Minn. Catholic Archdiocese Distances Itself from Transgender Priest

Posted at: 01/18/2013 10:41 PM
By: Mark Saxenmeyer

A Minneapolis man is being ordained as a priest Saturday afternoon. That wouldn't normally make news, but in this case, it's raising eyebrows in the Catholic community.

The priest is transgender. And he's starting up a parish that's modeled after the Roman Catholic Church.

"I never really felt like I identified as female," said Shannon Kearns, describing his childhood. Shannon was born female but transitioned to male in his late '20s.

His transgender journey has brought him peace. "I feel more at home in my body that I have ever before."

He was raised in a fundamental Evangelical church but has always felt drawn to the teachings of the Catholic church.

And now, the culmination of another remarkable journey. Shannon will be ordained as the first transgender priest in the North American Old Catholic Church, one of the largest Old Catholic bodies in the United States. It's an off-shoot of the Roman Catholic Church, with parishes in 23 states. (Nationwide, there are believed to be between 50 and 100 transgender clergy in the Christian tradition.)

"If you really value Catholic tradition and ritual and liturgy, and you value equality and social justice, there's a place for you," Shannon explained, describing the North American Old Catholic Church.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis issued a statement about Shannon's ordination: "This organization is neither affiliated nor in communion with the Catholic Church. Their activities are not supported by this archdiocese, the Catholic Church, or any entity or organization affiliated with this archdiocese or the Catholic Church."

"The Roman Catholic Church would never ordain someone like me," Shannon responded.

 But he says that doesn't diminish his connection to the religion. "It's really important for me to tell other people, especially folks who have felt marginalized or pushed out by the Church, that God loves them just as they are."

For the last three years, Shannon has been the youth activities and community ministries coordinator at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis. According to the church's pastor, the Rev. Jim Gertmenian,"I see the great integrity of his work and of his being. That touches me. And I think it touches the people of this congregation."

Shannon, who has a Master of Divinity from a theological seminary in New York, says his new parish will be called House of the Transfiguration. However, he doesn't have a building yet. He doesn't even have a flock. "My guess is we're going to start in coffee houses and just meet with people and get some groups together," he said. "It's definitely going to be daunting. But I think that lots of folks want to be in a place where there are no barriers to membership."

Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at msaxenmeyer@kstp.com