“It took the Church 350 years to admit they got that whole Galileo thing wrong. How long will it take for them to apologize for waging war on transgender people?” This question is the provocative one posed recently by a commentator for LGBTQ Nation, an online LGBTQ news magazine.
In the commentary, entitled “The Catholic Church is still trying to kill Joan of Arc,” Warren Blumenfeld laments the slow progress of the Catholic Church in recognizing the dignity of trans and gender non-conforming people. Blumenfeld draws a parallel between the church’s hostility toward Galileo Galilei’s scientific discoveries with its contemporary unwillingness to affirm trans identities.
He further makes the point that oppressive behavior has dehumanizing effects not only on its victims, but also on its perpetrators. He argues that although the church “vehemently [speaks] out against gender non-conformity and same-sex sexuality” now, eventually these efforts will backfire.
He cites the very recent example of the restrictive guidelines issued by the Diocese of Marquette in which priests are instructed to refuse sacraments to transgender and non-binary people unless they ‘repent.’ Blumenfeld says this requirement means asking people to deny who they are:
“‘Repent’ to the diocese represents a complete denial of the individuals’ essential identities and of their personal integrity. To be accepted into the flock, they must deny their humanity.But this ‘love’ amounts to nothing less than the Catholic Church’s long-standing conspiratorial harassment and intimidation toward trans people.”
Blumenfeld contrasts the liturgical garb that clergy wear with the case of a nine-year-old girl denied First Communion at her parish because she wanted to wear a suit, not a dress.
Blumenfeld points out that even one of the church’s great saints, Joan of Arc, did not conform to gender norms:
“[T]he Roman Catholic Church tried and convicted Joan on the charge of heresy in rejecting Church authority in preference for direct inspiration from God, but most importantly, by donning men’s clothing. Joan died by burning at the stake at the hands of the Church.”
Blumenfeld is somewhat disappointed with how Pope Francis has handled LGBTQ issues during his papacy so far:
“Many Church watchers had hoped that Francis would have taken the Church out of the 17th Century where it has remained stuck for some time and carry it on the wings of a dove to at least the 19th if not the 20th or 21st century regarding its oppressive precepts and ‘instructions’ on LGBTQ people. But alas, the dove has died as has the hope.”
He closes by calling for church leaders to be more accountable for their speech that damages the dignity of trans people, pointing out the real-world results of such negative language:
“Nearly every two or three days, a person is killed somewhere in the world for expressing gender nonconformity. Will it take another 350 years for the Catholic Church to finally admit they got it wrong?”
Blumenfeld’s essay calls Catholics to be a church that truly listens to the experiences of trans and gender non-conforming people. Without listening, there can be no true change.
—Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, January 5, 2022