Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pope Francis's Meeting with a Transgender Man: State of the Discussion in Catholic Circles

Two things strike me as I read this report by Tom Fox that Pope Francis met last week with a transgender man and embraced him. To be more precise: two things strike me as I read both the report and the thread following it. 

The first and obvious thing that strikes me is the hunger of many Catholics responding to this story at the National Catholic Reporter thread for Catholic pastoral leaders that would do such a thing: hug a transgender man. Isn't that an astonishing hunger — the hunger for real pastoral leaders who remind us of a Christ who told stories about a loving God who refuses to chide an erring son, but who folds that son in an embrace when he comes home again? 

There's a real, palpable hunger among many Catholics for pastoral leaders who remind us of Christ who invited those despised by the rest of society to his table and broke bread and drank wine with them. There's a clearly discernible hunger among many Catholics represented in the NCR thread to have our church led by pastoral leaders who, like St. Francis, kiss lepers rather than repudiating them.  

(And, of course, in pointing to these gospel passages and the life of Francis of Assisi, I am not by any means intending to suggest that transgender people or homosexual people, for that matter, are lepers. I am, however, recognizing that this is how some people in our world view such people, so that it takes an act of courage or compassion in many social contexts — notably, religion-imbued ones — to do what Jesus did, or what Francis of Assisi did in dealing with transgender persons today.)

So all of that strikes me as I read the NCR report and the thread following it. The second thing that strikes me is the ferocity of the anger — I'll go further and use the word "hate" — some Catholics display at hearing such reports. To its credit, NCR has now removed* some of the most vile comments that had been made in this thread, many of them by a regular contributor who calls herself Purgatrix Ineptiae, and who professes to be among the best and purest of Catholics.

This particular Catholic who clearly represents the views of a subset of American Catholics wants stoutly to deny that any such meeting between Pope Francis and a transgender man took place, and to cast doubt on the possibility that any pope would ever meet with a transgender person and embrace him or her. Purgatrix Ineptiae seeks to exploit disclaimers that many news reports are adding to their accounts of this meeting, which say that "it is being reported" that the meeting took place and that the Vatican has not denied this.

As she states in this comment which is still standing in the NCR thread, 

Right now, no reputable news agency is reporting it without the careful disclaimer "it is reported" . . . .

Here's Hannah Roberts from Rome reporting four days ago for the highly regarded English Catholic journal The Tablet:

Pope Francis has received a transgendered man at the Vatican.
Diego Neria Lejárraga, a 48-year-old Spanish man wrote to Francis last year to tell him that he felt like an outcast from the Church since he had the gender-reassignment surgery. 
Mr Neria said that he was told not to take Communion by some his fellow parishioners at his church in the western Spanish city of Plasencia, where a priest denounced him as “the devil’s daughter”. 
He wrote to the Pope to ask if there was room in the Church for him but was amazed when Francis rang him twice to arrange a meeting. 
Mr Neria told Spanish newspaper Hoy: “After hearing him speak on many occasions, I felt that he would listen to me.” 
At a meeting last Saturday in the Domus Sancta Marthae Francis embraced the Spaniard, who was accompanied by his fiancée.

Do you see any disclaimer akin to the statement, "It is reported," in Roberts's report? I must have missed it. And it's news to me that The Tablet is not a "reputable news agency."

CNN has interviewed (video link) Diego Neria Lejarraga, by the way, the Spanish transgender man who says that he met with the pope on 24 January. Neria says that he requested a meeting with Francis after he had been made to feel completely unwelcome by some of the members of his local parish in Spain, and had stopped going to church.

The comments of this Catholic who represents a certain subset of U.S. Catholics that NCR has thankfully removed from this thread indicate that it's simply unthinkable to Purgatrix Ineptiae that a pope would meet with and embrace a transgender person. The very notion offends this particular Catholic, whose commentary about the meeting she doesn't believe took place was filled with snide remarks about homosexual "roommates" who claim to be "married," etc.

Her definition of Catholicism (and she's not unique in this regard) is built around the notion that certain leprous people are to be scorned, ridiculed, hounded out of her church, made to know they're unwelcome, and kept firmly in their place outside her church, not invited inside. And isn't it amazing that some Catholics have brought themselves to this point, when, well, Jesus? The gospels? The very meaning of the word "catholic"?

As Bob Shine noted several days ago at New Ways Ministry's Bondings 2.0 blog, 

If the Vatican confirms the meeting with Neria, the impact of Pope Francis’ witness that being a disciple of Christ means welcoming all would be that much more powerful. 

That sounds right to me, as does the observation of Francis De Bernardo of New Ways Ministry in a Huffington Post article cited by Shine, that the reluctance of the Vatican to verify this meeting indicates that it would be premature to speak of the attitude of the Vatican itself towards transgender (or LGBT) people as acceptance — though, as Francis De Bernardo suggests, Francis is modeling for other Catholic pastoral leaders an attitude of welcome and inclusion that should, in the view of many Catholics, characterize the Catholic church in its response to those on the margins of society.

*I think I'm mistaken about NCR having removed some of this person's comments in this thread. When I wrote this posting yesterday, I didn't spot a number of her comments I had previously read. Now, on a closer reading of the thread, I see they're still there.

The graphic is a kind of holy-card image of St. Francis embracing a leper, which I find at many blog sites. Its origin is not clear to me.

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