Same-sex marriage advocates won the day in court, but groups like the Religion News Service have no lack of causes to fight for -- like a nun who ministers to transgender people.
Yes, RNS is fighting for this cause: The story is propaganda thinly posing as a sympathetic profile. It sets up Sister Monica as something like a deep-cover agent for an insurgency.
Think I'm exaggerating? Have a look:
She doesn’t want to reveal the name of the town where she lives, the name of her Catholic order or her real name.
Sister Monica lives in hiding, so that others may live in plain sight.
Now in her early 70s and semiretired because of health problems, she remains committed to her singular calling for the past 16 years: ministering to transgender people and helping them come out of the shadows.
"Many transgender people have been told there’s something wrong with them," she said. "They have come to believe that they cannot be true to themselves and be true to God. But there is no way we can pray, or be in communion with God, except in the truth of who we are."
According to the profile, Sister Monica calls, visits, e-mails and Skypes with transgender people. What she does isn't really spelled out, besides vague phrases of "unflinching love and support" and "pushing her friends to be honest about themselves and their relationships."
Granted, transgender people are becoming more active, including in church circles. A large group of gay and transgender Catholics wants to meet Pope Francis during his September visit to Philadelphia. And about 14 families with gay or transgender members plan to attend the World Meeting of Families, also in Philadelphia.
So sure, the ball is rolling. But it's one thing to report the roll; it's another to push it along.
RNS gets a couple of transgender people to endorse what Sister Monica does. She tells people that "you are a child of God and you are authentic and there is nothing wrong with you," says one. And the article quotes her saying that some priests and bishops have offered their "quiet support."
Her own attitude toward the Church? "I have great love and fidelity for my community, my call to religious life and obedience to my prioress," the nun says. Yet she stays in hiding because "she fears that the Catholic hierarchy would punish her or her community if her work with transgender people became public." And "experience tells her she cannot be completely open about what she does."
There's more than one question here. In what way(s) is Sister Monica obedient to her prioress? What experiences told her that she can't be open? And how does she know that she or her community would be punished if she went public? Did her prioress tell her that? Does the prioress even know of her work?
Nor does the article quote any priests or bishops who allegedly offer her "quiet support." Maybe one of them would talk under the same anonymity that Sister Monica got. But if RNS asked, it doesn't say. This is either a remarkable lack of curiosity or an extreme case of cherry picking.
In fact, RNS quotes no church leaders in this story besides Sister Monica herself. All we get are some canned comments:
Although the Catholic Church has issued no clear teaching on transgender people, church teaching that homosexual relations are a sin suggests a similar view of transgender people. A Vatican document in 2000 said gender reassignment surgery does not change a person’s gender in the eyes of the church. In 2008, Pope Benedict urged Catholics to defend "the nature of man against its manipulation."
"The church speaks of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this order is respected," Benedict said.
And that's the most the Roman Catholic Church has said on the transgender issue? What about a story by the Catholic News Agency, headlined "The Pope's take on transgender issues? Accept the body God gave you."
The CNA story quotes Pope Francis from his encyclical Laudato Si', which surprisingly mirrors some of the rhetoric by Sister Monica. Most observers have pored over Laudato Si's teaching about ecology and climate change; but the CNA story says the encyclical also speaks of a "human ecology," including complementarity of the genders:
“The acceptance of our bodies as God's gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home,” the Pope wrote, “whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”
CNA also links to Francis' General Audience in April, when he criticized "so-called gender theory ... which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.” The article also notes that gender theory "gives a basis for transgender identification." Bottom line: Francis doesn't buy the rationale of transgender activists.
Both the encyclical and the General Audience address came out long before the RNS profile on Sister Monica. Why was neither included in that story?
Perhaps RNS is trying to say those statements are not in the official catechism or canon law. Or maybe that they're not ironclad because Francis didn't give them ex cathedra. Or perhaps RNS finds it hard to believe that Pope "Who Am I to Judge?" Francis would hang tough on any matter of sexuality.
But see, those are all just guesses. We readers shouldn't have to guess.
An old rule of journalism is: "Don’t raise questions you don’t answer." And these days, we might add: "Don’t ignore relevant facts that people can easily find."
First graphic: Transgender symbol, via Shutterstock.com.