Results Mixed in Changing Church Records for Transgender and Intersex Catholics

Alba Rueda

Transgender and intersex Catholics have faced mixed results when requesting that church records be emended to reflect their actual names and gender identities. In Argentina, a transgender activist is suing a bishop who refused to change the activist’s church records, a case that could now be taken up by the nation’s Supreme Court. But in the Philippines, an intersex Catholic had their church records changed successfully.

Alba Rueda’s lawsuit against Archbishop Mario Antonio Cargnello of Salta is now heading to Argentina’s Supreme Court after being rejected by lower appeals courts. Filed last year, the suit stems from the archbishop’s refusal to change Rueda’s baptismal and confirmation certificates so they are in line with the name and gender on her national identification document, which has been corrected from the name and sex assigned to her at birth. Télam reported:

“‘[The archbishop] told me that “canon law ignores legal fictions” and treating me as a male, clarified to me: you were baptized and that is a historical fact that nobody can change,’ said this philosophy professor who was one of the first trans women who obtained the registry change in the [National Identity Document] by judicial means, before the passage of the law 26.743 [legalizing document changes].

“Subsequently, the Archbishop partially agreed to the request, noting the registry change in the margins, which according to its sponsors ‘violates the provisions of the law and violates the privacy’ of the applicant, ‘exposing her trans identity to the religious community.’

“‘The gender identity law says that registration changes do not have to leave a trace and that the documents have to be replaced by exactly the same ones, they cannot be marginal notes,” said [Rueda’s lawyer Alejandro] Mamani.”

Defending his refusal, Archbishop Cargnello said that church records and civil records are different. He alleged that forcing the church to violate canon law, which does not allow such document changes, would be a “violation of the right to religious freedom” and the 1966 concordat between Argentina and the Holy See. But Rueda’s lawyer said at issue was “what is the limit of the canon law and the immunity of the church against the judicial apparatus, and ultimately if we are a secular state or not,” reported Presentes. So far, the courts have said they are not competent to decide the issue.

Rueda, who leads the organization Trans-Argentinian Women, had not intended to sue over the refusal to change her church records until she was asked to be the godparent of a friend’s child. That baptism has been postponed for two years because of the documents dispute. But now she is also pursuing this cause to take a stand for the rights of transgender Catholics:

“‘Many [my] trans companions are Catholic. They were baptized, they did the catechesis, they took communion, they were confirmed. And then they were expelled from their religious communities because of their gender identity,’ explains Rueda. ‘We have the right to participate in the religious life of our churches in conditions of equality and respect. They should not deny us the sacraments for our gender identity.'”

Supporting Rueda’s suit is the National Campaign for a Lay State. The group’s Julieta Arosteguy commented:

“‘We all know what the Catholic hierarchy thinks about those who are trans. . .However, nothing in Catholic doctrine or in canon law justifies its position. They have no more doctrinal support than their own prejudices, no matter how much they want to disguise their transphobia as religion.'”

But not all such requests by Catholics are being denied. In the Philippines, intersex Catholic and activist Jeff Balahadia Cagandahan successfully had his Certificate of Baptism and Certificate of Confirmation changed at St. James the Apostle Parish in the Diocese of San Pablo. Cagandahan was the nation’s first intersex person to have their civil records changed after a successful lawsuit against the government.

Though seemingly an administrative issue, correcting church records is actually a matter of pastoral care. Requests from Catholics like Rueda and Cagandahan are opportunities for the church to show concretely that it does indeed respect and support transgender and intersex people. Church leaders should not wait for court orders to act in the best interests of the faithful, but rather they should ensure every Catholic is addressed as the true person God created them to be.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 25, 2019

2 replies
  1. Robert W Nalley
    Robert W Nalley says:

    As a canonist, it is my understanding that Ecclesiastical records exist for the benefit of the Church and record sacramental/historical facts. In the records, a column exists for making NOTANDA where such factors can be noted. Using a later event in a person’s life to change the record of an early event destroys the historical nature of the record and has the potential of contributing to deception/fraud toward third parties.

    Reply
    • Sarasi
      Sarasi says:

      Actually, I think the trans person would argue that the assigned sex at birth may be a historical fact but not an accurate one, which goes to the heart of your claim about deception/fraud. Typically when birth certificates–also historical records–are amended for transdgender individuals, documentation by medical professionals is required but the reason for amending them is accuracy. The Catholic Church’s problem is that it does not accept modern science or an individual’s ability to determine sexual identity as real. On the other hand, its position that God personally determines sex (synonymous with gender) in each person, never to be altered or questioned, is about as unreal as you can get.

      Reply

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