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The need for a Catholic ministry to transgendered persons

February 9, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2017 / 03:12 am (CNA).- Walt Heyer remembers the moment when he started desiring to be a girl.

When he was just 4 years old, Heyer’s grandmother would crossdress him while she was babysitting. She loved seeing Heyer in dresses, and even made him his own purple chiffon dress.

But it was their secret, grandma said – don’t tell mom and dad.

At age 7, Heyer brought the purple chiffon dress home with him, and hid it in his bottom dresser drawer.

Heyer’s mom soon found the dress, and confronted him about it. That’s when he told his parents that grandma had been dressing him like a girl for years.

“You could have set off an atomic bomb in the house for the conflict between my dad and my mom, and my mom and her mom, my dad and his mother in law,” he said.

Heyer’s parents didn’t have the vocabulary or the resources to know how to handle the situation. His dad reacted out of fear, and implemented very stern disciplinary measures. An uncle of Heyer’s found out about the story, and started teasing him about it. Eventually, he sexually abused Heyer.

“You see people who have such disordered thinking (gender dysphoria) are hurting,” Heyer said.  “The problem is that we don’t know what to do with them.”  

The desire to be a woman – to be someone other than the abused and hurt little boy – stayed with Heyer into adulthood, even though he had married a woman and had two children. At age 42, he surgically transitioned to a woman and asked his friends to start calling him Laura.

“But it began as a fantasy and it continued as a fantasy, because surgery doesn’t change you to a female. It’s no more authentic than a counterfeit $20 is authentic. You can’t change a biological man into a biological woman.”

After less than 10 years, and a conversion experience, Heyer regretted his transition and desired to live as a man again. He now runs a website called sexchangeregret.com, where hundreds of people contact him every year, sharing their own experiences and regrets of sex change surgeries. Most of them follow the pattern of feeling affirmed by their sex change for a time, only to have underlying psychological problems come roaring back after about 10 years, Heyer said.

Heyer told his story in a talk earlier this year at a Courage conference in Phoenix, where dozens of clergy and those in ministry from throughout the country gathered to learn how to best serve those with same-sex attraction in the Church.

Just recently, the ministry has been including talks and resources not just on same-sex attraction, but also on the issue of transgenderism, as transgender advocates continue to garner attention in the public sphere.

How can the Church help transgendered people?

There are few Catholic ministries that exist today that minister particularly to those struggling with transgenderism and gender dysphoria. Other than a handful of local ministries, Courage – the Church’s outreach to people with same-sex attraction – is one of the few ministries addressing the issue of transgenderism on a national and international level.

“Until recently, pastoral care to individuals who struggle with their sexual identities as male or female has largely occurred at a local and personal level,” said a spokesperson for the U.S. Bishop’s Conference Office of Public Affairs.  

“As attention to and awareness of this experience has grown, we are seeing more efforts regionally and nationally to respond in a way faithful to the Catholic understanding of the human person and God’s care for everyone.”

Part of the problem is that the issue of transgenderism and its acceptance in popular culture is so new that mental health experts are still trying to catch up to the trend, said Dr. Gregory Bottaro, a Catholic psychologist with the group CatholicPsych.

“I think the mental health profession hasn’t really had time to really thoroughly catch up on it, besides those in the field who kind of just flow with the current of whatever is popular in the moment,” he said.

But mental health professionals who are willing to follow any current trend are only “furthering the divide” between Catholic and secular practitioners, he added.  

At the moment, the biggest concern regarding the popularising and normalizing of transgenderism is the effect it’s having on children, Dr. Bottaro said.

“With kids, it’s really important to recognize that their sexual development is so fragile, and the influence of what’s popular in the culture needs to be really, strongly filtered and studied and understood,” he said.

“The Catholic response is a return to true anthropology –  male and female he made them – to understand that our biology and our psychology are not separate things, and so to encourage the development of a curriculum of human nature that is consistent with a true anthropology,” he said.

And it’s not just the Catholic Church that is concerned with the effects of transgenderism on children.

In a paper entitled “Gender Ideology Harms Children,” The American College of Pediatricians lays out specific reasons that they are concerned about the popularising and normalising of transgenderism among kids.

“A person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking. When an otherwise healthy biological boy believes he is a girl, or an otherwise healthy biological girl believes she is a boy, an objective psychological problem exists that lies in the mind not the body, and it should be treated as such. These children suffer from gender dysphoria,” the group said in its paper.

To encourage a child into thinking that “a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse,” they added.  

“So while there are biological abnormalities (children born with ambiguous genitalia or an extra chromosome), they’re certainly not circumstances to build philosophical systems on, so we see those as abnormalities and anomalies,” Dr. Bottaro explained.

Learning how to best serve transgendered persons

When asked, the U.S. Bishop’s Conference Office of Public Affairs referred back to Courage as an example of a ministry that was providing pastoral care and guidance on transgenderism at a national and international level.

Dioceses that have their own chapters of Courage to accompany those with same-sex attraction are also “in a good position to help people who have questions regarding their sexual identity as well,” the spokesperson said.

Father Philip Bochanski is the executive director of Courage International. He said the organization will continue to discern how best to serve transgendered persons and their families.

“There seem to be some similarities between the experience of confusion regarding one’s sexual identity and the experience of same-sex attraction, but there are also many differences,” Fr. Bochanski said.

In the meantime, the ministry’s outreach for parents, called EnCourage, is already actively engaged with parents and families who have a transgendered loved one, Fr. Bochanski said.

The goal of EnCourage is to help parents and family members of those with same-sex attraction, or transgendered persons, to maintain strong family ties while also holding to their understanding and teaching of the faith.

“Our EnCourage members pursue these goals by striving to grow in their own prayer lives, to learn more about what the Church teaches and how to present it in a loving way, and to find ways to show love and support without either condemning their sons or daughters, nor condoning immoral decisions.”

“Like the experience of same-sex attraction, questions regarding sexual identity have a profound impact not just on the individual but on his or her whole family,” he said.

“I’m glad that our EnCourage members and their chaplains have the opportunity to share their experience of speaking the truth in love in their own families with other parents and spouses who are striving to understand and support their loved ones who identify as transgender.”

Heyer said first and foremost, the Church must gently but firmly challenge people, rather than affirm them in their gender dysphoria.

“If we affirm them in changing genders we’re actually being disobedient to Christ, because that’s not who they are. He made them man and woman,” Heyer said.

He also said that pastors and those in ministry in the Church need to be better informed about the long-term physical and emotional consequences of sex change surgery.

“Because we’re not talking about the consequences. We’re only talking about them transitioning, which all looks really good for 8-10 years,” he said, at which point many people desire to go back to their original gender.

“So if we can get a bigger set of glasses and look long term…then we can look and see the destruction that happens and begin to address the destruction.”

Pastors and psychologists, working together

Deacon Dr. Patrick Lappert, a permanent deacon and plastic surgeon, also addressed the clergy and ministry leaders at the recent Courage conference. In his talk, he addressed the medical background of transgender surgeries, as well as the terminology used when discussing the issue.

It’s important for those in ministry to be well versed in the issue, both from a catechetical standpoint and from a medical and secular standpoint, Dr. Lappert told CNA.

“One of the dangers in the subject is that ignorance causes people to respond in unhelpful ways – sometimes in anger, sometimes confusion, revulsion, all kinds of emotional things that do not serve anyone, and certainly do not serve the Church,” he said.

“Be so fluent in the issue (and the terminology) that nothing surprises you, so that you can serve the person justly with the truth and with love,” he advised.

It is also important for priests and Church leaders to have good working relationships with psychologists and psychiatrists who share a Christian anthropological view of the human person, and would not encourage people in their gender dysphoria, Dr. Lappert said.

Dr. Bottaro said he has seen an increase in good working relationships between pastors and psychologists who believe in a true Christian anthropology.

“I think priests are becoming more and more aware of the need for it, the more volatile the situation becomes, the more obvious and pressing the need is for mental health expertise from a Catholic perspective,” he said.  

He said that he thinks Courage is a good place to start as far as ministry goes, because they have the “experience and expertise to sort of bridge the gap.”

“It could become a whole separate ministry, but it’s definitely related to what Courage is already doing, so it could become a branch of it, or they could decide that there’s many more people suffering from the effect of transgenderism,” he said.

But the issue of transgenderism extends beyond just those struggling with gender dysphoria, he added. It’s a cultural issue even more so than a psychological one, and it needs to be addressed on the levels of education and improved family life and catechesis just as much as it needs to be addressed on an individual basis.

Throughout the process of discerning and pastoral care for both people with same-sex attraction and with gender dysphoria, the most important thing is to remember the foundation of everyone’s identity, Fr. Bochanski added: “That of being created in the image and likeness of God the Father, and of being called to share in God’s grace as his sons and daughters.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 9, 2017.

 

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No Picture
News Briefs

Can we end the need for abortion? One organization aims to find out

February 9, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Denver, Colo., Feb 9, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Women’s healthcare is reaching a new dawn in the state of Colorado, courtesy of a new Catholic Charities initiative whose goal is to eliminate abortion from the definition of women’s healthcare.

The new initiative, called Marisol Health, hopes to empower women by offering a holistic option for healthcare, which also includes aid with housing and every spectrum of human services.

Just ask Marisol’s Vice President, Jan McIntosh. She has been involved with the evolution of Marisol Health from its establishment in 2016, with dreams to empower women in a big way.

“It was really during 2016 that we developed the whole Marisol concept with expanded medical care – a continuum of care to meet the urgent and ongoing needs of vulnerable women experiencing unexpected pregnancies, as well as women living in poverty with children,” McIntosh told CNA.

“Trying to eliminate the need for abortion is really at the heart of this, by building a network of well-integrated services to provide the solutions to the concerns that might lead women and men down the path to make that decision to terminate a pregnancy,” she said.

Marisol’s system essentially works as a directory of aid that will connect women to a network of pre-existing medical facilities, maternity centers, and long-term housing programs, which have all been interwoven to offer women and families all-encompassing care.

Depending on their situation, a woman could walk into one of Marisol’s centers and come out with a new doctor, a new place to live, and a new community of support, including emotional counseling, parenting help, and child education services.

These services are in connection with established community organizations. According to McIntosh, Marisol is only possible through the joint efforts between Catholic Charities and key partners within the community.

“We think it’s very important to work with the community and with other organizations that are serving the women and children that we are servicing,” McIntosh said.

Marisol Health has already kicked up a lot of excitement for women around the state, and has become a successful option for healthcare at one of Colorado’s biggest college campuses: CU Boulder.

Jenny Langness, a Marisol Program Director involved at the CU Boulder campus, told CNA that “students have been excited to learn about our continuum of care.”  

“Our hope is to make CU Boulder a campus that is welcoming and accessible to pregnant and parenting students, and through Marisol Health Services, will offer women true alternatives to abortion,” Langness said, adding that Marisol’s presence on campus has truly been able to “empower women.”

Marisol was originally brought to the university’s campus through Real Choices – an existing student organization which has now merged with Marisol – to educate young women and men about alternatives to abortion through seminars and events that speak about a holistic approach to sexual health and overall wellness.

Jen Boryla, a Marisol Volunteer Coordinator, told CNA that “we want a health center that promotes the wellbeing of the entire person – mind, body and spirit.”

“We hope that by educating and teaching the younger generation about a better way to be healthy and to think about their family planning, we can influence our culture broadly, as well as impact individual’s lives,” Boryla said.

So far, Marisol has seen a successful response at all of their locations. Since 2013, when the idea of Marisol was starting to take shape, they have seen 240 babies born to mothers that their services have helped. Within the past 7 months, Marisol has also provided all-inclusive prenatal care to more than 77 women.

“We are definitely having a positive response, and we are growing every month in the number of women who are hearing about our services and that are coming to us,” she continued.

In addition, Marisol Health centers are also offering mammograms – a vital piece of women’s healthcare that other clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, does not offer. They also offer free pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and STD/STI testing.

“We have partnered with St. Joe’s mobile mammography program, and they will be servicing us at both of our Marisol sites and also at the Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood,” she noted.

Marisol’s success has already made it a potential model for healthcare in other states and dioceses throughout the country. Jan said that Marisol is “actively planning” with other programs across the country that are interested in developing more comprehensive healthcare for women.

Future goals for Marisol include one major, overarching theme: ending the need for abortion in Colorado.

“In order to do that, we need the resources for the intensive care that this takes, and we do believe that there are thousands of men, women and families who need these services,” Jan stated.

“Our real hope is to fill our current health centers to capacity and then with the support of donors and grants and other funding to expand to other communities in Colorado, both along the Front Range and possibly into the mountain communities.”

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No Picture
News Briefs

Reflections on the March for Life

February 7, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2017 / 09:51 am (CNA).- Two weeks ago, America witnessed a historic event. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C. for the 44th annual March for Life and heard from the highest ranking White House official to ever grace the March for Life stage – Vice President Mike Pence, along with top-ranking WH official Kellyanne Conway.

The day was a bit of a blur for those of us who were there, but in reflecting back on that historic event two weeks ago, I am reminded of the critical theme that we chose this year for the March for Life – “The Power of One.”

This year’s theme was conceived one night early last Spring during a “Tenebrae” service at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington D.C. The service, which means “shadows” in Latin, falls within the context of Holy Week, when Christians worldwide celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the passion, death and ultimately resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.

At one point within the service, all of the lights in the cathedral except one – a candelabra with eight candles lit on the altar – are out. As meaningful lamentations from the Old Testament are read, one by one, each of the eight candles are snuffed out until the entire cathedral is pitch black. The darkness is stark and uncomfortable, but then everything changes. A single candle at the very top is lit, symbolizing Christ. It is notable and surprising how that one little candle creates an enormously different environment than the darkness. Literally, every square foot of that cathedral was touched by a little bit of light, and that little bit of light changed everything.   

“Even the smallest person can change the course of history” is a powerful line from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and this line truly encapsulates “The Power of One” theme.  

Working to build a culture of life can sometimes feel like we are working and living in the darkness. I experienced that darkness back in June, one day after the Supreme Court made two life issues-related decisions: The first essentially gave abortion clinics a pass, and decided to treat them differently than other outpatient facilities with regard to health standards and regulations. In the second ruling, a family pharmacy from Washington State, after battling for many years, was told that they either had to violate their consciences by filling life-destructive drug prescriptions or close up their business.

As a pro-life American who doesn’t identify with either political party, approaching the close of difficult years with the Obama Administration on life and religious freedom issues, these decisions were somewhat of a final blow as we looked towards possible continuation of such policies over coming years.

But as I reflected on those two decisions and the other trials that our nation was facing, I was reminded of that little candle and the power it had to light the entire cathedral. I had to remember that no matter who is President, who is in Congress or what Supreme Court decisions are made – as significant as they are – every single one of us has the power to make a change in this world, and there is always hope. Thus, the theme of this year’s March for Life was born.

On Jan. 22, Americans from every inch of this country gathered in our nation’s capital for the historic 44th annual March for Life, not only to commemorate that dark day when Roe v Wade legalized abortion in our nation, but also to celebrate life and the countless lives saved throughout the years since abortion was legalized.

The speakers for this year’s March for Life embodied “The Power of One” theme in a way I could have never imagined. Vice President Mike Pence joined us as the first-ever vice president to address the March for Life, alongside top White House adviser Kellyanne Conway – both of whom are inspiring role models, exemplifying how one person can truly change the world.

Abby Johnson shared her story of being a former Planned Parenthood director who became an outspoken pro-life advocate and founder of “And Then There Were None.” Benjamin Watson spoke about his life outside of the NFL as a father of five, a strong Christian, and a pro-life advocate in the public square. The youth presence at the March for Life is always incredible and this year we were thrilled to hear from Katrina Gallic, a student at the University of Mary. She spoke about the many buses her school brings every year to the March for Life and how, despite the blizzard of 2016, they continued as witnesses to life; even after getting snowed in on the Pennsylvania turnpike.

The March for Life is made up of tens of thousands of people who have the capacity to be the candle in a world that sometimes feels dark. This is the true power of one – every person has the power to be a light in this often dark world. We’ve been marching strong for 44 years, and this year, more than ever, there is so much opportunity for change. We will continue to march until a culture of life and respect has been restored in the United States; a culture where abortion is unthinkable and the inherent dignity of the human person is respected from conception to death.

 

*Jeanne Mancini is the President of the March for Life.

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No Picture
News Briefs

Another resignation at SNAP as controversy continues

February 7, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Chicago, Ill., Feb 6, 2017 / 05:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Another leader of a controversial group representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse has resigned, denying that the resignation is related to a lawsuit that claimed the group was engaged in kickbacks and other unethical behavior.

Barbara Blaine of the Survivors’ Network of those Abuse by Priests resigned effective Feb. 3, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Blaine said a lawsuit filed last month against the Chicago-based organization had no bearing on her resignation and compared it to previous lawsuits she said had no merit. She said the discussions of her departure had been ongoing and it had been a great honor to serve the organization.

“Change however is inevitable,” she said.

In mid-January former employee Gretchen Rachel Hammond, who worked as a development director at SNAP, claimed to have been wrongly fired for raising objections to what she said was a kickback scheme. The former employee’s lawsuit alleged that the organization refers them to lawyers who themselves donate to the organization. It also charged that SNAP does not provide significant counseling help to abuse victims.

The suit further charged that SNAP is motivated by its leaders’ “personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.”

Blaine flatly denied the lawsuit’s claims, saying: “The allegations are not true. This will be proven in court. SNAP leaders are now, and always have been, devoted to following the SNAP mission: to help victims heal and to prevent further sexual abuse.”

The lawsuit named as defendants SNAP, Blaine, past executive director David Clohessy, and outreach director Barbara Dorris.

Clohessy resigned as executive director effective Dec. 31, though the change was not widely known until after the latest lawsuit was filed. The former executive director, who had worked at the organization since 1991, also denied his resignation had anything to do with the lawsuit.

Dorris has now become managing director of SNAP.

In her resignation statement, Blaine said she founded the organization 29 years ago because a priest who had abused her remained in ministry and because she felt “immense pain” from the alleged abuse inflicted on her as an eighth grader by a priest who taught at her school.

“I knew there were other survivors out there and wondered if they felt the same debilitating hurt and if so, how they coped with it. I thought they might hold the wisdom I lacked. I looked for other survivors and asked if they would be willing to talk,” she said in a statement.

SNAP has run into other legal problems.

In August 2016 a federal judge ruled that the group made false statements “negligently and with reckless disregard for the truth” against a St. Louis priest to try to convict him on abuse charges.

The organization also sought to have the International Criminal Court investigate Benedict XVI for crimes against humanity related to alleged failures to stop sex abuse. Many critics considered the effort to be frivolous and the court rejected the request in mid-2013.

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