The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy is an organisation in the United Kingdom with a membership of roughly 600 Catholic priests and religious. That’s only a small minority of the total number of priests and religious in the UK. It was founded in response to Pope Benedict XVI’s implementation of the Year of Priests, his visit to the UK, and the canonisation of Cardinal Newman.
I’d tell you more about them but clicking “Read More” on their website leads to a page that unfortunately contains no words. There are pictures though which imply that they have a very traditional view of priests, the Pope, sacraments, Mary, and Saint John Vianney, the Cure d’Ars. Yes, I used to be a traditional Catholic – hence recognition of John Vianney whose writings I once owned and cherished.
Last week the Confraternity issued a statement about transgender issues titled “Statement on the challenges posed by Gender Ideology.” Perhaps their statement is unimportant, just a minority statement in one particular version of one particular religion. Perhaps on most evenings I’d have just ignored it. And perhaps I’d have been wrong to ignore it. 600 priests and religious. That’s a lot of churches. Churches that, combined, contain many thousands of people. People who are under the spiritual and moral leadership of these men. Perhaps writing a short response is a better option.
I’m not the only person who has responded. Susan Gilchrist has written an excellent response covering doctrine, science, and social issues. She published it publicly on Facebook and it’s well worth reading. Her website contains lots of good information on transgender issues, especially as they relate to Christian faith and life.
An article about the statement in The Catholic Herald tells us that the Confraternity’s “statement emphasises that the current state of public debate does not help those experiencing gender dysphoria.”
Quite right Catholic clergy. It doesn’t. Not when public debate includes leaders of religious groups parading the kind of views you do. Not when the very existence and validity of transgender people is still up for debate in any way.
There is a problem. A big problem. And you, ordained men are part of it. You in no way contribute to the solution while you speak as you do. I confess that there was I time I would applauded you in your statement – while casting upon myself stigma and self-hatred and living a life I now deeply regret. I confess that there was a time I’d have been proud to be a friend of your organisation. In deeper, richer freedom I have changed my ways. Perhaps, in time, some of you will embrace greater inclusivity of humanity too.
We, transgender people, mostly don’t have the polemic or the propaganda you speak of and of which we are often accused. Most of us don’t have an ideology either beyond, “We are who we are. Let us live as such.” You do. Propaganda drawn from versions of an ancient faith and interpretations of an ancient book. From the same old flawed quoting of, for instance, Genesis 1:27 over and over again as if repeating the verse so often will make it mean what you want it to. An ideology of dogmatic religion. Rather than an openness gleaned from science or from the lived experience of those who you preach against.
Catholic clergy, there are plenty of Christians out there, including Christian leaders, who listen to transgender people, who listen to science at it discovers more about us, and who listen to the voice of justice. Catholic clergy, there are even faithful Catholic lay people – and I dare say some clergy too – who would be appalled by your statement and beliefs. There are Catholics who have the openness you lack. Perhaps you are appalled by them.
Perhaps too there are very good reasons why the majority of Catholic priests in the UK are NOT members of your confraternity. After moving to Newacstle I was part of a Catholic parish here when I still lived outwardly as male. I went back to the parish in freedom as female. Everyone there accepted me. There was no shock, no antagonism. There was just a very pleasing warmth. They were so unworried by my gender transition that all they wanted to do was check I was okay and then offer me more biscuits after Mass. Perhaps, clergy of the Confraternity, most of the faithful in your denomination don’t think like you at all.
If only I’d realised that when I was a zealous Catholic. For most of my years in the Catholic Church I thought that to be the best Catholic I could be had to include following a certain party line and I was, I confess, often too grumpy and at odds with Catholics who followed other variations of the Catholic faith. In dogmatism I could lose sight of the love Jesus taught and I made some big mistakes, errors against the very love I claimed to follow. I regret to see the same loss of sight in many other strongly dogmatic religious people. People who have no way of seeing that they cannot see. I still fall down regularly just as we all do but the irony is that I follow the mandatum, the new commandment of Jesus to love one another, better since letting go of my faith.
In a few weeks time Christians will consider that commandment again as a part of Holy Week. Meditation on that subject is to be praised. How best to love the transgender person? The trans woman? The trans man? Those with non-binary genders or no gender at all? Well, it’s clear we have different ideas about that. You do your best to love us, by telling us that we aren’t who we are
No, we transgender people mostly don’t have an ideology. Not really. All we want is to be who we are. And to have our being accepted and protected just as anyone else’s being is accepted and protected. That’s not an ideology. It’s a fight for the right to live, preferably without being abused for choosing to live.
That is our fight. To be us. To allow others to be themselves too, whatever their gender may be. We only get cross when people stand in our way and reject who we are. But wouldn’t you get cross too? Isn’t our rejection an affront to experience, reason, and love? I ask you, as members of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, wouldn’t you campaign for equality and freedom? Perhaps not. But you should. I firmly believe Jesus would stand with us, living out the way of greater love.