Sr. Luisa Derouen, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace and long time spiritual companion to transgender people, has published an essay reacting to Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s controversial, transphobic policy published in January. She joins a number of LGBTQ Catholics and allies who oppose the bishop’s new rules for the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois.
Paprocki’s Policy 650 calls for all students and employees in Catholic institutions to “conduct themselves in accord with their biological sex at all times.” Most egregiously, the guidelines compare being transgender to having an eating disorder. The logic is that it would be pastorally irresponsible to affirm disordered eating because it, like being transgender, is a disorder.
Speaking to the harmful effects of the bishop’s guidelines, DeRouen says the issue is much more complex than the policy outlines:
“I believe Paprocki is genuine in his desire to exercise responsible leadership for his people, but this is a complex reality, and is best addressed with nuance, humility, sensitivity and in dialogue with transgender people. By invalidating their existence, leaders give religious sanction to the violence perpetrated against transgender people, and certainly raise the risk of suicide attempts, which are already at 40% among them.”
DeRouen’s ministry to transgender people first started in the late 1990s, which she described as “a call within a call.” At the request of her community, she went by the pseudonym “Sr. Monica” for almost 20 years. In 2018, she revealed her identity after providing pastoral care in anonymity for so long.
In her insightful and heartfelt essay, DeRouen writes about the experience of the transgender people she has met throughout her 21 years of ministry. Transgender people are not disordered. To live authentically as themselves, they have to go through a journey of integration, disintegration, or reintegration. She writes:
“Transgender people are who they say they are. I have witnessed their incredible courage and faith in the pursuit of living an authentic life. It is what we call transformation in God, conversion of life.”
DeRouen explained the process. The first step, (false) integration, is the period in which transgender people are pressured to comply with their sex assigned at birth. She writes that it is a period of self-loathing:
“Try as they might, though, they cannot shake loose the mysterious knowing that this is who they are, and neither they nor anyone else can change it.”
The second step is disintegration, which means to come to terms with their true selves. Transgender people risk losing everything when they make the decision to live as they are:
“How many of us have paid that kind of price to live with integrity? This is what we call holiness. It is dying to a false self to live as one’s true self.”
And lastly, Derouen explains the reintegration stage, which often comes after many years of the complex process of transition:
“They are finally at home with themselves and with the world around them. They have made the passage from what was death-dealing to what can now be life-giving.”
Sr. Luisa Derouen concludes that in her 21 years of ministry, she has learned that the truth is what sets us free. The truth is what brings us all closer, not farther from God. And for those who are not transgender, she asserts this:
“… Transgender people are God’s beloved every bit as much as any of us. They, too, are God’s dwelling place. With rare exception, they are closer to God after transition. They have been tried by fire in ways many of us cannot imagine. It has brought them to a place of truth, wisdom, compassion, forgiveness, joy, peace, generativity and immense gratitude.They have so much to teach us, if only we would listen.”
—Melissa Feito, New Ways Ministry, March 17, 2020