Trans-identifying monk risks ‘scandal’ and ‘confusion’ in Church, experts say

Dignitas Infinita Copies of the Vatican document Dignitas Infinita which was published on April 8, 2024. | Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA

Church leaders risk sowing scandal and confusion, experts say, by allowing a female monk who has been living as a male for years — and who recently publicly announced her transgender identity — to continue presenting herself as a man. 

Christian Matson, a hermit living in the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, went public with her transgender identity in a Religion News Service story published May 19 that was based on interviews with both Matson and Bishop John Stowe, a Conventual Franciscan who leads the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, where Matson lives.

Matson was born female but began identifying as a male years ago. On May 21, the Diocese of Lexington published a statement on the controversy on the diocese’s website.

“On Pentecost Sunday, Brother Christian Matson, a professed hermit in the Diocese of Lexington, has made it public that he is a transgender person,” the statement said, using male pronouns to refer to the female hermit.

Matson “has long sought to consecrate his life to Christ in the Church by living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience,” the statement said. 

She “does not seek ordination but has professed a rule of life that allows him to support himself financially by continuing his work in the arts and to live a life of contemplation in a private hermitage.”

Stowe, meanwhile, is “grateful to Brother Christian for his witness of discipleship, integrity, and contemplative prayer for the Church,” the diocese said.

Transgender confusion ‘harms the salvation of the world’

Several experts told the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news partner, that transgender ideology’s divergence from clear Church teaching on human bodies risks sowing scandal among the faithful. 

Theresa Farnan, a founding member of the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Person and Identity Project, told the Register that Matson’s public identification as a male risks confusing Catholics regarding what the Church has said about transgenderism. 

Men and women can both live as hermits, Farnan noted. But “presenting a woman religious in such a way that implies that she is a male religious clearly is giving scandal and causing disorientation to the faithful” by “implying that there is no conflict between our faith and the transgender lifestyle and ideology.”

Farnan expressed hope that the Lexington Diocese would revise its statement to reflect the teachings of Dignitas Infinita, the Vatican document released in April that condemned gender ideology and said that any effort to change one’s sex “risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception.”

“As it stands,” Farnan said, the Lexington Diocese’s statement “gives a contradictory witness to the teachings of the Church by denying the unchanging reality of sexual difference and implicitly validating the false anthropology on which trans identification is based through the use of male pronouns and the use of the term ‘brother.’”

Father Thomas Petri, a Dominican moral theologian and president of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., told the Register that Pope Francis “has been clear in his condemnation of trans ideology.”

“How Matson can be a hermit while, at the same time, dissenting from Church teaching in such a public way is a question that needs to be asked,” Petri said.

“Given the centralization of authority to the Holy See in recent years over certain matters such as the foundation of new institutes of consecrated life, the celebration of the 1962 Mass, and the status of apparitions, it will be interesting to see how this decision of Bishop Stowe is handled,” the priest said. 

John Grabowski, a moral theology professor at the Catholic University of America, said Catholic teaching “sees the body and sex as integral parts of the person.”

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Individuals suffering from “gender discordance” ought to be treated, not celebrated, he said.

Celebrating a so-called transgender identity “raises the danger of scandal — sowing confusion in people’s minds about the Catholic understanding of the goodness of the body and its sex,” he told the Register.

“And to call someone ‘brother’ who is biologically female or ‘sister’ who is biologically male deepens that confusion,” Grabowski said.

Matson chose Pentecost Sunday, May 19, to reveal her transgender identity, something Farnan said posed a particular risk of scandal.

“For Matson to choose Pentecost as a day to publicly come out as transgender not only negates the gift of the body that God gives each of us at the moment of conception but also adds to the general cultural confusion and in that way harms the salvation of the world,” she told the Register.

The Vatican’s Dignitas Infinita declaration argued that gender ideology itself “intends to deny the greatest possible difference that exists between living beings: sexual difference.”

The declaration emphasized that “all attempts to obscure reference to the ineliminable sexual difference between man and woman are to be rejected” and that “only by acknowledging and accepting this difference in reciprocity can each person fully discover themselves, their dignity, and their identity.”

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