LGBTQ Children in Catholic Families: A Deacon’s View of Holy Family Sunday

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Today’s post is written by a guest blogger: Deacon Ray Dever of St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida.

On this first Sunday after Christmas, the Church observes the feast of the Holy Family.  And with that observance inevitably comes reflection on the nature and meaning of the Catholic family today.  Many within the Church still seem to hold an idealized and increasingly inaccurate vision of what a Catholic family looks like, in spite of the growing diversity of the families that comprise the people of God.  As one who would count my own family among that diversity, the topic of Catholic family holds considerable personal interest for me.

In the fall of 2013, at the beginning of our son’s sophomore year at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, he came out as transgender.  In doing so, she became one of only three openly trans* students at Georgetown at the time.  This happened just a few weeks after the now famous Pope Francis interview that made “Who am I to judge?” part of our vernacular.  And with those events, my family found ourselves plunged into all the questions and issues that Catholic families with LGBTQ children face. [Editor’s note:  The term “trans*” is used as a “catch-all” word for the diverse forms of gender identities (other than the traditional male/female binary) that exist in humanity.]

In our case, there was at least one notable difference.  Besides being a husband, father, and professional engineer, I’m a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church, having been ordained in 2009.  When the topic of married clergy comes up, many Catholics are taken aback when they’re told that the Church already has married clergy, mostly in the person of the approximately 18,000 permanent deacons in the US.  I can’t imagine what they would think if they realized there are Catholic clergy whose families include LGBTQ children!

Our journey has probably not been very different than the journey of any family with an LGBTQ child.  It really began with our daughter descending into a deep depression during high school.  We would learn more about depression and mental illness, about suicidal ideations and self-injurious behavior, about therapists and anti-depressant medications than we ever could have imagined or wanted.  That journey would eventually lead to questions of gender identity that were intimately connected with her mental health struggles.

When our daughter came out, my wife and I experienced the full range of thoughts and emotions that any parents do in that situation – shock at the news, a lack of understanding of gender issues, conflict with what the Church teaches about human sexuality, confusion and guilt about what we should do as parents, profound sadness at what felt like the loss of our son, fear and worry for what the future would hold for her.  There were arguments, sleepless nights, and prayers – lots of prayers.

We slowly came to the realization that we hadn’t lost the person who had been our son.  In fact, in many respects we got our child back, as she embraced her gender identity and emerged from the depths of depression.  All the creativity, humor, empathy, and intelligence that make her an exceptional person are still there and are shining through stronger than ever.  And I’d like to think that the acceptance of her immediate and extended Catholic family have played some part in that positive transformation.

However, family support for LGBTQ children is obviously not the rule, and is often problematic for Catholic families in particular, given the mixed and often confusing messages they hear from the Church regarding LGBTQ issues.  A few months ago I had the privilege of visiting with the LGBTQ Resource Center and the Catholic chaplain’s office at Georgetown.  While I was surprised and gratified by the warm welcome that I received as an interested, supportive parent of an LGBTQ student, I was saddened to hear that I was the exception and that there were far too many stories of families rejecting their LGBTQ children and of causing tremendous pain and family divisions.

While I am certainly not qualified or authorized to speak for the Church on LGBTQ issues, I have been commissioned by the Church through ordination to proclaim and to preach the Gospel.  And if one thing is crystal clear in the public ministry and teachings of our Lord, it is that everyone is included in His love and mercy and forgiveness, and that we are all called to do the same.  For those Catholic families with LGBTQ children that are struggling with what they should do, I would suggest that they look to the Holy Family.  Look to the love embodied in the Incarnation, a love like no other, and embrace your children.  As the Church calls us to do first and foremost, follow your conscience, love own another, and especially love your children.

–Deacon Ray Dever, St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida

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47 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    What an astoundingly wise and compassionate and heart-piercing op-ed piece. I wish there were some way to get a copy to every individual bishop, archbishop and cardinal in the United States — beginning with a PRIORITY SPECIAL DELIVERY to Paprocki, out there in Illinois.

  2. Adam James
    Adam James says:

    It is great to hear from a Deacon who realizes what Jesus actually taught. I too would like to see this message go out to every Bishop and Priest in the Church.

  3. Tandy
    Tandy says:

    When I confided to our Christian Formation head that my mentally ill teenage daughter (at that time hospitalized for major depression, anxiety, and self-injury) was struggling with her sexuality, she responded “Oh no! She’d be better off mentally ill than gay.”

    This made me laugh: “Look to the love embodied in the Incarnation, a love like no other, and embrace your children.” Our church was Church of the Incarnation; there was no love there for my daughter.

    I hope you are part of the change embodied in Pope Francis’s message.

    • Karyn Jacobs
      Karyn Jacobs says:

      Hi Tandy,

      It is so hurtful to hear a reply like that from a church leader. She spoke out of ignorance. She obviously has no understanding of the differences in people.

      As head of Christian Formation, she has a responsibility to learn.

      If you can, try to pray for her.

      I recommend checking in to , a website where you will find hope and help from other parents.

      love, Karyn Jacobs
      Palm Coast, FL

  4. Hans Bensdorp (Rev)
    Hans Bensdorp (Rev) says:

    Thank you Deacon Ray!
    I have absolutely no understanding when I read that some so-called “good” Catholics would throw out their LGBTQ children. I am happy that this unheard of in our country (Austria-Europe) although that does not mean everything is easy. Many priests like myself will certainly agree with Deacon Ray and work for the acceptance of LGBTQ people in their parish churches. I have had some gay altar-servers and many in the cogregation knew that – no problem here.
    Even our Bishop who is rather coservative agrees on this point.
    Wishing you all the best!!

  5. Karyn Jacobs
    Karyn Jacobs says:

    Deacon Ray,
    I heartily applaud you for writing this letter and hope you will receive strong support from your parish family and friends.
    love Karyn Jacobs

  6. Karen Meehan
    Karen Meehan says:

    We need more people in our church who understand what it’s like to have. LBGTQ children and love them unconditionally as Jesus loves all of us. My pastor told me I wasn’t a good Catholic because I support gay marriage. My husband and I asked him on several occasions to please not preach from the pulpit on the subject of being gay as it was hurtful to members of our church w/gay children, but he continued to do it anyway. I along of several friends no longer attend our parish. While I attend another parish, 2 of my friends now attend other denominations. How sad, that our children and their families cannot be loved and accepted for who they are and how God created them to be. I pray our church opens her eyes and see the pain they are causing by excluding all God’s children. Someday the words to the song “All Are Welcome Here” may be true.

  7. John Molyn
    John Molyn says:

    I am a retired RC priest and I agree with you 100%. I admire your love and faithfulness for your daughter and your courage to proclaim it. I think you are a living embodiment of the Good News, brother.

  8. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    Thank you for this beautiful message. Two years ago, as a sophomore at a Jesuit high school, my son told us he was gay. My reaction was almost identical to yours. Here we were, the super liberal Catholic family, so supportive of gay rights and marriage equality, and now it felt different because it was personal. I was never worried about God’s reaction to my son, but I feared society’s, his all male school’s reaction, and how he would be dismissed by my church. We left our Church that we attended when the priest presiding at a youth mass, told the kids that homosexuality was a sin, and it was an act against God. We left in the middle of mass. At that point, my son was only 10, but heard that message loud and clear. I now see that as God’s intervention to prepare us for our son’s revelation. We have been blessed to find an accepting, welcoming church. My son’s Jesuit high school has a support group for LGBTQ students that has been amazing. God love those Jesuits! I believe my church is changing, I believe my Pope is amazing (Jesuit, of course), and I believe that people like you can help to educate and give hope to those struggling with children who are part of the LGBTQ community. Thank you so much for your article!

  9. Pat Jeansonne
    Pat Jeansonne says:

    A beautiful affirmation, Ray. Our son attended Tampa Jesuit, where at first he thought he was the only gay boy there (out of 750 boys) because no one was advertising LGBTQ status at the time. He had a wonderful mentor, second mother, in Eileen Charette, his freshman and Key Club advisor. She, too, had stories of parents disowning their gay children. She watched over him to prevent bullying and give him encouragement. She helped him to be convinced that we loved him still, and always. He knows this with certainty now and knows his whole extended family loves him.It is a beautiful thing to see the Church, guided by Pope Francis, turn its course more toward the love that Jesus proclaimed, in its many expressions among people. Everyone is a child of God, loved unconditionally by God. We are who we are as God created us; my understanding of Jesus’ teachings is that we should all love one another as God’s children.
    Pat Jeansonne

  10. janefae
    janefae says:

    Deacon Ray,

    I write as someone who is both trans and catholic (and based in the UK). This is a lovely blog…for which thanks.

    Meanwhile, may i have your permission to reblog it on my own site?

  11. bigfoop
    bigfoop says:

    I read this with tears in my eyes. I am trans and struggled with the relationship between my gender identity and faith for many years. I really appreciate your courage in sharing a message of love.

  12. janefae
    janefae says:

    Reblogged this on Jane Fae and commented:
    In a week when one trans teenager has suffered greatly at the hands of a more fundamental christianity, it is good to hear how the Catholic church, for long considered implacably opposed to all things trans, is slowly mending its ways.

  13. Angie
    Angie says:

    I am thankful and admire Deacon Ray Dever for standing up proudly for his daughter and reaching out with a modern understanding of transgender people to others. I know how hard this was and can appreciate the journey. I do believe transgender people need and seek God’s love, I don’t think that it takes mercy and forgiveness from God or people for transgender people to exist. There is nothing wrong, negative or unnatural about their existence. Just like anyone else, if they do something that calls for mercy or forgiveness, that would be appropriate for mercy or forgiveness. But for being born and living their life naturally as God and nature intended, they should be treated no different than anyone else, including Deacons and Popes (aside from religious ranks). None the less, I am so grateful to Deacon Ray and pray both he and his daughter enjoy a very high quality of life with overflowing fulfillment! God Bless!

  14. Leanne Ceadaoin
    Leanne Ceadaoin says:

    Amen to all the above positive feedback! And remember that Mary and Joseph themselves raised a Person who likely had two X chromosomes, likely was naturally sterile, could have acquired His apparent “normal male phenotype” from a genetic mutation — and as God, KNEW it, even WILLED it, CHOSE it. And “grew in age, wisdom, and grace” that way! And is remembered in the Canonical Scriptures and Holy Tradition as apparently what we’d call today Asexual, or at least a 33-year-old virgin — Many even call THAT Queer! Our “QUEER” Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ!

    The Comments about all-male Catholic high schools reminded me of my own extremely queer-phobic one (where it’s alleged some of the leading priests were violating other students during and/or around my time there in the ’70s, unbeknownst to me — which of course has nothing to do with queerness but everything to do with crime and grave sin — “objectively morally disordered” indeed — and may have inspired some of their “protesting too much” against queerness, and the way their leader liked to sneer the word “[email protected]” when referring to gender nonconformity). I choked-up a little, imagining what it could’ve been like to have been pastorally cared for there in my gender nonconformity… instead of being bullied and/or shunned largely there — “the only girl in an all-boy school” as it has been expressed — and bottling it up for 3 more decades.

    I also just had an insight into maybe one reason anti-trans “theologian” Mary Daly was tolerated in the Boston College Theology Department after apostatising: At least she lent credibility to modern, even “liberal” and/or “radical feminist” RC transphobia — she and her protege Janice Raymond — perhaps providing cover for the abuser-ridden and/or abuser-affected leadership of the Catholic Church, who of course normally want nothing to do with feminism! (Most don’t or haven’t abused; many wink or keep silent; but blackmail is an old method of careerism, ancient even. The blackmail doesn’t even have to be true….) These two women more than any other persons bear responsibility for the Great Leap Backward for trans people in much of the world since the ’70s … when I was in that high school — decidedly not Jesuit. Without the blessing or tolerance of RC higherups, could they have done quite so much damage? Even if their books had to be printed by the Unitarians (who these days are generally claimed to be much more Queer-friendly)??

  15. Denise
    Denise says:

    Thank you Deacon Ray,

    It is so refreshing to hear that ordained clergy would speak up for those whose voice is misunderstood and rarely heard. I, too, work for the church. I, too, have a transgender child. I know what my child has gone through in order to understand and accept himself. “Why would I ever choose to be this way?” was something that he has said. I, along with you, worry about his future. He is the greatest kid and I am so proud of him.

  16. Deacon Mike Menchen
    Deacon Mike Menchen says:

    Deacon Ray and Lori thank you for being so open and loving, my heart and prayers for your family as you continue your journey with Christ at your side. Deacon Mike


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] who spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, and who also has contributed essays to Bondings […]

  2. […] trying to help people live whole and full lives. Far from attacking the family, the experience of families with LGBT members shows that acceptance of these realities can promote family harmony, unity, and strength.  LGBT […]

  3. […] about LGBT families, check out Deacon Ray Dever’s reflection on the Holy Family by clicking here, or Joseanne and Joseph Peregin’s reflection on the feast by clicking […]

  4. […] 3. LGBTQ Children in Catholic Families: A Deacon’s View of Holy Family Sunday […]

  5. […] 2.0. You can read his reflection for the Feast of the Holy Family at the end of 2014 by clicking here, and you can read his call for a World Meeting of All Families by clicking […]

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  7. […] wrote a blog post for Bondings 2.0 in December 2014 describing his experience as the father of a transgender […]

  8. […] Ray Dever, a father of a transgender woman, who described his family’s experiences in a Bondings 2.0 blog post last December; and Lisbeth Melendez-Rivera, the director of Catholic and Latino/a Initiatives at […]

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  11. […] Ray Dever of St. Paul parish, Tampa, Florida, who recently penned a Bondings 2.0 blog post about his family’s acceptance of his transgender […]

  12. […] and spirituality of people standing in prayer besides us. It pains me because religion has so much power to place love in the world and queer people of faith do not often experience this in their home […]

  13. […] for justice and welcome in the church. Indeed, this blog recently posted a deacon’s reflection about how his family loves and accepts their trans* daughter and has featured many examples of how […]

  14. […] a touching blog published on the LGBT Catholic site, New Ways Ministry, Dever described his own experience having a […]

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  16. […] Ray Dever, diácono de la Iglesia de Tampa (Florida), escribía una artículo para el blog New Ways Ministry en el que relata el aprendizaje personal que supuso tener una hija […]

  17. […] a touching blog published on the LGBT Catholic site, New Ways Ministry, Dever described his own experience having a […]

  18. […] a touching weblog revealed on the LGBT Catholic website, New Methods Ministry, Dever described his personal expertise […]

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  20. […] Ray Dever wrote for this blog about his family’s experience of loving their trans* daughter on the Feast of the Holy […]

  21. […] LGBTQ Children in Catholic Families: A Deacon’s View of Holy Family Sunday | Bondings 2.0. […]

  22. […] Resolve to support parents in loving their trans* children as Deacon Ray Dever wrote about so beautifully last week. Resolve to challenge anti-transgender prejudices and correcting false information about […]

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