The Pope and the Guest List

Now that Pope Francis is on American soil (question: Is the Popemobile considered baggage?), we can turn our attention to the exploding heads on the right (both Vatican and American, from all indications, over the guest list for tomorrow's White House visit.

To put everything in proper context, we should note that there are about 15,000 names on that guest list, so it's not like any one of them is going to spend significant time alone with Francis...or even get close to him, let alone speak to him.

But that's not stopping folks like Mike Huckabee from tweeting:

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Classless decision by @POTUS to transform @Pontifex visit into a politicized cattle call is an insult to millions of Catholics. 

The man who has asserted that he would have been a pervert if transgender people around when he was young, is especially concerned about the invitations to Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, transgender activist Mateo Williamson, and former Nun on the Bus, Sister Simone Campbell.

My attention, of course, is on Mateo Williamson, a former leader of the transgender caucus within Dignity USA.

The Vatican’s disapproval of my presence at the ceremony speaks to the necessity for continued dialogue between transgender Catholics and the church hierarchy.

This is really not so much of a political statement as it is the reality that there are so many LGBT Catholics and family members of LGBT people who would really benefit from this message coming from the White House.


Mr. Williamson, who is transgender, said he would be attending the ceremony as a guest of Vivian Taylor, a transgender woman who was invited by the White House and who formerly served as executive director of Integrity USA, an LBGT advocacy group in the Episcopal Church.

So the White House didn't invite Mr. Williamson. He's a Plus One.

Of the extremely nebulous chance that Mateo will get to meet the Pope, we have this essay by Nathan Schneider of America: The National Catholic Review.

Mr. Williamson is no stranger speaking truth to power. Once upon a time, he requested a meeting with his local bishop.

He told the bishop that he was a transgender man. But mainly he’d come to talk about the problems of transgender youth in their community, who suffer homelessness and suicide at catastrophic rates. Williamson was frightened, but he made it through the meeting, and the bishop did, too. Afterward, Williamson said he felt compassion from the bishop—and for him.

He understood what I was saying—especially my own story, what I had gone through, but also the stories of so many homeless youth. But I realized at the same time that he would have very little power, even as a bishop, to help any of us, even though we were Catholic and we were suffering because of the Catholic Church’s teaching and the things that were coming from the hierarchy.


Theologian Thomas Williams, writing from Rome in Breitbart, repeatedly mis-gendered Williamson, referring to him as “a cross-dressing woman” who “now thinks of herself as a man.” Evangelical heir-apparent Franklin Graham called the guest list—which includes around 15,000 people in addition to Williamson—"disgraceful and obviously inappropriate."

Williamson has written about his work at a homeless shelter in New Jersey.

The shelter where I work is funded largely by the Catholic Church. The irony of this—at times too painful to bear—is that I frequently speak with young people who have been rejected by their family and from their homes, in part resulting from interpretations of Catholic doctrine and heated rhetoric regarding homosexuality from their official religious leaders. Can you imagine what our shelter would look like if every LGBT child were accepted by their families in all of their inherent beauty? Nearly half of the beds in our building would be empty.


Is that worse than what Pope Francis has written?

Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.”

--Laudato SI

The common reading—and likely the intended meaning—of passages like this a moral denunciation of transgender discourse. However, when one spends enough time hearing trans people describe their journeys, this kind of language actually resonates with theirs. Such journeys come in many forms, but they often describe a process less of departure and escape than of homecoming. Trans people I’ve known, perhaps more than anyone else, understand the realities of sexual difference, because they’ve had to traverse that divide on their own.


"To transition is to move toward their own integrity as a person and not away from it, and therefore toward God, not away from God,” Sr. Monica reminded me in an email this week.

She pointed out that only a small percentage of people have ever knowingly met a transgender person, so they’re forming opinions and making judgments with far too little experience.

SIster Monica (a pseudonym) is a nun who ministers to the transgender community.

Earlier this month, based on an inquiry about a trans Spaniard, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith advised that trans Catholics cannot serve as godparents, marking what is perhaps the clearest and most public ruling on the matter to date. But another trans Spaniard, Diego Neria Lejárraga, wrote to Francis last December about his struggles, and was invited for a visit with the pope in Rome in January. He came away determined to counsel others in similar situations, to help them “overcome all those terrible negative feelings.”

Indeed most of the transgender people I know have transitioned in order to rearrange the pieces of our fragmented lives into a cohesive learn to be comfortable in our own skins. We do not seek to lay blame for our condition on anyone else,,,or any deity. The only people I have ever heard utter the "God made a mistake" meme have been people accusing us of of being perverts, for their own nefarious purposes.





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I mostly try to avoid religious themes.

Robyn's picture

I was raised a Lutheran, which means I was already excommunicated from the Catholic Church as a heretic. I gave up on Christianity during my hippie travels. I now consider myself a Taoist. I like it that we have no churches.

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