In my part I, I disputed Mary’s point that sacred scripture is only properly interpreted by the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. I used her proof, that the doctrines of the Church have an “incarnational” aspect, and with the example of the issue of abortion and the point on the continuum of human life that an individual becomes a person, infused with a soul. I showed how scripture inspired the common law “birth and breath” doctrine, and how until fairly recently, while abortion after “quickening” was seen as a serious sin from the 13th century, it was never seen as murder. The Magisterium’s misunderstanding of the science, coupled with its disregard for the lives and health of women, led it into serious error on the subject.
In my Part II, I took issue with Mary’s, and the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy’s, assumptions about the nature of transsexuality. In this, the Catholic Church is not alone in maintaining an essentialist stance on the mistaken notion that the binary of sex, the assignment of human beings as male or female, is a reflection of nature. I showed that it really is not, that it is a construct imposed by society as a way to understand nature, and that nature contains more diversity than the binary. Under the binary, the 99+% that fit into the societal construct are seen as normal, while the rest of us – transsexual and intersex people, are seen as pathological and abnormal.
I pointed out that the “male-to-female” narrative used by Mary’s trans correspondent was based on the societal assumptions that have been drilled into us from birth. The reality is that we are born different. We really do not “belong” to either of the binary sexes.
I also pointed out that Mary, unfortunately, has an enormous sense of guilt, which I attributed (in part) to the unfortunate and adverse influence of Augustine of Hippo on the theological development of Christianity. (While Pelagius was not a perfect theologian either, it would have been better for Christianity to have developed in a more compassionate and less schizophrenic way without the doctrine of Original Sin.)
My final point in my Part II was to emphasize that despite our “otherness,” many transsexual people do want to fit into the binary that we have been inculcated with all our lives, and that surrounds us. I myself want to fit in, even though I understand the fact that I am different. Unless and until society actually develops in a way that respects and honors the diversity of nature, the least that those of us who are different should expect is a humane, decent and understanding society that provides reasonable accommodation to the tiny fraction of people who do not fit into the binary.
With that recap, it’s time to turn to Mary’s "When the Rubber hits the Road: Part II."
Mary starts with a recap of the message she received from her transsexual correspondent.
The correspondent closed her message with a question:
“Is the Church’s heart big enough to embrace me as a woman, or do I, and by
extension my family, simply no longer exist?”
Mary starts out with a sort of feigned sympathy – it’s hard to see it as genuine, particularly considering the manner in which she goes about answering the question.
“Let me start first by saying that I don’t think there is any condition so dire
or messed up that a person cannot find a way to be in the Church.”
With the Church in the condition it is in, with a hierarchy that has lost the Truth (if they ever had it), my question is to ask why would anyone actually want to be Roman Catholic?
There are alternatives, after all. For a trans individual, going back to the Roman Church as it is, is like a battered wife begging her abuser to take her back. Any reasonable person would be running away, kicking and screaming – but the trans Roman Catholic, like the gay Roman Catholic, can’t bear to leave the abusive Church. (And by that I mean Church as in the Magisterium, not Church as in your fellow parishioners!)
For those whose theological positions haven’t shifted much on matters of faith, the alternatives include the Catholic Apostolic Church of North America, a Catholic organization with valid orders, but not subject to the pope since 1947. There are also the Old Catholics, who broke away at the time of Vatican I in 1870. There is the Episcopal Church, which is currently part of the Anglican communion, which a lot of people see as “Catholic Lite.” (From what I can tell, Episcopalians are splitting over LGBT issues, so in the near future, when the bad Episcopalians either split off their separate Anglican Church of North America, or just return to Rome, the good Episcopalians will have a better church.) There are even welcoming Methodist and even Lutheran congregations!
There are other alternatives for those who have come to the realization that the Roman Catholic Church Magisterium has erred on so many moral and other issues, including abortion, masturbation, the treatment of women (including ordination), the stridently insistent use of masculine pronouns only for the Trinity (to the extent of voiding baptismal validity!), the treatment of gay and lesbian people, and yes, the treatment of transsexual people. Once one realizes that the Church, which claims the whole Truth, is so wrong on so many moral issues, to the extent of taking purely evil positions on many of them, one may begin to question the “matters of faith” as well. One can count the United Church of Christ and others as welcoming Churches.
At first, when I was asked to leave the Church by the late Rev. David Clifford, the associate pastor of Holy Name of Jesus parish, in August 1999, I decided that the Mystical Body of Christ stayed with me – that this separation of me from the Church resulted with the “true Church” remaining with me. Mostly tongue-in-cheek, and being aware of the proliferation of antipopes, I declared John Paul II anathema and set myself up as Pope Joan II. (Yes, I am kidding, though it still makes me smile. John XXIII took the number 23 to make it definite that the previous John XXIII was an antipope. Before then, there had been some speculation as to whether the first John XXIII was a real pope. What I did was take the Number 2, to assert the legitimacy of the first Pope Joan. Of course I am not serious about this, but I will sign myself as “serva servarum deae” when I feel the need to write “ex cathedra.”)
What happened over time, though was that as I meditated on the errors in Church moral teachings, I began to unravel the faith teachings as well.
I started with rejection of Papal Infallibility and the Assumption and worked my way back through the Immaculate Conception (getting a little Pelagian, jettisoning the harmful and degrading concept of Original Sin), and then to the “Filioque” controversy that split the Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) Churches – realizing in stark neutrality that the Eastern Churches were sticking with the original Nicene Creed, and on that basis, concluding that if that Creed was correct, then the Son and the Spirit both proceed from the Father. Given the Roman Catholic preoccupation with Mary, it would make more sense, if they were going to tinker, to have the Son proceed from the Father and the Spirit, and rather than a doctrine of Immaculate Conception, just incarnate Mary as the human embodiment of the Spirit of God. (Then they’d ruin it all and start tinkering with St. Anne as having to have been a "perfect vessel” to have contained the Spirit of God within her.) I can see the medieval minds wrapping themselves around that. If I were still a Trinitarian, I think I’d take a peek behind *that* curtain. It would at least stop the Trinity from seeming like an all boys club. Imagine Mary as a Goddess-Person/human-person like Jesus as God-Person/human-person. (Then again, it might be too close to the Osiris-Isis-Horus Egyptian Trinity.) Though also dropping the ever-virgin schtick would allow for Catholics to have a healthier sexuality than the kind that leads men to impotence with their wives because of the Madonna-whore syndrome.
Eventually, I rejected even the Resurrection, the Trinity, and the Jesus-Godhood thing. I still had Jesus – but as a great teacher, moralist and scripture scholar – not bad for the son of a Jewish carpenter. But not the only teacher.
Then I discovered that Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States, and the author of the Declaration of Independence, had kept a gospel, published long after his death, in which he had razored out all the miracles and unbelievable things. And Jesus still looked good. I learned that Jefferson was a Unitarian.
This bit of serendipity (I was actually looking for something else about Jefferson) led me into looking into Unitarianism, or rather Unitarian-Universalism, since those two churches merged some time ago.
So eventually, my spiritual journey turned in that direction. I may still know a lot about Catholic theology (three years in a Roman Catholic seminary will do that), but for me, it’s no longer a matter of faith. I still have a respect for sacred scripture, but it’s more a matter of it being inspirational writing and a source of teaching, than inspired writing or the unerring Word of God.
When I write critically of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, it’s primarily aimed at things the Church does that are evil or immoral. There are a lot of harmless things the Church does, and a lot of good things as well.
With that as background. Let’s turn back to Mary’s Part II essay:
Informed by her sense of Augustinian sinfulness, Mary tells her correspondent:
“you are not beyond the reach of God’s love or the prayers of your fellow
Catholics, fellow sinners all.”
I don’t mind so much the assertion that we are all sinners. But it reminds me of a speech made by former President George W. Bush’s July 2003 speech on marriage, in which he said:
“I am mindful that we are all sinners. And I caution those who may try to
take a speck out of their neighbor's eye when they've got a log in their own. I
think it's very important for our society to respect each individual, to welcome
those with good hearts, to be a welcoming country.
On the other hand, that does not mean that somebody like me needs to
compromise on an issue such as marriage. And that's really where the issue is
headed here in Washington, and that is, the definition of marriage. I believe in
the sanctity of marriage. I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman and
I think we ought to codify that one way or the other. We've got lawyers looking
at the best way to do that."
As soon as someone starts out with the idea that the topic of being a transsexual person involves a sin, rather than a biological difference, it’s a sure sign that one is not dealing with a welcoming person.
Now, Mary does come forth with some reasonable and perfectly fine discussion on judgment and coming up with excuses for sin – which all assumes that the concept of “sin” is relevant. Of course, we can replace sin with something like “behaving badly” and the points still come across – that we should not judge others (citing 1 Cor. 4:4), and that it is easy for “our hearts to excuse our own sins” (citing to Jer. 17:10).
Mary turns to the marriage issue. Her reasoning:
“Either you were really a man, therefore you really got married or you were
really not a man – that was a mistaken identity — therefore you really did not
get married (and you are not married now). “
This presupposes a rejection of marriage equality (much like the “born again” President Bush, and the Magisterium of the Church). However, based on the 2000 sub secretum document leaked to Catholic News Service and published in a 2003 article,
and according to the CNS article,
“Catholics who have undergone "sex-change" procedures are not eligible to marry,
be ordained to the priesthood or enter religious life, according to a source
familiar with the text.”
While I am not absolutely certain as to whether Mary is conversant with either the CNS article, or the underlying sub secretum document (and I would love to be able to see the entire official text of the document, in English), her statement that “you are not married now” if her correspondent is a woman is still factually incorrect. Having been married in the Church, though, an annulment would be speedily granted, since the Church does not sanctify same sex matrimony. (Mary puts it incorrectly as:
“Your wife cannot be married to a woman as there is no such thing as “same sex
There are five states, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Iowa, and a growing number of other jurisdictions, including Canada, The Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and Mexico City, where marriage laws are gender neutral, and other jurisdictions, such as New York State, where the state will recognize same-sex marriages entered into under the law of another jurisdiction. So Mary’s reference can only be to Roman Catholic sacramental matrimony, and not to civil marriage where marriage equality is recognized.
Indeed, the legal status of transsexual individuals, because of the fact that we are biologically different and governmental authorities have different criteria for recognizing binary sex assignment for different purposes, can be complicated.
After my nearly-20-year Roman Catholic marriage was annulled (four children later) in 2000 because of my transsexual status, It took me a long time to find new love. Being different does make things difficult. Identifying as lesbian, but finding that many lesbians have no interest in transsexual women as potential partners (thanks to the way the radical feminist lesbian separatists, influenced by Mary Daly and Janice Raymond, are as birth-genital-essentialist as the Roman Catholic Church), the number of potential spouses is fairly small. ButI did find love.
I am legally female for some purposes (including social security (having had the records corrected prior to the Bush regulatory change in October 2002), DMV, and now passport purposes. My birth certificate, which is what counts in New York for marriage purposes, has me still assigned as male. There is no deception in this, it’s just that different governmental authorities have different rules fior different purposes, and some are more enlightened than others. Thus, my sweetie and I were able to get a legal New York marriage license. At the time, I was a recovering Catholic, and she is Jewish. While we had a few problems along the route to our wedding, we managed to get my birth certificate, get a marriage license, and we put together a wonderful, meaningful and beautiful wedding ceremony, incorporating Judaeo/Christian traditions, and had our wedding at the Unitarian/Universalist church that we now attend. We are legally married, in New York, and do not require a Catholic sacrament. There was a time in my life when that would have been meaningful to me, but that time has long passed.
Mary tells her correspondent that her GRS (genital reconstruction surgery):
“was the breaking of God’s law that says that you may not mutilate your body.”
And this, after having written about not being judgmental.
Now, according to the CNS article on the Vatican sub secretum document:
“The Vatican document's specific points include:-- An analysis of the moral
licitness of "sex-change" operations. Itconcludes that the procedure could be
morally acceptable in certainextreme cases if a medical probability exists that
it will "cure" thepatient's internal turmoil.”
It’s fairly clear from Mary’s correspondent’s letter that she was a legitimate candidate for GRS. The only turmoil the correspondent continues to have is in relation to being accepted by the Church. My advice would be to find another church.
Mary does not seem to understand that HRT and GRS are acceptable treatment for those trans individuals who seek to bring their bodies into as close to a binary synchronization as possible. A trans woman, with a female BSTc in her hypothalamus, but born with a wolffian genital tract, will always be different from those born with a female BSTc and a developed mullerian genital tract. The medical and surgical treatments are there to allow the trans individual to cope within the society’s binary construct.
The CNS report indicated that the Vatican document was prepared primarily by Father (now Cardinal) Urbano Navarrete – who also happens to have been the author of the Vatican’s document revoking the validity of baptisms that invoke the Trinity using gender-neutral references rather than the traditional male terms.
One thing about marriage in the CNS report, that the Vatican document contains:
“An affirmation of the validity of marriages in which one partnerlater undergoes
the procedure, unless a church tribunal determinesthat a transsexual disposition
predated the wedding ceremony.”
Mary’s correspondent makes it clear that she has always been a transsexual person, and was clearly transsexual before getting married. A Roman Catholic marriage tribunal would certainly find no reason to not grant an annulment. In fact, one would wonder whether a tribunal might act sua sponte to annul the marriage, based on the admission that was made. Mary is not barred by the seal of the confessional from disclosing her correspondent’s name to Church authorities. I would sincerely hope that she does not.
The transsexual disposition will be present from birth – the only issue is whether and how well the individual transsexual person has been able to delude themselves into assimilating in accordance with societal expectations before it becomes no longer possible to do so.
Mary does go on to ask her correspondent:
“. . . why do you want to be back in the Church? Is it not because it is
the minister of salvation, the very Body of Christ? Either the Church
really has the authority to forgive sins and confect the Sacrament, or
not. If it has that authority, doesn’t it have the authority to tell you
what God’s law is? It is not as much a matter of the Church accepting you
as of you accepting the authority of the Church.”
To be honest, I could not have stated that question better, myself.
However, Mary seriously jumps off the deep end – here are some gems:
“It is better to die than to offend God. It would have been better for you
to have given your life to stay in obedience to God, than to break His law and
to drag along into sin your poor spouse. ”
“For one thing you
have greater physical health — but at the cost of being an example to others
that physical health is worth breaking God’s law.”
effectively robbed your children of their father — although I know you think you
made the decision to stay in their lives, you didn’t stay on as a father.
You robbed them of the precious example of obedience to God, something
that may have impacted them and the future of your family in positive ways for
generations to come. You may also have robbed them of potential
“You pretend to have what really does not exist — a
“same sex marriage” — causing scandal and confusion. You have effectively
robbed your wife of conjugal relations. If you engage in any sexual
activity at all with her, and if she thinks you are a woman now, then you have
led her into the sin of homosexual activity — at least according to her
“Now a separate issue has to do with society. I
certainly don’t want to see any harm come to you – Goodness knows, what you have
done to yourself is plenty! — but there is a saying that “hard cases make bad
“ I guess you will have to live under a few
restrictions because of what you did to yourself. You can just consider
all that part of your penance.”
“We can neither remake society nor
remake the Church to eliminate every consequence of sin. ”
Shocking! To be fair, Mary is writing from the perspective of the Roman Catholic Church’s Magisterium, or at least her own draconian interpretation of it. We’ve already established that the Magisterium is not a competent source of moral guidance on matters involving morality or the interpretation of sacred scripture.
Mary’s correspondent has not sinned by having her legitimate medical situation treated in accordance with the best medical practices.
It is as if Mary and the Church had suddenly become disciples of Mary Baker Eddy and faith healing, eschewing medical treatment for any “God-Given Condition.” It is as if the Church was holding that, if it’s God’s will that Joe Blow should have a heart attack and die, it is not up to medical science to either attempt to prevent that heart attack or treat Joe in an attempt to stave off God’s call. Really!
He problem is not with Mary's correspondent. The problem is with Mary, the Magisterium, and those evil, malignant, backwards and ignorant parts of society where reasonable accommodation for transsexual and other intersex people is not permitted.
In terms of sacred scripture, there are three interrelated passages that transsexual and intersex persons who are Christian (including those who see themselves as Cafeteria Catholics) can call upon as a source of solace and understanding that we are specially loved by God. They are Isaiah 56:1-7, Matthew 19:12, and Acts 8:35 to the end of the chapter.
On the issue of “mutilation,” that is such a wrong interpretation of what GRS is. The problem with the Vatican’s sub secretum document on transsexual people, is that it is based on bad science. Paul McHugh from Johns Hopkins was reputed to be one of the major medical sources on the subject. McHugh, an Opus Dei fanatic and an eating disorders specialist, gave Church authorities a distorted picture of the science. This, of course, is no excuse, for a Church that prides itself on being the source of all Truth.
As it is on the issues of women’s reproductive rights and the other treatment of women, the treatment of gays and lesbians, and on so many others, the Magisterium is just plain wrong about transsexual people.
To Mary’s correspondent, God loves you. If you haven’t been scared off into atheism altogether, find another church, one that is welcoming and accepting. It’s okay to call on Rome to reform. They may not have listened to Luther, but later the Council of Trent did being some reforms to the bad practices of the medieval Church. They may not listen to me, or to you, but perhaps one day the Magisterium will change direction and find its way to a more enlightened moral viewpoint.
To you, I suggest a reading of Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl. Get it here:
To Mary, I offer my prayers that the scales may come off and your eyes, too, may be opened to the light and peace of Jesus’ teachings, unfettered by the accumulated barnacles of cantankerous theologians of the past and the blind guides of the Magisterium of today.
To you, Mary, I suggest setting aside the hair shirt and reading German Roman Catholic theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann’s profoundly inspiring critique of the Magisterium, “Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven.” It has both a Nihil Obstat and an Imprimatur, so you don’t have to worry about being led astray. Get it here:
To the Magisterium and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, I offer the words of Jesus, speaking clearly to them, the words of Matthew 23. I need not reproduce the words here, since it’s in the Bible that they do not care to read, but the words are aimed directly at these failed shepherds. May they repent their evil, and see the light, before they are numbered among the goats.
In Justice and Peace,
Serva Servarum Deae