Transsexual Marriage – in Catholic Church

In Italy, a Catholic priest has blessed in church a transsexual marriage. From the Independent Online:

A priest in Italy on Sunday blessed the marriage of a 64-year-old transsexual to her 58-year-old male partner, in defiance of Vatican guidelines, the ANSA news agency reported. Sandra Alvino – who underwent a sex change more than 30 years ago – and Fortunato Talotta had been in a civil partnership for 25 years before tying the knot in a religious ceremony in Piagge, an industrial suburb of Florence. Father Alessandro Santoro gave his blessing to the marriage, which was attended by some 200 people

Does this mean that gay marriage is out, but transsexual in? Not exactly. It will be no surprise that the Vatican has objected. What may well come as a surprise, is that the official objections came before the ceremony :

Former Florence archbishop Cardinal Ennio Antonelli had blocked an attempt by Alvino and Talotta to marry two years ago, and his successor Giuseppe Betori later also asked Santoro not to bless their union, ANSA reported.

But the priest went ahead anyway:

Santoro defended his decision, saying it was “not an act of rebellion”, but rather “an act of loyalty to my congregation, to the church and to the people that I love”.

He was quite simply caught between two conflicting loyalties, to the hierarchy and to his congregation. The latter won out – quite rightly. It will not be until more of us recognise that we have an obligation to each other, which takes precedence over any loyalty to Rome, that the Church will again reflect true Gospel values. The good priest has since been “disciplined” by the Vatican, showing its clear displeasure. The rest of us owe him instead a debt of gratitude.

Over at Bilgrimage, where I first came across this story, Bill Lindsey writes about quite a different aspect of this story, unpicking the Vatican’s disapproval: that this couple “brings nothing to the church” with this marriage. Read Bill’s thorough dismantling of this backward theology at – and read the discussion in the comments, too, which has some very sound contributions.

One of these comments fascinated me. It was from a woman who stated that she had been through sex surgery “to bring her brain and her gender into alignment” 40 years ago, and had simply had her baptismal certificate changed. She never encountered any difficulties from priest or congregation. When she wanted to marry some years later, there was no fuss at all.

Does this indicate that on this issue the Church has gone backward in 40 years, or am I missing something here? Is this a part of the wider backwards movement under JP II and Benedict XVI? Would the Italian bride have been treated differently if she had arranged an amended baptismal certificate directly after surgery? Was the earlier amendment just a local aberration, when the whole concept of gender reassignment was completely new, without any precedent in Church procedures? In a similar case today, would a local parish be permitted to simply amend the certificate?

Who knows?

*****

In general, transgendered Christians face even more opposition and hostility from the churches than vanilla queers. However, there are some encouraging signs. In a useful essay at Religion Dispatches, Jori Lewis has a good analysis of the difficulties but also points to some encouraging signs. (I like the logo they have used to illustrate the story):

Transsexual in church logo

First, the difficulties. Allyson Robinson is an ordained Baptist minister, who started life as a man. When she began to face her identity issues, she initially resisted, praying to be released from the burden. After facing the issue, she believed that she would not be able to continue ministering as a woman. She

spent more than a decade praying for her own resolution. She pleaded, “God make me strong enough to resist this temptation.” But nothing happened. Robinson tried to understand why God had not answered her prayers. She tried to interpret God’s silence theologically and came up with a few options: 1. The God that she had been praying to didn’t exist; 2. God wasn’t who she thought he was. He wasn’t compassionate, and he didn’t care about her suffering; 3. God was causing this suffering for his own glory; 4. God was causing the suffering to keep Robinson humble. None of those explanations were satisfactory. But one day, she had a revelation. She, said, “the reason God had not fixed me was because I was not broken.”

But still, when she made the decision to become a woman, she resigned as pastor. Says the Human rights Campaign:

Transgender people are much less likely to take part in an organized religion than non-transgender people, according to researchers. In their article “Understanding Spirituality and Religiosity in the Transgender Community: Implications for Aging,” authors Jeremy Kidd and Tarynn Witten posit a reason: “The tendency not to identify with a formal religion may reflect an affirmation of one’s own dignity that these religions fail to honor, an expression of protest against certain religious tenets, and/or a refusal to align oneself with institutions contributing to the marginalization of gender and sexual minorities. The difference in religious identification appears to reflect thoughts and feelings toward religious institutions more than it does spiritual behavior or beliefs.”

But there are also some encouraging signs. Some churches have been able to accept transgendered people, even as pastors. Consider the case of Drew Phoenix, a minister with a United Methodist Church. His congregation accepted and supported his decision to transition. Mark Yarhouse has conducted a study of transgender Christians, and found people in churches across the country. “I was impressed by their personal faith and their efforts to sort of find a home for their Christianity, for their own Christian identity,” he said. (He is director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity at Regent University, a conservative Christian university that was founded by Pat Robertson. ) Justin Tanis writes in his book, Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry and Communities of Faith, about a sense that his transgender identity was a calling, on par with the call to ministry. “Rather than simply being a fluke, an oddity, or a source of shame, gender variance comes to be seen as part of our God-given identities,” he writes. “Even more than that, it becomes our spiritual responsibility to explore fully the nature that God has given to us.” He says that thinking of being transgender in this way allows transgender people to be a part of God’s plan, not exceptions to it.

Lynn Walker is a transgender priest in the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America. In photos, she sports her priest’s collar, but in her day-to-day work at a transitional housing program for transgender sex workers, she’s all jeans, T-shirts, and blond hair pushed back. She says she doesn’t push her religion on anybody. Just like she doesn’t mention her transgendered status unless she wants to. Walker looks at it this way. Being transgender is not a sin or a pathology; it’s about variety. “Based on science, this is uncommon, but normal and natural,” she said. “Somewhere in the Book of Job, it say all things come of thee, oh Lord.” Walker said that yes, transgender people take advantage of scientific advancements to change their bodies. But she doesn’t see why that should be wrong or controversial or an abomination in the eyes of God. “If science is a gift from God,” she asked. “Why don’t we listen?”

Why, indeed?

*****

Outside of the religious realm, there have been two news stories that caught my eye. In one, there is speculation about a country that might be the first to legalize transsexual marriage. Which do you suppose it might be? Sweden? Netherlands? UK? South Africa? Iran? IRAN? Yes – that well-known haven of tolerance and sexual liberty? Not exactly – but in their extreme hatred of same-sex relationships, the mullahs long ago agreed that the best way to get around the horror is to physically change these into opposite sex couples – by inflicting surgery on one or other partner (but not, God forbid, on both!). Gender reassignment surgery has been accepted for some time in the country’s medical scheme of things. Now they are expected to follow through with the obvious next step, and ensure that transsexuals should be able to marry. Meanwhile, in Williamsburg, William and Mary now has a transgendered (or “genderqueer”) homecoming queen. Nobody is fussed.

(See “William and Mary Students Elect Transgender Homecoming Queen” and “William and Mary Students Not Bothered by Transgender Homecoming Queen” .)

Change happens.

*****

Further Reading:

Trans Faith Online

Justin TanisTrans-gendered: Theology, Ministry and Communities of Faith

From Queering the Church:

Transgendered in Church (David Weekley comes out to his congregation as FTM transsexual)

Transgendered in Church, Again

From Peter Toscano:

Cisgender Privilege

A Jew and a Transgendered Walk into Church


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One Response to “Transsexual Marriage – in Catholic Church”

  1. queeringthechurch Says:

    (Not my own comment this, but posted at Daily Kos, where the piece was cross-posted. I was pleased to read of the DADT approach)

    The official policy of the RC church is that transsexualism “does not exist”, and that those who undergo gender reassignment surgery are mentally ill. The Church policy is to not marry people who are of unsound mind and, thus, not able to fully comprehend the nature of their entry into the sacrament of marriage. Don’t yell at me, I am just telling you what the policy is.

    I can tell you, from first hand experience (as a guest at a wedding), that the Church usually practices a “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy. If the couple has a marriage license and baptismal certificates (albeit amended to reflect their current names), you can generally get your marriage sanctified in a Catholic ceremony.


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