A Catholic high school in New Jersey has rejected a transgender student, and school officials are making shaky claims that Catholic identity was the reason behind their decision
Camden Catholic High School accepted Mason Catrambone last spring. Trouble arose when his parents informed administrators in August that their son was transitioning. In two meetings held, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
“The family say they told school officials at two August meetings that Mason would be willing to use the restroom in the nurse’s office, and change into gym clothes there as well.
“They did insist that Mason — who is not yet undergoing any treatment or surgical procedures — be able to wear a boy’s uniform.”
According to a joint statement from Principal Heather Crisci and the Diocese of Camden, those requests could not be met because of the school’s Catholic identity. Fr. Joseph Capella, director of Catholic identity at the school, cited natural law to defend the decision, saying “we believe we are not the creators, and at no point in our lives can we move toward being that.” Capella later said that because of the high school’s religious affiliation, “some will choose another learning environment.”
Mason, who came out as transgender this past May, said school officials “can’t look past what I’m going through, and see me as a human being. . .I’m not a transgender. . .entity. I’m not some diabolical plan to impose my transgender evilness on them.”
Mason explained how he sees the situation:
“I didn’t lose Camden Catholic. Camden Catholic lost me.”
Mason’s parents, Frank Catrambone, Sr. and Annmarie Kita, who learned about Mason’s gender issues four months ago, stand by their son. They taught Mason that “you stand up for yourself, and speak for yourself,” as he is doing now. When they learned the news from their child, Annmarie said she was “in complete disbelief,” but the family discussed it and the parents educated themselves. Frank said despite there being a “mourning period,” the high rate of transgender youth suicides because of family rejection motivated them to respond positively:
“I heard that, and there was not a choice to make. The only thing to do was to love and support Mason.”
They are disappointed Mason will not begin at Camden Catholic this fall. A 1971 alum, Frank said he had been “very, very excited that my kid was going to have the same opportunity” there. Annmarie said the school “could have tried hard to find a way” for Mason to attend.
For now, Mason is attending an online cyber high school and raising awareness about his rejection. He told NBC Philadelphia that he wants his story shared, and says, “I felt like I was rejected even though I knew the students of Camden Catholic would accept me as one of their peers.” A Change.org petition supporting Mason has received more than 1,300 signatures so far.
Camden Catholic and the Diocese of Camden are attempting to describe the rejection of Mason as a choice the family made. The decision, however, was the school’s to make. School officials failed to prioritize a student’s well-being, to educate themselves about gender identity issues and thereby provide appropriate supports for a transgender student. Fr. Capella’s claims about natural law theory rejecting transgender identities is debatable, and it is certainly not official church teaching.
The school officials’ decision is having repercussions in the wider Church community. Walter Browne, who attends Mass weekly with his family though is not Catholic, wrote a letter to the editor of the Inquirer which said, in part:
“Just last week, I was listening to the Gospel in which Jesus was sitting with the ‘outcasts,’ much to the consternation of the Pharisees. Now we have that same Church, at Camden Catholic, turning away a teenager who wants the benefits of the love and logic of Jesus. Just who have become the Pharisees now? Why reject anyone – gay, straight, divorced, transgendered [sic]? We all need the healing power of community and love. Open the doors to everyone.”
As more transgender youth come out, more and more Catholic schools have had to face the issue. The Diocese of Little Rock amended its 2016-2017 education policies to threaten LGBT students with expulsion if their gender identity or sexual orientation even “have the potential of causing scandal.” Earlier this year, a Catholic high school in Rhode Island attempted to ban transgender students, but reversed the decision after tremendous alumni outcry. And some Catholic bishops have vocally opposed President Barack Obama’s efforts to keep transgender youth safe and supported in public schools.
Catholic educators who oppose transgender students should educate themselves. If they do, they will find that there is no defined Catholic teaching on transgender identities or diverse gender expressions. They will find that some church leaders, like the United Kingdom’s Monsignor Keith Barltrop who heads LGBTQI outreach for the Archdiocese of Westminster, have actually called for the church to support trans people who transition. They will find that these issues are not settled. They will realize that their responsibility is to respond with the compassion and care that Jesus himself offered, always attentive to the well-being of the person in front of them.
The school year has only just begun. It would not be too late for Camden Catholic officials to learn something, apologize to Mason and his family, and welcome him with open arms.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry