In letter, thousands of Catholic nuns declare trans people ‘beloved and cherished by God’

— The letter follows a recent statement from U.S. Catholic bishops discouraging Catholic health-care groups from performing various gender-affirming medical procedures

Nuns gather in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City as they attend Pope Francis leading the traditional Sunday prayer in early March.

By Jack Jenkins

A coalition led by Catholic nuns, representing thousands of women religious and associates at partner groups, released a public a letter on Friday voicing support for transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive individuals, declaring they “are beloved and cherished by God” and implicitly rebuking recent statements from the U.S. Catholic hierarchy.

The letter is meant to mark the International Day of Transgender Visibility, which takes place Friday.

“As members of the body of Christ, we cannot be whole without the full inclusion of transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive individuals,” the letter reads. It goes on to argue that “we will remain oppressors until we — as vowed Catholic religious — acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ+ people in our own congregations. We seek to cultivate a faith community where all, especially our transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive siblings, experience a deep belonging.”

The letter also states transgender people are “experiencing harm and erasure” in various ways, listing daily discrimination, a groundswell of state-level legislation aimed at LGBTQ rights and “harmful rhetoric from some Christian institutions and their leaders, including the Catholic Church.”

Prepared by representatives from various communities including the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, and Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth JPIC office, the letter lists orders of nuns and other organizations representing more than 6,000 vowed religious across 18 states.

Among the signatories are various offices of the Sisters of Charity; the leadership of the Presentation Sisters of Dubuque, Iowa; Sisters of Loretto/Loretto Community; multiple offices of the School Sisters of Notre Dame; the Dominican Sisters of Houston; and the Justice Office of the Medical Mission Sisters.

The letter also lists ways to take action, such as supporting New Ways Ministry, a Catholic LGBTQ outreach group, or signing a statement highlighting a “Catholic commitment to trans-affirmation” from DignityUSA.

The nuns’ effort comes in the wake of a doctrinal statement published earlier this month by a committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which discouraged Catholic health-care groups from performing various gender-affirming medical procedures, arguing doing so does not respect the “intrinsic unity of body and soul.”

Sister Barbara Battista, the congregation justice promoter for the Sisters of Providence, St. Mary-of-the-Woods, noted the letter was already in the works before the bishops unveiled their doctrinal statement. Battista said she and other crafters of the letter were initially responding to the wave of bills being considered in state legislatures that target transgender rights.

When the bishops’ statement became public, Battista said, it jump-started their efforts.

“There’s a sense of urgency in me to say that there are many, many faithful Catholics who know a different way,” said Battista, who has publicly advocated for other causes in the past.

“We need to find opportunities to speak up and to say, ‘We are with you, we support you.’”

Battista noted that many of the bills working their way through state legislatures revolve around the health-care needs of trans people, an issue that hits home for her as a licensed physician assistant in Indiana. She described her work as “participating in the healing ministry of Jesus,” rooted, she said, in a “sacred trust” between patients and providers.

But Catholic leaders and government officials, she argued, have tried to “insert themselves into the private, very personal and intimate conversations and decisions made between the health-care provider and the person they are serving.”

Another person who assisted in crafting the letter, a nonbinary member of a Catholic religious community who asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash against their community, echoed Battista’s comments in an interview with Religion News Service. “It’s past time for religious communities to speak out against the injustice, the violence, the exclusion of trans, nonbinary persons within society and the church,” they said.

The person also expressed hope the letter would draw attention to the fact that Catholic communities include transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive individuals.

“It’s not some outside group,” they said. “There are members of religious communities who identify as transgender or nonbinary. … They’re not ‘out there.’”

In the past few decades, Catholic nuns have shown a willingness to take public stands on issues different from or even opposed to those of the American bishops. Earlier this month, former House speaker Nancy Pelosi recalled when U.S. bishops came out against the Affordable Care Act in 2010, a move that concerned some Catholic Democrats who wanted to vote for the bill. But a broad group of Catholic nuns voiced support for the ACA a short time later, a development Pelosi credited with helping get the bill passed, saying, “Thank God for the nuns.”

But the nuns’ activism was not without consequence. Their support for the ACA is widely believed to be one catalyst for a Vatican investigation of women religious in the United States. The investigation, launched under former Pope Benedict XVI, was discontinued by Pope Francis in 2015.

Battista and the nonbinary religious both said the dangers LGBTQ people face every day were far more daunting than kickback from Catholic officials. Said the anonymous religious: “It takes an enormous amount of courage because of discrimination, the actual real existence of threat of harm to our physical bodies and lives, but also the hatred and rejection.”

Complete Article HERE!

High-Profile French Nun Inspires Hope for Catholic Women

Sister Nathalie Becquart, the first female undersecretary in the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops, poses for a photo in front of St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, May 29, 2023.

In her years running Catholic youth programs in France, Sister Nathalie Becquart often invoked her own experience as a seasoned sailor in urging young people to weather the storms of their lives.

“There’s nothing stronger than seeing the sunrise after a storm, the flat calm of the sea,” she said.

That lesson is especially applicable to Becquart herself as she charts the global church through an unprecedented — and at times, tempestuous — period of reform as one of the highest-ranking women at the Vatican.

Pope Francis named the 54-year-old nun as the first female undersecretary in the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops office in 2021. Since then, she has been crisscrossing the globe as the public face of his hallmark call to listen to rank-and-file Catholics and empower them to have a greater say in the life of the church.

That process, which comes to a head in October with a big assembly, reaches a crucial point Tuesday with the publication of the working document for the meeting. It is shaping up as a referendum on the role of women in the church of the third millennium.

Becquart, who has overseen a canvassing of ordinary Catholics about their needs from the church and hopes for the future, says the call for change is unambiguous and universal, with demands that women have greater decision-making roles taking center stage at the meeting, or synod.

“There is this unanimous call because women want to participate, to share their gifts and charism at the service of the church,” Becquart said in an interview with The Associated Press in her offices just off St. Peter’s Square.

For a 2,000-year-old institution that by its very doctrine bars women from its highest ranks, Francis’ synodal process has sparked unusual optimism among women who have long felt they were second-class citizens in the church. Predictably, the prospects of change have provoked a strong backlash from conservatives, who view the synod as undermining the all-male, clerical-based hierarchy and the ecclesiology behind it.

Becquart and Francis aren’t daunted and see the criticism, fear and alarm as a good sign that something big and important is underway.

“Of course, there is resistance,” Becquart said with a laugh. “If there is no resistance, that means nothing is happening or nothing is changing.”

But she also puts it in perspective: “If you look at all the history of the reform of the church, where you have the strongest resistance or debated points, it’s really usually a very important point.”

Francis, the 86-year-old Argentine Jesuit, has already done more than any modern pope to promote women by changing church law to allow them to read Scripture and serve on the altar as eucharistic ministers, even while reaffirming they cannot be ordained as priests.

He has changed the Vatican’s founding constitution to allow women to head Vatican offices and made several high-profile female appointments, none more symbolically significant than Becquart’s.

As undersecretary in the Synod of Bishops, Becquart was de facto granted the right to vote at the upcoming October synod — a right previously held by men only. After years of complaints by women, who had been allowed to participate in synods only as nonvoting experts, auditors or observers, Francis not only gave Becquart a voting role, but expanded the vote to laypeople in general.

Sister Nathalie Becquart, the first female undersecretary in the Vatican's Synod of Bishops, shares a word with Cardinal Arthur Roche on her way to the Vatican, May 29, 2023.
Sister Nathalie Becquart, the first female undersecretary in the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops, shares a word with Cardinal Arthur Roche on her way to the Vatican, May 29, 2023.

In April, the Vatican announced that 70 non-bishops would be voting alongside the successors of the apostles in October, and that half of them were expected to be women. While these represent less than a quarter of the bishop votes, the reform was nevertheless historic and a reflection of Francis’ belief that church governance doesn’t come from priestly ordination but by specific jobs entrusted to the baptized faithful.

Becquart has long held leadership roles in the French church, where she ran the bishops’ youth evangelization program. A graduate of Paris’ top HEC business school, Becquart said she has drawn strength from the women who preceded her at the Vatican and in her own religious community, the Xaviere Sisters, a Jesuit-inspired, Vatican II-era missionary congregation that she joined at age 26.

From them and her grandmother, who was widowed while pregnant with her fourth child, Becquart said she learned that women “carry on this message that life is stronger than death, and that even in the greatest difficulties, crises and sufferings, there is a possible path, especially when you are not alone.”

It’s a lesson she applies when sailing and leading spiritual retreats at sea.

“There will be good weather and bad weather, quiet seas and then big waves.” she said. But eventually, the storm will end.

“That’s our life and that’s the life of the church,” she added.

Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See, Chiara Porro, has praised Becquart’s leadership style, recalling how she managed a room full of bishops during the Oceania phase of the synod consultation process. Becquart’s presence as a female Vatican envoy traveling to Fiji to brief Pacific bishops on the pope’s agenda signaled a paradigm shift, Porro said.

“She doesn’t have any preconceived objectives or outcomes. For her, no issues are off-limits, I think, and that’s very important because people feel that they can bring up what they want to discuss,” she said.

Veteran Vatican-watchers, however, caution that even with women taking on high-profile appointments and winning the right to vote at the October synod, the men still run the show.

“All the reforms that have been made to date on governing at the Vatican, in my opinion, are just appearances,” said Lucetta Scaraffia, a church historian who participated in a 2016 synod and wrote a scathing account of her marginalized role in From the Last Row. Her experiences — of being forced to go through a metal detector and check in each day while the bishops waltzed in unimpeded — were emblematic.

“I realized how the Catholic Church really was another world and what it means for women to be nonexistent. To actually not exist,” she said.

Jean-Marie Guenois, chief religious affairs correspondent for Le Figaro, who has known Becquart for years, said her role at the Vatican and in the synod process would be revolutionary “if it marked a paradigm shift in the Catholic Church where women would achieve parity of power in government.”

“We’re a long way from that,” he said, while nevertheless calling Becquart’s position “simply prophetic.”

Complete Article HERE!

What ‘Drag Nuns’ Get Right About Catholic Faith

By Kaya Oakes

In the Venn diagram of sports and religion, there is no easy overlap. Early in May, the professional baseball team the Los Angeles Dodgers announced that they would be giving a community service award to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of “drag nuns” who began ministering to people with AIDS decades ago, and who continue to work with the LGBTQ+ community today.

The reaction from conservatives was operatic in scale, with everyone from Sen. Marco Rubio (R.-Fla) to Bishop Robert Barron decrying the invitation. Barron went so far as to refer to the Sisters as an “anti-Catholic hate group.” In other cases, conservatives called the decision “disrespectful” to Catholic nuns. But when the Dodgers rescinded the invitation on May 17, the outrage from liberals was equally strong. Openly gay California state Sen. Scott Wiener (D.-Calif.) praised the Sisters’ “lifesaving work,” and pressure against the Dodgers’ disinvitation was so widespread that team management issued an apology and reinvited the Sisters to the stadium.

As Pride month begins, it’s worth reflecting on some facts about Catholic history that have been lost in the finger pointing. Historically, there have been many Catholics who have pushed back against gender norms. But like modern conservatives who focus on the outrageous aspects of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence while ignoring the group’s tireless work caring for the sick, homeless, and poor, the Catholic hierarchy has also attempted to mute the stories of gender-nonconforming people throughout its history. And in doing so, the church hierarchy has often ignored the acts of mercy so central to Catholic teaching.

In the year 1429, prompted by a voice from God, Joan of Arc rode into battle in men’s armor. After aiding France in achieving multiple military victories, Joan was captured and put on trial for heresy and blasphemy. Among her supposed crimes was dressing like a man. At her trial, she was offered a dress to wear, but she replied that she preferred men’s clothing, because “it pleases God that I wear it.”

Julian of Norwich, a medieval mystic, referred to Jesus as “our precious mother,” and in case anyone missed the message, went even further, saying “God is also our mother.” Saints Euphrosyne, Anastasia the Patrician, Hildegund and others disguised themselves as men to enter monasteries. One of St. Francis’ closest friends was a woman he called “Brother Jacoba,” saints of many gender s were wed in “mystical marriages” to Christ, and some believe it was Mary Magdalene, the first to greet the risen Christ, who really led the church in the days after Easter.

A 17th century carving of St. Wilgefortis in the Museum of the Diocese Graz-Seckau in Graz, Austria.

But for those who are appalled by the sight of “drag nuns” in full beards and makeup, the most revealing story from Catholic history might be the medieval tale of St. Wilgefortis. The daughter of a king, Wilgefortis was promised in marriage to a man she didn’t want, and in answer to her prayers for liberation, God caused her to sprout a miraculous beard. Not only was this enough to repel her suitor, but it has also made her into a contemporary heroic figure for queer Catholics and women trying to kick off the shackles of misogyny and homophobia alike. Scholars sometimes arguethat these gender-nonconforming Catholics were more myth than reality, but regardless of the historical veracity, they remain beloved examples of courage and vocation, of living out a call to be their authentic selves while living a life of service.

Strikingly, “call” is the same word many members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence use to describe their own vocations. There is an 18-month process of becoming a Sister, including doing charitable work in the community, which they call a “mission.” Sister June Cleavage told the LA Times: “You don’t come to this organization without understanding, without compassion and without having fought these kinds of battles before on a smaller scale.” And many of the Sisters have emphasized they are not anti-Catholic. In poking fun at the church, they believe they are helping to call out its hypocrisy; the Catholic Church has exhibited plenty of that — especially in terms of how it deals with gender.

But while many are rushing to defend Catholic nuns from the Sisters’ parody, the voices of Catholic sisters have been largely overlooked in this conversation. And Catholic sisters’ views on the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, as it turns out, are much more nuanced than those of Catholic leadership who claim the Sisters are dangerous.

In America magazine, Sister Jo’Ann De Quattro, a member of the Catholic order the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, said the Dodgers made a mistake in disinviting the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence because they engage in works of mercy. “It’s about trying to embrace people who might be different from us, because Jesus said, ‘Come to the table,’” she told journalist Michael O’Loughlin. “Not, ‘You don’t deserve a place at the table.’”

Sister Jeanne Grammick, the founder of Catholic LGBTQ+ support group New Ways Ministry, echoed this, saying in a statement that “there is a hierarchy of values in this situation. The choice of clothing, even if offensive to some, can never trump the works of mercy.”

As a Catholic born and raised in the Bay Area, for me, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have always been a welcome sign of hard work, acceptance, and tolerance. In the ’90s, when Catholics largely turned their backs on people with AIDS, the Sisters rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Today, when queer kids turn up in the Bay Area having been rejected by their families and churches, the Sisters are there for them. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence marched with me and my friends at ACT UP rallies in the worst days of the AIDS epidemic; I once saw a Sister in full drag garb picking up trash in a park while rich techies tossed garbage onto the grass.

Of course, Catholic nuns have done this kind of work on the margins for centuries — and they have also been the subject of the church’s critique. In 2012, Cardinal William Levada accused U.S. nuns of disobedience and espousing “radical feminist themes” and subjected the nuns to a multi-year investigation supported by recently deceased Pope Benedict XVI. Women and gender-variant people, it seems, will always make the church uncomfortable. But we are often also the ones who hold the church accountable.

Meanwhile, the male hierarchy of the church is driving people away at unprecedented rates. Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of the archdiocese of San Francisco, where the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were founded, has doused the homeless with water to stop them from sleeping outside of the city’s cathedral; excommunicated politician Nancy Pelosi (D – Calif.) because of her support for abortion rights; called trans people a “threat” to the church; and tried and failed to force Catholic school teachers to sign a “morality clause” that would have, in part, effectively forbidden them from coming out at school. The Catholic church in the U.S. is hemorrhaging members, with younger Catholics the most likely to say that the church’s attitude toward LGBTQ+ people is a primary reason they leave.

It’s too soon to tell if this kerfuffle will push even more Catholics out of the church. But what it reveals about the lack of mercy many Catholics have in their hearts should be far more shocking than the sight of anyone dressed like an old-fashioned nun with a beard.

Complete Article HERE!

In a historic shift

— Pope Francis allows women to vote at bishops’ meetings

Pope Francis leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 26, 2023.

By The Associated Press

Pope Francis has decided to give women the right to vote at an upcoming meeting of bishops, an historic reform that reflects his hopes to give women greater decision-making responsibilities and laypeople more say in the life of the Catholic Church.

Francis approved changes to the norms governing the Synod of Bishops, a Vatican body that gathers the world’s bishops together for periodic meetings, following years of demands by women to have the right to vote.

The Vatican on Wednesday published the modifications he approved, which emphasize his vision for the lay faithful taking on a greater role in church affairs that have long been left to clerics, bishops and cardinals.

Catholic women’s groups that have long criticized the Vatican for treating women as second-class citizens immediately praised the move as historic in the 2,000-year life of the church.

“This is a significant crack in the stained glass ceiling, and the result of sustained advocacy, activism and the witness” of a campaign of Catholic women’s groups demanding the right to vote, said Kate McElwee of the Women’s Ordination Conference, which advocates for women priests.

Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s meetings that modernized the church, popes have summoned the world’s bishops to Rome for a few weeks at a time to debate particular topics. At the end of the meetings, the bishops vote on specific proposals and put them to the pope, who then produces a document taking their views into account.

Until now, the only people who could vote were men. But under the new changes, five religious sisters will join five priests as voting representatives for religious orders. In addition, Francis has decided to appoint 70 non-bishop members of the synod and has asked that half of them be women. They too will have a vote.

The aim is also to include young people among these 70 non-bishop members, who will be proposed by regional blocs, with Francis making a final decision.

“It’s an important change, it’s not a revolution,” said Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, a top organizer of the synod.

The next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 4-29, is focused on the very topic of making the church more reflective of, and responsive to, the laity, a process known as “synodality” that Francis has championed for years.

The October meeting has been preceded by an unprecedented two-year canvassing of the lay Catholic faithful about their vision for the church and how it can better respond to the needs of Catholics today.

So far only one women is known to be a voting member of that October meeting, Sister Nathalie Becquart, a French nun who is undersecretary in the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops office. When she was appointed to the position in 2021, she called Francis “brave” for having pushed the envelope on women’s participation.

By the end of next month, seven regional blocs will propose 20 names apiece of non-bishop members to Francis, who will select 10 names apiece to bring the total to 70.

Cardinal Mario Grech, who is in charge of the synod, stressed that with the changes, some 21% of the gathered representatives at the October meeting will be non-bishops, with half of that group women.

Acknowledging the unease within the hierarchy of Francis’ vision of inclusivity, he stressed that the synod itself would continue to have a majority of bishops calling the shots.

“Change is normal in life and history,” Hollerich told reporters. “Sometimes there are revolutions in history, but revolutions have victims. We don’t want to have victims,” he said, chuckling.

Catholic Women’s Ordination, a British-based group that says it’s devoted to fighting misogyny in the church, welcomed the reform but asked for more.

“CWO would want transparency, and lay people elected from dioceses rather than chosen by the hierarchy, but it is a start!” said the CWO’s Pat Brown.

Hollerich declined to say how the female members of the meeting would be called, given that members have long been known as “synodal fathers.” Asked if they would be known as “synodal mothers,” he responded that it would be up to the women to decide.

Francis has upheld the Catholic Church’s ban on ordaining women as priests, but has done more than any pope in recent time to give women greater say in decision-making roles in the church.

He has appointed several women to high-ranking Vatican positions, though no women head any of the major Vatican offices or departments, known as dicasteries.

Complete Article HERE!

‘A long way to go’

— Catholic women call for wide-ranging church reforms in new international survey

By and

Catholic women across the world are calling for a wide range of reforms to the church, according to the results of our survey of more than 17,000 Catholic women from over 100 countries published this month.

A substantial majority were concerned about the prevalence of abuse, racism, and sexism in church contexts, and many raised issues relating to transparency and accountability in church leadership and governance.

The International Survey of Catholic Women is one of the most extensive surveys of Catholic women ever undertaken, and its findings should inform lasting and genuine change in the Catholic Church.

Why we did this survey

The survey was initiated by Catholic Women Speak in response to the invitation of Pope Francis for the Catholic Church to engage in a process of “synodality” for the 2021-2023 Synod of Bishops. The Synod will examine how the church comes together and is considered to be of great importance to major issues facing the church.

The aim of the survey was to gather feedback on the experiences of Catholic women. It provides insights into the complex realities of Catholic women’s lives, the ways in which they express their faith, and their relationships with the institutional church. We devised and managed the survey along with Professor Tina Beattie from the University of Roehampton, London.

The large number of responses clearly indicates a desire by Catholic women to share their aspirations and frustrations, and to make their views on the situation of women in the Catholic Church known to the Synod.

Respondents identified themselves as women from all walks of life – single, married, divorced, LGBTIQ, and religious. While the findings cannot claim to be representative of all Catholic women, they articulate the diverse hopes and struggles of women in the worldwide church.

The views of Catholic women reflect the cultural and communal contexts within which their faith is experienced and practised. This diversity is rarely represented in church documents or theology, and many women struggle to see the relevance of church teachings to the complex realities of their lives.

Many women ‘conflicted’ with the Catholic Church

The survey found that even when women have considerable struggles with Catholic institutions, nearly 90% said their Catholic identity is important to them. Many continue to practise their faith despite ongoing difficulties with the institutional church.

Several respondents used words like “frustrated”, “hurt”, “angry”, and “conflicted” when describing their relationship with the church.

Most respondents said they would welcome reform in the Catholic Church, especially – but not exclusively – regarding the role and representation of women.

One woman from Australia observed “we walk the line of being valuable members of society but voiceless in many elements of the church”. Another, from Nicaragua said, “stop making women invisible”.

Respondents raised issues related to:

A minority of respondents expressed a preference for church reform based on a pre-Vatican II model of authority, priesthood, and liturgy. Vatican II was an important meeting of all Catholic bishops held in Rome between 1962-1965 who made progressive decisions about the future of the worldwide church.

Abuse remains a central problem

Respondents consistently identified the sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of women, children, and other vulnerable people as a central problem for the church.

Some respondents disclosed experiences of abuse and harassment, while others expressed disappointment at the lack of effective action to address the crisis of sexual abuse.

One woman from Canada wrote:

they have a long way to go in dealing with the scandal and cover up. I know this firsthand. I feel as betrayed by the institutional betrayal as I do by my abuser […] This is coming from a committed lifelong Catholic who has never left the church.

Many respondents were deeply concerned about transparency and accountability in church leadership and governance. There was agreement that a less hierarchical and authoritarian model of the church was urgently needed, with greater collaboration and sharing of authority between clergy and laity (lay people).

A substantial majority of respondents identified clericalism as having a negative impact on church life. Clericalism is the idealisation of male clerics and subsequent abuses of power.

A respondent from Panama remarked, “I wish that women had more voice and that we were not abused by clericalism that excludes us and takes away our dignity”.

Most respondents linked their Catholic identity with social justice, and wanted church leaders to address poverty and marginalisation. Several raised the issue of economic justice in church affairs, including the lack of adequate pay for female church workers, both lay and religious.

The challenge for the Synod is to demonstrate that the many concerns raised by respondents in the survey are carefully listened to and addressed.

Complete Article HERE!