San Francisco Archbishop on Caitlyn Jenner: Trans* Identities Undermine Faith

Caitlyn Jenner

San Francisco’s archbishop said trans* people threaten the Catholic faith, adding another controversy to what many see as a record which has harmed the church’s relationship with LGBT people.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone used his address at a New York gathering on traditionalist liturgy last week to comment indirectly on the Vanity Fair cover story about Caitlyn Jenner (formerly known as Bruce Jenner) and the national conversation now happening about gender identity. Cordileone criticized “gender ideology,” the ambiguous term used by some Catholic prelates for LGBT matters. The National Catholic Reporter quoted some of his comments:

“The clear biological fact is that a human being is born either male or female…Yet now we have the idea gaining acceptance that biological sex and one’s personal gender identity can be at variance with each other, with more and more gender identities being invented…

“When the culture can no longer apprehend those natural truths…then the very foundation of our teaching evaporates and nothing we have to offer will make sense.”

The archbishop suggested this development was “a reversion to the paganism of old,” bringing with it “postmodern variations on its themes, such as the practice of child sacrifice, the worship of feminine deities or the cult of priestesses.” Cordileone predicted more gender identities would be “invented” in the future:

“Cordileone said a friend recently pointed out to him that a major university advertised housing “‘for a grand total of 14 different gender identities.’

“I’m sure even more will be invented as time goes on,” he said, prompting laughter from the audience of about 200…’Those initials keep getting longer and longer,’ he added, referring to debates over whether the LGBT acronym — for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — should include other categories.”

What Archbishop Cordileone does not understand is that being born male or female is not a “clear biological fact” in many cases.  Cordileone, who heads an archdiocese with one of the world’s largest LGBT communities, needs to learn more about the people God has entrusted to his pastoral care.

Bay Area Catholics have organized against Archbishop Cordileone’s approach to LGBT issues for nearly six months now. They have even called for his resignation in a full-page newspaper ad signed by more than 100 of San Francisco’s most influential Catholics. San Francisco’s Catholics have criticized his recent comments on trans* people as well, reported the National Catholic Reporter:

  • Micaela Presti, alumna and parent at Marin Catholic High School: “The language the archbishop used at this conference was ill-considered, hurtful and lacking in knowledge and compassion.”
  • Jim McGarry, a retired religious studies teacher: “My first reaction is to say the name of a person, which is Gwen Araujo [a transgender teen murdered in 2002]…He’s adding to persecution of people like Gwen.”
  • Ted DeSaulnier, the former religion department chair at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco: “The transgendered [sic] youth who attend the high schools of San Francisco will have one more burden to overcome in the prejudice against them: Their very existence threatens the foundation of our Catholic faith.”
  • Fr. John Coleman, associate pastor of St. Ignatius Parish: “Whatever you think about transgender issues, I find it really hard to say it is ‘a threat to the faith.”

Dan Morris-Young, in a lengthy National Catholic Reporter piece, said “conflict has marked the tenure of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone since his arrival in San Francisco in 2012.” Morris-Young described a striking difference of opinion in the city:

“The Bay Area has become an epicenter for colliding visions of what being Catholic means, the role of conscience, church teaching on sex and sexuality, the core role of Catholic schools, the understanding of revealed truth, and how authority should be exercised.

“In short, Catholic identity.”

He quoted Catholics who have been deeply troubled by the archbishop’s actions and statements. Thomas Sheehan, a Stanford University professor, says Cordileone has an “arrogant, condescending attitude, almost bullying.”

Nick Andrade, a friend and adviser to the archbishop who is also a partnered gay man says, predicted a dire future if Cordileone’s continues to insist on using harmful language about homosexuality like “gravely evil” and “intrinsically disordered”:

“…some young man is going to kill himself, and that is not what you want at all. Therapists will tell you that that is exactly what can happen, that some kid is going to kill himself because he has been told he is gravely evil.”

Toinette Eugene, a founding member of the National Office for Black Catholics, says this affects all Catholics concerned with justice and equality:

“From the perspective of the ordinary person in the pew…I think that dealing and dialoguing more directly and pastorally with the constituencies who represent the cultural, social, racial and sexual diversities of the archdiocese is a critical priority.”

Even Cordileone’s priests are troubled, according to Fr. John Coleman, S.J. of St. Ignatius Parish. They are hurt by administrative decisions like the archbishop’s decision to use conservative priests from outside the archdiocese for key positions. and at times failing to care for priests who are ill or who pass away. These and other actions have led to all time lows in morale among the archdiocesan clergy, reported NCR, with Coleman adding:

“I have never known an archbishop of San Francisco with so much public opinion, elected officials, good Catholic businessmen, school teachers and students against him — as well as such lack of support from priests.”

Thankfully, these Catholics understand what genuine faith and the Gospel look like concretely. They are advocating for a church that is, in the words of Pope Francis, “home for all.” These Catholics understand that human diversity does not undermine faith, but enriches it and all who partake in the community. They understand that LGBT acceptance and justice are integral to Christ’s call for us, and they are pushing our church towards it. Religious Studies teacher Jim McGarry writes:

“Doctrinal development matters. Discrimination against homosexuals is wrong. Persecution of homosexuals is real…If church teaching is not part of the protection of a vulnerable population, it is part of the persecution. Civil rights for gays must be understood and incorporated into the Catholic tradition — theologically, just as opposition to slavery finally was promulgated. This inclusion of civil rights in moral teaching may or may not imply other developments of doctrine on this issue, but this first, true step must be fully taken — to the point of support for civil marriage as a human right — in a world where violence against gays, lesbians and transgender people is still the norm.”

“Mercy does not mean acquiescence or procrastination. We do not condemn our opponents but we do not wait for them. We pray that they will eventually come along. The long arc of Church history suggests that they will.”

Indeed, Archbishop Cordileone’s ill-spoken gender identity comments reveal the need for LGBT advocates to invite him along on the journey towards greater affirmation and inclusion. I hope to offer one such invite to the archbishop and his peers in a Bondings 2.0 post later this week.

As a starter, I suggest that he reads these powerfully insightful essays from Janet Mock and Laverne Cox regarding Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

16 replies
  1. Valerie Kosmicki
    Valerie Kosmicki says:

    I’m starting to think of the saying,”thou who protest too much”. Is he a closet case or just pure evil?

    • newwaysministryblog
      newwaysministryblog says:

      I understand the anger that Archbishop Cordileone’s comments raise in people. I don’t think he is “pure evil.” I don’t think anyone is, or even comes close to that. I think he is very misinformed and I think he does not understand gender or sexuality well at all. I think a great deal of that misinformation and misunderstanding comes from being formed by an all-male clerical culture that values celibacy over sexual relationships as the primary pathway to spirituality. As for Cordileone’s sexuality, to quote Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?” I have met many people who hold negative views towards sexuality, homosexuality, and gender identity. They have been both heterosexual and homosexual. I don’t think that closeted homosexual people are the only ones who express anti-gay views.

      Frank DeBernardo

  2. Richard McIvor
    Richard McIvor says:

    Great reporting. I missed a lot of this in the National Catholic Reporter. Your weekly email is a must read.

  3. FR Anthony
    FR Anthony says:

    This was predictable . Cordeleone was sent by the Vatican to straighten out the Diocese in more ways than one.

  4. winterhavenlarry
    winterhavenlarry says:

    I agree with Fr. John Coleman, associate pastor of St. Ignatius Parish who said:
    “Whatever you think about transgender issues, I find it really hard to say it is ‘a threat to the faith.”
    Rather, in my opinion, transgender issues might actually be a stimulus to stronger faith. I am still learning about these issues, and the more I learn, the more I have to explore our relationship with God’s plan for creation. And I think that transgender and questioning people also must go through a whole lot of anguish as they deal with God’s plan for them and their place in creation. And in the persecution they endure they may seek to endure in union with the suffering of Jesus. So, therefore, I would think that these issues can serve to help us to be aware of how little we know, how much we need to trust in God, and how far we still have to go to truly love our neighbor.

  5. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM
    Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM says:

    The archbishop suggested this development was “a reversion to the paganism of old,” bringing with it “postmodern variations on its themes, such as the practice of child sacrifice, the worship of feminine deities or the cult of priestesses.”

    It is surprising how often homophobia and sexism go hand in hand.

  6. mateo
    mateo says:

    This Archbishop belongs to ultra-conservative OPUS DEI.The first PUS DEI Cardinal is the Archbishop of Lima ,Peru, a man of controversy.He wants the Catholic Univesity’s money,and there r ta least two lawsuits by th Univrsity against him,In heights of stupidity he has forbidden the teaching of Thoelogy courses ia Catholic Institution,,,Named by Pope benedict who named OPUS DI bishops to all Peruvian vacant sees,Beware of OPUS DEI!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Taken together, the archbishop’s actions have drawn sustained protests from thousands of Bay Area Catholics centered around the #TeachAcceptance movement. In April, more than 100 influential local Catholics signed an open letter to Pope Francis calling for Cordileone’s resignation because, they said, he caused grave harm to the local church. There have also been public vigils at the cathedral and online advocacy through a Facebook group and awebsite. Parents have written letters of support to students and many objected to the archbishop’s comment that transgender people “undermine the faith.” […]

  2. […] of gender confirmation surgery and there are still plenty of hierarchs, like San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone or Bishop-Elect Robert Barron of Los Angeles, making highly prejudiced comments. Even Pope […]

  3. […] protested the archbishop’s leadership in recent months, most recently for attacking trans* people as undermining faith. NCR columnist Michael Sean Winters questioned the other bishops’ silence around […]

  4. […] Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s comment, for which he was widely criticized, that trans* identities undermine faith .  Now, Fr. Robert Barron has weighed in Jenner’s story on his widely-read […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *