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Catholic charity in India says it will recruit transgender people to fight bias

Migrants sit at the Caritas center in Catania, Sicily. Religion News Service photo by Rosie Scammell
Migrants sit at the Caritas center in Catania, Sicily. Religion News Service photo by Rosie Scammell

Migrants sit at the Caritas center in Catania, Sicily. Religion News Service photo by Rosie Scammell

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Indian branch of the Catholic social welfare organization Caritas has announced plans to fight discrimination and recruit transgender people — a striking step for an official church organization.

Caritas India announced the decision earlier this month after holding internal talks about adopting a more inclusive policy. But officials stressed that doesn’t mean it supports gender change.

“Caritas is open to work with transgender people. I am even open to recruiting them,”  the Rev. Frederick D’Souza, executive director of Caritas India, said in an Oct. 10 statement reported by Vatican Radio and other Catholic media.

“People who are suffering for no fault of their own because of sexual confusion in their body require our attention and support.”

D’Souza stressed the policy move was for “biological transgenders” and not those who undergo gender change.

“We don’t want to confuse the two,” D’Souza said. “We have an opinion on those who undergo sex change. We are not in favor of that. We believe that the natural gender one is born with is what he/she is supposed to cherish and contribute to creation.”

Citing figures from the 2011 Indian government census, the Catholic charity estimates India has nearly 500,000 transgender people. Known as hijras in India and Pakistan, they are often officially recognized as a third sex by the government.

But recent reports by the United Nations Development Program have shown that transgender people can suffer discrimination and are excluded from politics, business and social and cultural life.

The Rev. Paul Moonjely, deputy director of Caritas India, said the decision to include transgender people in Caritas was not sudden.

“We have been reaching out to transgender people in our development programs but have largely failed to recognize them and show data on how many of them we have supported,” he said.

Caritas believes its decision will have implications for other institutions.

Founded in 1962, Caritas India has reached out to millions of poor people irrespective of their faith. Its programs cover community health, poverty reduction, sustainable development, education and the advancement of women as well as vulnerable and marginalized groups.

There is a long history of hijra in South Asia in ancient Hindu scripture, and Nepal, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh all legally recognize the existence of a third gender, including on passports and other official documents.

Church leaders, including Pope Francis, have opposed gender reassignment surgery but they have taken different approaches in how or whether to welcome transgender people.

Some Catholic LGBT activists praised the action by Caritas India while saying more needs to be done.

“(T)he new program plants a seed from which loving accompaniment that is increasingly competent and informed by modern science can grow,” wrote Bob Shine in a blog post for New Ways Ministry, a U.S.-based organization for LGBT Catholics.

(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

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  • 1 Corinthians 5:9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

    Psalm 139:13 – New International Version

    For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

    Romans 9:20 – New International Version
But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'”

    Philippians 3:2 English Standard Version (ESV)

    2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

  • Unfortunately the Abrahamic religions, which are manmade, developed during the Stone and Bronze Age and reflect the scientific ignorance of the time. We now know that variations in human sexuality are generally biological in nature and not a choice. We also know nature (god) makes mistakes and sometimes there is a disconnect between the body and mind. That this is often felt by age 6 lends credence to its biological underpinnings. So to deny religious fellowship to these folks is cruel. What a quandry! So in order to follow the bible you have to deal with people in an unchristian way. In order to survive religion must evolve else be irrelevant in the future. That is the price you pay for irrational beliefs.

  • You’ve made the assertion that Abrahamic ‘religions’ are manmade. Can you prove that please?

  • Pope Francis compared transgender people to nuclear weapons saying both do not ‘recognize the order of creation’ in 2015. Recently in Poland, he referred to transgender persons as “the epoch of sin against God the Creator.’

  • I’ve known 3 transgender people. I don’t really understand it, but I do believe it has to be a real thing because those folks go through terrible harassment, violence and hate. Who does that if it can be avoided?

    Transgender people are really not dangerous. They don’t attack anyone or cause any harm. I wish they’d be left alone to peacefully live their lives. The cruelty they endure in words and actions is really heartbreaking.

    There is video of black students entering the formerly all white school in the South in the 1960s. They’re led into school by cops and the sidewalk is lined with more cops to protect them. On the other side of the cops are white adults saying vicious and horrific things to those children, striving to reach them, hit them, beat them up. The expressions on those white faces are nightmarish.

    The things said and done to LBTG folks reminds me of that video that I will never forget. Y’all may not like LBTG folks, may think they’re not in the religious norms you believe, etc. But I wish you wouldn’t talk about them in such nasty language.

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