Catholic Nuns: Church Isn’t Whole Without Trans Siblings | Sojourners

Catholic Nuns: Church Isn’t Whole Without Trans Siblings

Stickers in the shape of a heart with a trans flag are pictured during a conversation about trans care, equity, and access, during National Trans Visibility Month with the Rainbow Room, a program of Planned Parenthood Keystone, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, March 29, 2023. Hannah Beier/Reuters

Nearly 30 groups of Catholic nuns, totaling more than 6,000 people across 18 states, signed onto a statement celebrating Trans Day of Visibility and calling people to resist anti-transgender legislation in their states.  

“As members of the body of Christ, we cannot be whole without the full inclusion of transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive individuals,” the statement reads. “May we act to transform our hearts, our church, our politics, and our country to ensure that the dignity of our trans, nonbinary, and gender-expansive siblings are acknowledged, boldly accepted, and celebrated.”  

In the statement, the signees encourage people to learn about the status of anti-LGBTQ+ laws in their state, support LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, and assess their own religious community’s support of trans people.  

“We will remain oppressors until we — as vowed Catholic religious — acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ+ people in our own congregations,” the statement continues. “We seek to cultivate a faith community where all, especially our transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive siblings, experience a deep belonging.” 

The statement was prepared by the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of- the-Woods in Indiana, and the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth's Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation. The 28 signing groups are comprised of sisters who have taken religious vows and lay partners who work for the organizations. 

Lisa Cathelyn, a lay partner and justice coordinator for the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, told Sojourners that she and justice promoters with other religious communities began coordinating in response to the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in states, and in response to the Club Q shooting in Colorado.  

“We shared a lot of concern about the harmful and life-threatening impact some of these bills, introduced or passed, might have,” she said. They were also concerned by the “void of silence [or] harmful rhetoric” that had come from other Catholics. “We really wanted to offer a simple expression of solidarity.” 

The group’s letter comes about one week after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a committee statement discouraging gender-affirming care which stated that gender-affirming surgeries “do not respect the fundamental order of the human person as an intrinsic unity of body and soul, with a body that is sexually differentiated.” 

“Catholic health care services must not perform interventions, whether surgical or chemical, that aim to transform the sexual characteristics of a human body into those of the opposite sex or take part in the development of such procedures,” the bishop’s Committee on Doctrine wrote

But Cathelyn said the groups were not working on the Trans Day of Visibility Statement as a response to the bishops’ committee.  

“We didn’t really want to give it any more energy, time, or space,” she said. “The statement came out of responding to state-level legislation and an increase in [ani-LGBTQ+] violence.”

Chris Geidner, a law reporter, found that more than 80 anti-LGBTQ laws had passed at least one state legislative chamber by March 17, ranging from bills outlawing gender-affirming care for minors, restricting bathroom usage by trans people, and bills prohibiting the use of trans student’s pronouns in schools. 

The groups worked with a nonbinary consultant, who prefers to stay anonymous, to prepare the statement. Cathelyn said it was important that LGBTQ+ people had the chance to give feedback to the groups as they wrote the statement.  

Sister Barabra Battista, a justice promoter for the Sisters of Providence, told Sojourners by email that she hopes trans and nonbinary people will “know and experience in a deeper way that many Catholics do indeed believe we all belong.” 

She also said the group was dedicated to an inclusive writing process that centered the most marginalized, specifically trans and nonbinary people.  

“We were quite intentional in framing this statement to center those voices. We worked at saying something that would not add, even unintentionally, to the othering of the LGBTQ+ community. I experienced deep respect and an authentic expression of care as we crafted this statement,” she wrote. “I am grateful not only for this experience, but more importantly that we were able to say something that could garner the support of so many vowed religious communities.” 

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