Catholics in Milwaukee and Beyond Criticize Archdiocese for Anti-Transgender Policies

Fr. Gregory Greiten

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s recent anti-transgender guidelines are generating criticism within the diocese itself and beyond. Bondings 2.0 reported on the new policies issued that ban use of preferred pronouns and transition-related medical treatment on church property, among other anti-LGBTQ protocols.

The National Catholic Reporter shared some of the reactions to the new guidelines. Of Fr. Greg Greiten, the pastor at St. Bernadette Catholic Parish in Milwaukee, who notably came out as gay to his parishioners in 2017, NCR reported:

“’My initial reaction was one of fear,’ Greiten said. ‘That we are not listening to the LGBTQ population once again, and the stories and the experiences of the LGBTQ community.’ Greiten’s own choice to share his identity with his parishioners stemmed from his experience of feeling both ignored and condemned by the church as a young gay man, a trend he worries is continuing: ‘My greatest fear is that in not listening, we are going to traumatize sexually yet another generation.’


Dr. Craig Ford

Dr. Craig Ford, assistant professor of theology & religious studies at St. Norbert College, also criticized the document, explaining that barring usage of a person’s correct pronouns “miss the point about having real human connection.” Like Greiten, he sees long-term effects of the current trend of “scapegoating” LGBTQ Catholics:

“‘If we let this polarization completely determine our church reality, you’re just going to have a fragmented church that replicates the fragmentation of our society. And that doesn’t promise any sort of salvation or redemption or love.’

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told NCR, “the biggest problem with these guidelines is that they show no concern for a human person who is experiencing the desire to transition gender.” There is but one single line at the conclusion of the document suggesting organizations take steps to avoid bullying.

DeBernardo noted that the guidelines show no evidence of consultation with LGBTQ people nor medical professionals or scientific literature on issues of gender. “Our church is not one size fits all,” he emphasized, “and particularly on something as personal and individual as someone’s gender identity.”

Fr. Stuart Wilson-Smith

Paulist Fr. Stuart Wilson-Smith, an associate pastor in Chicago, was more direct, calling the new policy “a callous, anti-intellectual, and anti-human dumpster fire of a document unworthy of any association with the name of our Lord and brother.” Wilson-Smith also pointed out the clear failure to listen to LGBTQ people and categorized the policies as “either logically flimsy or pastorally detrimental,” such as the statement that people experiencing “tension” between their biological sex and gender should “turn to Christ and to all that the Church provides.” 

“Piety has its place,” he said, “I love our faith, our devotions, and rituals–but no one has been well loved by a condescending platitude, and I don’t understand why we expect LGBTQ+ people to settle for it.”

As an ally who has worked in Catholic-based ministry for nearly 20 years, I find myself somewhere between rolling my eyes at Milwaukee’s guidelines and seething with both anger and dismay. The Catholic church I joined as a young adult in the RCIA process inspired me with the civil disobedience of the Berrigan brothers and Dorothy Day, the emphasis on the inherent dignity and goodness of humanity rather than depravity, and the insistence on a sacramental universe that glowed with the sacredness of all of creation. Unfortunately, these Milwaukee guidelines follow a string of similar decrees from five other U.S. dioceses in the last few years. It seems the church as an institution is spending more time damaging human dignity rather than restoring and honoring it.

As a chaplain and campus minister, I often accompanied LGBTQ students with deep reverence for their Catholic roots and faith. Some were able to ignore the injustices inflicted by the larger church and practice their faith with the confidence that they were created in God’s loving image exactly as they were, but many struggled deeply to participate in a community that professed welcome without true solidarity. As a pastoral associate, I helped our parish host an LGBTQ listening session, unintentionally on the heels of deeply harmful comments by our local bishop during Pride month. That evening of tears and laughter made so clear how diocesan documents like those in Milwaukee simply do not reflect the realities of either LGBTQ Catholic nor the vast majority of non-LGBTQ Catholics and their desire to emulate Christ’s example of inclusion and Beloved Community.

As a parent, I already see the way faith and radical openness to difference intersect and bolster one another in my children and their classmates. They do not shy away from questions on race or sexual orientation, but approach these conversations with curiosity and a readiness to love–quite the opposite from distant bishops and clergy who prefer doctrine to discussion. Like Fr. Greiten insists: “We need to have this encounter…to ignore people is going to cause greater shame and trauma and abuse in their lives.”

For now, I continue to put my energy into standing with my marginalized LGBTQ siblings and attempting, often messily, to use my cis-privilege to speak out as needed, to listen more than I talk, and refusing to allow faulty human-created policies to stand in the way of God’s love for every one of us.

Angela Howard McParland, New Ways Ministry, February 16, 2022

6 replies
  1. Don
    Don says:

    I am intrigued by the author’s use of an “LGBTQ Listening Session” and would love some pointers on how to conduct one in my own parish.

  2. Mary O'Keefe
    Mary O'Keefe says:

    While pumping the minds, egos, and coffers of the high-profile Pro-Life movement, the oppression of innocent Catholic clergy and laity continues at the hands of the Vatican.

    By clinging to archaic views of sexuality, the Church denies his children their own personhood.

    As an ex-Catholic who has only recently turned back to get a good look, I cannot fathom the amount of trauma being heaped on these beautiful human beings.

    The Roman Catholic Church’s policies on marriage, gender, and human sexuality are in effect (looking at their outcomes) dangerous. These are systems that start at the top, where one might mistake them for a very singular, innocuous concept. Yet they produce results that are so profoundly damaging to a person’s very being. And it is the most vulnerable among us who are most impacted. We all see it, but then we somehow pretend we don’t see it. And we are exhausted.

    While waging the full-throttle war on abortion, they neglect the cries of their LGBTQ+ brothers seated next to them every day.

    Somehow, people like Fr. Greg Greiten and Fr. Stuart Wilson-Smith go on. They embrace a church that tells them they are a disorder.

    Deep reform is needed. In the words of the German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, “Anyone who denies systemic causes and opposes a necessary reform of the church hasn’t understood the challenge.”

    • Grace
      Grace says:

      if you want the Church to do reform, u need to fight on the inside. You shouldn’t reject God bc of the actions of His creation.
      – a gendersylphen and neptunic devout Catholic


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