I wrote my first newspaper story about the Roman Catholic Church in 1999 when The Oklahoman assigned me to cover Pope John Paul II's visit to St. Louis.
At the time, I didn't know what a diocese was or the difference between a bishop and a cardinal. I had heard of the pope.
In the nearly two decades since, as I've gained experience in religion reporting, I've become much more familiar with the Catholic Church. Last year, for example, I covered the first beatification Mass for a U.S.-born priest and martyr.
But there's still so much I have to learn.
Such as: I had no idea of this little fact that I learned via a Charlotte Observer story this week:
Canon law — the rules of the Catholic Church — says people who are to receive Communion should fast from food and drink (except water) for at least one hour beforehand.
The reason for the Observer mentioning that requirement is equally compelling and intriguing: Religion writer Tim Funk reports on the question of why a transgender teen was denied Communion. Chewing gum is one of the possibilities.
Funk's lede explains the other possibility:
Lilliana Redd’s daughter, who is transgender, was refused Communion during a Sunday Mass this month at St. Vincent de Paul, one of Charlotte’s more conservative Catholic churches.
Nobody disputes that it happened.
But Redd and the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte do disagree on why 15-year-old Maxine Arbelo — nicknamed Max — was turned away by a Eucharistic minister at the parish’s Spanish-language Mass on July 15.
Her mother believes it was because Max, who was wearing makeup and a pink top, identifies as a girl. She’s been transitioning since January, taking hormone pills and seeing a psychologist.
Diocese spokesman David Hains said the priest who celebrated the Mass that day told him it was because Max was chewing gum — thereby violating a Catholic rule that calls for fasting for at least one hour before receiving Communion.
The writer's Godbeat experience comes in handy as he offers helpful context on the division within the Catholic Church — and the broader religious community — on how to relate to relate to the LGBTQ community.
Yes, as you would expect, Pope Francis figures in this report:
In the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has called for a more welcoming and less judgmental approach to those in the LGBTQ community. And he has told priests that transgender people deserve the same pastoral care as everybody else.
That's where a lot of journalists would have stopped.
To his credit, Funk keeps going and offers a fuller picture:
But the pontiff has also said, in speeches and in his writing, that people are the gender that conforms with their biological sex at birth.
For more insight on the pope's position, see this recent Catholic Herald story:
Pope Francis has said that what he calls gender theory – “that everyone can choose their own sex” – is “the exact opposite” of God’s creation.
In a meeting with Polish bishops during World Youth Day, whose transcript was released yesterday by the Vatican, the Pope said there were powerful institutions which funded the spread of “gender theory” in schools.
The Pope also said he had discussed the subject with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who told his successor: “Your Holiness, we are living in an age of sin against God the Creator.”
Pope Francis said this sin was often given financial backing by “very influential countries”: a form of “ideological colonisation”, the Pope said, which is “terrible.”
The Pope said that one example – “I’ll say it clearly with its first and last name – is gender.”
The Observer writer does an excellent job of quoting the appropriate sources — although a key voice declines to talk — and presenting the facts in a fair manner.
Why was the teen denied Communion? Was it chewing gum? Or was it the teen's identification as a transgender?
Read the story, and you decide.