Friday, October 20, 2017

Catholics Recognize and Celebrate the Truth of Transgender People: “Their Quest for Authenticity Is a Quest for Holiness"

The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, recently published an article focusing on “the transgender ideology and the church.” Written by Jonathan Liedl with contributions from Maria Wiering, the purpose of this article is to attack what it labels “transgender ideology.”

This label, “transgender ideology,” is key. Why? Because it tells us that this article, one published in the official mouthpiece of the hierarchical church, is not about transgender people but rather about a certain way to look at and frame the discussion about them. What this article is really about is denying and marginalizing transgender people's reality. Thankfully, though, as you'll see, there are Catholics who recognize and celebrate the truth of transgender people and their lives and journeys.

But before we get to those voices, what exactly is the agenda and ideology that the article in The Catholic Spirit is pushing?

Well, Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, is quoted throughout the piece, saying that “transgender ideology is the latest part of the push to create a gender-neutral society.” Adkins believes that same-sex marriage and feminism are “other currents in this movement,” one which is all about “eras[ing] all societal distinctions based on sex,” replacing them with a concept of sex as something interchangeable and subjectively determined. Hmm . . . I think this gives us a fairly clear indication of the right-wing ideology fueling the writing of this article . . . If only we could go back to a world and time when women knew their place, when gays and transgender people were to scared to show their faces, and men where totally in charge! (Father knows best, after all.) And what it is that the men would be in charge of? A a society that respects (i.e., asks no questions of) the all-male clerical culture of the Roman Catholic Church.

Sorry, fellas, that ain't happening. And the vast majority of Catholics are grateful for it. For one thing, such a patriarchal fantasy world contributes to all manner of abusive structures and practices, including the sexual abuse of children by clergy.

Still, stenographers for the architects of the ideology that supports such a fantasy, men like Adkins, for instance, are insistant: “Transgender ideology rejects the truth that we are a body-soul composite and that our biological sex is not incidental to who we are as people, but is a gift from God.”

Actually, it does no such thing, but Adkins has some very powerful allies providing him his script. Indeed, The Catholic Spirit article quoting Adkins also quotes Pope Francis who has frequently condemned so-called “transgender ideology,” characterizing it as “the annihilation of man [sic] as the image of God.”

Catholics respond

Many Catholics are deeply troubled by the official church's stance on the reality of transgender people; and here in Minnesota, many are upset by The Catholic Spirit's recent article, one that implies that with respect to gender we know all that needs to be known. With the development of the science of gender formation, many contend that it is premature to condemn transgender consciousness as "fake", "unreal", or illusory. Such terms are insulting to transgender people.

Two of my Catholic friends, Joe Kruse and Paula Ruddy, have written responses to The Catholic Spirit's article on so-called “transgender ideology.” Joe's was published in The Catholic Spirit as a Letter-to-the-Editor, while Paula's was shared on the newspaper's website as an online comment.

My heart broke reading “Switching Sexes?: Transgender Ideology and the Church” (Sept. 28). Tragically, your paper published this article the same week that Ally Steinfeld, a transgender teenager in Missouri, was tortured and murdered, becoming the 21st transgender person killed in 2017. Despite what the Minnesota Catholic Conference would like us to believe, it is empirically true that transgender individuals are a persecuted minority. In light of the real physical danger that trans people face, it’s hard to see validity in the “fear” and “confusion” of Catholics in the article. The torture endured by Ally is not comparable to the discomfort experienced by Emily Zinos and her family. Any Church that calls itself “pro-life” should do everything in its power to protect the sacred lives of transgender people. Publishing an anti-transgender article full of marginal psychology is decidedly not pro-life. This rhetoric fuels an ostracization of trans people that has repeatedly proven to be lethal.

Do I read this right? The Catholic Church's position is that there is no objectivity to the experience of transgender people? They are pathological or lying or following a craze? They are pressured by political "activists" to claim a different gender than their biological gender in order to create a genderless society? Corporations, government, educators, and health professionals are all intimidated by the "activists"? And Jason Adkins advocates for heart over mind in approaching this issue? God has determined each person's gender and it is our gender that makes us in His image and likeness? The generalizations and lack of moderation in judgment, the lack of respect for individual experience leave me aghast. How did we get to this point in our Archdiocese?

Finally, I share a well-written and insightful response by Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry to Pope Francis' recent denouncement of what he calls the “biologic and psychological manipulation of sexual difference."

Pope Francis has once again entered the discussion of transgender issues with a statement that reveals the pontiff does not yet comprehend issues of gender identity.

In a statement to the Pontifical Academy for Life’s general assembly, he said: “The biologic and psychological manipulation of sexual difference, which biomedical technology allows one to see as open to free choice – which it’s not! – is thus likely to dismantle the source of energy that nourishes the alliance of man and woman and makes it creative and fruitful.”

By referring to transgender people’s desires to transition as “manipulation” and a “free choice” Pope Francis shows that he does not understand that for transgender people, a transition is a discovery and affirmation of who God created them to be. Gender is more than a biological reality. It also includes psychological, emotional, cultural, and spiritual dimensions. When some people seek surgery to confirm their gender identity, they are celebrating their God-given identities. A decision to transition is often made after many years of confusion and turmoil, as well as many forms of discernment with medical, psychological, and spiritual authorities.

In another section of his talk, the pontiff said that men and women “were created, in their blessed difference; together they have sinned, for their presumption to replace God; . . . to honor the care of the world and the history that He has entrusted to them.”

Transgender people actually acknowledge the importance of gender since they recognize how important it is for them to live as their authentic gender, not by the gender assigned to them at birth which was based on the minimal evidence of external genitalia. Transgender people see this difference as “blessed,” as God-given, not something that they chose. Their quest for authenticity is a quest for holiness. They seek to “honor the care” of the identity and life that they have been given.

To say that transgender people are acting against the plan of God is actually itself a rejection of God’s plan for these sacred human beings.

Francis DeBernardo
New Ways Ministry, October 6, 2017

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Quote of the Day – September 21, 2016
Quote of the Day – August 25, 2015
Standing with Jennicet Gutiérrez, “the Mother of Our Newest Stonewall Movement”
Signs and Wonders Continue
Lisa Leff on Five Things to Know About Transgender People
Shannon Kearns’ Transgender Day of Remembrance Message: “We Are Beloved Children of the Universe”
Putting a Human Face on the 'T' of 'GLBT'
Living Lives of Principle

Related Off-site Links:
Transgender Catholics Hope to Build Bridges in the Church – Michael O'Loughlin (Crux, March 7, 2016).
What is Gender? Or Why the Term is Both Meaningless and Indispensable – Anna Magdalena (The Catholic Transgender, August 16, 2015).
Transgender and Catholic – Nick Stevens (The New York Times via The Progressive Catholic Voice, May 24, 2015).

Image: Reuters/Tami Chappell.

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