Tuesday, March 03, 2020

A train wreck: 'transgender, nonbinary Catholic priest.' Wrong on all counts

This story first appeared February 16 in the San Diego Union-Tribune, and then re-appeared locally in the Dayton Daily News about a week later. With such a clickbaity headline, I can only imagine it appeared lots more places, too.

OK, let's take a look at this. (FYI, clicking on the headline above will take you to the article.)

First, let's end all suspense: No, Rev. Kori Pacyniak is not a Catholic priest. Nope, nada, not even a little bit.

Second, a note on pronouns (I'm really sorry I have to do this, but such is the insanity of our times). Rev. Pacyniak was born a female -- and of course so she remains. However, Rev. Pacyniak prefers the pronoun "they" be applied to her. The best I can do is avoid using pronouns, but I won't mangle the English language, let alone misrepresent reality, on her behalf. I write this not for Rev. Pacyniak, who probably won't see this, and even more likely won't care about what I write, but for any readers who may be unclear on this. Rev. Pacyniak can change her name, and can call herself what she likes; she can even become an ordained minister (but not in the Catholic Church). But what Rev. Pacyniak cannot do -- as in, lacking the power to do -- is compel others to describe reality other than as it appears to them. If I were to meet Rev. Pacyniak, I would be warm and courteous, and I would address this child of God, directly, pretty much as the said child of God wished. But Rev. Pacyniak doesn't get to control reality at an infinite distance from her, so she doesn't get to control what I do 3,000 or so miles away.

Now that that business is dealt with, let's see what else is in this article.

The conversation began in typical fashion, with a question many grandparents ask: “When you grow up,” Kori Pacyniak’s grandmother wondered, “what would you like to be?”

At that point, the chat took an atypical turn.

“I want to be a priest,” said Kori, then an 8-year-old girl from a devout Polish Catholic family.

Grandmother: “Only boys can be priests.”

Kori: “OK, I want to grow up to be a boy.”

I've read a lot of these stories about, let us say, non-males who end up being ordained, supposedly, as Catholic priests (but not really, see below), and this seems a constant feature: while growing up, they wanted to be a priest. While such stories tug at the heart, is this actually supposed to be a compelling argument against the Catholic Church's constant teaching and practice? Really? Why?

"While Pacyniak left behind standard gender roles..."

Class, let's pause for a moment and review vocabulary. First let's take the word "gender." Let's look at Webster's definition. The first has to do with grammar; while rare in English, it is very common in many languages for nouns, even describing inanimate objects, to have gender. This is good to know, but not on point here. So let's proceed to the second part of the second definition:

b: the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.

See that, class? "Gender" is something "associated with" sex, but it is not synonymous with it. If you care to read on, this same Webster's article gives a history of the "intertwined" usage of the two words, at times synonymous, but not originally, and not consistently.

So as far as young Kori leaving behind "standard gender roles," that bare statement tells us almost nothing. But then we get this astonishing assertion:

"Yet Catholicism posed barriers to Pacyniak. For one thing, Rome only recognizes two genders, male and female."

My first reaction was simply to laugh at that mashed-up thought. Untangling it, I infer Mr. Rowe means the Catholic Church -- not simply "Rome" -- only recognizes two sexes; as there are three genders in Latin and other languages, and the Catholic Church has no issue with any of them.

As a manifestation of evolving social manners, the Catholic Church may or may not take note of new forms of "gender expression," but generally doesn't take any firm stance on them. So, for example, there was a time when women wearing pants, instead of dresses (or "a glimpse of stocking") was something shocking, but not so much today. But apart from the very general question of modesty, the Church does not take any dogmatic stance on such things. So, as stated, Mr. Rowe's sentence is false: the Church has nothing to say about how many "genders" there might be.

What about sex? Ah, well, that is a fact of biology and related sciences, and is no more up to the Church than the periodic table or the laws of physics. I'm so old, I can remember when the Roman Catholic Church was mocked and pilloried for refusing to recognize that the earth circled the sun; now we are pilloried because we don't refuse.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not particularly interested in picking apart Rev. Pacyniak's life story. Why she came to have difficulties embracing her identity as a woman is her private business. "Oh no," you say? "She chose to put it all out on public display." Look: suppose someone in the neighborhood has a bad moment and runs down the middle of the street in his underwear -- or even less -- and such we learn happened under the influence of grief, stress, a psychiatric condition, alcohol, drugs or a combination thereof. No matter how we react, we all know what the charitable thing is to do. If you have never had to deal with someone you care about having a really bad moment, or even a long series of them, and a lot of it very publicly, count yourself very blessed indeed.

As you read the article, you will find lots of references to the bad old Catholic Church, "refusing" and "excommunicating" and generally being mean, the meanies! But what you will never find, in this lengthy article, is even the slightest attempt to explain why the Catholic Church only ordains men as priests.

At one point, the spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego is quoted, and here is the ringing defense of Catholic teaching:

"'Right now,' said Kevin Eckery a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, 'ordination is only open to natural born males.'"

As someone who's dealt with the media over many years (it used to be my job, pre-seminary), I am ready to believe that Mr. Eckery gave a clear explanation of the Church's teaching, and none of that was included. Perhaps he explained carefully the unbroken tradition, not just in the Catholic Church, but in all ancient Churches; and maybe he referred the reporter to Pope John Paul II's crystal-clear, and dogmatic, infallible teaching on the impossibility of the priesthood being conferred on women.

It is even possible that the words, "Right now," were never uttered by the poor man (if man he be; in this brave new world, all things are supposed to be possible); but I doubt it. It is perhaps true that the reporter nudged him: "you mean for right now?" "That's right" -- or something like that.

One wonders how inquiries on other unchanging traditions and teachings of the Church are prefaced?

"Catholics believe in God -- for the moment..."

"There are -- as of 2020 -- only seven sacraments..."

"We believe Jesus is both true God and true man -- right now..."

So let me pause and give my three readers some valuable advice on dealing with the media. If you are asked to give a comment on any particular subject, first try to give yourself time to formulate your response; don't speak off-the-cuff. And in doing so, decide what ten words or so you want to see attributed to you; and then,  no matter what questions you are asked, no matter how many, you give that same answer, over and over. 


So, Mr. Eckery, what do you think of the weather?

Well, the weather is fine, but the important thing is that Jesus chose only men to be apostles, the apostles chose only men to be succeed them as bishops, priests and deacons, and we do not dare to overturn their example.

The pope seems to have a cold, what do you say about that?

I pray the pope feels better; meanwhile, it's important to remember that Jesus chose only men to be apostles, the apostles chose only men to be succeed them as bishops, priests and deacons, and we do not dare to overturn their example.

But what kind of car do you drive, Mr. Eckery?

Who cares? What matters is that Jesus chose...

Let me circle back to something I said at the outset: the headline, and the gist of the article, is "wrong on all counts." By that I mean: Rev. Pacyniak doesn't cease being a woman no matter what she wishes. She is not a Catholic priest, because that is impossible; and there is no such thing as a "nonbinary" Catholic priest, because, as matter of actual being, there is no such thing as a nonbinary human being.

As I read the article, I found myself wondering: does the author know anything about the Catholic Church? It's very possible he does not. Yet I would think even a moderately well informed person would take all this in, and say -- if only to oneself -- "this all doesn't sound very Catholic." After all, there's a lot of discussion about the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church and the Metropolitan Community Church, and the "Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community," of which Kori Pacyniak became pastor before being ordained, however that happened. There's a lot of talk of "rewriting" liturgical, and even Scriptural texts. At one point does an inquisitive journalist wonder, "isn't there a moment at which something stops being what it was?"

The whole thing is, finally, sad.

Sad because Rev. Pacyniak has made a train wreck of her faith (with the goading of her grandmother, if the article is accurate), and very likely, a number of people have come along for the ride.

It is painful to want things to be other than they are; and this is a grief almost all of us can know in a very personal way. Someone you love dies; dies because she smoked for many years and would not quit; or dies because he takes a gun with him out into the woods; or dies of an illness no one knows how to cure. Or you discover a limitation on your own desires that you cannot change: you want to serve in the military, but you are disqualified; you want to be married and have a family, but you lack the capacity to love, the right way, the opposite sex; you marry, but you discover you or your spouse cannot conceive a child; you marry with the best of intentions, but discover your spouse lacked them. I could go on and on.

All of us have, or will, experience the cross of having something we long for taken from us, or never available in the first place. Each of us comes to grips with this in our own way, and I don't make sport of how others do so.

But if we are talking about Christianity, then there is one part of this we cannot deny, without denying Christ, and it is that our Faith is founded on certain facts that are, if you will, utterly ultimate and undeniable. When we die, and we all do (a fact), there either will be life afterward, or not. There will be a God, or there won't. This God will be the Trinity, or something else. Jesus will be the Savior of the world, who became human through the Virgin Mary -- or not. His words will be found to be true -- or not.

It really is all about Jesus Christ. Either the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us -- or not. He gave his word to us, he sent Apostles out to share that word, or not. He established his Church, and he remains with us until the end of the age, or not. On our particular judgment day, each of us will be confronted with these and other facts that, however much we wish they might be otherwise, we will not be able to remake. We can either approach the Fact of all facts, the Way, the Truth and the Life, accepting him as he is, and seeking his truth and mercy -- or:

We can spend our lives trying to rearrange facts that do not suit us, and reorganize the revelation that was handed down to us, in order to conform to our personal hopes and dreams.

Which seems more realistic?


Nancy Reyes said...

years ago, when I asked my mother why only men could be priests, she answered it was because God wanted to console for the poor dears because only women could become mothers.

rcg said...

Nancy, that's funny and actually quite right. Some years ago I took up the old devotion of the Angelus. The repetition of the Angelic salutation harmonised with Mary's world changing reply has had a terrific impact on me. I think women did their part and men need to catch up as fathers of every sort.