Catholic Bishops’ Transgender Tweet Causes Controversy

LGBT issues have become such a flashpoint in our church that even a call for prayers can invoke controversy.

You may remember that last week, Bondings 2.0 reported in a “News Notes” post that the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales had tweeted a message calling for prayer for “all people who are ill at ease with their gender, seek to change it, suffer for it and have been persecuted, and also killed.”  They posted the tweet on November 20th for the Transgender Day of Remembrance and used the hashtag #TDOR which was being used to commemorate this day set apart to remember transgender people who have been murdered because of their identity.

The tweet that has caused controversy

The Tablet reported this week that the bishops’ simple message created a controversy with some Catholics complaining to the bishops about the tweet.  The article cited the following example:

“Fr Marcus Holden, parish priest of St Bede’s Church in Clapham Park, London, said: ‘ “Transgender Remembrance Day” is part of an ‘”ideological colonisation” which Catholics cannot support. I’m surprised to see this here.’ “

The story also reported that, on the other hand, the bishops’ tweet had received 3,400 “likes,” more than any other tweet of theirs that week.  The article also reported on a the bishops’ defense of the tweet:

“. . . “[T]he Bishops’ Conference said that the purpose of the tweet was not to promote transgenderism but, rather, to promote prayer. It said the views of the Church on gender ideology were well-known, and pointed out that it had in a previous statement said it was ‘deeply concerned that this ideology of gender is creating confusion.’

“The statement noted that the Church was also committed to the pastoral care of ‘people who do not accept their biological sex.’

” ‘Through listening to them we seek to understand their experience more deeply and want to accompany them with compassion, emphasising that they are loved by God and valued in their inherent God-given dignity. There is a place of welcome for everyone in the Catholic Church,’ the statement concluded.”

I find this story interesting for a number of reasons.  First, it shows that there is some ambiguity in the bishops’ original tweet.  Posting a message of prayer on TDOR appears to be a very good step, particularly for showing an awareness of the persecution and danger that many transgender people face.  Yet, the first part of the tweet can be interpreted in two different ways.   Does praying for “people who are ill at ease with their gender, seek to change it, suffer for it” mean that the bishops are supporting or pitying transgender people?  In their statement defending the tweet, what does their support of pastoral care for “people who do not accept their biological sex” mean?  Again, is this a statement of support or of pity?

On the whole, the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom has been cautiously progressive on LGBT issues.  The bishops of England and Wales produced an excellent guide for educators to counteract anti-LGBT bullying.  Several dioceses have hosted welcome Masses for the LGBT community, and the Westminster Diocese (London) has had a regular LGBT outreach program for years.  Msgr. Keith Bartltrop, the head of LGBT ministry for Westminster has said that the church should pastorally accompany transgender people through their transition process.   Yet, as the bishops’ statement shows, they also note they are “‘deeply concerned that this ideology of gender is creating confusion.”  “Gender ideology” is a code word that church officials have been using to speak negatively about emerging ways of understanding gender beyond identifying genitalia.

The second reason this story is important is that it shows how anxious are those who oppose LGBT equality.  Their anxiety shows in their concern over a tweet whose support for transgender people is, at best, ambiguous.  Such opposition over such a small matter makes it clear why some bishops are reluctant to say anything about LGBT issues.  Yet the fact that 3,400 people supported their tweet should show them that Catholics and others want to hear something from them about LGBT issues that is somewhat sympathetic.

Finally, this incident shows a truism that any ally involved in Catholic LGBT issues knows:  when you stand up for LGBT people, you will often suffer the same prejudiced words and actions that they do.   This reality is true of any church minister who stands up for an oppressed people:  think about all the missionaries who have been tortured and killed because they spoke out against these same atrocities being perpetrated against the people they serve.  Such a reaction is probably the greatest evidence that these leaders are preaching the Gospel, which Jesus told us would be dangerous at times.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 30, 2019

2 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    I find the use of the term Ideological Colonization so interesting. Isn’t that what the Church has always done ? The Church sent “missionaries” to those ‘far flung places’ to bring the “word” . Except to those people who lived there, it wasn’t far flung, it was home. Their beliefs, practices and ways were indeed colonized with a new thing. So it may be wise not to use that term unless they are really going for irony in a big , big way

    Reply
  2. Hilary Howes
    Hilary Howes says:

    Like many messages from the church these manage to be ambiguous even in a tweet. I am glad that they were able to at least recognize that transgender people are dyeing due to prejudice that is stoked in part by those who responded to the original message. The term “biological sex” is an inaccuracy that would be better termed “sex assigned at birth”.

    Reply

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