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Fr Brian Darcy: ‘The Church needs to learn from transgender people – not just preach Canon Law’

Why should we be surprised when a church leader seeks advice about something

Father Brian D'Arcy

A young woman holding a rainbow gay flag outdoors. Stock image

Pope Francis© via REUTERS

Sunday World

I read a beautiful letter from a committed Catholic which shocked me in a good way. I hope it does the same for you.

This is how WE come to terms with difference; it’s how to come to terms with being transgender.

The letter was published in a leading Catholic magazine in the USA called America.

I want to be true to what the writer Christine Zuba wrote and therefore I will quote directly where possible to make sure I am not misinterpreting Christine in any way.

The letter begins: “About eight years ago, after 29 years of marriage to my wife and two beautiful children, I walked into confession with something to discuss.

“For as long as I could remember since about the age of 3 or 4, I knew that I was different.

"As a child, for years I would go to bed praying that I would wake up as a girl. This is a story commonly echoed by many transgender people like myself.”

Christine is a lifelong Catholic. As part of her transition, she took an unusual first step.

She decided to speak to a priest in the Confessional. She was aware in a general way of the teaching of the Catholic Church about being gay.

At that point, however, the church was still relatively silent about transgender persons.

“My faith has always been strong. I’ll never claim to be the perfect Catholic; I do make mistakes. Occasionally (but not often),

"I miss a Sunday Mass, and I’ve been known to utter a bad word once in a while… I do my best to be a good person, though, trying to live each day as if it may be my last.

“I was, and still am, very confident in my relationship with my God. I knew I would be the same person walking out of the confessional as walking in, no matter what some might say or claim about me.

" While my “outside” was changing, everything else—my heart, my mind, my soul and my faith—remained unchanged.”

A young woman holding a rainbow gay flag outdoors. Stock image

The priest was sympathetic to Christine and was amazingly open to a discussion.

“…the conversation immediately diverted to sex. “Excuse me, Father,” I remember saying, “this has nothing at all to do with sex; this has to do with who I am.

"You can throw me out if you want, but if you do, I’m coming right back. This is my church too.”

What a superb response! In fairness, the priest said he had no intention of throwing Christine out.

Instead, he suggested they pray together to ask for guidance for the journey. He was so kind that Christine cried as she left the confessional.

Later she spoke to the Parish Leader in Confession. His first words were: “God loves everyone.”

He added that while he understood what it meant for people to identify as gay, “the transgender subject is somewhat new.” He admitted: “I’ll need you to help me learn.”

“I’ve been blessed”, Christine says. “While I had a very positive reaction from my priests, I know others who have experienced the complete opposite.

"They were told that they are sinners, evil or that they were not Catholic. One of my best friends was even physically carried out of the church during Mass after being refused Communion.

“Many people are still learning about transgender persons. Before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down our daily lives, I had lunch with a local priest who had baptized my grandson.

" He wanted to learn more about me. One of the first things he asked was if I was ever physically or sexually abused when I was young because it was his understanding that people become transgender as a result of abuse. I have never been abused”

An even bigger surprise was in store for Christine. “A year after my transition, I was asked if I would be interested in becoming an extraordinary minister of holy Communion.

"Shortly thereafter we also started an L.G.B.T.Q.+ ministry in our parish…

“Through Zoom, I’ve participated in numerous parish L.G.B.T.Q.+ ministries as well as informational sessions with priests, and religious and diocesan school administrators to help them better understand and accompany transgender adults, youth and children.

" I’ve met many loving, kind, wonderful L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics and allies.”

But there was an even bigger surprise in store.

“About four years ago, I was invited (along with 17 gay and lesbian Catholics, supportive clergy, and parents) to dinner with Cardinal Joseph Tobin at his residence in Newark, N.J.

"It was a beautiful and amazing evening. An introductory reception preceded a beautiful dinner and conversation, after which Cardinal Tobin sat back and asked each of us, “How can I help you?”

It was an inspired move by Cardinal Tobin. But I have to ask myself why should we be surprised when a church leader seeks advice about something he knows nothing about.

Should not that be what every leader would do? Christine had similar thoughts.

Pope Francis© via REUTERS

“I often wonder, however, what it is about me and people like me that causes so much fear among my fellow Catholics.

"Why are the transgender community selectively targeted by some as a threat to the family and the world? Nothing could be further from the truth.

“I understand our faith says that “God made them male and female.” But God made a whole lot more, and everything in between.

"Our world, science, technology, and even our church, have changed over time. Today’s science recognizes that something can happen between the body and mind, causing misalignment between the two.

"I don’t often quote science, though. I just know that “I am,” that God made me this way, and that God made me this way for a reason.

“I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about being transgender. Our lives are no different from anyone else’s. We live, we work, and we pray. We have families.

“We ask simply to be accepted and to be a part of our church, no better or worse than divorced Catholics, or Catholics who may not strictly follow other church teachings.

“Pope Francis has spoken out for L.G.B.T. Catholics, saying that God “does not disown any of his children.”

He is reported to have told Juan Carlos Cruz, a sexual abuse survivor and a gay Catholic man, that “God made you this way and loves you this way,” in reference to his identity. I pray that someday our church will take this to heart and that this message will reach trans Catholics, too.”

There is a powerful and emotional ending to Christine’s letter. In a few words, she outlines a common-sense approach that speaks louder than theology or canon law ever could. This is pure Gospel compassion from Christine Zuba.

“Transgender persons are not an ideology. We are not a threat. All of us are a part of God’s great universe, made in the image and likeness of God, a God who is neither male nor female.”

Now I’m in tears!

(Abridged from America Magazine

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