Sunday, October 20, 2013

Transgendered saints ...

Kind of.

The issue of a transgendered nun came up in a small corner of Blogwarts last week, which reminded me of a few saints stories.  It's very possible there is some precedent for the curious case of a transgendered woman becoming a nun.  Kinda.

First of all, the man discussed extensively yesterday here, went through sexual reassignment procedures and lived as a woman, formed a pious association of the faithful with another woman and intended to live as a consecrated woman.  This after abjuring his former way of life - or something to that effect.  The aspiring religious found approval, but a devout lay woman, concerned about scandal, appealed to the Vatican and the nascent  little community was disbanded.  It's over and done with, the poor transgendered person cast out onto the existential periphery.

Nevertheless, the revival of the story reminded me once again that stranger things have happened, that the road to salvation, the way of holiness is indeed open to all.  Even transgender persons.  Recall, if you will, what Jesus said in the Gospel when speaking of celibacy, how some men were made eunuchs by men, while some were from birth, and so on.  Likewise, it was to a eunuch the Apostle Philip was sent and baptized in Acts.  As far as I know, eunuchs were not transvestites, neither were they made so with the intention of becoming a woman, but their condition was not an impediment to conversion.

Make of that what you want, but there is evidence in history that women posed as men to enter religious communities.  I doubt anyone way back when would have been so foolish as to want to be a woman - women had no rights or freedoms in those days.  It used to be good to be a man - before American entertainment media and advertising emasculated him, but I digress.

Once upon a time.
Long ago, there was a little girl named Marina.  Her dad wanted to be a monk but was responsible for the little girl's welfare, so he took her to live as a monk with him - disguised as a boy.  (Nature-nurture?)  The little girl-disguised-as-a-boy grew up to be disguised as a man.  After Marina's father died, she remained living as a monk - undetected by the other monks.

One day, an innkeeper's daughter became pregnant and accused Marina of fathering the child.  Marina never defended herself and was sent to do penance.  After five years of expiation, she was received back into the monastery.  Once again, the fact that she was a woman went undetected.  At her death, her sex as well as her innocence was discovered.  Today her story is regarded as simple legend by some scholars, although there are feast days set aside for her, one on February 12.  Her cult remains active in the Orthodox Church. - Adapted from Attwater, Dictionary of Saints

Then there is St. Hildegund...

There once was a very big girl named Hildegund.  The boys of the village all called her Bruno.  She loved to chop trees in the forest and play log rolling on the Danube.  She was also very pious and wanted so much to be a monk and write pretty hymns and make Liebfraumilch wine.  Hildegund was never very attractive, and a bit manish, so it wasn't at all difficult to convince the abbot of Schonau to accept her as a novice.  The monks believed she was a he until her death in 1188.  Partly edified, partly disgusted by the sight, the majority of the monks were grateful God had made them men and granted them the grace of celibacy.

Actually, I made that up - about Hildegund that is - the St. Marina story is accurate.

More seriously, the real story about Hilde:
Hildegund (died 1188) was a German woman who lived under the name Joseph disguised as a male in a monastery. She is often described as a saint (feast day April 20), though her cult has never been formally approved.

Her father, a knight of Neuss in Germany, took the 12-year-old Hildegund on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land upon her mother's death. For her protection during the voyage, he dressed her as a boy and called her Joseph. The father died on the way back, and Hildegund was robbed and abandoned in Tyre by the man charged with her protection. Still dressed as a boy, she managed to return to Germany, where she became servant to an old canon of Cologne. The two began a voyage to visit the pope, who lived in Verona at the time. Accused of being a robber and condemned to death, Hildegund was saved by undergoing the ordeal of red hot iron, only to be hanged by the true robbers' companions. She was cut down in time and survived. After having returned to Germany, she joined Schönau Abbey as a Cistercian novice. She attempted to run away two or three times and never took the vows.

She had described her adventures (though not her cross-dressing) to the monk charged with her instruction. Her true sex was discovered upon her death. An abbot of a nearby monastery wrote an account of her life in 1188, the year of her death.

Hildegund should not be confused with Saint Hildegund (c. 1130–1178), whose feast day is 6 February. - Wackipedia

So you see poodles, anyone can enter the Church, but religious life?  Maybe not so much.

The End.


  Song for this post here.


  1. ROFLOL.

    "... partly disgusted ... the majority of the monks were grateful God had made them men and granted them the grace of celibacy." Oh stop! Stop! I'm crying here ...

    Maybe it's a gift I used to have nightmares of the man-sized vagina with teeth chasing after me that assisted in my living chastely.


  2. It's over and done with, the poor transgendered person cast out onto the existential periphery.

    Is this really a fair characterization of that situation, which I realize is not the main thrust of your piece here. I mean, I'm not sure that "not allowed to maintain a religious community for fear of scandal" necessarily equates with "cast out onto the existential periphery." Indeed, it is not clear to me why individual in question declined to continue to live as a consecrated sister---indeed, continue to live in the community---even if that community no longer had official status as an order of sisters.

    I will say, though, that the re-recycling of this story seems to have provided an opportunity for Mark Shea to lose his mind.

  3. Michael - that is pretty much where the victim ended up. I'm not judging here.

    1. Terry, I guess I took exception to the language "cast out" (active verb), as if Burke or whoever sent the individual packing, or made them sit in the back of the church or something. If that is where the person ended up (passive/impersonal verb), that is indeed tragic, but denotes potentially a rather different dynamic.

      I guess I'm carrying over my dispute with Shea onto your blog. I think his use of this episode, to further his current hobby horse: sadistic conservative Catholic takes delight in crushing poor wounded soul, while helpless bishop and hamstrung Vatican look on in sorrow.

      Sorry to bring my baggage here...

    2. Anonymous11:47 AM

      Just imagine if poor Mary Helmueller (the reactionary lay person in question) had exposed a post-surgical woman trying to obtain ordination to the priesthood? She'd be a damn hero to everyone, even Shea. But, no, because nobody has much respect for religious orders and their vows, we think it's A OK for people to abuse them and for a women's order to be a catch-all for every impossible and irregular situation. I'm going to take Mary Helmueller's side in this one. Rome obviously took her side! (Why are these people overlooking Rome's decision here? As you noted, it's just so it fits Shea's template.)

  4. DB - A therapist would enjoy that dream of yours. ;)

  5. Michael - thanks for responding. Please understand that poor Archbishop Burke did not forget about S. Julie, I am sure. He obviously did all that he could do for her. The unfortunate affair culminated in the person's further alienation. It wasn't handled well by the lay person's zeal to make things right - as Burke pointed out to the woman who went to the Vatican. That is what Mark was trying to clarify I think.

  6. I want to add this clarification:

    Archbishop Burke made it clear in this statement, which you failed to make bold: "These are matters which are confidential and do not admit of any further comment.... I can assure you that Sister Julie Green in no way espouses a sex change operation as right or good. In fact, she holds it to be seriously disordered. Therefore, I caution you very much about the rash judgments which you made in your letter to the Apostolic Nuncio.""

    I took it from here:

  7. Terry few could discuss this subject with as much charity and humor as you. Thanks for keeping it real.

  8. What Servus said. And here's more evidence just how pastoral, generous and loving is Cardinal Burke.

  9. There's a public school in Ontario that has become the first to have non gender specific washrooms. As the new signs say "This [male stick figure icon] doesn't make sense." and This [female stick figure icon] doesn't make sense." which makes sense in a nonsensical way. Even saints need to go to the bathroom. That's all the wizdumb I have on this.


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