CHILD OF GOD
I was a transgender child raised in a very religious Catholic family. My life story shows what can happen when a boy like me is told to accept his biological gender and suppress the desire to be accepted and loved as a girl. In pre-school in the 1950s, I spent so much time in the girls’ “dress-up corner” that my teachers wrote a letter to my parents about me. I don’t know what they recommended (I couldn’t read yet!), but my parents opted for punishment. I was not even allowed to talk or ask questions about gender difference, much less do anything that would be seen as “girlish.”
I was in high school when sex-change operations first became available in the United States, but as a young adult I decided not to get one. It would have rendered me unable to have children, and my understanding of Catholic teaching back then was that I should do whatever I could to adjust to life as a heterosexual male. Now, approaching retirement, I can look back on a good life with a successful career, a loving spouse, and wonderful adult children. But the price of living “in the closet” has been high: hundreds of hours of psychotherapy and spiritual direction, a lifetime of eating disorders and psychological suffering, and very little experience of deep, fulfilling friendships. When interacting with people I am guarded, not myself. I feel as if I’m putting on an act, to spare other people from having to “freak out,” as the people in my pre-school did.
What do I think about the issues now being debated across our country, and in a recent issue of Commonweal (“The Church and Transgender Identity,” March 10)? My answer is that I don’t know. I don’t know what society or the church should do about children like me. I don’t know if I would have been happier had I decided to follow my dream. What I do know is that my transgender identity feels inborn: I knew it as soon as I was old enough to know anything. And I know there is nothing I could ever do to make the feelings go away. I’ve tried.
Over the years I have longed for better guidance from the church. Nowhere does the vast literature of Catholic spirituality ask how a transgender person can lead a Christian life. All I can do is cling to the faith that, if the Creator made the kind of universe in which transgender people are possible, then the God “who wills everyone to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth” must have a plan even for me. I just wish I knew what it is.
HEALING FOR VICTIMS
Amen! Amen to Jerome A. Miller’s article (“The Cry of Abel’s Blood,” April 14). I am eighty-eight years old, and I have felt the same as Miller since I was twelve or thirteen. The church has always taught that Christ’s death on the cross forgives the sinner, but not much was ever said about restoring spiritual health to the victim of the sin. If one is betrayed by another, the church was never concerned about the one betrayed.
And when the clergy sex scandal became known to the public, I expected there would be more prayer services in churches for the victims, with prayers for their healing, but little ever happened. I know from experience that healing prayer is the only way that the victims of others’ sins—whether involving sexual abuse or betrayal or any number of other wrongs—will ever find peace and wholeness.
The church definitely needs to rethink Christ’s crucifixion and how it relates to all people.
PASSED OVER IN SILENCE
I have been waiting fifty-two years to hear a theologian express the view Jerome Miller did in “The Cry of Abel’s Blood.”
I was eight years old in 1965, innocent, bright, and feisty. The priest chose me because of my looks and sensitivity. He knew my dad. I was chosen to carry a carton of milk to him before Mass.
He was grooming me and I knew it instantly. Terror crept up within, my throat closed, my jaw clenched. Caught, bound, controlled. The secret swallowed me up for years.
The priest was a young buck who challenged the rules of the church in the 1960s. Good-looking, creative, with a loud voice, he demanded notice everywhere he roamed. People liked him, mostly, while some cringed.
I hate what he did to me. I hate his lies that silenced me. I hate that, under the auspices of love, he raped me over and over again.
Father T. carried on sexually abusing children for twenty-five more years until a victim was finally heard. The church officials reported to me in the early 1990s that his priestly faculties were removed and he was then sent for treatment.
We overlooked priests like this for far too long, and we continue to miss the suffering of the victims and their families. As Miller states, “Moral theology and soteriology have traditionally focused primarily, if not exclusively, on the impact sin has on the sinner and how the sinner is redeemed by Jesus’ death. The victims of sin were passed over in silence, as if their salvation were an altogether different issue.”
May we begin to recognize the suffering among us and invite those who have perpetrated pain and suffering to atone for their sins—including some of the leaders of the church. “The victims are treated as extras, or even props, in the drama of our sin and redemption. The sinner, redeemed or unredeemed, remains alone at center stage. For the violated, this is another betrayal.” Yes, it sure is!
Patricia Gallagher Marchant
I thoroughly enjoyed Griffin Oleynick’s finely crafted and perceptive review of Vittorio Montemaggi’s Reading Dante’s Commedia as Theology: Divinity Realized in Human Encounter (March 10). Oleynick captures the originality of Montemaggi’s approach, permeated with autobiographical resonances and hymning litanies of gratitude to fellow toilers in the vineyards of Dante scholarship (a welcome gesture, but one whose proliferation can at times verge on the tedious).
Oleynick well sums up the central theme of Montemaggi’s study in these words: “The Commedia insists that we are all called to divinization, to union with the living God, whom Dante invites us to discover within ourselves and, more importantly, in our loving relationships with each other.”
The one lacuna I found in Oleynick’s excellent exposition was the absence of what might be called the “Christological grammar” of Dante’s divinizing journey. Commenting on lines from the Purgatorio, Montemaggi astutely affirms: “Christ is the center of the multiplication of love spoken of in these lines.” Even more daringly, he writes of Dante’s entire opus: “Dante fervently believes and hopes his work can be recognized as an embodiment of divinity—love—capable of nourishing the multiplication of love originating in—and unfolding as—Christ.”
A considerable merit of the book is Montemaggi’s ability to keep the particular and the universal in creative and imaginative tension. Thus, I find it plausible that the Commedia leads us legitimately to ponder the question (with a nod to von Balthasar): “Dare we hope that Virgil be saved?” But what is absolutely clear from the poema sacro is that salvation and divinization come only “through Christ.”
Rev. Robert P. Imbelli
New York, N.Y.