Catholic Priest: Church Cannot Abandon Transgender Catholics
The church must not abandon transgender Catholics. This is Fr. Bryan Massingale’s message in his new column published by U.S. Catholic, and it is a poignant message in view of Pope Francis’ recent remarks about gender identity.
Massingale. a professor of theology at Fordham University, New York, begins his essay by referencing a transgender panel discussion in which he participated earlier this year. Hosted by the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the largest annual gathering of Catholics in North America, that panel featured to young trans Catholics sharing their stories. Massingale commented on it:
“I was struck by their heartfelt conviction that accepting their true gender identities led them to a deeper and more authentic relationship with God. Hearing their stories of pain and triumph was one of the most privileged moments I have had in 33 years of being a priest.”
But Massingale notes that he questioned his own participation in the event, especially when friends and family asked him about the risks that identifying with LGBT people can have in the church. He explained:
“Space does not allow me to give my full response. But one reason why I chose to be present is because I have a lot to learn. To be blunt, I was at the panel precisely because of my ignorance and discomfort. Transgender issues were never addressed in either my moral theology courses in the seminary or in my graduate studies in Christian ethics. I—and most priests—have not been trained to specifically minister to transgender members of our parishes or to the concerns of their families.
“My personal ignorance is also shared by the church as a whole. There is much that we do not understand about what is technically called ‘gender dysphoria,’ or the lack of congruence between one’s physical body and gender identity. This ignorance leads to fear, and fear is at the root of the controversies in today’s so-called ‘bathroom wars.’ And there lies a major challenge that transgender people endure and that the faith community has to own: the human tendency to be uncomfortable and fearful in the face of what we don’t understand. It’s easier to ridicule and attack individuals we don’t understand than to summon the patience and humility to listen and to learn.”
The church cannot abandon trans Catholics because, Massingale explains, “Jesus would be present to, among, and with transgender persons.” His table ministry with society’s outcasts teaches Christians that we will be judged on “our compassion for the despised and disdained.” Lack of understanding of or comfort with people does not mitigate the obligation the church has to include them and minister to them. Massingale also cited the compassionate side of Pope Francis:
“During Pope Francis’ visit last fall, he repeated on at least five occasions: ‘Jesus never abandons us.’ This is the deepest reason why I chose to be with Anna and Mateo, who spoke so eloquently for so many of our transgender fellow Catholics. Jesus does not abandon us. If we claim to be his followers, we cannot abandon them.”
You can read Fr. Massingale’s full essay by clicking here.
Fr. Massingale has himself not abandoned LGBT Catholics. While at Marquette University, he celebrated monthly Masses for members of the LGBTQ communities on campus because, he says, it is important they “have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them.” He challenged Pax Christi USA members at their 2013 annual conference to increase the organization’s defense of LGBT rights, as both a human rights concern and a necessary part of attracting younger Catholics. Massingale also joined other Catholic theologians and officials in condemning proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda.
Fr. Massingale will continue his call for inclusion and justice in the church when he will be a keynote speaker for New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” Early registration has now opened if you are interested in attending, and you can find more information by clicking here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
I like him. He does what most of us find so difficult, that is, admit when we don’t know. Class act.
There was a confused young man in the parish I served in Argentina who dressed like a women and had a very disordered sexual life. He had suffered extreme poverty and neglect. He grew up in our soup kitchen learning to cook from the saintly women that prepared the meals. He became the organizer of various charitable projects. When the Jesuits closed our residence and I was leaving as pastor we embraced and he thanked me for letting him be part of the parish. I could not give him a pass on his sexual confusion but I could let him be generous. I pray for him a lot.
Father Massingale is a very wise man. I’m instantly a fan. I wish the archbishop of Denver was as enlightened as he is. As he said, it’s only fear and anxiety that keep us from including and guiding our Catholic LGBTQ community with love and kindness. Only fear and anxiety, nothing more. There is no choice involved in being transgender. It’s done in the womb, and it’s by God’s own hand.
We, as followers of Christ, must look to His example of inclusion and understanding to find the right path. Jesus loved prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, the blind and the crippled. That was a choice. If we don’t make the same choice with LGBTQ, then we’re not Christians at all.