Caitlyn Jenner, The Archbishop, Fr. Barron, and Me

Philadelphia City Hall against a superimposed trans* flag

Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out via Vanity Fair and the ensuing national conversation has triggered some foolish responses from Catholic clergy.

Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 reported on San Francisco 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 blog.

Barron likened Jenner’s transition to a modern form of Gnosticism, a heresy which denigrates the material in favor of the spiritual and emphasizes escape from the body. Barron sets up transitioning as an act in which the body and soul are pitted against one another, in which the body is a “prison for the soul.” Of this, he writes

“This schema is, to a tee, gnostic —and just as repugnant to Biblical religion as it was nineteen hundred years ago…Until we realize that the lionization of Caitlyn Jenner amounts to an embracing of Gnosticism, we haven’t grasped the nettle of the issue.”

Discussing that post on his Facebook page, Barron analogized trans* people to pedophiles.  In a response to the first commenter about the Jenner post, Barron said:

“Friend, just as a thought experiment: would you tolerate someone who chose pedophilia as a lifestyle? If the answer is no, which it must be, then you can’t really believe your own argument that everyone has a right to choose any lifestyle that suits him or her.”

From such a comment it is clear that it is not Caitlyn Jenner and other trans* people who have not “grasped the nettle” of this matter, but rather Fr. Barron. In setting up gender transitions as he does, Barron’s own confusion is on display. The pedophilia reference is dismissed for its absurdity.

Comments by Fr. Barron, Archbishop Cordileone, and others in church leadership who refuse to respect trans* people reveal their profound ignorance about gender issues. Malice may influence some responses, but more often it seems like these Catholics are ill-equipped to discuss transgender issues because either time, opportunity, or will has kept them from properly educating themselves.

Last weekend, I joined nearly 5,000 people for the 14th Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference to help my own education. Though a secular event, God’s love flowed through the halls of the Pennsylvania Convention Center as people gathered to learn self-respect and respect for others. Hope marked the event. Through hundreds of workshops, countless conversations, and the fellowship of friends old and new, I learned an overwhelming amount. I learned most of all how very much there is for me to learn as a cisgender person and ally.

To foster more education, I am inviting Archbishop Cordileone, Fr. Barron, and other Catholic clergy to join me at the 2016 Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference.

This is an invitation to listen and encounter by humbling ourselves, rather than to pontificate. I believe that if skeptical Catholics spend time genuinely coming to know the experiences of trans* people, they could see  that the journey around gender identity is a saintly one. It is the search to be one’s truest self on which all humans embark.

In response to Fr. Barron, I would say that the decision to present and live as or transition to one’s authentic gender identity is the very opposite of Gnosticism. These are acts of integration, allowing some to be embodied in their reality in ways authentic to the person God is calling them forth to be. It is incarnational, not gnostic.

Attending the conference would also help skeptics come to know that trans* people are among those God loves most in our world, for they experience severe levels of violence and discrimination. This is especially true for those who are people of color. While affirming Caitlyn Jenner, many at the conference pointed out how atypical her life is and note the voluminous barriers that prevent many trans* people from living openly as their authentic self. Increasing the church’s practical solidarity with trans* communities would be a response to a sign of the times we cannot ignore.   Our response as a church should be one of education and justice.

On a positive note, it looks like only 23% of Catholics share Archbishop Cordileone’s and Fr. Barron;s disapproval. A recent poll shows 59% of Catholics already accept trans* people or do not consider their identities to be a moral issue, reports The New Civil Rights Movement. Hopefully, by this time next year, that second number will be increasingly higher, and the first one significantly lower,  as more and more Catholics come to understand trans* issues clearly.

To learn more about the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

11 replies
  1. lynne miller
    lynne miller says:

    So we’re still using the old “lifestyle” terminology? Lifestyle describes choosing modern instead of victorian, drinking wine instead of beer, golfing instead of swimming. These are all things you can choose. You cannot choose the person you feel right and comfortable being. I didn’t feel comfortable being an athlete or cheerleader as a teenager. I don’t feel comfortable being a fashion maven or a rock star aficianado now. I could have chosen those things, but they would have been false. If a person is unable to feel like he/she is truly the sex she/he has been identified as at birth, then the honest and genuine thing to do is to change. He/she could choose to struggle through as she/he was, but how many lives would be damaged by so doing? A spouse, a child? How much more courage and honesty it takes to live the truth.

  2. Jerry Baumeister, PhD
    Jerry Baumeister, PhD says:

    All thinking men and women, beware: IGNORANCE is making a comeback and running wild in the streets and sadly, the church is providing a safe haven for these misguided souls.

  3. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Bob. The conference you describe sounds to me like a sign of the reign of God–a community where individual freedom is supported and celebrated in an integration of soul and body. Robert Barron demonstrates a shallow respect for other people’s moral freedom.

    It costs so much money to transition as Caitlyn Jenner has done that I wonder how people who cannot afford that are supported in living within their means. Is it possible to make peace with yourself without massive surgery? I, for one, have lots to learn about it.

  4. ermadurk
    ermadurk says:

    Thank you, again, Bob, for information that is current and enlightening. The opportunities to be educated arise daily.

  5. Agellius
    Agellius says:

    “This is an invitation to listen and encounter by humbling ourselves, rather than to pontificate.”

    Yes, by all means let’s stop the pontificating.

  6. Alecia Moss
    Alecia Moss says:

    Bob, can you try to fill us in more on the “Shadow Council” that Fr. Barron refers to in his blog post that you link to? I would be so happy to hear more about a “Theology of Love” (what Jesus taught) that would “supplant the Theology of the Body”, which has been used to hurt LGBTQ people over the years.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] instance, in 2015, responding to the coming out of transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, Barron posted on Facebook that transgender identities were a modern form of Gnosticism, an ancient Christian heresy, and […]

  2. […] 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 Francis’ record is unclear, […]

  3. […] are quite positive. Indeed, his comments directly challenge other Catholic leaders who have claimed church teaching does not allow for people to transition or that trans identities are actually illness. Unlike the conversations around homosexuality, […]

  4. […] that all of the media hype about Caitlyn Jenner’s gender transition has quieted down, it’s good to take a look at some of the more serious questions that […]

  5. […] That said, I have to contest your proposition that gender transitions come from psychological hurt. I work closely with the LGBT Catholic community and have come to understand that these transitions, or simply presenting as one’s authentic gender identity, are holy paths and part of trans* folks road to saintliness. It is one of the processes by which they become their truest self, the person to which God is calling them to become. I recently wrote about this in a blog post and would add my invitation in the post to you if you’d like to learn more about gender identity: […]

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