Shannon Kearns, a female-to-male (FtM) trans man who completed gender reassignment while earning his Master of Divinity, has been given charge of starting a new parish by North American Old Catholic Church (NAOCC), an independent synod of the Catholic Church. This announcement arrives in the wake of the coverage of Cameron Partridge being appointed chaplain at Boston University (BU) in 2011, one of only seven openly transgender clergy in the Episcopal Church. LGBT inclusion has been the charge of several faith based organization since the 1970s, including the United Churches of Christ (UCC) Coalition for LGBT Concerns, Integrity USA (Episcopalian) and Dignity USA (Catholic) among others.
Kearns ordination is of particular interest as the Roman Catholic Church, unlike the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant denominations of Christianity, adheres to the teaching that the Pope has absolute authority over the Church. While Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches are evolving on civil rights issues for LGBT people through dialog and consensus amongst themselves, Catholic organizations such as the NAOCC must work in direct opposition to the Pope, who has denounced same-sex relationships and essentially all LGBT-related issues. Opposition to transgender and transsexual persons becoming ordained or having their marriages officially recognized by the Church lie in the fact that despite gaining legal recognition of their perceived gender after transition, trans men remain genetically female and trans women remain genetically male, rendering them infertile. As with with same-sex marriage and birth control, aversion to transgender and transsexual identity is centered around the idea that fertility is the sole function of human sexuality and that hetero-normative couples are the only healthy environment in which to raise children (views which are denounced by the American Psychological and Psychiatric Associations).
The soon-to-be Father Kearns will presumably be working to change these views, as so many others have done and continue to do so. He gave a statement saying “I am honoured and humbled to have my calling to ministry affirmed by the North American Old Catholic Church,” and “I look forward to many years serving as a priest.”