The Vatican has intervened to prevent a transgender man in Spain from being a godparent, causing the local bishop to again reverse his decision in the case, just as plans for the baptism were moving forward.
Initially rejected for being transgender, a decision which Alex Salinas said felt like a “kick in the stomach,” the young Spanish trans* won an appeal to Bishop Rafael Zornoza of the Diocese of Cadiz and Ceuta. The bishop approved Salinas’ request to be his nephew’s godparent in August. Bondings 2.0 highlighted the bishop’s decisions as one of several positive trans* Catholic developments at the time.
Zornoza is now saying “no” again. Salinas confirmed the second rejection to RTVE, saying the bishop called him on the very day they were going to the parish to confirm the baptism date and time. The bishop told Salinas, without providing any reason, that he could not be the godparent .
The reason is apparent now that Bishop Zornoza has admitted that he consulted the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). The Vatican office said “publicly and definitely” in a statement that transsexual Catholics are ineligible. The following is part of the CDF’s response, as cited by the bishop and translated into English:
“About this particular matter [i.e., a transsexual person being a godparnet], I communicate to you the impossibility that it is admitted. The same transexual behavior reveals, in a public manner, an attitude opposed to the moral demand of resolving the problem of one’s own sexual identity according to the truth of one’s own sex. Therefore, the result is evident that this person does not possess the requisite of leading a life conformed to the faith and to the position of godfather (CIC, can 874 §1,3), therefore is not able to be admitted to the position of godmother nor godfather. One should not see this as discrimination, but only the recognition of an objective absence of the requisites that by their nature are necessary to assume the ecclesial responsibility of being a godparent.”
According to Zornoza, the CDF consultation was necessary because of “confusion” by the faithful about his own words and the media attention surrounding Salinas’ case.
The bishop also cited Popes Francis and Benedict XVI to justify his rejection, claiming Francis believes “this behavior is contrary to human nature” because of several sentences in the pope’s recent encyclical on care for creation, Laudato Si. Zornoza explained:
“Acceptance of one’s body as a gift of God is necessary to receive and accept the world as a gift of the Father and our common home, while a logic of domination over the body itself becomes a sometimes subtle logic of dominion over creation. Learning to receive the body itself, to care for and respect its meanings is essential for a true human ecology. Also assessing the body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary to recognize an encounter with the different. This makes it possible to joyfully accept the specific gift of the other , the work of God the Creator, and enrich one another. Therefore, it is not a healthy attitude that seeks to ‘cancel the sexual difference that no longer knows confront the same’ ( Laudato Si, n.155) .”
I quoted these explanations from the CDF and Zornoza at length because the incoherence of these statements and their underlying logic becomes readily apparent to trans* people and their allies. Those who live openly as their understood gender identities are not living in opposition to resolving their sexual identity nor are they failing to accept their bodies as gifts from God.
Instead the trans* Catholics I know are people who have come to accept their bodies as gifts from God in the deepest way. They have, frequently through intense struggle and suffering, learned to receive their bodies, to care for them, to respect them, and to develop a healthy human ecology in their relationships. The dark reality is that religious condemnation, like the CDF’s or Zornoza’s, is what can create disintegration of one’s identity and dissociation with one’s body. This is true for trans* and cisgender people alike.
The CDF can claim that not including trans* Catholics as godparents is not discrimination, but that doesn’t make it that statement true. Their statement is marked by an exclusion that is at odds with Jesus’ welcome to all. Bishop Zornoza’s claim that the church welcomes all and accompanies all with mercy ring hollow in light of his latest decision.
This incident also reveals a church in deep tension in the church during this era of Pope Francis who has repeatedly reached out to trans* Catholics. But what is still most painful in this incident is the personal dimension: the harm done to Alex Salinas and his family.
A faithful trans* Catholic, Salinas has experienced the violence of exclusion, and he says, understandably, that he is “disgusted” and “feels cheated by the parish priest, the bishop of Rome” because he was rejected, then approved, and now rejected again. Salinas’ family now says they will not baptize his nephew in the Catholic Church but will raise the child elsewhere in the Christian faith. Is the CDF’s restrictive version of Canon Law worth these costs? One more reversal from Zornoza seems the only right way to proceed.
For more updates on trans Catholic issues, check out our “Transgender” category in the column to the right.
For those attending the World Meeting of Families, or anyone who wants to come to Philadelphia at the end of September, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s half-day workshop on gender diverse families entitled TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at Arch Street United Methodist Church, 55 North Broad Street, Philadelphia. For more information, click here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry