Canadian canon law experts deem baptism possible for transgender people

(Image: iStock) (Image: iStock)

MONTREAL (CNS) -- If the possibility of becoming a godfather or godmother remains mostly out of reach for a transgender person, what about receiving baptism? In this respect, there seems to be more flexibility.

"Any unbaptized person may be baptized. The church has not spoken further than that, whether the person is transgender or not," said Chantal Labreche, assistant professor of canon law at St. Paul University, in Ottawa, Ontario.

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"The criteria are perhaps less rigorous than to be godfather or godmother," added Father Francesco Giordano, vice chancellor for the Archdiocese of Montreal. "We recognize that baptism is essential, fundamental, for the salvation of the soul."

"We recognize that baptism is essential, fundamental, for the salvation of the soul."

For the canon law expert, it is important that the adult making the request be fully aware of the implications. Labreche explained the period of preparation for baptism and reception into the church lasts about a year, giving people plenty of time to understand the essential aspects of faith.

"If they accept the beliefs of the church, we can baptize them. If it's a transsexual person (who has had reassignment surgery), we can look at how to live with that. We cannot undo or erase the person's previous life. But if it is a person who is taking hormone therapy, it might be possible to stop the treatment. We will encourage this person to assume his or her biological sexual identity," Father Giordano said.

He stressed that both sexual identity and Catholic identity are important.

"Biological sex is a determining factor. We cannot ignore it," he explained. "How can we integrate this with Catholic faith and life? We do not want to maintain an illusion, to pretend that a person is a woman when he was born a man. Catholic identity is also important. If the person cannot or is not ready to assume a Catholic identity, we have the right to refuse baptism because it would be a counter-testimony."

Still, baptism remains accessible to transgender and transsexual people

Still, baptism remains accessible to transgender and transsexual people, he said. "It does not prevent baptism, for baptism is so important in the faith of the church."

Father Giordano said that "the door is open, wide open." However, he insisted that the church must work to enlighten people and tell them what "the Lord is calling us to" when such requests arise.

"To speak the truth, it is a charity, it is to do good to others. Obviously, we are sensitive, because the truth can be hurtful, but there is a way to say it without denying it," he said about a person who has a sexual identity other than his or her biological sex. But again, he added, if the church sees a "manifest, visible effort" to live in the Catholic faith, baptism remains possible

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
PJ Johnston
1 week 6 days ago

Why was this even being debated? I consulted several orthodox theologians and a canon lawyer at the time of my reception into Catholicism about whether being transgender posed any kind of impediment to my reception or implied heresy. I was told there was no canon law or magisterial teaching on the issue, and unless something has changed since I researched the question on the 10th anniversary of my conversion last year, that has remained the case. I consulted the then director of Courage, Paul Check, as part of the research leading up to this paper. I am scandalized that this was even debated. There is simply no basis for imagining that there would or could be an impediment to baptism for transgender persons.

Joseph O'Leary
1 week 6 days ago

This article opened my eyes to the reality that from childhood, as a Catholic, I have been ingesting a subtle form of hate-speech directed at anyone perceived as irregular -- be it unmarried mothers or gays or "sissies" or Protestants. It is a disgrace that such an article is given prominence in America.

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