Transgender + Catholic = story

You don't see 2,000-word stories in newspapers every day, so when you do, the editors probably deem it an important story. The Des Moines Register gave several inches to a reporter to explain how Susan McIntyre, a transgender social worker, was fired from her job as a housekeeper at the St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Student Center at Drake University.

Before she was fired, McIntyre was using parish offices to provide counseling for transgendered clients. The Register reports that a priest discovered a piece of paper in the copy machine with McIntyre's authorization of hormone therapy for someone about to undergo a sex change. The letterhead included the center's name and address.

If you took the words "transgender" and "Catholic" out of the story, you probably wouldn't have anything to write about. I don't think it's that controversial to get fired for misrepresenting your employer. But put those words back in and you have a lightning-rod debate over doctrine versus acceptance. I have some follow-up questions, though, that I think would improve the story. Here's how the reporter sets up two sides of the story.

Nearly 100 parishioners organizing separate prayer services instead of going to Mass because they said they sought a welcoming place for all. And angst in a once-tight faith community about how the church should minister to those whose lifestyles aren't condoned by the church.

Some in the parish believe the Catholic Church must adhere to 2,000 years of teaching because, even in a changing world, what kind of religion is permissive of everything? Others believe the church should welcome everyone because, after all, isn't that what Jesus did?

OK, 100 parishioners boycotting mass and attending a separate prayer services is a lot for a church of 300 families, but are they all parishioners are are some merely there because they support McIntyre? Is McIntyre part of the protests or is she still attending the church?

Also, the story doesn't indicate that she has been removed from the church, so how is the church not being welcoming? Being fired from your job and being welcomed into a church seem like two separate issues.

According to the story, McIntyre had gender-reassignment surgery in 1988 and converted to Catholicism in the 1990s. The story gives several details to help us understand her thought process before her sex reassignment. However, it doesn't help us understand why she "felt at home" in the Catholic church. It discusses her struggle with the church's teachings, but she doesn't say why she became a Catholic in the first place. Why was she drawn to the Catholic church instead of, for example, a Unitarian church?

Halfway through the story, McIntyre admits to using the church's name and address. No lawyer would take her case, she told the reporter.

I'm wondering, though why she was doing her counseling in the church in the first place (money, convenience). Why didn't she use a public space instead? There was a transition in leadership, so did the new church leader know she was doing this kind of therapy in their building? If she hadn't used the church letterhead, would her use of the building be acceptable?

McIntyre believes the real issue isn't about her; it's about how the church responds to homosexuals and transgendered people. There's a movement in psychiatric circles to reclassify transgenderism as a medical condition instead of a mental illness, similar to a movement that two decades ago succeeded in removing homosexuality from a list of mental disorders.

"The bishop made it pretty clear that I was not welcome," McIntyre said. "(So) can I be Catholic, or actually not? That's what the big deal is."

The story still doesn't suggest her current standing in the church, which seems important. Overall, though, the story is pretty fair. I didn't count paragraphs, but the reporter seems to give equal space to both McIntyre and the priest who led to her firing. Here's part of the priest's side on Catholic teachings.

Part of the Catholic belief, McNeil said, is that those who are oriented to homosexuality are called to lives of chastity, and those who believe their inward gender is different from their outward gender must battle that as a psychological problem, not with surgery.

"Heresy is overstressing one truth at the expense of other truths," McNeil said. "There is some truth that the church must be welcoming, but not to the point where it ceases being the church."

Even though the priest emphasized that the issue was a liability matter, it would still be important to clear up how the church handles a parishioner who has gone through a sex change.

As a whole, though, the reporter seemed to go to great lengths to understand several sides to the story and tell it evenhandedly. It's good to see a complex issue explored in such lengths.

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