Christine’s Journey — Trans and Catholic? My Dinner with the Cardinal

| Jan 7, 2019
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Christine Zuba

“It’s as hard to be Catholic in the Transgender community, as it is to be Transgender in the Catholic community”; … words from the very well done video Owning Our Faith, stories from LGBT Catholics who continue to practice their faith in the face of adversity (and often hate).

I’ll get to my November 29 dinner with Cardinal Joseph Tobin in Newark, New Jersey. But first some background.

Traditional Catholics are very surprised to learn of someone LGBT practicing their faith. The answer I often hear from our own community, when they learn that I’m Catholic is: “Why?, They Hate Us!”

There are many in the Transgender Community who are spiritual, believing in a higher power, and participate in a local faith group or church. Others do not, choose not to, or have left their faith, perhaps understandably after being tragically injured or abused by the organization in which they placed their heart and trust. I respect an individual’s decision to believe, or not believe, as they choose.

In 2015 I documented my transition here on TGForum over 8 monthly posts, and noted that I was Catholic. It was during my transition that I came out to the priests of my church. While I am fortunate to have the support of my clergy, many other parish priests, are much less supportive. It is often “hit or miss” from church to church. One local pastor has gone so far as to have a good friend physically carried out. “Very Christ-like Indeed!”

There certainly are religious hate groups. While Westboro Baptist Church is one of the more well known, Church Militant is one of a number of Catholic online right wing anti-LGBT entities.

Some religious leaders also have been outspoken against the LGBT community. Most recently the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been very vocal against it and the transgender community in particular. Philadelphia’s Archbishop Chaput has voiced his anti-LGBT viewpoint as well.

Conversion Therapy (recently portrayed in the movie Boy Erased) continues as the “torture of choice” by many religious organizations and parents in states where it has not yet been outlawed.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a text which contains dogma and teachings of the Church, names “homosexual acts” as “intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law,” and names “homosexual tendencies” as “objectively disordered.”

Pope Francis has offered conflicting messages. Positive comments such as 2013’s “Who am I to judge?”, and 2018’s “God made you like this,” are offset with more negative statements that “Gay men serving as priests worries me”; and “Homosexuality has become ‘fashionable’ in some societies.” Pope Francis has also criticized what he called “ideological colonization” by recounting a story about a 10-year old boy who wanted to be a girl. Again to the positive, Pope Francis has also suggested church ministers accompany LGBT people, saying this is “what Jesus would do today.” Conflicting?

In the face of all this, THERE IS HOPE. Religious leaders around the world are becoming more welcoming to the LGBT Community. Ireland has become a proponent for LGBT rights. In the U.S., San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy, and Lexington’s Bishop John Stowe have been very outspoken in their support of the LGBT community, both locally and at global conferences. Nationwide organizations such as Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry, and Dignity USA (for which friend Linda Roberts is an officer and speaker) , as well as numerous Priests and Clergy on a local level continue to work for positive change.

Christine with Father Jim Martin.

Father Jim Martin’s recent book Building a Bridge offers ideas on how both the Catholic Church and LGBT communities can communicate towards better understanding and acceptance. He even addressed the World Meeting of Families in Ireland last year “at the Invitation of the Vatican.” Unfortunately, Father Martin, and many of the venues at which he has spoken, have naturally become targets of hate groups.

In early 2016 shortly after my transition, I started conversations with both my Monsignor and with individuals at the Diocese of Camden New Jersey, about “doing something” for the LGBT Catholics in our area. While it took many months, in January 2018 we held our first LGBT group meeting, “Together In Prayer,” at our parish center. In March of 2018, Monsignor asked me to become a Eucharistic Minister, administering consecrated bread and wine during mass.

In mid 2017, I was contacted by David Harvie, facilitator of In God’s Image, a similar LGBT Catholic group in Central New Jersey. Their group has been in existence for about 10 years, and is part of the Inter-parish Collaborative, a group of LGBT Supportive Churches within the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

David also leads a smaller consortium of parishes with LGBT ministry/outreach within N.J. and parts of Pennsylvania, and I discovered that within all 5 Dioceses of New Jersey similar groups had formed or were in process. It is through this group that I attended a recent de-brief in New York City of Father Martin’s travels and presentation in Ireland.

Cardinal Tobin

It was also through the efforts of David and of this group that I was asked to attend a dinner on Nov. 29th, with Cardinal Joseph Tobin at his residence at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, in Newark N.J. As part of a representative group of 16 LGBT Catholics, parents, and supportive priests, I was privileged to represent the “T” in the group.

Born and raised in Detroit, Cardinal Tobin served there as pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish from 1984 to 1990. Additional roles of importance followed in Detroit, Chicago and Rome. In 2005 he participated in a Synod of Bishops where he spent a week in a Spanish-language discussion group that included the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the very same Archbishop who is now Pope Francis.

In October 2012, he was appointed to head the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and in November 2016 Pope Francis named Tobin, Cardinal, Archbishop of Newark.

Cardinal Tobin is a strong advocate of migrants, and has been a major proponent of increasing the role of women in the Catholic Church. Cardinal Tobin has also been accepting of the LGBT community for years. On May 21, 2017, Cardinal Tobin personally welcomed the LGBT community to the Newark Cathedral as part of what has been called an “LGBT Pilgrimage.

Our evening began with a brief reception at 6:30, and introductions. We had each provided a very short bio ahead of time, so he had some understanding of our backgrounds. At 66 years of age, Cardinal Tobin is a physically large, yet very soft spoken man. I commented that I have many friends in Detroit, and that Detroit has a very vibrant and active Transgender Community. He was pleasantly surprised and mentioned that during his time in Detroit he ministered to many who had died of AIDS.

I was fortunate to have a prime seat next to the Cardinal. Dinner was wonderful, as was the conversation involving many topics, including the recent Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, the abuse crisis, conversations he’s had with Pope Francis, and of course the Church and its (too often negative) relationship with the LGBT community. Cardinal Tobin sincerely sought our advice about how to move the conversation forward and how he can help. He felt it might help if the Church “acknowledges what it does not know.”

Over the 2-1/2 hour dinner, everyone shared experiences, concerns, hopes, and prayers, emphasizing that a welcoming and accepting Church, needs not only originate from the “ground up, local level’, but now more than ever, needs “leadership, from the top down.”

Author Jenn Finney Boylan has pointed out that Transgender “Visibility” is one of the most important aspects in changing hearts and minds, LGBT Visibility in the Catholic Church or within any religion or faith, also contributes to those very same goals. With 1.2 Billion Catholics worldwide, and approximately 70 Million Catholics in the United States, that’s certainly a lot of hearts and minds to change.

LGBT Catholics at the New Hope, Pa. Pride Parade.

So why do any of us continue to have faith ? Why are we Catholic? As it’s been simply said, “If WE Quit, The Church Will Never Change!” Visibility, one heart, one mind, at a time.

Thanks again for listening. The Journey Continues. . . .



Note: The Catholic Church has major issues, the horrific abuse scandal by a number of its priests and clergy. This is an extremely important subject in the US and the World. I am not minimizing the significance of this concern. I have focused here however, on the personal aspect of being Transgender, LGBT Catholic, in a Catholic world.

Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place
from “All Are Welcome” — Marty Haugen

Link to Owning Our Faith, here.

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Category: Transgender Body & Soul


About the Author ()

Part of the Philadelphia area Transgender community living in Sewell NJ. A Penn State grad, working in TV and FM Radio Broadcast equipment sales. Full time (about time !) since Nov. 2015. My frequent travel schedule allows me to visit TG friendly locales and attend events around the US.

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  1. j2emily j2emily says:

    for me the mystery continues. try as I may I still cannot obtain a theological basis for the Church’s position on transgender. this article refers to homosexuality. so what? what does that have to do with transgender? I would love to be enlightened. my Jesuit education trained me to deal with facts -not emotion. thanx

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