Last year, Pope Francis deemed July 22nd as a feast day for St. Mary Magdalene. But for years before his decree, advocates for women’s equality in the church have celebrated this “Apostle to the Apostles” as the one who first proclaimed resurrection. As we mark today’s feast, one transgender woman’s story of leaving the Catholic priesthood and transitioning is a reminder of the intersection between LGBTQ equality and equality for women called to priesthood.
Alisha Cacace was assigned male at birth, grew up religious, and was ordained later as a Catholic priest. But she told the Daily Mail that “from a very young age” Cacace knew she was “a female trapped in a male’s body.” For many years, she pushed this truth aside until, after six years of turmoil, she began transitioning. This decision freed her:
“‘Seeing others happy was great and that really set a spark off in my mind. . .Once you face that fear, and do it, you feel a lot better in yourself. . .The best thing I’ve ever done was change over, I don’t think I could ever kind of go back.’
That transition necessitated leaving the priesthood, but The Daily Mail reported:
“[Cacace] cherishes her past time as a priest and has even held onto the priest robes she used to wear – but she’s quick to admit that she has also completely left that part of her story behind now as she enjoys life with her daughter Abbie.
“She said: ‘I’m kind of out of that frame of mind of being a clergy member and into the frame of mind of being a transgender girl and focusing on the new life.’
“But the trans woman has held on to her vocation, as she is still attached to her faith and regularly practices the Catholic religion.
“‘I’ve still got God’s support, definitely still have God’s support. I can feel that,’ Ms Cacace added.
“‘I’m at that point in my life where this is my life. This is how I want to lead it. Go out and be happy.'”
Alisha Cacace’s story is both beautiful and tragic. She knows the truth that so many LGBTQ people know: living authentically is fully supported by God and brings happiness. But there is also loss, for her and for the church. There is no sensible reason why Cacace could not have remained in ministry after transitioning, apart from teachings on women’s ordination that vast numbers of Catholics reject. Cacace’s story is a reminder that Catholics must act in unity for the equality of LGBTQ people, the ordination of women, and the end of clericalism which a truly one cause in three parts. Though she may no longer wear a collar, Alisha Cacace is still exercising priestly ministry. Like Mary of Magdala, she proclaims the resurrection and leads the people of God forward into new life.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 22, 2019