Worcester Catholic school students must use names, pronouns assigned at birth under new policy

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Bishop McManus

By Tammy Mutasa

Worcester Diocese says students must use names and pronouns assigned at birth

Worcester Catholic schools have started a new policy on sexual identity in which students must use their names and pronouns assigned at birth.According to the policy starting this fall, students at the diocese’s 21 schools must “conduct themselves” in a way that’s consistent with their biological sex, which includes what they wear and which restroom they use.

The Diocese of Worcester said they wanted a consistent policy across all schools because some had policies while others did not. The diocese said the policy is adopted from Catholic teachings about “accepting one’s own body as it was created.”

“They want to be honest. What does the church teach about sexual identity? As Catholics, we believe that not only is our life is a gift from God, but that our sexuality is also a gift from birth,” said Ray Delisle with the Diocese of Worcester.

The policy does emphasize that bullying or harassing students based on their perceived sexual identity will not be tolerated.

“We still respect everyone, even when we disagree with people,” said Delisle.

The new policy is already being challenged by LGBTQ+ advocates. Some said it will push out students who need love and acceptance.

Eighth grader Finn Santora said the policy is pushing him out of the Catholic school system. Like every student, he was looking forward to walking across the stage and hearing his name called. But for graduation, Finn said his school, St. Paul Diocesan Junior/Senior High School, would only call him by his birth name before he transitioned, saying it was school policy.

“They don’t understand that kids just want to be themselves and live with no fear,” Finn told WBZ. “It just made me feel like I’m not a human, like they don’t care.”

As a result, Finn and his family decided not to go to the ceremony.

“It’s just humiliating, degrading and embarrassing,” said Jai Santora, Finn’s mom. “And that type of behavior leads to bullying and segregation.”

LGBTQ+ advocates said the policy itself undermines students. Joshua Croke, the co-founder of “Love Your Labels,” said they are organizing to challenge the policy on every level and circulating a petition online.

“We know that LGBTQ+ young people have higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicidality,” said Croke. “We want young people to know that they matter, that they are loved, that they are worthy, that they are celebrated for who they are.”

For Finn though, the policy has left him no choice but to leave the Catholic school system.

“All I want is to live a normal life as a child and be who I am. They’re taking that away from me,” said Finn.

The Archdiocese of Boston said right now, it doesn’t have a policy for schools, but they are going through a collaborative process which is not completed. Officials said it’s too early to discuss anything.

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Couple Denied Fostering Kids Over Views on Transgender Care

Close up of a baptism of a baby. On Tuesday, a couple filed court documents suing the Massachussetts Department of Children and Families after their foster care application was denied because of their views on LGBTQ+ care.


A couple is suing the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) after their foster parent application was denied.

Court documents filed on Tuesday said that Michael and Catherine Burke decided to become foster parents and try to adopt a child after experiencing problems with infertility. Their foster care application was denied in April after Massachusetts DCF staff were concerned over the couple’s responses to questions regarding care for an LGBTQ+ child. Their application was denied “based on the couple’s statements/responses regarding placement of children who identified LGBTQIA.” The denial said that the Burke family, who are practicing Catholics, would not be “affirming” to a child who identified as LGBTQ+.

The LGBTQ+ community has become a culture war battleground in the United States with a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state legislatures this year. Civil suits also have abounded over the issue, such as when a transgender former student sued a Missouri school district in August for forcing her to use the boys’ bathrooms or the single-stall gender-neutral bathroom.

Court documents argued that the Burkes would “never reject” a child, but they had strong religious beliefs about gender-affirming care.

“As faithful Catholics, the Burkes believe that all children should be loved and supported, and they would never reject a child placed in their home,” the document said. “They also believe that children should not undergo procedures that attempt to change their God-given sex, and they uphold Catholic beliefs about marriage and sexuality.”

According to emails from DCF members, the family “expressed frustration” at the decision and accused the DCF of “being discriminatory based on their religion”.

The court documents alleged that the DCF was attempting to ban Catholic families from fostering children because the families agreed with the church’s teaching on sex, marriage and gender. The DCF published an extensive list of regulations in 2018 for adopting or fostering a child. The regulations, which were last updated in January of this year, specifically said that foster parents must “promote the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of a child placed in his or her care, including supporting and respecting a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

According to DCF staff, the Burkes didn’t meet this requirement of the regulations for LGBTQ+ children. The lawsuit demanded that the DCF cannot use the standards “to operate as a religious exclusion for potential foster parents.” It also asked for the DCF to “expunge or amend the Burkes’ file so that it no longer reflects Defendants’ discriminatory statements, actions, and denial, and to take any further appropriate actions to prevent further harm from the discriminatory denial” and requested compensatory damages.

“DCF’s actions are discriminatory and unconstitutional,” the documents said.

The lawsuit names 11 DCF staff members, including Linda Spears, the department’s commissioner. The lawsuit also names Kate Walsh, the Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, because of her “ultimate responsibility for the policies, procedures, and official decisions of DCF.”

Complete Article HERE!

Our Lady of Pride

— Santa Muerte Loves Her Queer Children

By Andrew Chesnut

Santa Muerte, a folk saint of death, opens her arms to all LGBTQ+ people. Although there are many queer-coded saints within the Catholic Church, from Saint Sebastian to Joan of Arc to Juana Inés de la Cruz, none is more comforting to many LGBTQ+ Mexicans and other LGBTQ+ individuals around the world than La Santísima. It may seem strange that people who fight for their identities and existence on a daily basis would embrace a figure of death, but for queer devotees A.B. and Ash Mestizo, she is a source of solidarity and comfort.

A.B. is a nonbinary person living in Canada who was raised in the Catholic Church but parted ways with it many years ago due to continued homophobia and transphobia. They have struggled with mental illness all their life, acknowledging that “it is a battle which, I expect, I will lose one day.” Two and a half years ago, they attempted suicide but stopped as a divine presence called out to them. It was only until this year, describing the experience to a friend, that their friend suggested it may have been Santa Muerte’s voice in the darkness.

Similarly, pansexual Ash Mestizo was born into a Nicaraguan Catholic family. Although his grandmother was extremely devout, running the whole family’s spiritual health like many Latinx matriarchs, his mother was a free spirit who took advantage of the family’s inherited spiritual gifts. Seeing her use these gifts–connecting her and other members of the family to the spirit world and allowing superhuman abilities, Mestizo sought answers in Catholicism, then Evangelical Protestantism, Viccan, Asatru, ancestral folk magic, and finally sorcery.

After Mestizo’s children were born, he became involved in LGBTQ+ and BIPOC activism, climate advocacy, and anti-racism work, putting away their magical practice and ancestor veneration. It was only when his grandmother died that he needed a connection to the spirit world, right at the time that he found Santa Muerte. Ash “saw in her [his grandmother], the Latinx women I’d known, who raised me, who’d given me my heritage and my spirituality and my magic.”

This was one of the reasons A.B. was worried about joining the New Religious Movement (NRM) of Santa Muerte. Because they have no Spanish or Indigenous roots, A.B. first believed devotion to the skeleton often wearing a black cloak or wedding dress, , would be cultural or religious appropriation. However, as they have come to discover through Facebook groups like Devoted to Death, led by Dr. Andrew Chesnut, author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint (2017, Oxford University Press), Santa Muerte is one of the most universal faith figures as what she represents is the one experience that unifies and equalizes everyone, and her group of followers is growing meteorically, as far away as Poland and Ukraine.

According to Dr. Chesnut, Santa Muerte is the “fastest growing new religious movement in the Americas.” The COVID-19 pandemic likely contributed to this growth, with Chesnut referring to her as the newest plague saint, but one of the largest group of her followers are LGBTQ+ people of faith, often those raised in the Catholic Church but felt abandoned and traumatized by a Church that viewed their identities as a sin, continue not to recognize gay marriage, and limit access to gender affirming healthcare.

According to a 2020 study published by the Williams Institute, almost half (46.7%) of LGBT adults are religious, with almost 25% of religious LGBT adults identifying as Roman Catholic. It’s estimated that 1.3 million LGBT Roman Catholics live in the United States, and of these 1.3 million, LGBT adults are more likely to be highly or moderately religious if they are Latinx. Even so, of the 65% of Latinx individuals who were born in the US and raised Catholic, 23% said that they no longer identify as Catholic, including Mestizo, largely due to  sex abuse within the Church, queerphobia, treatment of those in poverty or on the margins, and religious trauma.

Caption: “Our Lady of Pride”

I founded and currently direct Queer and Catholic, A CLGS Oral History Project based out of the Pacific School of Religion, and have discovered many LGBTQ+ people of faith who feel disenfranchised inside the Church. Yet, at the same time, they feel tied to it because it is all they have ever known spiritually, or often in the case of Latinx, Irish, Italian, or Polish Catholics, the Church is an integral part of their identities. Every celebration, from birthdays to baptisms to saint feast days to funerals is celebrated inside the Church so to leave would be recognizing a spiritual and cultural death that many queer people fear.

Mestizo is no longer Catholic or Christian , but still finds meaning in the Catholic interpretation and worship of Santa Muerte. “The Catholic-style interaction with Her made sense as someone who grew up with that modality of engagement with the Divine.”

The Church they once loved (and still often do love) does not love them back and creates a culture where families abandon and persecute them. But many still yearn for spiritual meaning and comfort in Catholic material cultures, so they turn to folk Catholicism, including the NRM of Santa Muerte. It is liberation through acceptance of death, as death is more imminent for those who live on the fringes of life, including LGBTQ+ individuals. LGBTQ+ folks are often thrown out of their homes, disowned by family and friends, undergo conversion therapy, or worse, all of which cause massive trauma and put queer lives in danger. “Some of us are too visible at the wrong moment,” A.B. writes, “and are murdered for it.”

“Queer folks have already failed at being acceptable to the Church and to society at large,” A.B. explained, “We have already failed at being acceptable to our families. If you’re already dead, why worry? Love fully. Fight recklessly. Seize joy where it lies, for as long as it lasts.”

Santa Muerte is therefore a personified version of Memento Mori, or a culture that forces people to confront their own mortality and eventual demise. In doing so, she cleanses LGBTQ+ people who often hide their entire lives out of fear or internalize the guilt and shame vocalized by the Church, their family members, and others, allowing her LGBTQ+ devotees to let go of the social baggage that they carry. Her devotion also resonates with people of the LGBTQ+ community who have lost friends and loved ones to the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, when the government left LGBTQ+ people for death. Santa Muerte stands defiantly draped in the AIDS quilt.

For people living their lives in fear of murder, torture, or worse because of who they are, death strangely is the one true constant, the one true comfort and absolute, the one experience that unifies all people–everyone will die.

A.B. finds comfort in knowing that Santa Muerte will call out to them again, trusting that when she does, they will be ready to pass peacefully in her embrace. This comfort is the result of the physical and emotional trauma religious institutions and societies inflict on their LGBTQ+ members, but in embracing it, it helps people like A.B. “find the strength to fight a little longer; maybe she will quiet some of that deep pain and help you to turn your anger away from yourself and towards the enemies who put you in the shadows. A soldier who knows they’re about to die has nothing to fear.” At the same time, it also provides Mestizo with mental strength and helps him to find a fuller life as “witchy, queer, healthier, happier.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope tells transgender person: ‘God loves us as we are’

— Pope Francis has previously said “who am I to judge?” when asked about the LGBTQ community.

Pope Francis at a Mass on Sunday to celebrate the World Day of Grandparents and the elderly at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

Pope Francis has told a young transgender person that “God loves us as we are,” his latest outreach gesture towards the LGBTQ community.

His comments, released by Vatican media on Tuesday, were in a podcast in which Francis listened and responded to audio messages from young people ahead of a Catholic youth festival which he will attend in Portugal next week.

One of the young people was Giona, an Italian in their early 20s who said they were “torn by the dichotomy between (their Catholic) faith and transgender identity.”

Francis replied that “the Lord always walks with us. … Even if we are sinners, he draws near to help us. The Lord loves us as we are. This is God’s crazy love.”

The Catholic Church teaches that members of the LGBTQ community should be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and their human rights respected.

Whether the church can and should be more welcoming toward LGBTQ people, for example by offering blessings for same-sex unions, is a particularly sensitive topic.

Francis has famously said “who am I to judge?” in an answer to a question specifically about gay people and has condemned laws criminalizing members of the LGBTQ community as a sin and an injustice.

At the same time, the 86-year-old pontiff has reaffirmed that marriage can only be understood as a life-long union between a man and a woman. He backs civil laws giving same-sex couples rights in bureaucratic matters such as pensions and health care.

Conservatives have contested Francis’ more welcoming and less judgmental attitude towards the LGBTQ community, although he consistently refers to traditional Catholic teaching that says same-sex attraction is not sinful but same-sex acts are.

An upcoming world summit of bishops, due to convene this October and in 2024, is expected to discuss the church’s stance towards LGBT people, women and Catholics who have divorced and remarried outside the church.

Complete Article HERE!

Philly’s LGBTQ Catholic church celebrates 50 years of acceptance and community

— Dignity Philadelphia has members of all ages, from Gen Zers to Boomers.

Checking in to the 50th anniversary party for Dignity Philadelphia, held May 2023 at the Mummers Museum.

By Kristine Villanueva

Step inside the recreation center at Saint Luke and the Epiphany on Sunday evenings and you’ll find a traditional celebration of mass. Except in this case, the priest is a married woman.

Nestled in the heart of the Gayborhood is Dignity Philadelphia, a church for LGBTQ practicing Catholics and allies.

Inside the space on 13th Street between Pine and Spruce, metal folding chairs replace church pews. Hymns and prayers are modified to include gender-nonconforming language. And a red banner hangs behind the altar, bearing the names of congregants who died, some from gun violence, some from the AIDS epidemic — all of them a part of a legacy of existing in exuberant protest that’s been going strong for half a century.

“It was really an amazing experience, to feel so comfortable and immediately embraced, in part because I recognize some of the names on the wall,” said Kathleen Gibbons Schuck, 67, who recalled seeing the red banner during her first time presiding over mass.

Founded in 1973, Dignity Philadelphia has been progressive in allowing married people, women and LGBTQ people to lead mass, as well as involving lay people in leadership decisions.

“I think the greater church could benefit from recognizing that, you know, your gray haired [male] pastor isn’t the only one with a perspective here,” said Schuck, who was ordained by a movement called the Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

Dignity Philadelphia celebrated 50 years in May 2023.

Nationwide, over 2 million LGBT people (the term used in the study) also say they are religious, according to a 2020 report by UCLA’s Williams Institute, with nearly 25% of adults identifying as Catholic. Still, a growing number of teens consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. That’s where spaces like Dignity come in.

“People come along and question things. We do something different,” said Dignity Philadelphia board member Kaeden Thompson, 30, of Kensington. “Young queer people deserve spirituality, deserve faith, deserve communities where they feel loved and accepted for who they are.”

Dignity is a nationwide movement with chapters in over 30 locations around the U.S. The organization, and its Philly chapter, were founded in the years after Vatican II, a council convened in Rome by Pope John XIII from 1962 to 1965.

A Dignity Philadelphia sidewalk mass in 1976.

This period of Catholic church history is often cited as the genesis for more widespread social justice teachings, in addition to an updated liturgy that gave a larger role to lay people and other fundamental changes.

“It was really exciting. It made you feel like you were really a Christian, that you were taking on the message of Jesus and proclaiming it and celebrating it at liturgies,” said Sister Jeannine Gramick, who was instrumental in Dignity Philadelphia’s founding.

At the organization’s 50th celebration in May, she was recognized with a lifetime achievement award.

It was 1971 when, as a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Gramick attended a mass at someone’s home and met Dominic, a gay man who confided that he and his friends felt alienated by the church at large.

Gramick then started organizing masses for Dominic and his friends in his apartment. Local priests Father Paul Morrissey and Father Bob Nugent presided. Gramick helped Nugent, Morrissey and another priest, Myron Judy, to form Dignity Philadelphia.

What resulted was a ministry focused on community-building. It drew on the liberation theology popular in some Latin American countries, which places the needs of poor or disenfranchised people at the center of church work and interpretation of scripture.

A Dignity Philadelphia contingent at a march in the 1970s.

Dignity has helped thousands of LGBTQ Catholics throughout the years, Gramick said. The organization’s work has also reached the higher echelons of the church. During a Dignity national convention in the 80’s, Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen allowed members to celebrate mass at St. James Cathedral, the seat of the archdiocese, which angered conservative Catholics and ruffled more than a few feathers at the Vatican.

Today, the Philadelphia chapter aims to be an intergenerational space, where younger people can gain wisdom from more senior members.

Unwrapping the cake for the 50th anniversary party for Dignity Philadelphia, held May 2023 at the Mummers Museum.

“Being around, learning from and hearing direct stories from queer elders has been a big thing for me,” said Kate Huffman, 29, a member of Dignity, who lives in Kensington. “I grew up in a place where I thought I was the only gay person. Just having that has been really meaningful and lovely.”

LGBTQ Catholics know advocating for their rights — both in and outside of the church — is an ongoing battle, but they don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

“We are here,” said Thompson, the Dignity Philadelphia board member, “and we have always been here.”

Complete Article HERE!