catholic communications over the last couple of weeks made that impossible. Despite García Cuerva’s best efforts to deliver a powerful yet respectful critique of President Javier Milei’s policies, the mess created by Mestre’s sudden resignation and Francis’s own mistake blurred García Cuerva’s Te Deum message.

Damaging policies

Even if some of the old Argentine media used García Cuerva’s message on their editions of May 26th to highlight their own angst with the uncertain future of the national government there, the Church’s critique of the damaging policies pursued by the Milei administration, had no chance to trump the combined effects of the slur and Mestre’s sudden and unexplained exit.

Mestre was not a minor figure in the Argentine Roman Catholic hierarchy. The archdiocese of La Plata is, on its own a very powerful position, held up until 2018 by conservative Héctor Rubén Aguer, the main rival of Jorge Mario Bergoglio when both were auxiliary bishops at Buenos Aires, and a key supporter of sexual predator Carlos Miguel Buela, as the story available only in Spanish linked after this paragraph describes.

If I was asked to rank the top archdioceses in Argentina, La Plata would come fourth, only behind Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and Rosario. The city of La Plata, whose downtown is more French inspired than the city of Buenos Aires. It is the capital of the province or state of Buenos Aires (not to be confused with the eponymous city, the national capital). Mestre got the job when Pope Francis made Víctor Manuel Fernández a Cardinal and head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

To think that Mestre’s choice to become Tucho Fernández’s heir could be an improvised decision would be preposterous.

Before taking over Fernández’s see, he was bishop in the suffragan diocese of Mar del Plata, a city and port on the Argentine Atlantic coast, 330 kilometers or 200 miles South of La Plata and 375 kilometers or 234 miles South of Buenos Aires, as can be seen in the map immediately after.

 
A map of the City and Province of Buenos Aires, with the cities of La Plata and Mar del Plata, in Argentina.

Pope Francis appointed him back in 2017 and remained for little more than six years, until Fernández got his own promotion, so there is no way to claim that there were not enough chances to vet Mestre’s appointments as bishop of Mar del Plata and later as archbishop of La Plata.

Hermetic silence

To make matters worse, Mestre’s own heir at Mar del Plata, from November 21st, through December 13th of 2023, bishop José María Baliña, a former auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires, also resigned in the middle of the most hermetic silence.

Despite the silence regarding Baliña, Argentine local media published reports where his successor was supposed to be Gustavo Manuel Larrazábal. Catholic Hierarchy, the website this series uses as the base for these reports on the Catholic Church at a global scale, actually has Larrazábal as bishop of Mar del Plata for little over a month, from December 13th, 2023 through January 17th, 2024, when he resigned that position and went back to act as auxiliary bishop of San Juan de Cuyo.

 
La Nación from May 28th, 2024. On the front page and page 13 provides some details about Mestre’s resignation.

He went back to the position he was appointed back on June 2022, despite news published in local newspapers at Mar del Plata that were confirming on January 9th, 2024 that Larrazábal was about to take over as local bishop (see here in Spanish and here also in Spanish), although it was clear by January 11th, that Larrazábal new appointment was not going to come through (see in Spanish here).

Larrazábal’s appointment fell apart because of accusations of sexual abuse. It is not possible to say the same of either Mestre’s or Baliña’s, but the Church itself, either in Rome or at the offices of the Argentine Conference of Catholic Bishops in Buenos Aires, is unwilling to provide information on any of the three bishops involved in this fiasco.

As far as it is possible to know, Mestre’s fate was cast after a group showed up during mass to protest for his handling of the case of a priest under his care who left Mar del Plata for the diocese of Jujuy.

The group asked archbishop to stop the transfer of priest Luis Damián Albóndiga to Jujuy, a province or state in the Argentina Northern, on the other side of the country, near the border with Chile, more than 1,700 kilometers or more than 1,050 miles Northwest from Mar del Plata.

It is not clear what are the reasons behind the mobilization to reject Albóndiga’s transfer to the other extreme of Argentina, what is clear is that something damaging had to be at stake for Rome to react as it did.

What Mestre’s sudden resignation and the effects it had on the chances of the Catholic hierarchy to deliver a consistent message in the middle of the political and economic crisis in Argentina is that there is no cure for the propensity to sexual-scandal related blunders, as this was one of many during the month of May in the Catholic Church at a global scale.

May opened at a global scale with the faux pas of the Mexican Catholic hierarchy that first talked about the disappearance of Salvador Rangel, the emeritus bishop of Chilpancingo, Mexico, the story linked immediately after this paragraph that reveals how frail is the position of the Catholic Church in Mexico.

More geographic “solutions”

If that was not enough, in Ecuador, the local hierarchy there and their peers at Colombia got themselves into a mess of their own making when news erupted about how priests with credible accusations of sexual abuse move from one country into the other.

Previously on this series Los Ángeles Press has dealt with the use of the so-called geographic solution to clergy sexual abuse; that is to say, to move around predator priests from one country to other.

Unlike what happened with priest from Paraguay who was about to resume his career in Oaxaca, Mexico, neither the Ecuadoran nor the Colombian bishops seem to be interested in preventing the Ecuadoran priest from going to Colombia to “reinvent” himself as a priest there.

And, as the Spanish website Religión Digital  stresses, archbishop Alfredo José Espinoza Mateus, originally a priest of the Salesian order, offered his priests as advice that if they were going to do “something stupid” they should do it in such a fashion that they would not bring about scandal.

The archbishop words are somehow troubling in Latin America where “pendejadas”, here translated neutrally as something stupid or something done by a child, could turn into an even worse scandal in Mexico and Central America where “pendejadas” has a ruder meaning, similar to “dumb shit” or something along those lines.

To make matters worse, in the early days of June, out of Bolivia further details emerged of the scale of clergy sexual abuse happening at the flagship institution of the Jesuits there in the last decades of the 20th century at the Colegio (school) Juan XXIII. Now the number of victims could be of at least four hundred males who were then minors.

Adding insult to injury, there is no indication as to whether the Spanish or the Bolivian provinces of Pope Francis’s religious order of origin, the Jesuits, will be willing to face the consequences of the behavior of members of that congregation, as can be read in this story from Bolivian media or, if you are willing to pay for a subscription, on this one from El Periódico de Aragón, a newspaper from Spain, whose most recent story on the issue appears as an image next.

 
Pages 28 and 29 from El Periódico de Aragón, Spain, June 7th, 2024.

What all these stories have in common is the perverse confluence of a religion that pretends to be rigid about sexuality, living a civil war of sorts because of the conflicting views about sexuality hold by their leaders, but that is unable to figure out a consistent, livable, solution to its own theology of sexuality.

The very archdiocese of La Plata offers various perfect examples of the contradictions marring the fruits of Catholic theology of sexuality. Back in 2023, in a story only published in Spanish, we offered an account of how a predator cleric in that district of the Argentine Roman Catholic Church ended up committing suicide after a judge issued an arrest warrant.

Although the abuse happened before Víctor Manuel Fernández’s time there, during Aguer’s tenure as archbishop Fernández was already there when parents of Catholic schools in the archdiocese asked him to avoid giving him a new assignment. What is worse, Fernández, publicly expressed support for the predator priest and even after his suicide, he had few words to offer to his victims.

And yes, Fernández’s writings on sexuality are not as affected by contradictions as the behavior of many predator priests, and there are no claims about Fernández abusing people under his care, but the very reactions Fernández faces because of his old writings about sexuality prove how marginal he is within the context of contemporary Roman Catholicism and its theological understanding of sexuality.

Two of those books are available here at Los Ángeles Press, in Spanish in the entries linked immediately before and immediately after this paragraph. Moreover, it is hard to say if current Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández would be willing to issue the Nihil Obstat for the publication of what priest Víctor Manuel Fernández wrote back in the 1990s.

The Catholic hierarchy, Argentine and global, would do itself a favor were they willing to accept how damaging the sudden resignation of archbishop Mestre and bishops Baliña and Larrazábal were, even in the absence of the pontifical slur.

Finally, it must be noted that to replace, at least for the time being archbishop Mestre, Pope Francis appointed auxiliary bishop of La Plata Alberto G. Bochatey.

Originally an Augustianian Friar, Bochatey has been an auxiliary since the days of Archbishop Aguer as head of the Archdiocese. As such, he was involved in Aguer’s faulty probes of sexual abuses cases in that diocese, including the one that ended in the 2019 suicide of predator priest Eduardo Lorenzo.

On his own, back in 2017, he was appointed by Pope Francis in charge of the probe regarding one of worst scandals in the history of clergy sexual abuse in Argentina and Latin America at large: the so-called Próvolo case.

As such, that case would require a full entry and perhaps a full book. Suffice to say at this point that it was a school for deaf boys and girls, and at least two priests, two nuns, and several employees of the Instituto Próvolo were originally charged with various forms of sexual abuse.

Sadly, the Argentine system of justifce found a way to exonerate some of those accused of sexually abusing students attending that school, originally located in the city of Luján de Cuyo, province of Mendoza.

In that regard, even if temporary, Bochatey’s appointment as head of the archdiocese of La Plata exacerbates the negative perception of how the Catholic Church deals globally with the effects of the sexual abuse crisis.

 
Bishop Bochatey, now in charge of La Plata, Bishop Ojea and the ambassador of Israel in Argentina,

Finally, there is a link to last week’s story, where I trace the origins and effects of the Pope’s homophobic slur during a private meeting with the Italian Roman Catholic Bishops.

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal Hollerich urges caution, dialogue on women’s ordination

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the relator general of the 16th Annual General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. |

By AC Wimmer

In a new interview, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, suggested that the Church’s position on female priests is not set in stone and should be discussed further, at the same time warning of triggering “a huge backlash.”

Speaking to the official Swiss Catholic portal kath.ch on May 17, Hollerich, who is the archbishop of Luxembourg, said the prohibition against ordaining women was “not an infallible doctrinal decision” and could be changed over time with arguments.

“The way I see it, most bishops are in favor of a greater role for women in the Church,” the Jesuit cardinal said. “I am in favor of women feeling fully equal in the Church. And we will also work toward this. I don’t know if that necessarily has to include ordination to the priesthood. You can’t tie everything to the priesthood alone. That would be clericalization.”

When asked whether he thought Pope Francis would introduce female priests, Hollerich replied: “It’s very difficult to say. The pope is sometimes good for surprises.”

The archbishop of Luxemburg added: “But I would actually say no. Shortly before the synod, there was a ‘dubia’ from a few cardinals. They asked whether John Paul II’s rejection of the priesthood of women was binding for the Church. Francis replied very wisely: It is binding, but not forever. And he also said that theology would have to discuss this further.”

The cardinal, who has previously courted controversy on doctrinal matters, emphasized the need for ongoing discussion.

“It means that it is not an infallible doctrinal decision. It can be changed. It needs arguments and time,” Hollerich said.

At the same time, the Jesuit cautioned against pushing too hard for changes, noting that “if you push too much, you won’t achieve much. You have to be cautious, take one step at a time, and then you might be able to go very far.”

The interview was conducted by Jacqueline Straub, who works for the official portal of the Church in Switzerland and publicly describes herself as “called to be a Roman Catholic priest.”

Her assertion to Hollerich that women were forced to take a back seat in the Church was “based on a typically European principle of the individual,” the cardinal responded.

Citing the example of blessing homosexual couples after Fiducia Supplicans, Hollerich warned of a potentially “huge backlash” if the Vatican were to introduce the ordination of women to the priesthood.

“We have to have these discussions with the whole Church; otherwise, we will have huge problems later. Then the Catholic Church will fall apart.”

In 1994, Pope John Paul II, citing the Church’s traditional teaching, declared in the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic diocesan hermit approved by Kentucky bishop comes out as transgender

— Matson is thought to be the first openly transgender person in his position in the Catholic Church.

Brother Christian Matson is a Catholic diocesan hermit in Kentucky.

By

Diocesan hermits by nature don’t get much attention. A small subset of religious persons, hermits mostly spend their lives engaged in quiet prayer.

Brother Christian Matson, a Catholic diocesan hermit in Kentucky, has spent years doing just that. His monk’s habit might catch his neighbors’ eye, but he is known in the town where he lives primarily through his work with the local theater.

But recently Matson decided that his faith compels him to make a little more noise than usual.

“This Sunday, Pentecost 2024, I’m planning to come out publicly as transgender,” Matson told Religion News Service on Friday (May 17), saying he was speaking out with the permission of his bishop, John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington in Kentucky.


Matson, who is also a Benedictine oblate, believes he is the first openly transgender person in his position in the Catholic Church. It is a difficult claim to confirm — even Stowe told RNS he did not know for sure if Matson is the first — but Matson’s status is at least highly unusual, and comes at time when church officials are grappling with how to address transgender Catholics.

According to Matson, 39, his “disclosing,” as he describes it, is a moment years in the making. He offered his story as indicative of the often difficult path for trans Catholics, including those seeking life as a religious — a category that includes brothers and nuns.

“I am currently based in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky,” he wrote in an email to friends and supporters on Sunday. “I live in a hermitage at the top of a wooded hill, which I share with my German Shepherd rescue, Odie, and with the Blessed Sacrament, which was installed in my oratory shortly before Christmas.”

Raised in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Matson converted to Catholicism in 2010 — four years, he noted, after transitioning in college, a step he refers to as a part of his “medical history” rather than a “central part of my personal identity.” After his conversion, Matson felt called to minister to people working in the arts, but knew he would encounter “issues” because of a 2000 Vatican document that, according to a Catholic News Service report from the time, declared that anyone who had undergone “sex-change” was ineligible “to marry, be ordained to the priesthood or enter religious life.”

Matson approached a canon lawyer to discuss his options and was told that only two aspects of Catholic life were categorically off the table: marriage and the priesthood. According to Matson, the canon lawyer recommended being upfront about his status as a transgender man in any vocational conversations with church leaders and noted the role of a diocesan hermit, which may prove less challenging enlisting with an existing religious order.

The canon lawyer, Matson said, effectively conveyed to him “there’s no problem as long as there’s a bishop who will accept you, because there’s no distinction by sex and you’re not in a community — you’re by yourself.”

What followed was roughly a decade of searching and no small amount of rejection. Living in the United Kingdom while pursuing a master’s degree and later a Ph.D. in theology, Matson entered a vocational discernment program and approached the Jesuit order to ask if he could join.

“They said, ’No, we just don’t see how this would work for us,’ which was crushing, because that’s where I felt called,” Matson said.

Other communities offered similar responses, when they responded at all. “People who knew me said, ‘You clearly have a religious vocation,’ and these were all people who knew my medical history,” Matson said. “But when they would go to the people in the community in charge of making that decision, they … would often just refuse to even meet with me.”

In one instance, Matson said, a religious leader declined to meet simply to hear his experience as a trans man, saying doing so would be “a waste of time.”

But Matson’s call to religious life wouldn’t abate. While visiting a monastery during a retreat, he found himself unable to sleep, consumed with the idea of starting “a religious community of and for artists — artists who are living together, (operating) in the church through their art, and ministering to the loneliness and sense of precarity many artists experience.”

In 2015, he returned to New York City, where he had attended college. Having already taking private vows of poverty, chastity and obedience — witnessed by his spiritual director — before he arrive, he co-created a nonprofit called the Catholic Artist Connection. The group hosted retreats and connected artists to resources such as the Archdiocese of New York’s Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, where Matson began working as a programming associate.

Matson kept running into artists who wanted to pursue religious life, he said, and continued to feel the tug himself. But roadblocks kept appearing. “As I spoke to friends in the archdiocese, I knew somebody with a trans background was never going to be accepted into religious life in the Archdiocese of New York,” Matson said.

He tried again after a move to Minnesota in 2018, but his entreaties to various religious communities and orders were also rejected.

“I thought, well, if I can’t find a religious community to sponsor me, maybe what I need is a bishop,” Matson said.

A priest friend recommended different bishops to contact, beginning with Stowe, who was emerging as a leading voice among Catholics calling for a more tolerant approach to LGBTQ people. In 2020, Matson sent Stowe a letter, conveying his status as a transgender man, his vision for an artists’ community and his pull to religious life.

Stowe wrote back immediately, expressing his openness.

“It was an enormous relief,” Matson said. “I was in tears. I felt my hope revive.”

Stowe confirmed Matson’s account, saying the then-aspiring brother was recommended to him by a number of people.

“My willingness to be open to him is because it’s a sincere person seeking a way to serve the church,” Stowe said of Matson. “Hermits are a rarely used form of religious life … but they can be either male or female. Because there’s no pursuit of priesthood or engagement in sacramental ministry, and because the hermit is a relatively quiet and secluded type of vocation, I didn’t see any harm in letting him live this vocation.”

He added that Matson’s spiritual journey was “consistent with the calling of that particular vocation.”

Bishop John Stowe. (Video screen grab)
Bishop John Stowe.

Matson moved to Kentucky, having already made progress on Stowe’s suggestion that he link up with an additional community through which to experience religious life. Matson entered the novitiate at a Benedictine monastery in 2021, hoping the formation offered by that path would eventually help him form a new religious community for artists.

Finally, in August 2022, Matson took his first vows as a diocesan hermit — a yearlong commitment — under Stowe’s direction.

For the next year, Matson “lived a life of basically spending half the day in prayer and half the day doing some form of work” that included producing and writing at a local theater.

Three years earlier, Matson read with frustration a document issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education titled “Male and Female He Created Them: Toward a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education.” The instructional letter rejected “calls for public recognition of the right to choose one’s gender.”

In 2021, the Diocese of Marquette, in Michigan, followed with its own instruction to priests to refuse transgender people asking to be baptized or confirmed until they have “repented.”

“It was suddenly becoming a lot more difficult in the church to be trans,” Matson said.

The Rev. Andrea Conocchia, center, introduces members of the Torvaianica transgender community to Pope Francis on Aug. 11, 2022, during the pope’s general audience at the Vatican. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Conocchia)
The Rev. Andrea Conocchia, center, introduces members of the Torvaianica transgender community to Pope Francis on Aug. 11, 2022, during the pope’s general audience at the Vatican.

But tolerance seems to be growing in some quarters. While Pope Francis has opposed elements of gender theory and recently called its proposals “ugly,” he has also met and dined with groups of transgender people.

In November 2023, the Vatican doctrine department ruled that transgender people may be baptized and serve as witnesses at Catholic weddings, so long as doing so “doesn’t cause scandal among the faithful.”

In the United States in March, a coalition led by Catholic nuns released a letter voicing support for transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive individuals, implicitly rebuking a statement put forward by group of U.S. Catholic bishops discouraging Catholic health care groups from performing various gender-affirming medical procedures.

But overall, “Vatican-level documents that have come out on the subject have not engaged with the science at all,” Matson said, adding that he believes many diocesan-level statements are inconsistent in their attempts to categorize gender and cite scientific studies misleadingly. Matson has sent multiple private letters to Vatican offices, urging them to engage with transgender people and arguing that the church can embrace transgender people while maintaining orthodoxy.

As trans rights began to be debated in statehouses across the United States in recent months, conservative lawmakers have begun pushing bans on providing gender-affirming care for youth and, in some cases, adults.

Matson vented his frustrations to Stowe and his spiritual director, saying he wanted to speak out. But he said he was advised to first “build a foundation” in religious life for several years.

During that time, Matson had an experience that shook him. Attending a friend’s play in his religious habit, he was approached by a student who identified as trans and nonbinary. After asking if Matson was a monk, the student said they were raised Catholic, but that their parents had rejected their identity, and the student felt like they “don’t have a place in the church anymore.”

Matson responded by saying there were people in the church who would support the student, and Matson prayed with them, asking God to show the student how they are “wonderful the way you’ve made them.” The student, Matson said, grew emotional, thanking the hermit profusely and saying, “No one from the church has ever affirmed me for who I am.”

Matson, who renewed his vows in 2023, eventually began mulling a date to go public with his status. “I have to say something,” Matson told his spiritual director. He settled on Pentecost, which emphasizes preaching “the good news of God’s love to everyone,” he said. It was also the day in the church calendar when he’d been baptized years before.

“I can’t stand by and let this false and, at times, culpably ignorant understanding of what it means to be transgender continue to hurt people,” he said. “If I don’t say anything and allow the church to continue to make decisions based on incorrect information, then I’m not serving the church.”

Both Matson and Stowe said they are bracing for blowback after Sunday’s announcement. Matson said he is largely unconcerned with “online trolls” but is sensitive to people who are “legitimately concerned” that “accepting a trans person into religious life means Catholic anthropology gets thrown out the window.”

For people with such concerns, he said, he looks forward to engaging in dialogue. “I don’t have a hidden agenda, I just want to serve the church,” he said. “People can believe that or not.”


Both the hermit and his bishop are prepared for the possibility that church officials may push for Matson’s removal. Stowe acknowledged that “if I’m told to by higher authorities, then I will have to deal with that at the time.”

Matson bristled at the idea of leaving the church, which he called “my family.” “I’m Catholic,” he said. “I became Catholic after I transitioned because of the Catholic understanding — the sacramental understanding — of the body, of creation, of the desirability of the visible unity of the church, and primarily because of the Eucharist.”

At the very least, Matson said, he hopes going public will spark dialogue about his fellow transgender Catholics, a discussion he believes can enhance unity among the body of believers.

“You’ve got to deal with us, because God has called us into this church,” he said. “It’s not your church to kick us out of — this is God’s church, and God has called us and engrafted us into it.”

Complete Article HERE!

Blocked last year for his views on sexuality, theologian gets green light to head academy

— While the Vatican never stated its objections to the Rev. Martin Lintner’s appointment, his writings on LGBTQ+ and queer issues were called into question.

The Rev. Martin Lintner

By

Nearly a year after the Vatican blocked an Italian theologian’s candidacy to become the dean of an influential German and Italian academy due to his progressive writings on sexuality and gender, the Vatican finally approved of his appointment without comment, according to the theologian.

“The reasons why the decision was revised were not communicated,” said the Rev. Martin Lintner, in an email to RNS, adding that “the matter was clarified internally.”

“The important thing for me is that my publications are obviously not a stumbling block,” he said.

Bishop Ivo Muser of Bolzano-Bressanone, whose diocese includes the Philosophical-Theological College of Brixen/Bressanone, was notified of the Vatican’s approval shortly after Easter. Lintner is scheduled to begin his tenure as dean of the university on Sept. 1.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith denied Lintner’s appointment as dean at the school in the German-speaking region of northern Italy after the faculty elected him in November 2022.

Muser, who also oversees the university, took matters into his own hands after six months of silence from the Vatican about granting a nihil obstat, a church protocol whose Latin name means “nothing obstructs.” It is a necessary approval indicating that a theologian’s work does not constitute a breach with Catholic thought.

The nihil obstat is normally issued by the Vatican department for education, but the bishop was surprised to discover in January 2023 that the application had been halted by the Vatican’s Department for the Doctrine of the Faith, which ensures conformity with church teaching.

Lintner registered a complaint about a “lack of transparency,” given that the official reason for the denial was not communicated. “My bishop was told verbally by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith that my publications on questions of sexual morality would pose a problem,” Lintner said.

Lintner, of the Order of the Servants of Mary, or the Servites, has specialized in studies on animals and the environment, but also questions regarding sexuality and gender. He has called for reform of the church’s teaching on sexual morality, particularly regarding queer and transgender perspectives, saying that, instead of offering a list of “don’ts,” the church needs to engage with younger generations.

“I already had a conflict with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2012 after I published a book on sexual morality. These topics, and especially the theological and ethical discussion of gender studies, still seem to be difficult terrain,” Lintner said.

Lintner’s reflections might have been a red flag in some Vatican offices in themselves, but the denial of his appointment was also likely motivated by the Philosophical-Theological College of Brixen/Bressanone’s close relationship with the church in Germany, which is locked in a theological arm-wrestle with the Vatican over female inclusion in the church, outreach to LGBTQ+ faithful and lay leadership.

The church in Germany has recently concluded a set of discussions known as the Synodal Way, in which Catholic bishops and lay organizations considered challenges facing local churches. While bearing a similar name, it has no connection to Pope Francis’ Synod on Synodality, a multi-year process of dialogue and engagement with catholic churches and lay faithful all over the world.

The tensions between the Vatican and the Synodal Path became apparent when the German church began blessing same-sex couples despite a Vatican declaration banning the practice. The appointment of Lintner, who supports the blessing of same-sex couples and works closely with German moral theologians, likely raised some concerns within the Vatican walls.

In a written statement after the Vatican’s refusal in 2023, Lintner wrote that the decision questioned the Vatican’s commitment to synodality and its promise to promote dialogue, transparency and welcoming.

In a speech at the Pontifical Theological Academy in Rome in November, Francis told a group of theologians that the church needed to embrace “a brave cultural revolution” and let go of “abstractly rehashing formulas and patterns from the past.”

In his email, Lintner said, “I have the impression that not all Vatican departments are happy about it. The reform of the Curia is also not met with approval everywhere in the Vatican.” He said that he believed Francis’ reform efforts have resulted in some hopeful change.

The flap over Lintner’s appointment came as Francis has reordered the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, appointing as its head Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, who in the past was denied a nihil obstat for his writings on sexuality and marriage. As a bishop, Francis helped him obtain the approval he needed from the Vatican, just as Muser lobbied for Lintner today.

Since his appointment in July 2023, Fernandez has issued decrees allowing for the blessing of same-sex couples under certain limitations and stating that trans faithful may be baptized and act as godparents. But he has also reinforced the church’s opposition to gender theory, surrogacy and sex-change operations.

For Lintner, criticizing Catholic teaching needs to take place with humility and fidelity to the church’s Magisterium, or traditional teaching. Opening up discussions in the field of theology is essential to the betterment of the church, he explained, while adding that as he prepares to take on his new role, he is looking forward to putting the past behind.

“When I criticize, it is in order to make a contribution to the further development of doctrine in constructive fidelity to tradition,” he said. “I am convinced that this has been recognized and positively appreciated in the educational dicastery.”

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Meet some of the NYC Catholics who want to change the Church

Kenneth Boller

By

On a recent, sunny afternoon, 18 people gathered at a center for older adults in the West Village for a unique Sunday Mass.

The Rev. Anne Tropeano, an ordained female priest known as Father Anne, led the Catholic service. The homily, which was delivered by a layperson instead of a deacon or priest, criticized Pope Francis’ statements last month on transgender identity.

The cantor referred to God with female pronouns when singing. Communion was given to all willing participants, not just baptized Catholics.

The group, the Metro New York chapter of the national organization Call to Action, was hosting its first in-person meeting since 2019.

Call to Action has about 20,000 members nationwide. Its Metro New York Chapter, which has around 1,600 email subscribers, advocates for progressive politics within the Church locally. In New York, the group lobbied to pass the Child Victims Act, citing abuse by priests.

Although their Sunday Mass wouldn’t pass muster with the Vatican, it represents the kind of Catholic Church that Call to Action hopes to see one day: one that advocates for all marginalized people, openly welcomes gay and transgender parishioners, and encourages female leadership.

For supporters, this argument isn’t just moral, it’s also practical. As Catholic parishes continue to merge and shutter amid low attendance, progressive activists emphasize that broader inclusivity would be a win-win.

The Archdiocese of New York declined to comment on Call to Action, waning parish membership, and progressive practices at some Catholic churches in New York City, but said it generally does not exclude any demographic.

“All are welcome,” the archdiocese’s Director of Communications Joseph Zwilling wrote in an email. “The Church here in New York and around the world has sought to reach those who feel alienated or cut off from the faith, and will continue to do so.”

‘I’m exactly like a male priest, except I’m female’

Tropeano, 49, is a bit of a celebrity among progressive-minded Catholics. Call to Action Metro New York invited her to lead its annual meeting, even though she’s based in New Mexico. She made the most of the trip, speaking at Queens’ Ridgewood Presbyterian Church the same weekend.

Before Mass at the Call to Action meeting, her talk drew on the Easter season, using Christ’s resurrection as a metaphor for personal and social reform.

A woman priest poses in a black and white profile photo.
Father Anne

In an interview before the event, Tropeano said “an encounter with God” she had when she was 29 moved her to explore faith matters from New Age spirituality to Evangelical Christianity.

She earned her master’s degree in divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, in 2017, and watched from the sidelines as her male peers prepared to be ordained.

In 2021, she was ordained by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, a nonprofit movement focused on female ordination. Under Catholic canon law, any woman ordained as a priest is automatically excommunicated.

Tropeano pointed out that for a woman to become a priest, “it’s considered a crime as serious as the sexual abuse of a child by a male priest, but they’re not excommunicated.” (In those cases, canon law recommends “just penalties, not excluding” firing the offender from the clergy.)

“Being excommunicated means you can’t work for the Church, you can’t volunteer for the Church, you can’t receive any of the sacraments,” she said. “So I’m not allowed to receive the Eucharist. I won’t receive the Christian burial. I mean, I am so Catholic that I became a priest, and that’s how the institution treats me.”

Though she broke the Church’s laws by seeking ordination, Tropeano otherwise makes a point of respecting the institution. “So many people have terrible experiences in the institutional Church,” she said. “Mine was incredible. So I think that’s part of why I have a call within a call, which is Church reform. I see how good it can be when it’s operating with integrity.”

Unlike many other female priests within the women’s ordination movement, Tropeano wears the clerical collar, practices celibacy and leads her services by the book — with the exception that anyone can receive Communion.

“I’m exactly like a male priest, except I’m female,” she said. “That’s the only difference.”

Back at the center for older adults, the group silently reflected on Tropeano’s lecture before Mass. One woman sitting at the front wore a button in honor of the occasion. It read: “Ordain women or stop baptizing them.”

More than a ‘lavender mafia’

Among the crowd at the West Village event was Theo Swinford, a 26-year-old Borough Park resident who grew up devoutly Catholic near Phoenix, Arizona.

Swinford, who uses they/them pronouns, attended a Catholic university to study theology, where they read Catholic books and listened to Catholic music and podcasts in their free time. Swinford, who has been openly gay since 16, did their best at that time to make peace with the idea of lifelong celibacy and ignore their burgeoning nonbinary identity.

“I spent more and more time just kind of miserable, arguing with myself over whether or not it was realistic for me to live my life that way,” Swinford said in a phone interview. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the Pennsylvania grand jury report came out.”

A person poses by a fence
Theo Swinford, in Brooklyn.

That 2018 report, which detailed decades of abuse and coverups within the Catholic Church, found credible sex abuse allegations against 301 priests. Swinford expected their favorite scholars and pundits to pause and reflect on the Church’s wrongdoings. Instead, those people blamed homosexuality, and even referred to a “lavender mafia” at work within the Church.

Swinford took a break from Catholicism for nearly four years after that and explored other churches and religions. “But there was always something about Catholicism that really, like, tugged at me,” they said. “It’s just so much a part of who I am.”

Swinford is hardly alone. Groups including DignityUSA and Fortunate Families — as well as New York’s handful of gay-friendly parishes — demonstrate the persistent need for LGBTQ+ affirming Catholic spaces.

Although Swinford had not been to a Catholic Mass of any kind in years, they decided to attend the Call to Action event because of the group’s explicit pro-LGBTQ+ advocacy and their curiosity about Tropeano.

“The thing I’ve missed the most is not being able to receive the Eucharist,” Swinford said in an interview after the event. “And so getting to receive the Eucharist from a woman priest, who is an outcast in her own way, because she’s also not accepted by the Church, was a really powerful experience.”

Reforming Mass, just west of Union Square

Many members of Call to Action are also parishioners at the Church of St. Francis Xavier on West 15th Street, a Roman Catholic church known for its inclusivity.

Inside the Church of St. Francis Xavier, west of Union Square.

St. Francis Xavier, which the Rev. Kenneth Boller has led since 2019, has hosted robust groups for gay- and lesbian-identifying Catholics since the 1990s. A group called “The Women Who Stayed” has been working with clergy to adapt services and Scripture to include more gender-neutral language for God.

“Everybody has fundamental aspirations and rights, and you learn how to work together to achieve them,” said Boller, a Queens native who has been a priest for almost 49 years, in a phone interview.

A man poses inside a church
Kenneth Boller, at The Church of St. Francis Xavier, west of Union Square.

Although the Church of St. Francis Xavier is recognized by the archdiocese, it still has a reputation for unorthodoxy among many practicing Catholics. Swinford said peers once warned them to stay away from the parish, saying it was “not in line with Church teaching.”

Stephanie Samoy, 60, is a member of The Women Who Stayed and St. Francis Xavier’s lively Catholic Lesbians group. Samoy first attended the church in 2001, and she and her wife were married there. Samoy came out as a lesbian in Tucson, Arizona, during the 1980s, and said she never imagined she could feel so much love in a church.

“When I first got there, I just bawled,” she said in a phone interview. “It broke me and I was ready to be broken. My mom came to New York one day, and we went to Mass, and I was crying again that my mom was here and she could experience this.”

A banner that welcome immigrants and refugees hangs from a church wall.
The exterior of the Church of St. Francis Xavier, near Union Square.

But even at a church like St. Francis Xavier, progressive parishioners are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Rosemarie Sauerzopf, 73, and her wife, Paula Acuti, 76, are also members of Catholic Lesbians, and Sauerzopf is vice president of Call to Action Metro New York. The two were married at St. Francis Xavier in 2004.

“All this can change tomorrow if we get a new pastor who’s not friendly,” Sauerzopf said. “My parish is an anomaly. It’s an oasis.”

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