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Catholic bishop blesses newly out trans man who serves as a church “hermit”

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A Catholic hermit has come out as trans, in what he believes may be a first in the church. What’s more, 39-year-old Brother Christian Matson of Kentucky is coming out with the blessing of his bishop, John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington.

As he explained to Religious New Service (RNS), Matson transitioned in college, four years before converting to Catholicism, having grown up Presbyterian. He felt called to minister to people working in the arts, and sought the advice of a canon lawyer in light of a 2000 declaration from the Vatican that people who have undergone “sex-change” are ineligible “to marry, be ordained to the priesthood or enter religious life.” The lawyer suggested Matson explore the role of a diocesan hermit, a lay person, regardless of gender, who makes vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity directly to a diocesan bishop and lives a largely solitary life of prayer.

Matson was told that taking on the role shouldn’t be a problem “as long as there’s a bishop who will accept you, because there’s no distinction by sex and you’re not in a community — you’re by yourself,” he recalled.

Still, it took Matson years to find a bishop who would accept him. Then, in 2020, a friend suggested he contact Stowe who, according to RNS, had emerged as a leading advocate for LGBTQ+ tolerance in the church.  

Stowe responded immediately to Matson’s 2020 letter in which he identified as a trans man.

“It was an enormous relief,” Matson said. “I was in tears. I felt my hope revive.”

“My willingness to be open to him is because it’s a sincere person seeking a way to serve the church,” Stowe told RNS. “Hermits are a rarely used form of religious life … but they can be either male or female. Because there’s no pursuit of priesthood or engagement in sacramental ministry, and because the hermit is a relatively quiet and secluded type of vocation, I didn’t see any harm in letting him live this vocation.”

Matson moved to Kentucky and took his first vows in 2022, renewing them the following year, but keeping what he describes as his “medical history” to himself.  

In that time, however, he became increasingly alarmed both by efforts to demonize trans people and curtail their rights in state houses across the U.S., and by the Catholic Church’s public statements on trans people.

“It was suddenly becoming a lot more difficult in the church to be trans,” Matson said.

“Vatican-level documents that have come out on the subject have not engaged with the science at all,” he added.

An encounter with a young trans and nonbinary Catholic who told Mason that they felt they didn’t have a place in the church spurred him to start thinking seriously about coming out publicly. Ultimately, he decided he would make his “disclosure” on Pentecost, the same holiday on which he was baptized years ago, which fell this year on Sunday, May 19.

“I can’t stand by and let this false and, at times, culpably ignorant understanding of what it means to be transgender continue to hurt people,” he said of anti-trans rhetoric coming from the church. “If I don’t say anything and allow the church to continue to make decisions based on incorrect information, then I’m not serving the church.”

While he supported Matson’s “disclosure,” Stowe acknowledged that there may be some in the church who will want to see Matson removed. “If I’m told to by higher authorities, then I will have to deal with that at the time.”

“I don’t have a hidden agenda, I just want to serve the church,” Matson said. “People can believe that or not.”

Catholics, he said, need to “deal with” trans people within the church, “because God has called us into this church.”

“It’s not your church to kick us out of,” he added. “This is God’s church, and God has called us and engrafted us into it.”

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