A trans teenager in North Carolina was denied Communion, but the Diocese insists it wasn’t because of her gender identity. Instead, a spokesman maintains, it was because she was chewing gum.
Lilliana Redd’s daughter, Maxine, began transitioning in January and was wearing a pink blouse and makeup when she was turned away by a Eucharistic minister at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Charlotte on July 15.
Redd told the Charlotte Observer she was was “surprised and upset” when 15-year-old Max, as she’s known, was denied Communion. When she went to the priest and Eucharistic minister and asked why, she says she was told her daughter was living in sin.
But Diocese spokesman David Hains said the priest who celebrated the Mass that day told him it was because Max was chewing gum—violating the requirement that parishioners fast for at least one hour before receiving Communion.
“At first, they said it was because she was chewing gum,” said Redd, who emigrated to the U.S. from Costa Rica 19 years ago. “But I know that is not the reason because [they] admitted that it was because they and everybody can see Max’s ‘sin’ on the outside… because of the way she dresses and everything.”
Hains said Father Santiago Mariani, who oversaw Mass that day, denied telling Redd her daughter was living in sin. He did confirm that, in the course of their hourlong meeting, Mariani told her that while God loves all his children, the Church does not recognize or condone “transgenderism.”
“He was trying to explain to her that we are what God made us to be,” Hains said. “She may have taken that as a hard teaching.”
The Catholic Church has been ambivalent about ministering to LGBT faithful: While having same-sex attractions wouldn’t prevent someone from receiving Communion, for example, a priest could refuse the rite to someone who had a same-sex partner.
But Hains insisted the Eucharistic minister, a layman who volunteered to help distribute Communion, “didn’t realize the child was transgender. He thought it was a girl.” It was her gum-chewing. The fasting requirement is not widely enforced in most churches, though, and technically chewing gum is not “eating.”
Max, who spit her gum out about a half-hour before getting in line to received Communion, says she felt “embarrassed” and “humiliated” when the Eucharistic minister told her that “you can’t receive Communion because you were chewing gum before.”
Like her mom, though, she thinks the real reason she was denied Communion was because she’s trans. “God accepts everyone,” Max said. “I don’t think it matters what’s on the outside. It matters what’s inside and how you treat people … and serve [God].”
Mother and daughter have found a more inclusive church and won’t be returning to St. Vincent de Paul.
“When I see them deny Jesus’ body to my daughter, that upsets me,” Lilliana Redd said. “[But] I want to send a message to all the mothers that have kids like Max: Don’t stop taking the kids to church… There’s always another Catholic church, another priest. … (And) God is not about gender. God is about your heart and what you believe.”
In 2016, Pope Francis declared that Jesus would never turn away transgender followers and said priests today should accompany them spiritually, even if they transition.
“These people must be accompanied as Jesus accompanied them,” he said. “in each case welcome, accompany, discern and integrate them” into the life of the church. “This is what Jesus would do today.”
At the same time, Francis insisted people are born into the gender God wants them to live as, and attacked schools that espouse “gender theory” or allow trans students to use bathrooms that align with their identity.