Transgender Catholics hope to build bridges in the Church

By Michael O’Loughlin


Tens of thousands of Catholics descend on Los Angeles each winter to sharpen their ministry skills, partaking in dozens of workshops and seminars about liturgy, prayer, Bible, and parish life as part of the LA Religious Education Congress. With close to 40,000 participants, it’s the largest annual gathering of Catholics in North America, a celebration of all things Catholic.

But event organizers this year took a cue from popular culture and included a new session, one that attracted a standing room only crowd of 750 people, nearly all of whom jumped to their feet for a sustained round of applause after talks from two young, committed Catholics.

The name of the session? “Transgender in the Church: One Bread, One Body.”

The Rev. Christopher Bazyouros, the director of the office of religious education for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said including the discussion in the program was an important first step for the Church in grappling with an issue that exploded onto the national consciousness last June when Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, announcing to the world that she is transgender.

“There aren’t many places for Catholics to discuss these things that are thoughtful, intentional, and that gathers people who have had this experience,” he said. “Many Catholics want information about this topic, they want things to help them understand this situation.”

To that end, conference organizers invited two transgender Catholics to speak, both of whom were surprised and gratified that they were included. And both used their presentations to urge acceptance by the wider universe of Catholics.

Anna Patti, a 23-year-old Michigan resident, told the crowd she didn’t believe “God made a mistake” with her, as some have said of transgender people.

In an interview after her presentation, she said having the opportunity to speak freely about her struggles and her joys was “an unexpectedly affirming experience.”

“I hadn’t realized how silenced I felt within the Church,” she said. “At Mass I always sit in the back row in the back corner, making myself as visibly small as possible. Here was the opposite, where people wanted to learn about an issue that is so often immediately condemned.”

“It was beautiful,” she said of the crowd’s reaction.

Mateo Williamson, a 24-year-old medical student at the Jesuit-run Loyola Medical School in Chicago, described with joy his deeply Catholic upbringing, part of a family that included several priests and nuns.

After his talk, he said many young people thanked him for sharing his story about living as a transgender man in the Church.

“Pope Francis’ charity, compassion, and call to mercy, it’s changed the tone in the Church,” he said. “He hasn’t been explicit about trans people, and there’s nothing in the Catechism, but there’s been a change among people in general to understand something they maybe haven’t encountered before.”

Pope Francis has spoken out repeatedly against so-called gender ideology, but Patti said she doesn’t interpret those comments as hostile to trans people. In fact, she thinks the pope’s remarks about gender not being just a social construct actually support the transgender community by pointing out that gender identity is innate.

While Catholicism doesn’t have much to say about transgender issues, at least not at the level of Church teaching, there is still tension about how the Church should respond to its transgender members.

In Rhode Island, for example, a Catholic middle and high school came under fire after a group of alumni discovered transgender students were banned from enrolling. Once confronted, school organizers promised to take another look at the policy.

This kind of uncertainty about how well the Church is equipped to deal with the needs of transgender Catholics and their families is part of the reason event organizers included the session, as a way to launch a conversation by inviting people to share their personal stories.

“We were just going with the pope’s desire to go out and encounter people, to hear their stories,” said Bazyouros, the LA priest who oversees the Congress. “We decided to see what would happen if we hosted a session for people to share their stories.”

“Sometimes issues are just these abstract things until you hear people speak about their journeys, and then you can begin to have a conversation,” he said.

Patti said that her Catholic faith has been central in her own journey, but that the culture war threatens the Church’s ability to help other transgender people.

“Catholic spirituality and the Catholic tradition can provide more nourishment, and also more sense into the trans experience, than anything else I’ve encountered,” she said.

“On the other hand, I think especially in American Catholicism, the culture war has latched itself parasitically onto Catholicism and has turned it into a politics game,” she said. “I think it makes settings that would otherwise be ideal for a trans person’s development turns it into a coffin, into the worst place imaginable.”

She said the Church also suffers from an image problem in the LGBT community, which turns some people off from exploring their faith.

“Honestly, I get judged for being Catholic because it’s just assumed that to be Catholic means hating LGBT people, more so even than what is central to our faith, the Eucharist,” she said.

Williamson said that he’s had both good and bad experiences in the Church.

At Loyola, for instance, he’s part of a group of students who meet for several hours each week to explore how Ignatian spirituality relates to medicine.

But last year, he said, he was hurt when his invitation from the White House to be one of 15,000 people on the South Lawn when President Barack Obama formally welcomed Pope Francis to the White House was criticized by the right as inappropriate.

“It was discouraging, because I’m trying to bring about this positive message,” he said. “We don’t want people to think that trans Catholics are a threat to the sanctity of any event.”

The LA Congress workshop sold out quickly, and some of the audience, which included several priests, seminarians, and nuns, said the fact it happened at all gave them hope about the future of the Church.

“I used to work at a youth shelter, and I would do some work with transgender youth who would come to the house and I didn’t have a lot of experience, so I wanted to learn more,” said Laura Wagner, who coordinates service trips at a Los Angeles Catholic high school.

“It was comforting to be in an audience of Catholic men and women, lay people, nuns, and priests, especially when this isn’t talked about a lot,” she added. “To be among other people who were very accepting and welcoming, and wanting to hear more about the issue, it gave me a lot of hope for the future of the Church.”

Kevin Stockbridge, a graduate student from Orange County, said the session was important because marginalized voices often go unheard in the Church.

“The trans experience is invisible in the Church right now, and while it’s visible in our society, we don’t know how to deal with that theologically,” he said. “Often times we deal with that through silence, so I think it’s important to voice real spiritual experiences of trans persons.”

Arthur FitzMaurice, who speaks frequently about LGBT issues in the Church and who organized the workshop, said he believes it was the largest discussion devoted to transgender issues and Catholicism in the Church’s history. He said that organizers have already asked him to plan a similar workshop next year.

While thrilled with their reception in Los Angeles, both Patti and Williamson said the Church has a long way to go before it’s a welcoming place for transgender people, but that they hope the Congress session is a step in the right direction.

“You don’t have to be an expert to make a difference,” Williamson said. “We need all kinds of people, not just experts, but people who can just respond to families in supportive ways.”

Patti, too, said that there is room for experts, but that it’s really just about love.

“We are on the ground level,” Patti said. “There are theological discussions to be had, canonical issues to be considered, and even the trans movement itself is constantly evolving. Being transgender in Catholicism might look different from what being transgender in a secular movement.”

She added, “But as all that’s all developing, at the end of the day, it comes down to, are you willing to accept another human being, a child of God?”

Complete Article HERE!

At pallium Mass, Cupich calls for mercy toward nontraditional families

Archbishop Carlo Viganó formally presented the pallium to Archbishop Blase Cupich during a ceremony in Chicago on Aug. 23. (John Pham / Saint Joseph College Seminary)
Archbishop Carlo Viganó formally presented the pallium to Archbishop Blase Cupich during a ceremony in Chicago on Aug. 23.

By Michael O’Loughlin

CHICAGO – Catholics must avoid being rigid, embrace change, and show mercy, not harsh judgment, toward nontraditional families.

That was the message from Chicago’s Archbishop Blase CupichSunday afternoon after receiving his pallium, a wool stole that is a piece of liturgical regalia symbolizing his connection to the pope, from the papal ambassador to the United States.

In a 15-minute homily, Cupich said bishops and other Catholics should avoid “absolutizing one particular era” by remembering the richness and diversity of their faith.

At the same time, the Church should be “open to new avenues and creativity when it comes to accommodating families, particularly those who are broken, those who have suffered” and “not settle for solutions that no longer work, expressions that no longer inspire, and ways of working that stifle creativity and collaboration.”

He cited St. John XXIII, a reformer pope credited with ushering the Catholic Church into the modern era with his launch of the Second Vatican Council, and Pope Francis, highlighting his calls to protect the environment and to find new approaches to pastoral ministry.

Cupich said that John XXIII, canonized by Francis last year, “called the entire Church to a fresh appreciation of the ancient teaching of the medicine of mercy in an era when many in the Church preferred the narrow path of severity and condemnation.”

Cupich’s remarks were delivered just weeks before Pope Francis’ visit to the United States next month and the Synod on the Family at the Vatican in October, to which Cupich is expected to be named a delegate by Pope Francis.

It’s at the synod that bishops will continue a discussion of family life, including hot-button topics such as Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics, contraception, and sexuality — discussions that began last fall.

It was against this backdrop that Cupich described the Church today as “a community that goes after the lost sheep.”

“The task is not just to find them and bring them home,” he said, “but to lift them up high, to shoulder level, where they can begin to see and live a new life, a life of faith.”

Speaking to nearly 20 other bishops, dozens of priests from across Illinois and from his former diocese of Spokane, Wash., and to hundreds of worshipers gathered in the pews, Cupich said the Petrine ministry reminds us “of the whole story of God’s mighty deeds, which continues to develop in every age under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

Sunday’s nearly two-hour ceremony marked a new way of conferring the pallium — a white wool stole — on archbishops.

For more than three decades, newly appointed archbishops traveled to Rome to receive the stole each June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, but Pope Francis announced changes earlier this year.

Although Cupich and other newly appointed archbishops received their palliums when they traveled to Rome in June, they do not don them until the pope’s US ambassador, or nuncio, presents the stole formally during a ceremony in the bishops’ home archdioceses.

The pallium contains six black crosses, three of which are adorned with gold pins symbolizing the nails used in Jesus’ crucifixion. Some of the wool is taken from lambs the pope blessed on the feast of St. Agnes, and the ends are colored black to mimic a lamb’s hoof, symbolic of an archbishop’s role as shepherd.

Archbishop Carlo Viganó, the nuncio, called the pallium “a symbol of unity of your archbishop with the Holy Father.”

Cupich was appointed by Pope Francis to lead the nation’s third largest archdiocese — the Chicago area boasts more than 2 million Catholics — last November. The two met for the first time during a lengthy tête-à-tête in Rome in June.

Complete Article HERE!

Sister Monica’s secret ministry to transgender people

By Renee K. Gadoua


Now in her early 70s and semiretired because of health problems, Sister Monica remains committed to her singular calling for the past 16 years: ministering to transgender people and helping them come out of the shadows.

Sister Monica lives alone in a small house at the edge of a Roman Catholic college run by a community of nuns.

She doesn’t want to reveal the name of the town where she lives, the name of her Catholic order, or her real name.

Sister Monica lives in hiding, so that others may live in plain sight.

Now in her early 70s and semiretired because of health problems, she remains committed to her singular calling for the past 16 years: ministering to transgender people and helping them come out of the shadows.

“Many transgender people have been told there’s something wrong with them,” she said. “They have come to believe that they cannot be true to themselves and be true to God. But there is no way we can pray, or be in communion with God, except in the truth of who we are.”

She spends her days shuttling between e-mail and Skype, phone calls and visits. Since 1999, she has ministered to more than 200 people, many of whom have come to rely on her unflinching love and support.

Although the Catholic Church has issued no clear teaching on transgender people, Church teaching that homosexual relations are a sin suggests a similar view of transgender people. A Vatican document in 2000 said gender reassignment surgery does not change a person’s gender in the eyes of the Church. In 2008, Pope Benedict urged Catholics to defend “the nature of man against its manipulation.”

“The church speaks of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this order is respected,” Benedict said.

Though Pope Francis is credited with a more compassionate and pastoral tone to gays, Sister Monica fears that the Catholic hierarchy would punish her or her community if her work with transgender people became public.

Despite this, she is as committed to her calling as when she gave her life to Jesus straight out of high school.

“I have great love and fidelity for my community, my call to religious life, and obedience to my prioress,” she said.

That calling, as she defines it, is working with people on the margins. To her, transgender people are a part of that margin, and therefore part and parcel of her calling.

Sister Monica began working with gay, lesbian, and bisexual people in 1998 after finishing a term as her congregation’s vocations director.

She had long been pained at how her gay friends and relatives had been treated, she said. The call to minister to them came from God, she said.

Early in her ministry, she met a transgender woman, and her work shifted to helping people find peace with bodies that do not match how they see themselves.

“Here’s what they heard from priests: ‘Look between your legs. What you see is who you are. God will tell you who you are. Do you want to be damned to eternal hell?’” she said, her voice rising.

That attitude only reinforces the scorn and rejection many transgender people experience in the Church, she said.

Early on, she fought this emerging calling.

“I told God so many times: You gave this ministry to the wrong person. I’m not the right person to swim upstream and carry the banner for the cause.”

But these days, she is much clearer about her focus.

“She has a wonderful way of pinning you down and looking at you and reminding you … practically channeling her spirituality that you are a child of God and you are authentic and there is nothing wrong with you,” said James Pignatella, an Arizona-based engineer who transitioned from female to male.

Over the years, Sister Monica says she has received “quiet support” from two bishops and several priests. The end of two Vatican investigations that questioned American nuns’ loyalty to church teaching has also relieved some pressure on her ministry secret.

Still, experience tells her she cannot be completely open about what she does.

She has a quick answer to people who say “God made them man and woman,” quoting the Book of Genesis.

“God made day and night. There was also dusk and dawn and twilight. There’s no light switch,” she said. “There are 2,000 kinds of ants and there can’t be more than two kinds of people?”

Stephanie Battaglino, who met Sister Monica at a 2008 conference for transgender people, said the elderly nun helped her during a painful part of her life.

“I sensed a connection right away,” said Battaglino, a corporate vice president at a large financial institution and a consultant on transgender inclusion. “I knew right there she was kind of like my angel.”

The nun remains her spiritual director seven years later.

“She helped me realize I do not walk this journey by myself,” said Battaglino. “God is with me.”

And that is the heart of Sister Monica’s ministry: pushing her friends to be honest about themselves and their relationships.

“We cannot have a relationship with God if we are hiding from ourselves or God,” said the nun.

The irony is not lost on Battaglino. While she has come out of the closet, Sister Monica lives in the shadows.

But that’s a tension the nun said she can live with because participating in her friends’ suffering is its own reward. Indeed, she said, it is “a gift from God.”

“I love well and I am loved well. What they need, more than anything, is to be well-loved.”


Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Church Prepares For Ordination Of Transgender Priest

If you just looked out the window to see if pigs are soaring across the clouds, you’re not alone. The North American Old Catholic Church, a congregation that combines Catholic teachings with progressive values, is set to ordain a transgender priest in Minnesota.

GLAAD shares the press release detailing the ordination of Shannon T.L. Kearns:

Shannon T.L. Kearns

The North American Old Catholic Church, one of the largest Old Catholic bodies in the United States, will ordain Shannon T.L. Kearns to the priesthood on January 19, 2013. Kearns, who is a transgender man, will be tasked with starting a new Minneapolis parish, House of the Transfiguration, after his ordination. This will be a pioneering parish in Minnesota; one that combines the traditions of the church with progressive perspectives and embraces all people.

The ordination will take place at 3 pm at Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Ave. Minneapolis. Bishop Benjamin Evans of the diocese of New Jersey will preside. He says, “The North American Old Catholic Church looks forward to establishing a presence in Minneapolis with the ordination of Father Kearns. God’s Holy Spirit continues to bless us with growth!” The North American Old Catholic Church is a progressive Catholic tradition that welcomes all people. This church ordains women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, married and partnered people, and those who have been divorced. The North American Old Catholic Church focuses on social justice and developing new parishes.

Kearns has a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. While in seminary he transitioned from female to male. Kearns says, “I am honored and humbled to have my calling to ministry affirmed by the North American Old Catholic Church. I look forward to many years serving as a priest.”

Congrats, Father Kearns!

Complete Article HERE!