A committee chair at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has claimed that transgender men have been admitted to seminaries, and he is seeking new policies to ensure this does not happen again, including the prospect of intrusive medical examinations.
Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, who chairs the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, sent a memo to every U.S. bishop about the issue of transgender men and seminaries. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Listceki alleged “that an unspecified number of transgender men have been ‘unknowingly admitted’ to diocesan seminaries and houses of formation for religious orders.” NCR continued:
“In his recent memo, Listecki says his committee had been made aware of ‘instances where it had been discovered that a woman living under a transgendered identity’ had been admitted to a seminary or a religious institute’s house of formation.
“In one instance, Listecki wrote, an individual’s ‘sacramental records had been fraudulently obtained to reflect her new identity. In all instances, nothing in these individuals’ medical or psychological reports had signaled past treatments or pertinent surgeries.’
“The archbishop also wrote that ‘luckily’ each case of a transgender seminarian or religious in training had been discovered before they received the sacrament of Holy Orders.”
Listecki asks the bishops to “exercise special vigilance” in regards to transgender people entering seminaries. NCR reported:
“Among the recommendations are DNA testing and certification from a medical expert of the bishop’s choosing.
“Rocco Palmo, who writes the blog Whispers in the Loggia, first reported the memo, titled ‘Transgenderism and Seminary Formation,’ via Twitter on Sept. 23. Palmo’s initial tweet sparked a range of incredulous replies, with some people comparing the memo to medieval practices that involved physically checking priesthood candidates.”
Whoever leaked this memo has done a service to the church by allowing the faithful to see the inner workings of the often murky communi cations of the bishops’ conference. It is clear that Archbishop Listecki provides no evidence for his sensationalized allegations, nor takes into account any real knowledge about transgender issues. Indeed, the whole memo seems like a solution in search of a problem, and a solution that, as is often the case with conservatives in the U.S., scapegoats trans people.
What seems to drive this memo is the same fear that drives efforts to stymie a priesthood inclusive of all genders or even the promotion of women to decision-making roles in the church, too. Ultimately, the prohibition on trans priests is also about preserving cisgender male power. Church leaders know that an expansive priesthood inclusive of trans and non-binary people, as well as cis women would be destructive to clericalist and patriarchal ecclesial cultures.
We know, however, that such a priesthood would be a grace for the church. Archbishop Listecki’s memo is a call to action, not for “special vigilance” to exclude, but for dedicated action linking the struggles for transgender equality and ordination justice as one common cause.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 28, 2021