Transgender Catholics say new Vatican document shows no understanding of their lives

The Vatican has declared that gender-affirming surgeries and surrogacy are grave violations of human dignity. A new document from the doctrine office puts them on a par with abortion and euthanasia as practices that violate God’s plan for human life. In its most eagerly anticipated section, the Vatican flat-out rejected “gender theory” or the idea that one’s gender can be changed.

Transgender Catholics — as well as a priest who welcomes them to his parish — expressed disappointment Monday with a new Vatican document rejecting the fundamental concept of changing one’s biological sex.

In essence, it was a restatement of longstanding Catholic teaching, but the dismay was heightened because recent moves by Pope Francis had encouraged some trans Catholics to hope the church might become more accepting.

The pope has welcomed a community of transgender women to his weekly general audiences. And last year, the Vatican said it’s permissible, under certain circumstances, for trans people to be baptized as Catholics and serve as godparents.

“A document like this is very hurtful to the larger LGBTQ+ community but especially to the trans community,” said Maxwell Kuzma, 32, a lifelong Catholic transgender man working as a film editor and writer in rural Ohio.

“We have seen the care and love Pope Francis has personally extended to the trans community in his personal interactions, yet this document fails to extend that same respect, love, and support,” Kuzma said via email.

The new document never uses the word “transgender,” which troubled Michael Sennett, a transgender man who is involved with an LGBTQ+ ministry at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

“Avoiding the word ‘transgender’ speaks to limiting the dignity of transgender people,” Sennett said via email. “If the church is unable to name us or acknowledge our true selves, they can’t possibly engage us pastorally, even if that is the goal.”

He also was dismayed by the document’s admonition that God created man and woman as biologically different, separate beings, and that people must not tinker with that or try to “make oneself God.”

“Transgender people are beloved, intentional creations of God the same as cisgender men and women are,” Sennett said. “Trans people who take hormones or have surgeries are not playing God; we are respecting and accepting our authentic selves.”

“Time and time again studies have validated the negative impact on trans people, youth and adults, who are denied affirming care,” Sennet added. “Transitioning is not a medical agenda out to recruit people — it is a lifeline.”

Christine Zuba, a transgender woman from New Jersey, noted with dismay that the Vatican doctrine office’s 20-page document declared gender-affirming surgery to be a “grave violation of human dignity,” on par with such global ills as war and human trafficking.

“Transgender persons are being condemned for who we are, and more importantly we become subject to potential harm,” Zuba said in an email. “It again (sadly) gives fuel to those who continue to deny our existence.”

“We exist, but we do not. We have dignity, but we do not. I don’t even want to think about what the religious and political right will make of this.“

As for Pope Francis, Zuba praised him as “a good and holy man.”

“Our church however still has a LOT to learn,” she added. “We are Not an Ideology. Talk to us. Learn.”

The Catholic Church in the U.S. is not monolithic on transgender policies. Some dioceses have issued stern guidelines in effect forbidding acknowledgement of gender transitions. But some parishes have welcomed trans people, including the Church of Our Lady of Grace in Hoboken, New Jersey. Its priest, the Rev. Alexander Santora, invited Zuba a few years ago to deliver part of the homily at its annual Pride Mass.

Santora told The Associated Press that he was encouraged by some aspects of the new Vatican document, including its assertion that homosexuality should not be criminalized.

“I fear, though, that the tone of this document may bring more harm to trans individuals and fuel the hate that is proliferating in the U.S., with more oppressive laws that will lead to suicides and violence,” he said via email. “I hope the Vatican convenes some devout trans Catholics from around the world to dissect this document and make it more pastoral.”

Kuzma, the Ohio-based film editor and writer, said his dismay over the Vatican document was coupled with continued optimism.

“Currently we have a spotlight on us, yet we have existed throughout human history and have often been given special roles in cultures that recognized our unique gifts,” he said.

“The Catholic Church moves slowly, but my hope is that one day, the Vatican will truly recognize the beautiful and important gifts transgender people have to share with the church and the world.”

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Crary has headed AP’s 11-person religion team since 2020. Among previous AP jobs, he was a foreign correspondent for 14 years, and has used that experience to bolster AP’s worldwide religion coverage.