Catholic Mother with Transgender Child Writes on Fears of Returning to Church

Valerie Schultz

A Catholic parent of a transgender person is hesitant about stepping back into her parish after shifting to virtual services during the pandemic.

“I’m afraid, but not of the virus,’ Valerie Schultz, a freelance writer from Oregon, wrote in America. “Frankly, I’m afraid of what I will see, of what I will hear when I get there and step inside.”

Schultz’s life changed when her child came out as transgender. She worked at a Catholic parish but left because she “felt called to advocate publicly for civil rights and equal treatment for the L.G.B.T. community.”

She writes that after that change:

“I fell from being a pillar of parish programs to sitting alone in a back pew. I think of my Catholicism now as a fragile little bird that I keep sheltered in the nest of my heart. I’m still here. Even as my trans child felt abandoned and reviled by the faith into which they were baptized, even as my husband was no longer at my side during Mass, I stayed. I was a Catholic, by God. I was not going to be driven out. Rather than throwing up my hands and surrendering, I held on by a fingernail. The personal criticism, the institutional blindness, the wear and tear of alienation, even the lurking guilt I had for not leaving the church to support my child would not win.”

Schultz’s Catholicism became fragile as she clung to tradition while also wanting at times, “to get up and make a dramatic exit during a homily that, for example, compared civil marriage equality to letting monkeys marry.” She says, “I would tell myself that one priest’s unkindness did not represent Jesus.”

When Covid-19 struck the world, Schultz joined for virtual services, leaving the back pew for her kitchen table. She began attending virtual Masses based in Chicago and in Los Angeles. Through these opportunities, she not only “felt protected from the virus,” but her “little bird of faith felt protected too, by the love and compassion that informed the homilies given by the priests and deacons at these Masses.”

Schultz shares:

“It’s not that I felt safe from controversy, or placated in my own bubble of belief, because these homilies were thought-provoking and challenging. I wasn’t only hearing what I wanted to hear. But I felt engaged. I also felt focused. Sitting alone at my table, nothing distracted me from the Scripture readings or the prayers of intercession. Seeing the digital grid of fellow Catholics—living, breathing worshippers who were similarly isolated—somehow gave me a stronger sense of communion than I had felt in a church building in a long time. Several of us sometimes stayed online after Mass ended to discuss the homily. I was finally grasping the meaning of spiritual communion. I didn’t expect it to be enough, but it was.”

Throughout her story, Schultz comments on the importance of the Eucharist for her faith experiences. During the pandemic, she “expected to yearn for the Eucharist” but the communities she found through virtual Masses fed her in unexpected ways. Instead of experiencing the Eucharistic meal at the altar, she experienced it spiritually at her own table.

“I’ve felt more connected to God and to the Church than I have in years,” she says.

This spiritual communion, a true intimate encounter with God, is one that many queer Catholics may relate and respond to, considering how LGBTQ persons are denied communion.

As parishes open their doors, Schultz questions why she does not run back to the altar, but realizes:

“I’m afraid of once again confronting a superficial pro-life philosophy, one that is pro-pregnancy but against providing any assistance to those in need, even the bootstraps by which they are supposed to pull themselves up. I’m afraid of once again encountering members of the clergy and laity who parrot cruel political talking points while dismissing Pope Francis’ call to tenderness. Mostly, I’m afraid that some misguided homily is going to be the straw that breaks me, the last straw that finally makes me leave this church that I belong to, that I say I love. Even as I confess this weakness of faith, I recognize my fear that my little bird is not viable outside the nest. I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.”

Elise Dubravec (she/her), New Ways Ministry, May 5, 2022

10 replies
  1. Loras Michel
    Loras Michel says:

    What a beautiful and honest observation Valerie. Please consider forwarding your story to Pope Francis directly. He radiates only mercy and care like Jesus the Good Shepherd and needs to hear of the real experiences of Catholics who are struggling because of the ignorance of so many priests and bishops whose misguided teachings produce crap in the laity as well. Good luck — You are on the right path and keep following your heart.

    • Guy
      Guy says:

      Sadly, Pope Francis won’t be much better after an initial warm welcome. All his ‘gender ideology’ talk (meaningless rubbish) is a big part of the problem. These bishops hear that and interpret it their way.

  2. Christine Herrmann
    Christine Herrmann says:

    so… the transgender document was my breaking point, after waiting _years_ for the Synod to change. i almost left under Benedict, but when Francis starting softening his LGBTQ rhetoric, i decided to hang in there. i’m a Christian, but i’m also not married to the Church as an institution. i miss Mass, but i recognize other forms of worship. i don’t feel like i left the Church – after literally THIRTY years as a lector and Eucharistic minister – i feel like the Church left me. and i’m OK with that. i have to be; i no longer trust that the institution will clean itself.

    i wish you a similar peace, no matter what you decide. IMHO, God wants you to feel loved and accepted, no matter your race, creed, gender expression, or sexuality. i just wish the Catholic Church acted as if it agreed with that statement.

  3. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    Valerie, your story brought tears. You are the epitome of what is celebrated and honored in Mothers’ Day. Yes, I do hope you send your searing story to Papa.

  4. David Fitzgerald
    David Fitzgerald says:

    Tender mercy and compassion – “Caritas Christi urgent nos” … “The love of Christ compels us” to love ALL unconditionally and without reservation.

  5. Mary
    Mary says:

    Thank you, Elise, for this reporting. My heart aches for Valerie and her family. I hope she knows that she is not alone.

  6. Sister Rebecca White
    Sister Rebecca White says:

    Dear Valerie,
    Thank you for sharing your “fragile bird” faith story. I think your faith is strong; what is fragile is whether you can attend Mass in person while very ignorant and uncaring priests continue to talk about people whom they do not know well enough to even comprehend what they are saying. If you find that you cannot, it does not mean that your faith is weak. Surely some Sunday Masses will continue on Zoom with homilists who are more tender and more educated. I hope that you can find what truly feeds you, as you did during the pandemic.
    You are part of this Body of Christ. No one can take that Catholic identity from you. And our church would be poorer without you. You are doing the work of God.
    Sending care for you and prayers for the conversion of those who spout cruel words.

  7. Rev. Scott Hill, omi
    Rev. Scott Hill, omi says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! Love is stronger and refuses to be silenced. The Love for your child and perseverance to dig through the messiness of an imperfect church is testimony of the Spirit of Jesus at work in your life and the life of your family. While birds’ nests appear fragile, these nests can withstand many disturbances as they hold fragile lives. You are awesome and you are God’s blessing to your child.

    • Kimberly Baker
      Kimberly Baker says:

      I feel Valerie’s frustration as I’m also a cradle Catholic who is the mother of a transgender child. When my child came out as non-binary my husband and I (who at one point taught Family Honor in our diocese and were very familiar with the Church’s teachings on sexuality) felt totally adrift. There are great reasons to be Catholic if practicing the Catholic faith adds to your peace and spiritual growth, but for me the Church’s dogma regarding nearly every facet of sexuality became nauseatingly oppressive. Examples: women who are called cannot be ordained, the Church doesn’t approve of IVF but does approve of Viagra and I could go on a rant… Living outside of the Church has felt lonely at times, but freeing in a way that has brought me peace. I’m now at liberty to love my child (as well as any other underserved LGBTQ person) freely, unconditionally and unapologetically. And thankfully I’m no longer sitting in a pew with a weeping heart when a priest’s homily does disservice to a facet of the human condition. Peace.

  8. Richard Young
    Richard Young says:

    Thanks, Valerie, for a truly heart-felt reflection. Please know that there are always faith communities — even within or on the fringes of the RC church — that can be nourishing for you and your child. I am a priest for the Living Beatitudes Community, which is part of DignityUSA, FCM, Roman Catholic Women Priests and folks who are just looking for a more authentic experience of worship. We have a Eucharistic liturgy together every Sunday morning at 10:00, and many people still join us on Zoom. During the worst of the pandemic, we ALL met on Zoom, but now we have many folks from other states that join us that way, and the liturgy is a mix of in-person prayer and many valuable contributions from our Zoom friends. We are listed as an intentional faith community with New Ways. You would be VERY welcome to pray with us anytime. If you decide to do so contact me for the Zoom link. I’m Richard Young at [email protected].


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