Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Can One Be Transgender and Catholic? (I Was)

Joanne Herman wrote an interesting article in The Huffington Post.

In the article, Ms. Herman addresses the following question:

If the Catholic Church instructs those who believe their inward gender is different from their outward gender to battle that belief as a psychological problem, not with surgery, why then would a transgender person choose to be Catholic?


  1. I was too (well, I guess I still am, but not practicing). The beliefs of the Catholic church, along with the priest scandal that began in my city really shut me down as a practicing Catholic.

  2. I am a cradle Catholic and until Christmas was a practicing Catholic, but after about two years of consideration and prayer, I am in the process of converting to the Episcopalian Church.

    It's much more welcoming to the LGBTQ community (though hardly perfect).

    There are many things about the Catholic church that grieve me, so being transgendered wasn't the only issue, but it is a big one.

    I have a hard time with hypocrisy, and I felt like a hypocrite supporting a church that's telling other people like me that they're inferior.

  3. I grew up as a Catholic, attending Catholic elementary school and serving as an altar boy. It seems to me that so much about the Church has to do with negating our natures. That, I think, is one major reason for the priest sex scandals, and the general meanness that so many of us recall in the nuns who taught us.

    What's interesting, though, is that the Church--and most other religions--teach us that we are not merely our bodies. We are, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, not merely humans having spiritual experiences, but spiritual beings having human experiences.

    Somehow I feel that shouldn't be so incompatible with being transgendered. After all, we, by definition, identify ourselves by our essential spiritual natures rather than our bodies or how they were classified at birth.

    That said, I don't expect to become a practicing Catholic again any time soon, for many reasons. However, I believe in a greater power and believe my transformation from living as male to life as female has been, first and foremost, the most profoundly spiritual experience I have ever had.

  4. My question has always been, "Why do people think they have to belong to a club to be spiritual?"

    I think God gave us everything we need to connect with him when we were born. Most people just don't want to do the work. They'd rather be lazy, join a religion, and be TOLD what they're supposed to believe, instead of figuring it out for themselves.

    Religions, like most other human endeavors, tend to be run by the control freaks amongst us, who only feel safe when they're telling everyone else what to do.

  5. Jamie, I hear where you're coming from. I admire people who can find their own spiritual path -- I have several friends who have chosen that way to connect with whatever higher power there may be.

    Personally I don't have that kind of discipline. Maybe that does make me lazy.

    Justine, my thoughts have been much like yours --- if we all have a "soul" for lack of a better word, maybe I have a female one in a male container.

    And why would a higher power want that to happen? I dunno, maybe He or She wants to see what I make of my life with that cross to bear.

    (Captcha word: "lerrowl," which is the sound a French panther makes when she's pouncing on a deer. :) )

  6. August 1999. After 15 years in music ministry with the choir and as the cantor for the 8:00 AM Sunday Mass each week, I was told by Rev. David Clifford, the associate pastor of Holy Name of Jesus parish in Valhalla, New York, that my transition was "causing a scandal in the Church" and I was told not to come back.
    Some time in 2000, leaked to Catholic News Service (CNS) in early 2003. The RCC Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issues a "sub secretum" document to papal nuncios all over the world to provide guidance to bishops should any questions arise about how to treat trans people.

    In 2003, after it turned out that no bishops ever asked any questions, the Vatican sent a copy, still sub secretum, to all the bishops in the world. One from Australia leaked the document to CNS which resulted in an article that summarized the official teachings:

    1. Trans people always "belong" to their birth-assigned sex based on birth genitalia.

    2. Surgery is permitted in the most extreme cases to alleviate dysphoria, but does not "change" sex, and church baptismal records must not be altered.

    3. Trans people have a mental disorder and are incapable of consenting to marriage to anyone at all. trans people are expected to live celibate lives.

    4. Trans people have a mental disorder that prevents them from being ordained to the priesthood or admission to any religious order of monks, nuns, brothers or sisters. (However if a man who was orained later "becomes" transsexual, he still remains a priest and may quietly continue to say mass, etc. unless continuing to do so would "cause a scandal in the Church."

    5. trans people are permitted to be Catholic.

    Essentially, what happened to me in 1999 went too far, if the document had been in force at the time. Rather than throwing me out, all Father Dave should have done was remove me from music ministry and tell me I could no longer serve as a cantor.

    The RCC based its document on erroneous advice given it by the notorous Opus Dei member Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders and who has been chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins. It was also prepared at least ib part by Urbano (now Cardinal!) Navarette, S.J., most recently noted for the bizarre RCC condemnation and invalidation of baptisms that do not use male-gender-specific terms for the members of the Trinity.

    It's okay to be trans and Catholic. But the Church claims to be the source of all the Truth, and a trans person knows that the Church is absolutely wrong in its teachings on trans people, and anyone with a modicum of right reason, a proper moral compass and an informed connscience must know that the Church is also absolutely wrong in its treatment of gay and lesbian people and women. This knowledge that the Church which maintains that it possesses all the Truth has been false in much of its moral theology, also leads the relatively intelligent person with right reason, etc. to questio the Church's authority on matters of faith as well.

    Ultimately, faith in the beliefs promulgated by an institution whose hierarchy has turned to the basest evil in so many ways becomes a challenge for even the most tolerant of "cafeteria Catholics."

    It is one thing to have a local vibrant, loving, Christian and meaningful parish community with a wonderful pastor who cares for the flock, and quite another when the bishops, the Congregation Propaganda Fideii and the Pope get involved. One can only ignore so much before being called to speak up and shake their dust from one;s sandals.

    Can a trans person be a Catholci? Yes.

    But that brings up another question - SHOULD a trans person be a Catholic? That answer may be very different.

  7. Great post and the comments are outstanding in their candor, compassion and concern.
    To whatever extent one believes in a diety, I feel that the relationship is personal, regardless of the individual's religious affiliation. Jesus taught that we are all God's children. I believe that he also taught that we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good since noe of us are perfect.

    Thank you Staci. You and your readers are good people, good thinkers and good writers.


  8. Why all the concern.ALL I have to believe to be Catholic is The Creed.
    I am fortunate to be in a welcoming parish where I sing in the Choir,am an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion on sundays.All week long I alternate as Lector,Server,Ex Minister of H C and am active in other non litergical ministries.
    All the rest doesn,t matter as God's LOVE flows to us all.
    McHughs wacky pronouncements carry no weight except in his own mind,which has been addled by his confusion of Religion & Science.
    Perhaps it would be weel to remember,"A soul has no gender"

  9. I come across more and more trans folks who consider their gender journeys as profoundly spiritual. Some explore that spirituality on their own, some do in communities of faith, and many a combination of the two.

    I'm a transman and Episcopal priest and agree with Trish that the Episcopal Church is/seeks to be increasingly welcoming to LGBTQ folks, though it is by no means perfect. See some of the summer 09 posts at for reports of our work at the chuch's General Convention this summer, which passed several trans positive resolutions.

    My heart goes out to folks who are struggling with being trans and Roman Catholic-- it's a very tough row to hoe. And Joanne, thanks for that incredibly helpful summary of where things officially stand on the trans front in the RC church.

  10. I was in formation to be a third order Carmelite in The Discalced Carmelites of Oklahoma near red plains. The last week before we made promises and became novice tertiaries, we were told what to expect at the Mass of The Holy Spirit where, on Pentecost, we would make our promises. Our leader, a deacon in the archdiocese of Oklahoma City, told us that we were all accepted as new members. I was elated. The very next day, I got in the mail a one line statement saying that I "Wasn't Carmelite material"..and it broke my heart...and I think angered my pastor. I am now Greek Orthodox, and while the Orthodox church is equally strict, it allows for more discernment and individuality of situations, and my bishop knows and my pastor knows, and they say that there are many such situations in human history and that the mystery of God alone must be accepted. I am not condemned in Constantinople!

  11. " We are, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, not merely humans having spiritual experiences, but spiritual beings having human experiences." -Anonymous

    I think that this says it all. I believe that we have been put here by God for some purpose only clearly known to Him. I believe it is our calling/duty/mission/job/joy and wonderment to figure what that mission or purpose is.

    I would like to thank JoAnn for providing us with the latest, "official" position of the Roman Catholic Church is.

    I personally find a huge amount of reward and connection with my Church. For the past ten years or so I have been traveling a great deal and so I am unable to participate fully as a member of my parish. However, when I was more settled into one place, I was Ordained as an Eucharistic Minister and ministered to the sick which was VERY rewarding as well as at Sunday Mass.

    A few weeks ago, I heard from an acquaintance that I have known less than one year. She called me from the train on her way home from SRS in Trinidad, CO. At the time we met she was recovering from a nearly successful suicide attempt and had just made the final and fateful decision to "transition and get the surgery".

    Her situation got me thinking again about how she had joined the Unitarian Church in order to find the necessary acceptance and spiritual support. I thought about how sad and tragic it was that she could not find the Love of Jesus in the very Catholic Church that HE Himself had founded.

    In any case, I spoke to my pastor about this and he told me that to his knowledge, the Church had no 'official' position.

    Now my question is this. Did the RCC document make any distinction between post-op TS and or TG or was i simply a "catch-all trans" statement. Also I am pretty sure that this document DID NOT carry the weight of Papal Infallibility and as such such be given consideration ONLY as the "opinion of men'. Most certainly, it is NOT the teachings of Our Lord.

  12. AnonymousJune 29, 2011

    I am transgendered - and I am also very much Catholic.
    The Catholic Church comes straight down from Peter as The First Pope through man's mistakes within and without but Never have The Scriptures changed nor the heart of what you Must Believe as a Catholic: The Creed. You do NOT have to believe in any Marian Apparitions, in any Miracles after the time of Christ - But you must believe - and it is the reason The Church is not like any other building - this is why you can pray at home, but going to The Mass is so important, for there in The Tabernacle lies the Body of Christ Himself - God, The King of All Creation right here for us. In The Church, The Holy Spirit turning the bread and wine INTO The Body and Blood of Jesus at every Mass - What a GIFT! God Himself, and we become partakers in Calvary, in His sacrifice for all of us, then and now and until the end of time.

    I am transgendered, my Mother was given hormones when pregnant with me - do you know that ALL babies in the womb form FEMALE - That is the 'default' gender so to speak. Then if it is to be a boy, Testosterone is released and the baby in the uterus now begins to change into a male.. did you know however that if for ANY reason, and there are Many! Even after the testosterone lets say has begun the transformation, if the Mother experiences a hormonal change of some kind, and it happens easier than one might think - this same child can revert to growing now as a little girl. That is why gender and sexuality are so fluid, so much can happen and does, with the babies born with both sets of genitals, pieces of each - or none - - or will always know theirs is 'wrong'. God knows what happens, and knows their situation. The Church actually has no FORMAL, Vatican Pronouncement on Homosexuals and certainly does NOT have a Formal Proclamation for those who state they are Trans-gendered.

    Why would a gay man or me, a straight female to male transgendered 'chose' to be Catholic? Because The Truth is the Truth. Some people pick and choose what they like and don't like from Scripture. Jesus stated the old has passed - Now you are to Love God, and Love one another. and If you don't partake of His Body and Blood, Amen, Amen you shall NOT have Life Within You.

    We can not pick and choose to our liking. And why is Masturbation 'a sin'? Because and I know this from experience. Sin removes us from The Face of God and His Graces. From the insight of The Holy Spirit. and as we masturbate and fantasize to 'get there' when we are finally WITH the woman or man that we Love, we are not really THERE. Our minds go into fantasy mode once again, i remember I had to struggle to be in the moment - to be with HER and not in my MIND as I was with her - it removes us from that wonderful connection - God does not state 'this or that' a sin to hurt or deprive us - But as a parent says Don't Touch The Hot Stove! to help us, to make us better people, and to bring us ever closer to Himself and to the reason we were made to begin with - We shall not know True Happiness if we do not know God.

    Peace be with everyone here, and those who Truly Seek the Truth, and not just reasons for their anger or guilt or shame - God says "Knock and He shall answer" - seek the Truth and none of us will be denied nor dissatisfied!

    Jack Joseph, anyone is free to email me with any questions or statements. please just be respectful to all here and in emails. thank you all for your opinions here.


    I am catholic and transgender and wrote this article for Conscience Magazine.

    Hilary Howes

  14. God the Father created us with immortal souls out of great love. He desires that we live forever. God says in the Bible, "If you truly love me, you will obey my commandments".