News of the transgender hermit in Kentucky calls for clarity

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A diocesan hermit in Kentucky, who goes by the name "Brother Christian Matson." Bro Christian Matson | Facebook

One of the truly life-giving teachings of the Catholic Church is its doctrine on human sexuality. Through it, we can understand the truth and beauty of the human person, as created male and female by God. We are able to navigate the challenges we encounter in society today — especially same-sex relationships and, increasingly, issues of gender identity — with both clarity and compassion.

That’s why the recent revelation that a diocesan hermit in Kentucky, who goes by the name “Brother Christian Matson,” is a female is so concerning. Even more concerning is the revelation that she was approved for ministry by her local bishop, despite his knowledge, according to media reports, that she has undergone medical intervention in an attempt to change her sex.

The Diocese of Lexington, which is led by Conventual Franciscan Bishop John Stowe, released a statement in late May supporting the lifestyle of “Brother” Matson using male pronouns and detailing how Matson “has long sought to consecrate his life to Christ in the Church by living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.”

“Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., accepted his profession and is grateful to Brother Christian for his witness of discipleship, integrity and contemplative prayer for the Church,” the statement said.

With all due respect to Bishop Stowe, this statement betrays the truth in a way that ultimately hurts Matson and sets a disturbing and dangerous precedent for the local and national Church. At best, the statement is a missed opportunity to show real love to Matson, who went through a medical sex-change intervention in 2006 while in college and subsequently converted to Catholicism.

The body is a gift from God

The Church advocates compassion and care toward all individuals, including those who identify as transgender. In fact, the Holy Father’s personal outreach, accompanying transgender people by inviting them to meals at the Vatican or sending them handwritten notes, is a model of a charitable, Christian response.

At the same time, the Church, and Pope Francis during his pontificate, has been extremely clear about the dangers of gender ideology. The Holy Father has consistently warned against what he terms an “ideological colonization” that seeks to impose a fluid understanding of sexuality under the banner of gender. In fact, Dignitas Infinita (“Infinite Dignity”), the recent declaration issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and signed by Pope Francis, expressly states that “any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception.”

Every person’s body is a gift from God. Accepting the male or female nature of one’s body implies a vocation that, if lived out wisely, leads to happiness. Rejecting the male or female nature of one’s body, as Matson has done and in which she has been supported by Bishop Stowe, amounts to a rejection of the Creator’s plan of love. Turning our back on God’s plan for us is not the way to happiness or holiness.

The decision to allow Matson, who, despite medical interventions, remains a woman, to make religious profession as a man betrays the Truth — and betrays the Church’s duty to accompany her toward beatitude.

While Catholic teaching emphasizes love and respect for every person, this does not equate to a universal acceptance of every lifestyle or even belief about oneself. True charity involves guiding every person toward truth, including the truth of human sexuality contained in Church teaching. God made human beings in his image: “Male and female, he created them.” It is false charity to turn a blind eye to reality, much less to encourage those who have embraced falsehood to continue in their error.

The decision to allow Matson, who, despite medical interventions, remains a woman, to make religious profession as a man betrays the Truth — and betrays the Church’s duty to accompany her toward beatitude. Catholic teaching cannot support the rejection of one’s God-given sex or condone a sex change. The Church cannot call Matson “brother” or refer to Matson as a man. To do so perpetuates a lie and creates grave scandal in the name of the Church, under the banner of religious life approved by Bishop Stowe.

The danger of scandal

In approving Matson’s choices and referring to her as a man, Bishop Stowe is fomenting confusion among the faithful. The bishop’s choice to condone Matson’s deliberate rejection of her biological sex advances an ideology that radically betrays the perennial teaching of the Church.

Unfortunately, Matson does not show understanding that her decision to undergo a medical transition contradicts the Catholic Faith, and she insists on referring to herself as a man. She also publicly laments Church teaching in media interviews. All of this suggests that Bishop Stowe is endorsing a perspective that categorically contradicts the Church’s perennial teaching on the nature of the human person. While many have focused on the public revelation of Matson’s “gender reassignment,” as if concealing her history would make everything right, Matson’s profession as a male hermit itself sows scandal, as it leads the faithful to believe that the Church’s stance on sex identity is shifting in a way that it is not.

We encourage Matson to remain close to God in prayer and believe this can be accommodated within the Church in a pastorally sensitive way that does not cause confusion. She is a beloved child of God and her life can be holy and fulfilled.

We live in an era when clear guidance from the Church is desperately needed to navigate the complexities of misconceptions and distortions of the Faith. Silence or inaction will be interpreted as tacit acceptance, leading to further confusion among the faithful (and leaving those Catholics who do know and uphold the Church’s teaching to be portrayed as opposing the Church). The Church and her leaders must provide clear, compassionate and doctrinally sound guidance on how to care for those who identify as transgender while remaining faithful to the teaching of the Gospel entrusted to her care. Possessing the truth of the human person allows us — in fact, compels us — to help lead individuals who are struggling with their sexuality from darkness to light. It’s not an easy journey, but it’s one that can make all the difference in their lives, and in ours.

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board

The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board consists of Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, Gretchen R. Crowe, Matthew Kirby, Scott P. Richert and York Young.