The following comes from a March 7 Crux article by Michael O’Loughlin:
LOS ANGELES – Tens of thousands of Catholics descend on Los Angeles each winter to sharpen their ministry skills, partaking in dozens of workshops and seminars about liturgy, prayer, Bible, and parish life as part of the LA Religious Education Congress. With close to 40,000 participants, it’s the largest annual gathering of Catholics in North America, a celebration of all things Catholic.
But event organizers this year took a cue from popular culture and included a new session, one that attracted a standing room only crowd of 750 people, nearly all of whom jumped to their feet for a sustained round of applause after talks from two young, committed Catholics.
The name of the session? “Transgender in the Church: One Bread, One Body.”
The Rev. Christopher Bazyouros, the director of the office of religious education for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said including the discussion in the program was an important first step for the Church in grappling with an issue that exploded onto the national consciousness last June when Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, announcing to the world that she is transgender.
“There aren’t many places for Catholics to discuss these things that are thoughtful, intentional, and that gathers people who have had this experience,” he said. “Many Catholics want information about this topic, they want things to help them understand this situation.”
To that end, conference organizers invited two transgender Catholics to speak, both of whom were surprised and gratified that they were included. And both used their presentations to urge acceptance by the wider universe of Catholics.
Anna Patti, a 23-year-old Michigan resident, told the crowd she didn’t believe “God made a mistake” with her, as some have said of transgender people.
In an interview after her presentation, she said having the opportunity to speak freely about her struggles and her joys was “an unexpectedly affirming experience.”
“I hadn’t realized how silenced I felt within the Church,” she said. “At Mass I always sit in the back row in the back corner, making myself as visibly small as possible. Here was the opposite, where people wanted to learn about an issue that is so often immediately condemned.”
“It was beautiful,” she said of the crowd’s reaction.
Mateo Williamson, a 24-year-old medical student at the Jesuit-run Loyola Medical School in Chicago, described with joy his deeply Catholic upbringing, part of a family that included several priests and nuns.
After his talk, he said many young people thanked him for sharing his story about living as a transgender man in the Church.
“Pope Francis’ charity, compassion, and call to mercy, it’s changed the tone in the Church,” he said. “He hasn’t been explicit about trans people, and there’s nothing in the Catechism, but there’s been a change among people in general to understand something they maybe haven’t encountered before.”
Pope Francis has spoken out repeatedly against so-called gender ideology, but Patti said she doesn’t interpret those comments as hostile to trans people.
In fact, she thinks the pope’s remarks about gender not being just a social construct actually support the transgender community by pointing out that gender identity is innate.
The LA Congress workshop sold out quickly, and some of the audience, which included several priests, seminarians, and nuns, said the fact it happened at all gave them hope about the future of the Church.
Arthur FitzMaurice, who speaks frequently about LGBT issues in the Church and who organized the workshop, said he believes it was the largest discussion devoted to transgender issues and Catholicism in the Church’s history. He said that organizers have already asked him to plan a similar workshop next year.