Signs of positive progress on LGBTQ issues are taking place in the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, as church leaders work towards a deeper understanding of transgender people’s experiences.
A new series called “A Pastoral Approach to Gender” in Davenport’s diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Messenger, is inviting Catholics to a more holistic understanding of identities under the transgender umbrella, and how being trans intersects with Catholicism.
As Bondings 2.0 has reported, the Catholic Messenger previously published an article profiling Deacon Ray Dever, his wife Laurie, and their daughter Lexi, who is transgender. The Dever family shared their story to “put a human face” on conversations about trans people, which is the purpose of the “A Pastoral Approach to Gender” series.
Notably, Bishop Thomas Zinkula, the head of the diocese, has taken a proactive approach to learning about gender and sharing this work with his diocese. As the first installment in the newspaper series explained, Zinkula formed a Gender Committee in the Diocese of Davenport to help guide Catholic schools and parishes.
“We need to approach this issue with humility,” Zinkula said.
The Davenport bishop is taking an active part in the committee’s learning and discernment himself. Zinkula recently published a column in the Catholic Messenger, titled “The Church calls us to listen to people on the margins.”
In his essay, Zinkula responded directly to those who criticized the Gender Committee’s efforts. “We are obliged to seek out and minister to LGBTQ+ persons who are so often misunderstood and even vilified,” he wrote.
He framed the importance of the Gender Committee by stressing that ministering to LGBTQ people—particularly trans and non-binary people—is a life issue. Zinkula wrote that he was haunted by the story of a child who attempted suicide after their pastor denied them communion and preached that LGBTQ people would go to hell. Stories like this one compelled him to form the Gender Committee and initiate the series in the diocesan newspaper..
The transgender people that Zinkula has met “longed for a Church that welcomed and accepted [them] as children of God,” he shared. “That is all they wanted. Do we not want this for everyone?”
The bishop told his readers that it is the church’s responsibility to listen to and learn from trans people. “If the Church puts her head in the sand, closes her eyes, hopes this matter will simply go away and doesn’t say anything about it… [t]he silence would be deafening,” Zinkula said. “Our Christian faith calls us to love people. We cannot love them in the abstract. Love begins with personal encounter, with hearing someone’s story.”
In the first article that inaugurated the series, the writer explained that the Gender Committee has “studied the terminology, latest research, networked with others in the Church on the forefront of this ministry and listened to stories of transgender persons and their families.”
The committee emerged in part as a response to the 2019 Vatican document “Male and Female He Created Them” which offered a negative view of gender identity issues. The document received a wide range of criticism from scholars and advocates. The Gender Committee thought that it “failed to provide practical procedures that demonstrate a full understanding of accompanying transgender children and their families,” the diocese’s Marriage and Family Life coordinator said. The committee seeks to offer more practical guidance to Catholics in the diocese.
The committee is working to amplify the humanity of trans and gender nonconforming people, stressing, “Persons who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming are our children, siblings, parishioners, neighbors and friends.”
The Catholic Messenger explains, “How the church can best accompany and minister to transgender persons is at the center of the committee’s discernment.”
This story from the Diocese of Davenport about a process of authentic listening to trans people is very encouraging. Bishop Zinkula is setting an example of accompaniment of and empathy for LGBTQ Catholics, a model that is a sign of hope for the larger church.
—Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, February 15, 2022