A FEW years back a rollicking musical – Nunsense A-men! – crossed the pond from America and opened at London’s Landor Theatre. Its main character was actor Tim McArthur, above, who played Mother Superior Mary McArthur.
Conservative Catholics were less than enchanted with the deliciously camp comedy created in 1985 by Dan Goggin, not least because one of the characters was Sister Mary Amnesia, who went doolally after she was hit on the head by a crucifix.
I was reminded of the show by a Belgian report this week about a trans woman called Eefje Spreuters from Nijlen who stunned the Catholic diocese of Antwerp into silence by announcing that she intends becoming a nun.
Although Spreuters, who has been openly living as a woman for 15 months, claims that some Belgian nuns responded with “interest and enthusiasm” when she informed them of her desire to take up the habit, the diocese had flatly refused to comment on the issue.
She is reported as saying in a Radio 2 Antwerp interview:
Wherever I sign up, the sisters are enthusiastic, but it’s not allowed according to the rules.
I have always felt like a woman and I was raised very religiously, especially by my mother. I have wanted to go to a monastery all my life. As a man I have had a tough life, now I want peace.
But one church spokeperson, lawyer Rik Torfs bluntly told the station that transgender people are not welcome in monastic orders.
Rome maintains the anthropological view that the biological sex in which you were born is unchangeable. For the Catholic Church, Eefje remains a man and is not welcome in a women’s monastery.
If Eefje wants, she can take an active role in the religious community as a parish assistant or as chaplain in a prison or hospital. These positions are open to lay people of any gender.
Current canon law dates back to 1983 when these social questions were much less common. Which is not to say that there is no debate about the role of transgender persons within the Church. that question.
In the meantime there are Catholics who have separated themselves from Rome with transgender men and women as priests. I remember that in the 80s or 90s in Italy there was a Franciscan who entered as a man, but decided to go through life as a woman. It is not clear to me how it ended with ‘him’.
Spreuters said she’d approached the nuns of the Order of the Poor Clares and Trappist nuns in Brecht.
They could not answer me because they did not know whether I could enter as a trans woman. I thought I would start a monastic order. To which the nuns responded with interest and enthusiasm.
If necessary, I will go to the Pope in the Vatican. My calling is stronger than ever.
Writing for far-right Christian website LifeSiteNews, Pete Baklinski said:
If Spreuters ever makes his plea known to Pope Francis, it’s anyone’s guess how the Pope might respond. Last year, the Pope praised a nun for opening a ‘trans home’ for men who claim to be women, even calling the men ‘girls.’
In 2016, Pope Francis referred to a woman as a ‘man’ who had undergone a sex-change operation. He also referred to her as having ‘married’ another woman and admitted to receiving them in the Vatican. ‘He got married,’ said the Pope, referring to the woman who now identifies as male.
According to the Landor Theatre’s blurb, Nunsense A-men! begins when the Little Sisters of Hoboken discover that their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, has accidentally poisoned 52 of the sisters, and they are in dire need of funds for the burials.
The sisters decide that the best way to raise the money is to put on a variety show, so they take over the school auditorium. Here we meet Reverend Mother Regina, a former circus performer; Sister Mary Hubert, the Mistress of Novices; a streetwise nun from Brooklyn called Sister Robert Anne; Sister Mary Leo, a novice who is a wannabe ballerina; and the delightfully wacky Sister Mary Amnesia, the nun who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head.