The ruling by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith against a trans* man in Spain becoming a godparent quickly became news that the Vatican had barred transgender godparents. Is that really what is happening? If not, what is to be made of this ruling going forward?
“The Vatican’s declaration that Alex and other transgender people are unfit to be godparents is exclusionary and hurtful. It says to the Roman Catholic Church’s transgender members, to the people who love and care for them, and to the entire church that trans folk are ‘less than,’ and not fully welcome in our midst. It is a blanket statement that anyone who does not fit neatly into binary gender categories is morally suspect, inherently unworthy to serve as a guide to an ethical, faith-based life.”
Duddy-Burke noted that this ruling contradicts Pope Francis’ warm welcome of a trans* Catholic earlier this year and reveals church officials as “demonstrating a tragically limited, one-dimensional view of transgender people,” at odds with wider movements in the church towards acceptance and affirmation. She calls for church leaders to imitate Francis’ efforts by listening to trans* people and getting to know their stories and journeys before making harmful decisions.
Anna Magdalena of The Catholic Transgender limited the implications of the CDF ruling in her analysis, noting this was solely a “pastoral and canonical decision, not a doctrinal one” and is exclusively concerned with “transsexual persons as opposed to transgender persons in general.” I would add to her analysis that, in my reading of the CDF ruling in Spanish, it may be further limited to specifically the case of Alex Salinas.
Magdalena contrasts the CDF’s ruling with previous pastoral and/or canonical statements, not all of which are public or even acknowledged, and she concluded:
“It’s hard to see this ruling as anything but an all-doors-closed approach to transsexual people. It’s likewise hard to see this as sensible or pastorally sustainable. For a Church whose very name means ‘universal,’ it’s as ludicrous to shut transsexuals out of vocational life as it is to forbid hirsute women from going to Mass.
“Luckily, I think there’s room for the Church to grow in her canonical rulings. However, if such growth is going to happen, the Church needs to examine transsexuality not as a secular social agenda, but as a factual phenomenon that is concretely experienced by individuals in the Church.”
In a reflection worth reading in full, Magdalena explores the intricacies at play in the CDF’s thinking, particularly the Church’s choice “to medicalize and pathologize transsexuality,” which, if it were appropriate to do so, would then then require the Church to be informed by science. She concluded:
“From what we know, a transsexual will always remain transsexual regardless of reparative interventions. If such remains the case – which is likely – then the Church needs to reach a little deeper into its pastoral toolbox. . .There are no easy answers here, but that’s okay. . .I’m incredibly hopeful that as the Church encounters more and more transsexuals in the facticity of their lives, she will eventually find a place for them in the Body of Christ.”
There is, indeed, a lot for Catholics at all levels to learn about trans* issues so we can each expand our pastoral toolbox and grow in love of all God’s people.
One opportunity for learning more is at TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, a daylong workshop sponsored by New Ways Ministry during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia later this month. It takes place 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. Despite Archbishop Charles Chaput’s expulsion of this event, (along with other LGBT events) from a Catholic parish, Catholics who are transgender and intersex, and their families will share their stories at this workshop.
To answer the question in the title of this post, it is unclear, and somewhat unlikely, that the CDF has banned trans* godparents altogether. Alex Salinas’ case remains a deeply wounding tragedy and, as Duddy-Burke pointed out, truly a mistake by the Vatican. The headlines which reported the CDF statement were reactionary, failing to consider the intricacies (and absurdities) of the Roman Curia. While I do not blame journalists for misreporting, Catholics must be careful. We cannot attribute to church teaching or canon law more than exists in the specific ruling. In matters where sanctions or punishments are involved, we must follow the letter of the law closely and narrowly.
Alex Salinas cannot be a godparent, and his nephew will not be baptized in the Catholic Church. These are serious loses for our church and must be mourned. Our best response is education to prevent further mistakes and to call out church leaders who make them. Educating ourselves more and more about marginalized communities is not merely good, it is an action flowing directly from the Gospel call to love our neighbor.
If you can make it to the workshop in Philadelphia, great! You can find out more information by clicking here. If not, consider a small step to learn more about trans* Catholics’ experiences. Perhaps read more from The Catholic Transgender or explore Bondings 2.0‘s coverage of trans Catholic issues by clicking the “Transgender” category in the column to the right.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry