Monday, November 2, 2015

Transgendered Ukrainian Catholic and his church's response

Greek Catholic Bp. David (Motiuk)
(Edmonton Journal) - My Ukrainian Catholic faith has been a significant cornerstone in the life of me and my family, but I had been pulling away from my faith over the past few years, mostly out of fear I would not feel welcome expressing my authentic self.

I am a transgender woman. Weeks before I came out last year to the rest of the world, I met the bishop — at his invitation — for another in a long line of very important conversations. I later talked to our priest. From my personal journal dated Jan. 29, 2014, this is how part of that conversation went.

“Will we still be welcome to practise our faith as we always have in the church?” I asked.

The bishop replied: “My answer is an overwhelming yes. As a church, we need to be welcoming to all. We are taught to show kindness and compassion for each other. The church is not a ‘what,’ but a ‘who.’ As humans, we don’t always get it right. You may experience some resistance and negativity, whether in church or anywhere in your life, for many reasons besides even being transgender — as I’m sure you already very well know. But you should feel welcome in your church. You are welcome.”

Asked if I would be denied Holy Communion, he responded with this quote from Pope Francis, of whom he’s obviously a huge fan: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, it is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” It is not intended to be a reward for the perfect, and no person is, but it is a means to bring us closer to God. Much like the popular reception to Vatican II, the current Pope's words are being repurposed to match an agenda that I don't think was the original intent. This thinking is an open door to popular reception of the Eucharist by anyone who wants it no matter what spiritual state they may be in. Denying someone communion is not an easy thing to do, but sometimes the doctor administering the "powerful medicine" knows that the communicant is not prepared to receive It.

In the Ukrainian church, the funeral is very gender-specific. When I asked how I will be referred to during my burial, I was told: “Well, after March 21, you will be Marni and we will call you a she.” Feel free to reread that line. I did.

Finally, it was his turn to ask a question. “How can we, the church, support you and your family?”

I didn’t have an answer as I honestly didn’t expect the question. I paused, then cried. When I could, I said: “By you even asking the question, you are already supporting me in a most meaningful way.”

He asked if I would send him any information about being transgender so he could learn more himself and support other clergy or church members who might come to him with questions or concerns. Then he walked us out the door, offered a prayer for us and we hugged.

We spent just over an hour together in a conversation that was insightful, respectful and enjoyable. He was most kind, considerate and compassionate. He showed great leadership, considerable wisdom, humility and even humour. He modelled humanity in the way I believe it should be. Read: he agreed with me so he's great.

There is still much work to be done. I’m reminded that no one person speaks for the entire church. Some may disagree with the bishop, some may not. This is true anywhere in my life and I have come to accept this. I understand that not everyone has had or will have such an experience in their own church, and that makes me sad. So it reminds me how important these conversations are, and how we must continue to have them. For the first time in a long time, my faith grew. There are quite a few situations I'd spare my flock if I could. Not ever experience needs experiencing.

As we sat in our vehicle, reflecting on the conversation, I wiped away tears. Since this journey began, I finally allowed myself to believe that I will be OK. We will be OK. We are OK.

Soon after, our priest visited our home. We discussed many things, but when it came to my being a transgender woman, he left us with the words: “I do not understand this, but we will walk this journey together.” And he has.

By my priest and bishop modelling what my Catholic faith has taught me, our parish has been overwhelmingly kind, accepting and welcoming of our entire family. Our son recently completed his first communion. During his first Holy Communion class, his instructor said, “OK, boys and girls, bring your moms and dads — or your moms — up to pray.” We are active members of our church community. We go regularly, and are made to feel welcome. I often say that we do not need our spiritual leaders to give us permission to be kind and compassionate to each other, but it sure helps when they model it.

I pray that others of our faith, the leaders in our church and those elected to govern our children’s education have their hearts and minds touched by God, and that they find the same kindness, love and compassion that the part of the Catholic Church I’m able to call home has for me and my family.

Marni Panas is from a small town in Alberta and was designated male at birth, named Marcel. On International Human Rights Day, she won a humanitarian award from Edmonton’s John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights.


  1. What are they putting in the water these days?

  2. I know of one an Orthodox transgender person that is in good relation with the Church with the knowledge og the bishop. not that our hagiography is not filled with a stories about female saints dressing up as males and going to male monasteries

    1. These are male autogynephiliacs. It is a grave and socially toxic disorder.

  3. Mike - Your analogy to our saints is really wrong. None of these holy mothers pretended to be men because they felt that God screwed up in assigning genitalia, but rather their disguises were intended to help them flee the world live as monks. Is that what this Mr. Panas is doing? Are there no male monasteries for him to explore, and knowing that he is too weak to live as an anchorite, he is pretending to be a woman to secure the guidance of an abbess? Is his father threatening to force him into marriage with a pagan and the deception and flight to a convent intended to throw off the hounds?

  4. "Much like the popular reception to Vatican II, the current Pope's words are being repurposed to match an agenda that I don't think was the original intent"

    That's just it is it not - what (in the long run) IS "original intent", or even "intent", and does it matter? Don't get me wrong, I don't agree with a "nominialist" reading of this or that, but it is actual interpretation and praxis that matters in the end. I don't think you can let Vat II or Francis off so easily. Part of our task is not be be a dupe to the "spirit of the age", and surely these men and their words (and actions) point that to a significant extant they are.

    Part of secularism bag of tricks (and an indication of it's diabolical origins) is it's fundamental subversiveness. It takes anything, the smallest opening, and twists it.
    One reason why I hate to see things like Met. Joseph's point #7. First, well "duh". Second, it's not a massive wave of "irrational homosexual hate" that is the current spirit in the Church, it's the opposite - a sentimentalized and false 'acceptance' driven by the "why can't we all just get along - we are all God's children - who is to say what is right or wrong with regard to this or that" spirit of the age.

    Orthodoxy does not seem to be holding up any better than anyone else. Mike is right - there are too many in open apostasy who are "in good relations...with knowledge of the bishop". (don't worry Mike, I know you did not mean it this way - because as you say our hagiography proves "dressing up" is OK ;) )

    1. I think Met. Joseph may have included point #7 because some people don't get the "well, duh" portion. Some people are influenced by the Evangelical right and do treat homosexuals as the worst thing in the world vs. "We all screw up and we all need spiritual healing." I didn't really have an issue with #7. I didn't see a "we should accept." I saw it more as a "homosexuality is no different than any other struggle and must be handled correctly."

    2. Indeed, Lee. Spend some time among conservative hicks in the Deep South. I agree with a lot of issues, but for entirely different issues. Thy are the type of people who think that wearing a Scottish kilt is womanly, but sitting on a couch all Sunday watching football and stuffing your face is "manly". I think they bash "gays" just because it makes them feel better about themselves.

      We do not want the Evangelical Protestant Right as our allies in this fight, believe me.

    3. That sentence should be "I agree with them on a lot of issues, but for entirely different reasons."

    4. Lee,

      Who are these "some people"? Have you ever met them? Because of work I have moved around a bit. I have been Orthodox for almost 20 years now. I have been a part of 2 Greek parishes, 3 Antiochian, 1 OCA and 1 Ukrainian parish during that time. These parishes were in Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, and New Mexico. 3 of those states (if not 4) are deep southern states (the very place where "Ecclesial Vigiliante" says I should have run across such folks). I have not met a single Orthodox person who displayed the slightest irrational hatred or any such thing - in fact quite the opposite, everyone bends over backward to be (and be perceived) as not having such a "prejudice".

      That mostly applies also to the so called "Evangelical right". Westboro and the like get all the attention - but they are the exception that proves the rule. Don't let the media (which has an agenda in this) paint "Evangelicals" for you (the term is too loose anyways).

      Much mythos has been built up around this issue - too bad Met. Joseph seems willing to speak as if the myth were true.

    5. Ecclesial Vigilante,

      Why don't you go ahead and tell us how you feel about Polish people. Perhaps throw in the Jews and black people as well....oh that's right, I forgot, disparaging people from the South (and Christians) is the only acceptable prejudice these days. Sorry to interrupt your hate filled rant - continue on...

    6. Hate-filled rant? Did I strike a nerve? Apologies.

      I AM Polish and have nothing against the Jews or the blacks or most who live in the deep south (Where I have lived most of my life). There's this distinctly American form of hypermasculinity I have a problem with that only serves to discredit those of us who value masculinity in the face of a society that seems to hate the concept.

  5. Pathetic...
    Guess the good bishop can change the faith.

  6. "Not ever[y] experience needs experiencing." Like a dog that wants to lick everything it smells. -- Anouilh

  7. This should be a matter between the individual concerned, his conscience and his confessor.

    This should not be an issue for public discussion

  8. Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, do we know the full details? Is this a person who had an operation some time ago and is now trying to find Christ? Transgender suicide rates are a frightening statistic, so driving them from a church they come to seems a bad idea. I do not envy the confessor who has to work with a person who mutilated himself/herself and has to cope with it every day of his/her life.

    Considering that Christ converted the tax collectors, the harlots, and all manner of sinners, there should be room for people who mutilated themselves and are truly seeking repentance (if, indeed, they are). I do not know this individual, so I cannot make a call on whether this is such a case.

    1. Reading one of the highlighted sentences in the article, I think it is quite clear that this is not someone who had an operation some time ago.

      Fr. Peter

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  10. I'm grateful to learn of such a bishop but would have thought from trans people's Orthodox experience that I have read about or witnessed myself that this would not be a rare occurrence.

    The only difference here seems to be that this case has been made public and so has come under the scrutiny of those whose words and casual discussion of real people's lives as theoretical concepts with unhelpful language can often make things unnecessarily more difficult for those simply seeking to live in Christ in the best way they can see possible in their circumstances, which is all I think any of us can do.