Priests learning learn to minister to transgender people

Learning to minister to transgender people is the subject of a new Zoom series created for priests.

A transgender Catholic, James Pignatella is one of the speakers in the three-part Zoom series which began last month. The next sessions are on 18 November and 15 December.

The series aims to educate Catholic priests on how to better serve their transgender parishioners.

The sessions are hosted by Stan Zerkowski, director of LGBT ministry for the Diocese of Lexington. He says these are geared toward priests to create a safe space for participants to ask questions and learn from speakers.

Over 30 priests are expected to attend.

“I’m really hoping that I’ll … give them a face and a person to go with that identity,” Pignatella says.

“I think that one of the bigger problems that exists is there’s a lot of conversation about trans people, but not very many people know [anyone who is trans].”

He thinks Church leadership is slowly warming to LGBTQ rights.

Other speakers are Sr. Luisa Derouen, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace and Deacon Ray Dever of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Derouen hopes to help debunk beliefs about trans people Catholic leaders often spread. These include the idea that one’s gender is fixed at birth or that transgender identity is an ideology or a mental illness.

She wants to help priests understand how important their words are to trans Catholics.

“One sentence that is negative and hurtful can move somebody a step closer to suicide.

“One positive sentence, one sentence that is affirming, can pull them back from the edge of suicide. It’s that critical.”

Over half of transgender youth and young adults have considered suicide, an LGBTQ suicide prevention organisation found.

Research suggests much of this is due to societal discrimination and family rejection.

Derouen, who has provided spiritual guidance to hundreds of trans peoples, says many want affirmation from a person of faith.

Some wondered if they would go to hell, if God could still love them and if they could live a faithful Catholic life as a trans person.

“The truth never leads us away from God — that’s my mantra,” Derouen says.

“So if you are living in the truth of who you are — and only you and God know that … That’s what holiness looks like.”

She says discerning their gender identity and transitioning can be a deeply spiritual experience. It’s about asking the most fundamental question of all: “Who am I?”

“What I have witnessed over and over again, hundreds of times, is that when people claim their truth, as transgender, their relationship with God is much closer. We can only go to God as we are.”

Most priests don’t intend to harm trans people, Derouen says. She wants to be a resource for priests and Catholics who want to learn to support their trans community members.


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