The Bond of Charity Must Extend to All

by Fr. David Matz, C.PP.S., Sonnino Mission House, Berkeley, California

As vaccinations allow the re-opening of all that was closed during the pandemic, it is a delight to see children in the school playground in Berkeley again. A coach was out with the children when I heard him say to a smaller group, “Positivity! I want to hear positivity in your words! You don’t like it when others talk bad about you. I want you to talk positive about your teammates because it makes you feel good!”

As a member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, the bond of charity has always been a value that we strive to show to all. The coach’s words reminded me of this bond. Like we learned in kindergarten and grade school, we must affirm and encourage the use of positive words and actions in the realm of religion, politics, and power rather than words and actions that demonize, divide, and label other people.

Unfortunately, since January of this year, hundreds of bills that target LGBTQ people have been filed in state legislatures, which is creating a “state of crisis,” advocates say. The bills “attempt to erase transgender people and attempt to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens,” says Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “Until now, 2015 held that record, with 15 anti-LGBTQ bills enacted into law; so far this year 8 bills have been signed into law, and another 10 are sitting on governor’s desks awaiting signatures.”

In Arkansas, state lawmakers voted overwhelmingly, by a 3-1 ratio, to override a veto from the Republican governor, Asa Hutchison, and effectively banned gender-affirming medical treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, for trans youth under the age of 18. Many people gave testimonies both for and against the bill. While families and experts who work with transgender youth spoke against the bill because of its damage to the wellbeing of those who would benefit from medical treatment, what is disturbing is that those who sought to block these treatments, had little or no experience with these youth.

The Arkansas bill takes effect in June 2021 and makes it illegal to give gender-affirming care to those who need it. One clinician told the legislature that she received hundreds of calls from her clients concerned about where and how they will continue their therapy. She cited the rates of suicide among transgender youth and warned that if they passed the bill, each time one of her clients die each of them will be receiving a call from her letting them know of their deaths.

Twenty other states are considering banning gender-affirming medical care for youth with “gender dysphoria.” Transgender persons make of 2% of the population but transgender youth have a 30%-50% higher suicide rate than other groups of young people. The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that gender-affirming care from multi-disciplinary teams, parents, and extended families significantly reduce the suicide rate. It is astonishing that America, which supposedly values a culture of life, is brutally disregarding a vulnerable youth population and devaluing their dignity.

Recently, a father from Kansas City testified in front of the Missouri House of Representatives, “For years I didn’t get it! I forced my daughter to wear boy clothes to protect my child and protect myself. My child was miserable! I had a child who did not smile.” The epiphany moment for him was when he saw his daughter in a dress. He told her she could not go across the street to play at a friend’s house dressed like that. His daughter then asked if she could go if she put on boy clothes. “It was then that it hit me, that my daughter was equating being good with being someone else. I was teaching her to deny who she is. As a parent, the one thing we cannot do, the one thing, is silence our child’s spirit.” He stopped silencing his child and allowed her to grow her hair long and wear “girl” clothes. “It was a total transformation,” he said. “I now have a confident, smiling, happy daughter. She plays on girls’ volleyball teams. She has friendships. She’s a kid.” He urged the legislature not to pass a bill banning transgender students from playing on sports’ teams. The bill “will have real effects on real people,” he said.

In a recent New York Times piece, columnist Frank Bruni writes, “It doesn’t matter if those youth are pleading for this kind of help or have already begun receiving it and found it to be lifesaving. It doesn’t matter if their parents, having wrestled hard with the situation and done extensive research, believe that therapy is crucial. It doesn’t matter if physicians, clinicians, and psychotherapists have concluded throughout the world that it’s in the youths’ best interest. ‘Politicians know best.’” Bruni concludes that in the interest of political gain politicians heartlessly identify vulnerable, marginalized populations and demonize them while making themselves think they are the experts. There are scores of active legislations across the nation that promote this heartless agenda.

We are Precious Blood people! We know that all life is precious and that the blood of Jesus doesn’t discriminate and that as the blood flows, the boundaries of God’s love increase to include all people. We have a special call to look for the most vulnerable people and advocate for them. Giving them the space to speak their truth. Breaking down our own boundaries and celebrating that we are all in relationship with each other—one in Christ.

This is personal for me as a missionary. Many straight people have asked me what I, a gay priest, have in common with someone who is transgender. Like you, I can think back to the culture wars that have polarized our communities. Gay people know what’s it’s like to have their identity, dignity, and happiness pressed into a cultural and political weapon. Two examples: in our Church in the 1990s there was a debate about whether a gay man could be ordained a priest and most recently, a decree saying the Church cannot bless same-sex unions. A legislative example was in 2015, when North Carolina declared that transgender people could only use public restrooms of their birth gender, which was repealed in 2016. The legislative bans related to transgender youth aren’t unfamiliar territory for us in the latest of the culture wars. Can we even comprehend what it is like to be born into a body that does not match our gender identity? Why are we creating laws to reject transgender people and deny their medical care? It’s exploitation and cruelty.

As Precious Blood people we know that sharing our story and our truth is vital for life. It is when transgender people share their story that we begin to learn like the coach with the children to live them in positivity. Benjamin, a transgender friend and coach of mine, has shared how in his transition he finally feels at home in his body and is able to live his truth. He coached me and together we moved from relating to him as a woman to now referring to him as a man—she/her pronouns became he/him pronouns. I am so grateful that he expanded my world with his truth, and I continue to honor him to this day!

As Precious Blood, we have a call to stand up for the vulnerable. While we may not feel like these laws affect us, we have an obligation to stand in solidarity with our transgender brothers and sisters and their families. In solidarity we create the playground of positivity and that is the Kingdom of God!

Take Action For Common Sense Laws

from Gabino Zavala, Justice and Peace Director
This week we entered Holy Week, the days leading to the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. As we reflect on the Paschal Mystery, especially the Cross of Jesus, we should recognize that in our midst there are many of our sisters and brothers who live their own stories of the passion. The immigrant mother who was inconsolable at the death of her 9-year-old daughter who drowned on March 20th while they were attempting to cross the Rio Grande into the United States. The Asian woman in New York, who was beaten, kicked and stomped while onlookers watched and did nothing and eventually closed their doors while she lay on the sidewalk. Families who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19. And in recent weeks, families who have lost loved ones to gun violence.
Without a doubt we know that there is a proliferation of guns in the United States. We have more guns in the hands of private citizens in this country and we have more violence due to guns as well. Anxiety and anger enflamed because of the pandemic, reactions to last summer’s racial justice protests, and the recent presidential election are suggested as reasons why 8.5 million previously unarmed people purchased a weapon in 2020.
The statistics show that 393 million guns are in the hands of private citizens in our country. As has been said, it is easier to buy a gun than to vote! And if you don’t know anyone personally who owns a gun, the average gun owner owns five weapons. Fourteen percent of gun owners have an arsenal of eight or more guns.
Many proponents of unfettered gun ownership don’t see this as problem. The Second Amendment, they say, gives them the right to own guns. It is also their right to protect themselves and defend their families. The reality is that the use of weapons for self-defense is exceedingly rare while, unfortunately, it is much more common that these weapons be used for homicide and suicide.
I believe it is time to look at common sense gun law reform, which does not mean doing away with the Second Amendment. The Boulder shooter used an AR-15, semi-automatic military style rifle that he was able to purchase legally. Why can anyone purchase such a weapon? Anger, bigotry, hate, mental illness, and depression, plus guns are not a good combination.
In their latest newsletter, the Franciscan Action Network provided links to the Newtown Action Alliance petition to President Bident and Congress saying, “We know a federal ban on assault weapons is possible because we’ve done it before, in 1994. However, political pressure and hefty campaign contributions from the NRA caused the ban to expire in 2004 at which point mass shooting deaths increased by 347%. We must renew the national ban on weapons of war.
Thoughts and prayers are useless without good works and we must urge President Biden and the 117th Congress to ban weapons of war. With a President and a Congress that support gun reform, now is the time to build bipartisan support for legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Take action today and urge your member of Congress to pass legislation banning assault weapons.”
As Members of the Precious Blood family let us continue to advocate for the dignity of each human being. Let us continue to promote life in every way including the promotion of common-sense reform of our gun laws.

Provincial Statement on Responsum Document

March 24, 2021
Dear Members and Companions,
In light of recent statements from a Vatican office regarding LGBTQ Catholics and their relationships, the Kansas City Province of the Society of the Precious Blood continues to uphold the dignity and equality of all people, regardless of sexual orientation. We affirm our respect for the LGBTQ community and rejoice in the gifts and light they bring to the world and specifically, the Precious Blood Community.
We recognize the deep faith LGBTQ Catholics have in belonging to a Church that is flawed and in need of reconciliation. We urge our missionaries to continue to be creative and resilient in creating safe spaces of welcome in our parishes and mission sites for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. To our LGBTQ community members, we say, “We love you and walk with you as companions on the journey. May God continue to bless you!”
Peace in the blood of Christ,
V. Rev. Garry Richmeier, C.PP.S.
Provincial Director

Provincial Statement On Recent Gun Violence and Hate Crimes

March 24, 2021
Dear Members and Companions,
We pray for the victims of gun violence in the United States, most recently, those in Boulder, Colorado and in Atlanta, Georgia. Our corporate stance against gun violence affirms our belief in the sacredness of life and calls us to demand that local, state, and national legislators to pass reasonable laws that will curb the culture of violence within our nation.
Equally concerning to our community is the continued violence against minority communities in the United States. The recent uptick in violence against people of Asian descent is unacceptable and is of special concern to the Kansas City Province because of our close relationship with the Vietnam Mission and our members from Vietnam.
The Kansas City Province stands in solidarity with victims of acts of hate. We embrace and support our Incorporated Members, Companions, and Precious Blood Volunteers of Asian descent. We will continue to educate ourselves about issues of violence and hate, and speak out against actions that lessen the sacredness of life.
Peace in the blood of Christ,
V. Rev. Garry Richmeier, C.PP.S.
Provincial Director

Orlando Companions Visit With Justice Advocate Working Against Human Trafficking

As we continually discuss where the cry of the blood is calling us, the Orlando Companions wanted to learn more about human trafficking. This horrific crime is prevalent not only in Florida but across the United States and around the world.  On Tuesday, March 8, the Orlando Companions invited other Companions and Members from around the country to participate in a virtual discussion with Sr. Jeanne Christensen. Sister Jeanne is a member of the Sisters of Mercy and serves as the justice advocate against human trafficking for the Sisters of Mercy. She works with many anti-human trafficking groups on the local, state, and national levels.

Sr. Jeanne suggested the following links for more information on the work to stop human trafficking:

 

End Capital Punishment-No To The Death Penalty

by Gabino Zavala, Peace & Justice Director

At 1:31 am EST on January 13 Lisa Montgomery was executed by the United States Federal Government. She became the first woman executed in nearly 70 years. Her life was marked by extreme child sexual abuse, torture and neglect which led to serious mental illness. Our government continued this abuse by executing Lisa. Our Federal Government has executed 11 people in the last seven months during a pandemic. The executions of Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs are scheduled this week.

As a Precious Blood Community, we promote the sacredness of all human life. As such we have taken a corporate stance against the death penalty. We promote life from conception to natural death. That is what it truly means to be pro-life.

The execution of Lisa Montgomery and the others executed in the last seven months have furthered the cycle of violence in our society. As Precious Blood family members, let us continue to strive to be pro-life Catholics.

Please read the statement from Kelly Henry, issued after Lisa’s execution.