Two recent incidents at Catholic parishes reveal a troubling attempt in the church to impose gender norms as if they were matters of faith. These events raise questions about how church officials’ are using their power against gender non-conforming children.
In the city of St. John, Indiana, 9-year old Cady Mansell was told she would be denied the sacrament at her First Communion if she wore a suit rather than a dress. WPVI 6 reported that the priest at St. John the Evangelist Church, told Mansell’s mother, Chris:
“‘If your daughter wears a suit, comes here in a suit on Sunday, she will not be given communion and will be asked to leave.'”
Chris also said the priest opined negatively about her and her husband’s parenting.
Cady had requested to wear a white suit because, in her words, “I don’t really like dresses, I don’t like them. They’re too itchy.” Chris Mansell said her daughter “felt beautiful in this suit” and “wears suits all the time.” Some reports have claimed Cady is transgender, but her mother has denied that the identity fits her daughter:
“‘While I have no problem with that, she is not – or hasn’t expressed that. She’s 9. Right now, I joke that the only thing Cady identifies as is a Jedi or a Storm Trooper.'”
The parish claimed the incident is simply a matter of maintaining a strict dress code which must be conformed to because otherwise they would be “allowing a myriad of exceptions to it.”
In Maryland, a young gender non-conforming child was removed from parish religious education. Fr. James Martin, SJ, reported the incident on his Facebook page, where he described church officials’ treatment of this child and their family as “a scandal.” The mother of the child, who is unnamed, said the experience has left her family “devastated”:
“[T]he parish staff reached out to the chancellor of the archdiocese, who said that my child could only enroll in religious education in a classroom setting if she presents as the sex and name on the baptismal certificate. . .Today, during an in-person meeting with the chancellor and the priest, the decision was reaffirmed. The basis for the decision is that God made my child a male, and by presenting our child as a female we are going against God’s will and putting the priest and the church in the position of publicly accepting our decision. And we are putting other parents in the position of accepting our parenting choices for our child. The priest has a particular concern about the age of my child–he said he would have no problem is a 25-year-old were coming out to him as transgender.”
Martin commented on this incident and others like it by acknowledging that “there are many questions about how to raise LGBT children,” and followed up:
“But on this issue, it doesn’t matter what kind of child we are talking about. Every child has the right to a religious education. It is scandalous to prevent this in any way. . .And of all the children who need to hear that God loves them, an LGBT child may need to hear this the most.”
It is alarming that church officials are seeking to impose societal gender norms as if these were matters of faith. It is dangerous and false to conflate the largely patriarchal, cultural norms of U.S. society with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the Christians who first proclaimed that gospel were radically egalitarian. They often ignored gender expectations of their own time. Issues of how a child dresses, what name they use, and even which restroom they use are related to doctrine only if the doctrines referenced are teachings on human dignity and social justice. For church officials to claim that gender norms should be regulated among children as if matters of faith misleads the people of God, and to use those norms as the basis of denying access to the Eucharist or religious education egregiously abuses their power.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 2, 2017